Yesterday was a beautiful day. Perfect temperatures. Morning wind from the east, slowly subsiding in the afternoon to a light breeze from the northwest. Some sun, some clouds. Hardly anyone around. About all you could ask for, really.
Unfortunately the fish were not around either. I poled the Adios two miles north, and then fished my way back. Fished out on the bar and in the back country. Never saw a tail or a redfish all day. At the very end of the trip I caught one small fish. Hey that’s fishing.
A Pink Puff caught the only fish of the day
It was warm and windy on the flats today. Air temperature 86, more than 1o degrees above average and near record for this time in January. Water temperature 75, nice and comfy. Wind? Blowing 15 to over 20 from the southeast most of the day.
Caught a ride with Dave. We spent that day sight-fishing for redfish. Not much going on despite the warmth. And the chop, courtesy of the wind, reduced visibility. But true to form, Dave was able to catch a very nice winter red. Great way to start the New Year!
Dave’s Winter Redfish
Did you ever leave the boat ramp feeling underpowered? You know – wishing you had a little more umph, a little more get up and go. Sort of like low “T”, I guess. Tell me the truth now. Desire more speed? Want better performance?
Well it happens to me in the kayak all the time. And I imagine most boaters feel that way at some point or other. Except maybe this dude.
Christmas time on the flats? You bet. On Saturday December 20th, I fished two flats from Dave’s boat. Both of these spots are beyond my normal kayak range, so it was a chance for me to fish new waters. Moreover, we had great weather. Warm, with a light southeast breeze. So Santa was on our side.
The first flat was huge, several football fields in size. And, the bottom covered in lush grass. Immediately we found “tailing” reds, but a series of factors kept us from hooking up. Still this flat obviously held great potential.
The second flat was completely different. Much smaller, with a barren sand bottom. Frankly, it didn’t look very fishy. As we waded along, Dave directed me to the flat’s edge where it slowly slipped away to deeper water. Here the bottom undulated, forming holes and trenches. And, here we quickly found cruising fish.
Big Pompano on a Fly
I landed my largest pompano to date. Roughly 20″ to the fork. On a 6-weight fly rod, it put up an awesome fight. Believe me, it was stellar. These scaled down permit are fast, strong, erratic fighters, and packed with energy. Dave got one about the same size. From there the action remained fairly steady. I hooked and lost a redfish. Later Dave hooked and landed one.
Redfish on a Fly
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, at least for me, were sheepshead. Sheepshead are common in my waters at this time of year. They are bottom feeder and usually targeted with bait. With a mouth as hard as a rock, they are also difficult to hook and hold. Overall, they are very much like the northern tautog. So can you catch a sheepshead on a fly? Turns out the answer is yes. We both got one. And they fight darn good!
Sheepshead on a Fly
For the last several days our weather pattern has been unsettled. Northeast winds, northwest winds, dropping temperatures, clouds, and gusty winds. As you might imagine, a cold front on the flats is the kiss of death. Yeah, flats fishing went to hell in a hand basket. Damn.
I did get out for five hours on Sunday. We had a low tide around midday. I launched around 8:30AM, but I saw zero “tails” in the last hours of the ebb, or the first hours of the flood. Not good.
Switching gears, I began blind-casting along the sandbar with an 8-weight rod and a weighted fly. A northwest wind was breaking waves along the bar’s outside edge. Looked fishy enough. Working my way down the surf line I eventually found one lone, cooperative redfish. So it wasn’t a total bust. But I sure would like some calm stable weather.
On Friday, I fished the flats with Dave. I’ve spoke of him in the past; he is the most knowledgeable fly angler in this area. No kidding, this dude is a flats guru. So, an opportunity to fish with him is a opportunity to learn. I’m down with that.
We left the ramp at 6:15 in his john-boat. With a low scheduled around 9, we hoped to find a few “tailing” reds in the ebbing tide. It was a high dawn, quite a bit of cloud cover, and a light northeast breeze. Not perfect conditions, but not bad.
