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Flats Fishing In The Florida Keys

by Wayne Gilbert

Flats fishing can be an exciting and rewarding experience for fishermen of all ages, whether just beginning or accomplished angler. Flats are long, level, shallow water areas next to deeper water. They are found in bays estuaries and marshes. They are also found atop reefs and atolls, and along shorelines.

The bottom of a flat may be made up of grass, sand, rock, mud, gravel, or a combination of these. Flats with grass or other aquatic vegetation offer cover and food for a variety of fish as well as shrimp and crabs. The most sought after fish when flats fishing include redfish, tarpon, seatrout, bonefish, permit and snook. Other popular catches are striped bass, bluefish, barracuda, shark, cobia and mutton snapper. More


by Louis Bignami

Tarpon fight fair! No other large fish offers the light tackle fisherman such a sporting chance. Tarpon jump, where most other species sulk deep. Tarpon cruise shallow, sandy flats, where most other big fish lurk near cover or, like offshore fish, patrol such deep water that the light tackle fisherman can't pump them up. So, rather than look at M. Salazar's 283-pound fish taken on 30 pound-test in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela back on March 19, 1956, let's examine line class tarpon records set in the accessible Florida flats. More


by Louis Bignami

Realize that rigging for line test records, while vital, is only part of the game. You need a decent guide to find spots where big fish can be played without cutting you off, to spot fish, keep you calm and pole like a demented vaulter when fish run. Since record gear is specialized, the guide may provide this as well. Otherwise you need several outfits so you can switch baits or methods when conditions change. You need a day when the conditions are right -- strong tides or strong winds reduce your chances. You need to know how to play big fish on light line -- keep it short and keep the pressure on, but lightly. Don't forget to "bow to the tarpon" either. Most of all you need buckets of luck! But the luck only counts after you handle the details. More


by Jack Samson, Saltwater Flyfishing Editor

Half the trout and bass flyrodders I know -- when not after those favorites -- can be found on some small pond trying for bluegill on a small popper.

Easily that many bonefish and permit fly anglers revert to trying for snappers when the more exotic critters are not around. Some of the most action-packed fly fishing I have had were hours spent on the flats near the mangrove islands fishing for such powerful fighters as the mutton, lane and mangrove or gray snappers. More

Fishing the Flats

by Mark Sosin and Lefty Kreh

Chapter 5: Finding Fish, Pg. 51-52

NO MATTER HOW GOOD AN ANGLER ONE MAY BE IN northern waters, conditions and techniques are so radically different on the tropical flats that, without a guide, failure is likely. Exploring on your own offers an exciting challenge and a fun way to fish, but it really should not be attempted until you see first-hand how a professional goes about it.

The overall budget of the trip should include the cost of a guide, at least on the first day and possibly the second. He can show you very quickly how to spot fish and the signs for which you should look. You will also get an idea of how he works a flat and the importance of tidal stages. Note how he tends to hang in an area for a while even though he doesn't see fish immediately. Experience tells him the fish are there and he seeks them out. If he is wrong, he moves on to the next spot or changes locations depending on what the tide is doing. If it's windy, he knows where to find a lee.

The majority oF guides recognize that you are seeking information and most will help you. You can check this out before you hire a particular skipper by asking for references or by putting the question directly to him. Be certain he is experienced in the type of fishing you want to do. It does not make sense to book a guide for fly fishing when he prefers spinning. While you have him on the phone, ask about the species that are available during the time of year you plan to fish. IF he levels with you, you won't be disappointed.


The goal, of course, is to find fish on your own. You can wade for bonefish, but permit and tarpon frequent flats that are too deep to walk on. If you are going to wade, the best advice is to stop in a couple of tackle shops and ask the people where they would recommend you fish and the stage of the tide that is best for each area. They will gladly share this information with you.

Newcomers to wading insist on trying to cover a great amount of terrain in the shortest possible time. A better approach is to move slowly and look for the signals that spell fish. You may see tails, wakes, cross ripples, nervous water, or something else that attracts your attention. Above all, you must see the fish and when you are wading, you lose the advantage of height. Therefore the fish are often much closer to you when you spot them. That is a perfect reason to move slowly and quietly.

Never wade without shoes. The spiny sea urchin makes a home on the flats and, if you step on one, will inflict a painful wound. At the same time, rays sometimes bury themselves in the bottom. Step on one and the barbed tail may cause a problem. Waders must learn to shuffle their feet so that they move a ray out in front of them instead of stepping on it.

Fish use the tide to their advantage if they climb on a flat with rising water, they will work higher and higher as the tide continues to flood. When the tide is falling, they drop back with the receding water. That means you must look in both shallow and deep water, tracing a zigzag pattern until you find the fish. We once recommended a flat to someone who wanted to catch bonefish. Not only was he unable to spot fish, but he worked the wrong part of the flat, remaining deep while the fish were shallow. He later told us disappointedly that he had not seen a fish. Another angler on the same flat noted that he had seen several hundred fish.

Wading offers an economical approach to bonefishing. It also harbors an extra measure of sport, because you stalk the fish on foot. Besides, it affords the perfect opportunity to really study a flat and observe the intricacies of life on it.

Flyfishing Priest

This priest loved to fly fish, it was an obsession of his. He had recently been transferred to a church in the Florida Keys and was so excited about fulfilling one of his dreams, catching a bonefish on fly. For the first 2 months the weather had been so bad that he hadn't had a chance to get on a flat and get some of his new bonefish flies out of their box.

Strangely though, every Sunday the weather had been good, but of course Sunday is the day he has to go to work.

The weather forecast was good again for the coming Sunday so he called a fellow priest claiming to have lost his voice and be in bed with the flu. He asked him to take over his sermon.

The fly fishing priest drove fifty miles to a spot in the Keys that he had heard you could wade from shore and catch bonefish and where he was sure no one would recognise him. An angel up in Heaven was keeping watch and saw what the priest was doing. He told God who agreed that he would do something about it.

With the first cast of his line a huge bonefish gulped down the fly. For what seemed like an hour the priest sloshed up and down the flat fighting the fish. At the end when he finally landed the monster size fish it turned out to be a World Record Bonefish.

Confused the angel asked God, "Why did you let him catch that huge fish? I thought you were going to teach him a lesson."

God replied "I did. Who do you think he will be able to tell about this catch of a lifetime?"

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