UPCOMING EVENT: Walmart Bass Fishing League - 2015 - Lake Sinclair

Beginner basics for flats fishing

-------------------------------------- Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January-February 2007 issue of FLW Outdoors Magazine, Saltwater Edition. -------------------------------------- For the beginning inshore angler, there's nothing quite as intimidating as a vast flat - a limitless expanse of seemingly featureless water that supposedly holds fish. Locating inshore species such as trout, redfish, flounder and snook in such an endless system can be a challenge for any angler, especially the neophyte. Reactions to such a daunting task run the range of: "It all looks the same," to "Where do I begin?" FLW Outdoors Magazine summoned the help of five inshore-flats specialists to help the beginner address some of these startup issues. Most of these experts are veteran saltwater guides that see the common mistakes novices make on a regular basis and can recite the beginner's list of most frequently asked questions by heart. Andrew Bostick: Become a sponge Andrew BostickAndrew Bostick of Marco Island, Fla., has been guiding in the Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands area of Florida for more than 20 years. In Bostick's opinion, to cut the learning curve of flats fishing to a fraction of the time, the only substitute for time on the water is to hire a guide. "I know that sounds trite and self-serving," Bostick said. "But if you really want to expedite the process, hiring a guide will help you learn at light speed." Some folks see guides and charter captains as party-boat meat hunters, but as Bostick pointed out, there are a lot of guides, especially inshore guides, that specialize in teaching technique. "Shop around and find someone in your area, or the area you want to learn about, who is geared toward one-on-one instruction, and make the most of it by asking a lot of questions," he said. Bostick advised anglers to get involved in a local saltwater club, such as a Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) chapter, and attend the guest speaker sessions, which often feature well-known anglers and guides from the area. "Also, there is a wealth of information in magazines, books and videos about flats fishing, especially in Florida," he added. "Become a sponge and absorb as much information as you can." C.A. Richardson: The right tools C.A. RichardsonC.A. Richardson, a full-time guide from St. Petersburg, Fla., who also runs Flats Class fishing seminars (flatsclass.com), has helped many new flats anglers get hooked up with action in inshore shallow water. Richardson revealed the most common mistake he sees among anglers that come to him for help is that their terminal tackle is way too cumbersome. "I see a lot of the big, surf-casting kinds of rods loaded with 20-pound-test monofilament," he said. "Those are great if you're trying to heave 2 ounces of lead 100 yards off the beach, but they are inefficient in the flats." Richardson suggested anglers look into a moderately priced, 7-foot, medium-action spinning rod rated for 8- to 15-pound line. He recommended matching the rod with a medium-action spinning reel spooled with braided line in the 10-pound-test class. "The object of this setup is casting distance," he explained. "In Florida, long casts are mandatory. In addition, the longer your casts, the more real estate you're covering and the better your chances are for a bite. A nice medium-action rod with thin, 10-pound-test braid is going to sling tiny baits a lot farther than a heavy-action surf caster with stiff monofilament." Complete the outfit with 3 feet of 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. "Forget about steel leaders and swivels," he added. "I see a lot of those from beginners, too. Fluorocarbon for leader material works great. Join the braided line to the fluorocarbon leader with back-to-back uni-knots (netknots.com)." In terms of lure selection, Richardson advised beginners to stick with 1/2-ounce weedless spoons or 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jigheads paired with 3-inch Berkley Gulp Shrimp. His knot choice for tying the lures to the leader is a loop knot. "Don't worry about fancy topwaters or soft jerkbaits that require the angler to impart the action to the bait in the beginning," Richardson offered. "Stay with baits that will do the work for you - reeling a spoon easily through the water or bumping a Gulp along the bottom. These baits will catch just about everything that swims inshore, especially trout and reds." Tommy Ramzinsky: Find the bait Tommy RamzinskyIf you follow tournament redfishing at all, Tommy Ramzinsky and Todd Adams of Rockport, Texas, need no introduction. In addition to being tournament pros, both anglers guide out of Rockport. Ramzinsky noted where flats beginners are likely to get bogged down is by fishing a lot of dead water that seems to look really good. "Bait, bait, bait," Ramzinsky remarked. "It's all about bait. You can have the best cover and structure in the world, but it's absolutely worthless without bait." Ramzinsky said he believed the best way to find bait is to cover water looking for it. Visible mullet schools are Ramzinsky's No. 1 flats fish locator. "Bait is a word that encompasses a lot of things - mullet, shad, pogies, shrimp and crabs," he said. "Inshore game fish don't exactly eat the big mullet - so `bait' might be a bit of a misnomer for big mullet - but big-mullet schools do flush up a lot of bait off the bottom, and other types of smaller baitfish seek refuge inside mullet schools. So in a way, schools of big mullet are like a mobile all-you-can-eat buffet for all flats species." Mullet schools often give themselves away by creating noticeable surface