Fishipedia Top 5: Tips for wading the flats

October 20th, 2011| No Comments

Follow these simple rules to make sure you get the most from your time on the flats


The magic hour: sunrise on the flatsIt’s early morning, a bright sun is inching through a cloudless sky over a pancake flat, you’re up to your knees is bath-temperature water, there’s the far-off rumble of an outboard, but otherwise it’s eerily silent. Nothing stirs. Then, out of the corner of your eye, something. You wait. Watch. Wait… nothing.

A few seconds more and there it is again… a black sickle tail pierces the surface. The hunt has just begun…

Pretty much nothing beats wading the flats in search of your quarry – short of heading out with a spear in hand, it’s as close as you’ll get to your inner hunter-gatherer.

It connects you directly to your natural surroundings like nothing else, forcing you to think more like a fish, anticipate events around you, and react to subtle changes in the environment.

On top of that, it’s adrenaline-pumping, nerve-shredding and, when it all goes right, totally thrilling. There’s also potential for it go wrong if you don’t concentrate on what you’re doing. Follow these steps and you should be fine…

1. Cut down on false casting

We’ve all been there – you’re battling against the wind, the fish are moving unpredictably, and there you are, powering your rod somewhere between 10 and 2, trying to shoot your line. The problem is, all this aerialised line swishing back and forth across the water is guaranteed to do three things – make every fish within range a) see you b) lose their appetite and c) have a good laugh at you as they disappear onto the next flat.

Remember, fewer false casts means more time spent with your fly in the water and less opportunity for you to spook the fish. Practise it before you find yourself in a high-pressure situation – shoot some line out, then pick a spot in another location and give yourself a maximum of two false casts to reposition the line. Then keep doing it until you feel comfortable. Alternatively, go out with a guide and have him shout “just one false cast!” at you for a day – you’ll soon learn.

Fishipedia Top 5: Flats wading tips2. Pay attention to your surroundings

And by that we mean really pay attention. Don’t just look for fish – look for signs of fish, and signs of things that fish like – shrimp mounds, cracks in the sea bed that might harbour potential prey, crabs and crustaceans.

Take time to really get to know a particular flat before you move on to the next one. For example, you might want to look for channels and troughs – these are the ‘pathways’ that fish often use as entry and exit points on a rising or falling tide. Don’t just assume that feeding patterns will conform to a structure you might have read about in a book or online – everywhere is different, and it takes time to unlock the secrets of any given fishery.

Also, consider keeping a log book – make a note of tides, time of day, when the fishing picked up/switched off. Over time you may well discern certain patterns.

Here’s a good video – courtesy of the bonefish wizard, Dr Aaron Adams – showing just a few things you need to look for when searching for the perfect bonefish habitat:

3. Blend in

You might be wearing sand-coloured flats booties and the latest lightweight Patagonia shirt designed to camouflage perfectly against the sky, but it’ll all be for nothing if you don’t make an effort to truly blend in to the environment.

You’re entering the fish’s domain. Flats fish are ultra-paranoid about what’s around them, be it marine predators or aerial threats from birds of prey, and they’re constantly on the lookout for potential sources of danger.

You can justify their paranoia by matching it with stealth. Walk quietly, minimize water disturbance, and always keep your voice low – try to make yourself as invisible as possible, essentially. One way of doing that is keeping low to the water. Obviously you’ll get backache if you spend the whole inching across flats in the crouch position (you’ll also find it harder to spot fish), but if you find yourself in the fortunate position of having fish within range, get low and make it as hard for them to see you as possible.

And never forget the golden rule – if you can seem them, they can see you.

Fishipedia Top 5: Flats wading tips4. Get suited and booted

Make sure you’ve got the right equipment. Put the tackle to one side for a moment and look at the other stuff. Consider, for example, the type of terrain you’re likely to be traversing and make sure your flats boots are up to the job. Then think about your clothing. Fishing on the flats often means long periods spent under an unforgiving sun – make sure your garments provide the requisite protection, and get any other bits covered in once-a-day, high-factor sun screen. Get yourself a buff too – they’re not just for looking cool, they provide invaluable and instant protection for your neck, head and face. Lastly, put plenty of water in your bag too – dehydration is the opposite of fun.

Fishipedia Top 5: Flats wading tipsFishipedia Top 5: Flats wading tips5. Be safe

Anyone who’s seen 127 Hours will know all about this, but it’s always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going – especially if you’re the kind that likes to take off for a little solo exploration. You just never know what could happen.

It’s easy to forget when you’re out there in the safety and comfort of a guide’s boat, but the flats can be a cruel and unforgiving environment. As such, you absolutely need to know what you’re doing – having a solid knowledge of the area you’re fishing is crucial. Be aware of the tides, and make sure you’ve got GPS and cell coverage where possible.

And never, ever, set off on a trip without a compass.


>> Something you want to add to our list? Let us know in the comments below…

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