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 

/news/2015-04-23-wheeler-with-a-slim-lead

Wheeler with a Slim Lead

Jacob Wheeler has a plan to win the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac on Beaver Lake this week. That plan involves primarily the largemouth species, a target weight of 14 pounds per day and a lot of fish management. Today, Wheeler surpassed his target by nearly 2 pounds with a 15-pound, 14-ounce catch that puts him in the driver’s seat at Beaver Lake, in the lead by just a scant 5 ounces over second-place pro Bryan Thrift. “Largemouths are the way to win here at Beaver Lake,” Wheeler says. “They are the fish to go the distance here, and that’s what I’m focusing on.” READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-23-top-5-patterns-from-beaver-lake-day-1

Top 5 Patterns from Beaver Lake Day 1

Though there were plenty of fish caught off beds at Beaver Lake on day one of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac, the top five is rounded out by a group of anglers who relied on sight-fishing very little. Opinions on where exactly bass are in the spawning cycle at Beaver Lake vary greatly from angler to angler, but a few common denominators did come to light on day one. For starters, most agree that one major spawning cycle has already occurred. Plenty of empty beds and a lot of gaunt, postspawn fish at the scale were evidence of that. Second, there are still some bass (of all species) trying to spawn, but the ones left on beds are extremely wary. Finally, the order of difficulty to catch each species ranks as follows: smallmouth bass – extremely easy; spotted bass – not as easy; largemouth bass – extremely difficult. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-30-top-10-patterns-from-lewis-smith

Top 10 Patterns from Lewis Smith

The Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Evinrude on Lewis Smith Lake featured a mishmash of springtime patterns that ranged from targeting bass feeding on blueback herring to catching spawning fish to dropping in on deep schools of spotted bass. Here’s a breakdown of the patterns of the top 10 pros. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-29-lefebre-lands-on-top

Lefebre Lands on Top

He left the dock this morning in 7th place, eight and a half pounds off the lead. And when he returned this afternoon, Dave Lefebre shocked the weigh-in crowd with a come-from-behind Walmart FLW Tour win that left his competitors shell-shocked. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-28-birge-buzzes-ahead

Birge Buzzes Ahead

Today started off with a slightly miserable 31-degree air temperature, but it didn’t take long for the top 20 pros to really heat up on Lewis Smith Lake at the second stop of the 2015 Walmart FLW Tour presented by Evinrude. Reports poured in throughout the day of big bass – especially big largemouths – being caught off beds. It looked at first as if one of the “largemouth lookers” might piece together a big enough bag to snatch the lead away from Oklahoma rookie Zack Birge, who struggled early to make his shallow topwater pattern work. Unfortunately for the rest of the field, the young gun Birge has the coolness and patience of a veteran, and he stuck with his game plan of throwing a buzzbait and soft jerkbait rig until the sun had time to warm the shallows and spur the fish to become more active. Birge tallied 17 pounds, 11 ounces today, raising his three-day total to 54-8 and giving him a lead of 3-11 over Texas veteran Clark Wendlandt in second place. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-28-top-5-patterns-from-lewis-smith-day-3

Top 5 Patterns from Lewis Smith Day 3

After three days, it looks as if tournament leader Zack Birge has the quality largemouth bite in the bushes wired. But behind him on the leaderboard are nine pros doing everything from sight-fishing to catching schooling bass and everything in between. Even with all the patterns in play, few have fizzled. The sight-fishers have reported finding new bedders, the schoolers are still schooling and a couple of guys have even started tapping floating docks. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-27-top-5-patterns-from-lewis-smith-day-2

Top 5 Patterns from Lewis Smith Day 2

While air and water temperatures plummeted on day two of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lewis Smith Lake presented by Evinrude, the big surprise came in the stability of the fishing patterns amidst such change. Zack Birge found plenty of production on his primary pattern to send him to the top of the leaderboard, and those under him held true to their patterns as well to secure a ticket to day three’s top 20. Among the biggest surprises was the number of pros who were still able to pluck fish off beds. Most pros that were sight-fishing say the bass are committed to beds and that the cold snap will not run them off at this point in time. Despite the cold, some even found new fish on beds that were not there yesterday. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-26-benton-blasts-20-12-on-lewis-smith

Benton Blasts 20-12 on Lewis Smith

Panama City, Fla., pro Drew Benton jumped into the early lead at the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lewis Smith Lake presented by Evinrude with a five-bass limit weighing 20 pounds, 12 ounces. Benton caught a mix of largemouths and spotted bass, and revealed that both black bass species are spawning. He leads a tight top 20 that includes 18 pros that caught more than 15 pounds each. The first day was an absolute fish-fest. Of the 154 pros fishing this tournament, 138 weighed limits. Brad Roberts of Faubush, Ky., has a 2-ounce lead in the co-angler division with a 13-pound, 4-ounce limit. Tomorrow he’ll try to defend his lead on the final day of co-angler competition. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-26-top-5-patterns-from-lewis-smith-day-1

Top 5 Patterns from Lewis Smith Day 1

While Drew Benton was busy bugging bedding fish for his day-one tournament lead, several others behind him were scoring big with other fishing options on Lewis Smith Lake. Sight-fishing also played a role in the top limits produce by Tracy Adams, Scott Martin and Ish Monroe, but Clayton Batts and Zack Birge both brought in big bags with other patterns. Click here to read about Benton’s day-one performance at the second Walmart FLW Tour event of 2015, which is presented by Evinrude. Here’s how the rest of the top five got it done. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-10-top-10-patterns-from-toho