disturbances, either by suckling along the surface or jumping and flipping. "When looking for inshore fish, I can't stress the importance of surface activity," Ramzinsky said. "Always pay attention to the water's surface all around you and always investigate surface activity. "If you're having trouble finding bait, try looking for a little off-colored water," Ramzinsky suggested. "Not dirty water, just water that might be a little more off-colored. Not only are inshore game fish more aggressive in off-colored water, but bait tends to favor it as well." Above all, Ramzinsky urged beginning anglers not to waste their time fishing "sterile" water. "At times, we have huge expanses of super-clear water in our bays here in Texas," he said. "It looks so beautiful and fishy, but you can fish for miles and never see any bait popping, fish movements or anything - it's almost sterile. Keep moving. Find where another river or estuary brings in water that is more colored; find the bait and see if your catch rate doesn't improve drastically." David Walker: Trust your eyes David WalkerFLW Outdoors pro David Walker is a redfish transplant from Sevierville, Tenn. Although he's made a career from bass fishing, Walker has also cashed checks in several redfish tournaments. Walker has never guided on flats, but his induction into the flats game provides an interesting perspective because his early mistakes are still fresh in his mind. Like Ramzinsky, Walker opined many beginning flats anglers probably spend too much time fishing water that looks good, but holds few fish. "When I first started fishing inshore, I was tempted to fish every grassy flat and mangrove shoreline I saw because it all looked so good," Walker said. "But what I eventually learned is you can fish your arms off in the prettiest-looking water, but if you're not actually seeing fish or some evidence of fish, you're just spinning your wheels." On the flats, Walker has two different modes: looking for fish and fishing for fish. When "looking" for fish on the flats, he turns the trolling motor on high and visually scouts as much shoreline and as many flats as he can possibly scan in a day. "When I'm in that looking mode, I hardly ever pick up a rod," he said. "The object for me is to see as many fish as possible - not catch them. When other redfish pros see me in practice, I'm sure they think I'm a bull in a China shop because I'm bolting down the shorelines, zigzagging the flats with the trolling motor on high. I'm respectful of the resource; I'm not tearing up grass or anything, but I'm not exactly tip-toeing around with a push pole either. That trolling motor is working overtime. "I want fish to show themselves," he continued. "If I spook two or three off a shoreline or see some flashes in a sand hole, at least I know where they live. I make detailed notes about the tide and location of any fish I see." However, when Walker returns a day or two later in the official fishing mode, it's a whole different approach. "Now I'm in the tip-toe-up-to-the-fish mode, minimizing noise and movement," he said. "I try to sneak up on the places where I saw fish when I was burning up the bank on the trolling motor and always try to return on the same tide." When he slows down and begins to carefully examine a place where he noticed fish, he usually uncovers the key feature the fish are relating to. "It might be a deeper drop-off along a line of mangroves, a slight depression in a flat, or an oyster crag breaking the current near a creek mouth; there is usually some identifiable feature in the area. "That's what I like about flats fishing," Walker added. "The fish give those types of good places away. It's a highly visual game, and it took me a while to totally trust my eyes to eliminate water. "Coming from bass fishing, I've always had to fish areas thoroughly to make sure I wasn't missing anything. On the flats, if I'm not seeing fish activity of some kind, I don't even bother to fish; I just keep on moving." Watts brothers: Subtle contrasts Bryan WattsThe Watts brothers might be considered the modern-day godfathers of inshore tournament fishing in Florida. Originally bass fishermen, Greg and Bryan Watts began probing around Florida's inshore flats about 20 years ago and found a new home. "Flats fishing is all about subtleties," Bryan Watts said. "The difference between the novice and the experienced flats angler is the novice looks out across a flat, and to him, everything looks the same. "The experienced guy looks out across the same flat and sees the higher-percentage opportunities; he can read the different sizes and shapes of the sand holes and the differing water colors that indicate seams and contours along the bottom." Watts contends that an important concept flats anglers need to understand is any type of bottom change represents structure to inshore species. "Pay close attention to contrast," he said. "Especially subtle contrasts - as contradictory as that may sound - like a slightly deeper area in predominantly shallow water; a slightly shallower area in predominantly deep water; a thicker patch of grass in a barren flat; a barren area in a thick grass bed; clearer water running into muddy water; or muddy water running into clearer water. "Subtle contrasts and features are feeding stations for inshore species," Watts added. "Once you find these kinds of places, fish are likely to use them time and time again." Putting it all together By combining these pros' tips, flats fishing does not have to be overwhelming. Consult a local expert, get into the right gear, spend more time looking for bait and fish activity, and determine what subtleties hold fish in your area. By doing these things, you'll be farther along in the flats-fishing game than you might think.