Fishing the Flats with Dave
At the flat, Dave and I climbed out and waded a mile of water, without seeing much at all. Disappointing. At that point I turned back to try fishing the outer edge of the sandbar. Dave continued wading. Eventually Dave caught two “tailers” roughly another mile to the south. His long trek had paid off.
Later we saw the smoke trail from Cape Canaveral, as project Orion rocketed skyward. Yeah, the journey to Mars has begun. An amazing sight.
By now, the sun was up and the clouds were breaking. Dave said he knew of a spot where we could sight-fish for cruising reds. Fine by me. We took a ride. When we arrived, the tide was flooding, and we had some sunlight to work with. We jumped out and began slowly moving in unison about forty feet apart. Immediate Dave spotted reds. Things were looking up. Within a few minutes, he hooked and landed a nice 28 “incher” on a crab fly. Dave is a force on these flats, believe me. My turn was next. I spied two reds traveling parallel to me. I cast ahead of them and, with luck, landed the lead fish. Yes, I’m learning a little day by day.
On my home flat, some spots are better than others. No surprise there. Where the habitat is best, the fishing is best. Right? That said, on any given day you still can’t predict with 100 percent reliability where the bite will happen. It might be a 150 yards to the north of you. Or it might be 450 yards, or two miles, to the south. Yes, fish swim. And because of it, anglers must be ready to move too.
The Flats were Dead Today
There are also days when an entire area lights up. You bail fish in your spot. Figure you have solved today’s puzzle, only to learn back at the boat ramp that other anglers in other locations did equally well. These widespread bites often occur either just before a front; or when environmental conditions suddenly improve after a long spell of bad weather.
Lastly, there are times when the flats go dead for miles. Today I poled about two miles to the north, hoping to see “tailing” reds. Conditions were fair and the tide was right. Zero “tails”. Disappointed, I turned around and slowly worked back south. Still nothing. In fact, during today’s 4 mile journey I never saw a single fish of any kind. Wow.
Back at the ramp, as I was taking out the Adios, a commercial mullet man pulled up. Immediately, he inquired how the fishing was. I said “terrible”. He shook his head. He then told me he had traveled 7 miles to the south, and saw only one small fish the entire distance. The flats were dead today. And I have no idea why.
I started saltwater fly-fishing in the Northeast, over thirty years ago. My focus during much of the time was shore fishing for striped bass. It became quickly apparent that finding the fish was the first, and ultimately the biggest, challenge. Compared to a trout stream, coastal waters are vast, and ever changing. So to be successful you had to learn how to read beaches.
One thing I discovered to be very helpful back then was this: start by learning your home waters well. Pick a beach, and then work hard to unravel its secrets. Once you do, you can use that information to fish unfamiliar locations.
Fishing an Unfamiliar Flat
Here in Florida I spent the last two seasons mainly on my local flats. Figuring them out has been a slow process and I’m still learning. But now I feel more confident in my angling ability. And I’m ready to branch out.
Yesterday I did just that, fished a new spot. As you can see in the photo, I have a chart with me. I’m studying the shape of the shoreline, looking for creek mouths, watching the varying depths, and varying types of bottom habitat. It was exciting to exploring, fun to be fishing an unfamiliar flat.
Fog and Wind on the Flats
A few mornings back, there was both fog and wind on the flats. Unusual. The fog eliminated any chance of sight-fishing, at least in the usual sense. But reds “tail” better in a fog, so there is a trade off. Although the wind was no help in that department.
This was advection fog, arriving on a south-southeast breeze. A wind from this direction brought the necessary warmth and moisture to create the situation in the first place. But that south-southeast wind did something else that took me by surprise.
A north wind in Charlotte Harbor speeds up an ebbing tide, and can produce extremely shallow conditions. This is a common occurrence during the winter months. And greatly increases the likelihood of boaters running aground. But I now know that a strong south wind can do the reverse, stalling an ebbing tide in its tracks. On the morning in question the tide never dropped very far. And that reduced my chances at finding “tailing” reds. Oh well.
Dawn on the North Atlantic
Love this world, my friend. Our planet is an amazing place, filled day and night with both beauty and mystery. Its also the only home we have. Cherish it, always.