Top 10 Patterns from Toho

At the halfway point of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Toho on Friday afternoon, it looked as if the event would be a JT Kenney runaway win. Kenney’s “red-dot” bedding program appeared to be unstoppable. But then things changed drastically: The warm-up ended, the full moon began to wane, heavy clouds took up residence over central Florida and the fairy tale of scripted plans in a multiple-day tournament came to a screeching halt. By the end of the event, several other patterns on Lake Toho quickly closed up Kenney’s seemingly insurmountable lead (12-10 after two days and 12-8 after three). When the final weigh-in came to an end, the top three places were only separated by 1 pound, 5 ounces. Patterns that involved current, shell beds and even docks helped close the gap. Here’s a look at some of the other top 10 patterns from the week. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-08-kenney-connects-the-dots

Kenney Connects the Dots

Mercury pro JT Kenney was as confident as he could be early in the week at the Walmart FLW Tour season-opener on Lake Toho. He had an incredibly refined plan built on a series of precisely placed waypoints. The waypoints marked isolated spawning areas within beds of lily pads. In the first two days of competition, Kenney looked unstoppable with limits weighing 29-14 and 22-9, respectively, to build a lead of 12-10. On day three, Kenney looked human. His limit of 14-5 could have left the door open – but after weigh-in Kenney’s lead shrank by only 2 ounces. And today, it looked as if the king, despite a massive lead, was about to give up his crown. Kenney weighed in only 9 pounds, 4 ounces. But that was enough. The Florida pro squeezed through by an 11-ounce winning margin to win the first Tour event of 2015. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-07-kenney-on-cruise-control

Kenney on Cruise Control

For those who don’t believe that professional fishing is a game of offense and defense like any other sport, consider JT Kenney’s strategy for the last three days of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Toho presented by Mercury. The first two days, Kenney ran pure “offensive plays” on key, precise bedding areas to run up the score. Today, he ran more “defensive plays” to protect his lead. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-07-top-5-patterns-from-toho-day-3

Top 5 Patterns from Toho Day 3

When the Walmart FLW Tour event started at Lake Toho on Thursday, the story lines were all about spawning fish and catching bedding bass by working soft-plastic baits around isolated pad clumps. Today, the buzzwords changed to current, shell beds and reaction baits such as spinnerbaits and lipless rattlers. The change in vernacular is associated primarily with the weather. While a warm, balmy day one allowed leading pros to score big by blind bed-fishing, today’s lower temperatures, nippy northeast winds and dull gray skies caused a significant shift in productive tactics that led to a shakeup on the leaderboard. As already revealed, leader JT Kenney had to resort to a spinnerbait to adapt. Others in the top 10 have found consistency in the currents of the Kissimmee River or have adapted with new baits. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-06-kenney-crushing-the-field

Kenney Crushing the Field

Day two of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Mercury on Lake Toho saw JT Kenney extend his lead to 12 pounds, 10 ounces over second-place pro Stacey King with a 22-9 limit. Kenney has lived near Toho for some time and prepared meticulously for this event – it appears to be paying off. Fishing in Kissimmee all day, he managed another strong bag on a day when weather changes caused many in the top of the ranks to stumble. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-06-top-5-patterns-from-toho-day-2

Top 5 Patterns from Toho Day 2

At halftime in the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Toho presented by Mercury, it’s looking like it could be a runaway by tournament leader JT Kenney. Of course, it’s bass fishing and anything can happen, but the latest frontal system rolling through Florida seems to have certainly stymied the bed-fish bonanza that many expected. As a result, the most productive areas from the last two days have been beat down by fishing pressure and are not recovering or replenishing very well. Here’s a look at how the rest of the top finishers managed to overcome challenging conditions on day two to stay at least within striking range of the leader. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-05-jt-tees-off

JT Tees Off

There was fuel, and there was flame. The fuel was in the form of a delayed largemouth bass spawn on Lake Toho that had been pushed back for several weeks due to low water temperatures and high water flows through the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. The biological clocks of Toho’s bass have been ticking, so to speak. The flame was in the form of a fast warm-up over the last three days, a full moon occurring right now and water temperatures rising nearly 10 degrees in the last 72 hours. At the day-one takeoff of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Mercury this morning, everyone held his breath for the combustion that was about to occur. And when fuel met flame there were a few fiery flare-ups, but not of the size that many expected. In all, the 20-pound mark was reached by seven anglers on a warm, balmy day that had five-alarmer written all over it. Exactly why the bite was not as good as expected is still in question. Many pros reported a vanishing act of bedding bass that had just started to show up during practice, but have now disappeared despite highly favorable conditions At the top of the standings are Florida ace JT Kenney and Missouri veteran Stacey King, who checked in with 29-14 and 28-1, respectively. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-05-top-5-patterns-from-toho-day-1

Top 5 Patterns from Toho Day 1

Lake Kissimmee produced the bulk of the top-10 catches on the first day of competition, but not all of them. Still, it seems that anglers believe the time lost to traveling through the lock from Toho to eventually get to Kissimmee is worth the gamble. READ MORE »

/news/2015-03-01-toho-s-mojo

Toho’s Mojo

Rob Newell breaks down the Kissimmee Chain lake by lake for a complete preview of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Toho. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-01-05-cold-water-bass-fishing

Cold-Water Bass Fishing

Is cabin fever getting the best of you? If so, why not go bass fishing this winter? Let’s see what top competitors have to say about where and how to catch a few. READ MORE »

/news/2014-10-04-cifuentes-wins-co-angler-title

Cifuentes wins Co-angler Title

ZAVALLA, Texas – Imagine traveling FLW Outdoor’s fishing circuits as a co-angler with legendary pro Larry Nixon…practicing with him…rooming with him…and just talking bass fishing 24-7 with one of the most decorated bass fishing pros in the modern world. READ MORE »