Tags: tips-and-techniques  rob-newell 


Top 10 Patterns from the Forrest Wood Cup

If you don’t believe that summertime bass fishing in the dog days of August is all over the map, just take a look at the top 10 patterns from the best bass pros on earth at the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita. Brad Knight captured the Cup by mining one small creek end for four days. But beyond that, the rest of the top 10 patterns ran the gamut, from targeting schoolers over 40 feet to wolf packs of bass on the bank to brush piles to grass to mud flats and everywhere in between. Here’s a rundown. READ MORE »


Knight Slays Ouachita

Lancing, Tenn., pro Brad Knight won the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart on Lake Ouachita with a four-day total of 51 pounds, 12 ounces. In front of a standing-room-only crowd at Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs, Ark., Knight weighed in 11-07 on day four to surpass Jacob Wheeler, who started the day with a 12-ounce lead. Fishing in just one area all four days, Knight locked up the first win of his FLW career. He earned $500,000 for his victory and pushed his career earnings total to more than $688,000. READ MORE »


Wheeler Back in Front

Jacob Wheeler loves Lake Ouachita. It’s where he fished his first Forrest Wood Cup in 2011, and it’s where he’ll take the tournament lead into the final day of competition at the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart and hosted by Visit Hot Springs and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Wheeler, the 2011 Cup champion, led this tournament on day one and slipped a couple spots on day two. He now has a very slim 12-ounce lead over Tennessean Brad Knight. The anglers will square off tomorrow on Ouachita starting at 7 a.m. against the rest of the top 10 pros for the top prize of $500,000. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from the Cup Day 3

Jacob Wheeler may have regained his lead in the Forrest Wood Cup on day three, but Brad Knight is right on his heels. Going into the final day, the two pros are separated by just 12 ounces. The margin is tight, and what’s going to make the final day fun to watch is the difference in the two anglers’ strategies. Wheeler is running a topwater pattern on the main lake, and fishing new water is part of his plan. Knight, however, has caught almost all of his weight from one 250-yard stretch of bass-rich creek channel. He literally knows every target he is fishing by heart. On the surface, Knight’s area looks to be the better bet. But he has shared the general area with Brandon Cobb and Mark Daniels Jr. for three solid days. And the bad news, at least for Knight, is that both Cobb and Daniels will be sharing the water with him again on the final day as both made the top-10 cut. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from the Cup Day 2

At times, bass fishing can be a lot like real estate, where the three most important rules are location, location and location. The 2015 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita presented by Walmart is starting to become a bit of a real estate game where location is the primary consideration in who climbs the leaderboard. And those mining the backs of creeks and tributaries are on the prime pieces of real estate. Consider that after day two, four of the top five pros are concentrating their fishing efforts in the back ends of creeks or rivers. All of these areas fit a classic late-summer, early-fall pattern where shad pack into the back of creek ditches that meander through shallow flats. READ MORE »


Wheeler Hunting History

It’s never been done before, and it hasn’t happened yet, but Jacob Wheeler is in prime position to become the first two-time Forrest Wood Cup champion in history. Wheeler, of Indianapolis, Ind., brought in a 16-pound, 2-ounce limit of Lake Ouachita bass on the first day of the Cup, which is presented by Walmart and hosted by Visit Hot Springs and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from the Cup Day 1

After day one of the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita, several things have come to light. For one, this event is not likely to produce a runaway win for anyone like it did when Scott Martin won here in 2011. Second, when the pros said Ouachita was going to be stingy, they meant it – only 29 of the 50 pros checked in limits today. Third, firm patterns are hard to come by on Lake Ouachita in August. Jacob Wheeler took the lead on day one in the event that’s presented by Walmart and hosted by Visit Hot Springs and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. With the help of a 5-pound bass, Wheeler weighed in a limit of 16 pounds, 2 ounces, but he had to sample a lot of different areas for his catch. Here’s how the rest of the top five got it done. READ MORE »


Top 10 Patterns from Lake Chickamauga

Considering the complexity of catching summertime bass on highly pressured Tennessee River impoundments, Michael Wooley’s winning baits at the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Igloo Coolers on Lake Chickamauga were pretty simplistic. His win came on a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm fished on a 1/2-ounce hand-poured shaky head with a 5/0 hook as well as a 3/4-ounce Strike King football jig teamed with a Rage Lobster. Both lures were fished on 17-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon. Wooley dragged his baits on a shell bed in about 13 feet of water that dropped off to a channel some 20 feet deep. Here is a look at some of the other patterns that were working at Lake Chickamauga. READ MORE »


