QUICK GUIDE TO FLATS FISHING
The visual element of flats fishing makes it one of the most exciting ways hunt fish. Stalking and spotting tailing, cruising, or mooching fish in shallow water habitat requires skill, patience and accurate casts. The shallow water also lends itself to thrilling high speed and erratic battles. The only way for hooked fish to escape is to flee sideways across the shallows. Expect to hear the sound of line screaming from your reel.
Sand and mudflats are found all along the Australian coastline. They are particularly prevalent at river mouths, on the leeward sides of islands and at the backs of sheltered bays.
Explore the flats in your local area and follow these flats fishing strategies to catch more fish.
SHALLOW WATER STEALTH FISHING IS IDEAL
Flats can be accessed on foot or in small shallow-running watercraft. A watercraft that permits you to stand up and see into the water is ideal. Flats fishing is a visual form of fishing and a higher vantage point will help you to spot fish.
On foot, ensure that you shuffle slowly and quietly. Be very wary of stingrays, as they too are common on the flats. A good strategy is to pause and work an area with several casts before moving another 20 metres and repeating. This way you cover plenty of territory.
On a boat, turn off the engine and use an electric motor, pole, or paddle to explore across the shallows. Trim your motor up if necessary. Keep a close eye on the tides and any channels that were used to access the flats. A draining tide can fast leave you high and dry with a long wait until the next incoming water.
POLARISING VISION WITH SPORTS SUNGLASSES
As you mosey along on foot or glide in the boat, look carefully into the water for fish. A good pair of polarised sunglasses will make a huge difference in this regard and is a very worthwhile investment.
Moving fish will be easier to spot, but stationary fish can be difficult to identify. Look for dark elongate shapes with a distinct shadow below. A shadow suggests that the object is stationary in the water column and is most likely a fish. Obviously, this method doesn’t apply to bottom-dwelling species such as flathead.
Make long casts ahead of fast moving schools of fish such as Trevally, Queenfish, and Salmon. Time the retrieve so that it intersects with the moving fish and watch for follows. If the fish clearly see your offering and show no interest, it’s time to switch to another lure or fly.
Observe the water surface closely for tailing fish. Species such as Golden Trevally, and even Bream, occasionally have their heads down munching in the substrate. This is a great opportunity because the fish are distracted and slower to sense your approach. Try to gauge the direction the fish is facing and accurately cast beyond its head. Twitch your offering back past the snout and wait for the bite.
Remain alert for any other water disturbances that might indicate the presence of fish. A surface bust-up usually indicates the presence of predatory fish. A swift reaction and accurate cast towards an aggressive frenzy will give you a great chance of a hook-up.
On shallow flats, Flathead create a cloud of sediment and bubbles when they emerge from the sand to snatch a feed. Cast towards the disturbance and you’re also likely to see action.
Sand and mud flats are usually adorned with weed pockets, rubble, and deeper holes. These features are prime habitat for larger predatory fish and great areas to target. Bream hide among the weed and pounce out to grab prey, while flathead will often sit on the slope of a deeper hole or drop-off, waiting for baitfish to meander too close to the edge.
Always be on the lookout for interesting features and tread lightly. Sometimes the fish are right under your nose!
Fish move onto flats during the high tide to feed on baitfish and invertebrates among the mud and sand. Fish can be caught as the tide inundates the flats, but the most productive period is when the tide starts to drain out. As the water recedes and the flats become too shallow, baitfish are funnelled through small channels, drop-offs and gutters. Predatory fish take advantage of these baitfish highways and they are prime areas to target.
Flats are fun and productive habitats to fish. Once you learn to read the water movement and develop an understanding of where the predators hunt, you’ll have an action packed experience. The hits are aggressive and the battles are spectacular, so arm yourself with some distance casting equipment and embark on some flats fishing escapades.
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