Mammoth Win for Wooley

One spot plus two lures plus 92 pounds, 4 ounces of Lake Chickamauga bass equals a $125,000 Walmart FLW Tour win for Michael Wooley. Wooley, a second-year pro on the FLW Tour who hails from Collierville, Tenn., spends most of his fishing time somewhere on the Tennessee River, mostly on either Pickwick or Kentucky Lake. Despite his deep knowledge of Tennessee River bass, Wooley’s win on Lake Chickamauga was about as straightforward as it gets. There were no big flashy spoons, secret hair jigs or new must-have crankbaits involved in his victory. There were no mega-schools or timing of tricky rotations. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from Chickamauga Day 3

While Michael Wooley has tapped a single hot spot for the tournament lead at the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Igloo Coolers at Lake Chickamauga, his competition has had to hustle both deep and shallow just to have a shot at catching him. His lead is now more than 6 pounds ahead of second-place pro Stetson Blaylock. The patterns working at Chickamauga right now are all over the map. Shallow grass, bream beds, middepth bars in bays, river ledges and even some long-lining are all represented in the top 10. Here are the details for the top five. READ MORE »


Wooley Takes the Lead

The last time the Walmart FLW Tour visited Lake Chickamauga in June 2013, the term “mega-school” was thrown around a lot. At this year’s Chickamauga event, which is presented by Igloo Coolers, you will hardly hear that term at all at the weigh-in. Michael Wooley of Collierville, Tenn., knows the difference between mega-schools and the “regular” kind. After sacking 26 pounds, 2 ounces on day one and 23-05 on day two to take the tournament lead with 49-07, Wooley says his fish are certainly not swimming in a mega-school. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from Chickamauga Day 2

Two days into the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Igloo Coolers on Lake Chickamauga, one thing is for sure: The ledge bite along the main Tennessee River drag has not been much of a factor among the top 10. When interviewing the top anglers, the words “back in a creek,” or “back in a bay,” or “back inside” or “up shallow” have been used a lot more than the words “on the main river.” That goes for tournament leader Michael Wooley and most of the pros chasing him into the weekend. For whatever reason, the main Tennessee River flow is not the headliner at Chickamauga this week, especially when compared to postspawn tournaments on other lakes in the chain, such as Kentucky Lake and Pickwick. READ MORE »


Billy Mac Smacks 29

A combo strategy of running deep and shallow patterns helped Bill McDonald put together a whopping 29-pound, 12-ounce limit in the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Igloo Coolers on Lake Chickamauga. McDonald took the day-one lead by 3 pounds, 10 ounces over Tennessean Michael Wooley, who brought in 26-02. While many pros say the Chick is fishing tougher than its reputation usually suggests, 15 pros still cracked the 20-pound mark. And 67 pros caught at least 15 pounds. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from Chickamauga Day 1

The story on day one of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Igloo Coolers on Lake Chickamauga was not dominated by the mega-school juggernaut that occurred the last time the Tour visited “Chick” in 2013. Bill McDonald’s leading limit of 29 pounds, 12 ounces had nothing to do with a mega-school. In fact, two of his bigger bass – in the 7- to 8-pound class – came from shallow grass. This time around it seems as if the boats are spread out a little more compared to last time, when four- to six-angler clusters tried to share big ledge schools. Some pros say that’s because the current didn’t run until later in the day today, which had the main-river community holes off the pace of last time. Others believe a delayed spawn still has fish scattered from the bays to the river. READ MORE »


Top 10 Patterns from Lake Seminole

Clint Brown won the Rayovac FLW Series event presented by Evinrude on Lake Seminole by targeting late spawners and obscure stretches of bank that received little pressure during the week. Here is a look at how the rest of the top 10 competitors fared. READ MORE »


Brown Rallies for Seminole Win

When the Rayovac FLW Series event on Lake Seminole started on Thursday, hot, slick conditions prevailed. The air temperatures pushed into the 90’s, water temperatures hovered between 80 and 85 degrees – summertime was on. Or was it? READ MORE »


Jeter Takes Co-Angler Crown

Call it a local’s sweep at the Rayovac FLW Series on Lake Seminole. While local pro Clint Brown of Bainbridge, Ga., won the boater Division, his Bainbridge neighbor, Greg Jeter won the Co-angler Division to make it a local twofer. READ MORE »


Lake Seminole Day 3 Midday Update

Second place pro Clint Brown was gaining some serious ground on Reneau as Brown had boxed four solid keepers for about 11 pounds on his very first spot – all caught from protected backwaters with a topwater. READ MORE »


Reneau Grabs Lead On Seminole

Though Reneau has weighed in 15-1 and 20-7 over two days for a total of 35 pounds, 8 ounces, he says he is only getting about six bites per day. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns From Seminole Day 2

A shake-up occurred on day two of the Rayovac FLW Series presented by Evinrude on Lake Seminole. Day one was all about slow, summertime fishing in the lake’s deep timber. Overnight a frontal passage dropped water and air temperatures and left a north wind howling down the lake. As a result, the timber bite cooled off and those fishing shallower waters climbed up the leaderboard. READ MORE »