Flats Breakdown

Read the signs, find the fish

Story and photos by David A. Brown

Published Spring 2014

Here are some other points to consider when searching the flats:

Lay Of The Land

Photo of a speckled trout catch
Speckled trout love artificial shrimp lures.

Sarasota guide Capt. Rick Grassett will use his push pole for propulsion when necessary, but he prefers silently drifting across the flats on a light to moderate breeze. His Sarasota Bay home waters are known for abundant sand and oyster bars – both of which serve as fish magnets. A bar’s deeper side offers ambush points, so expect snook, redfish and even the occasional cobia to leverage these positions during periods of strong tidal flow.

Also note that water breaking around a bar – or passing through a cut between bars – creates eddies and zones of turbulent water that will tumble crustaceans and smaller baitfish. Expect those predators to position on the outside of those current lines where they can rush forth from the calmer water to pick off passing meals.

More subtle, but just as important are the various sandy depressions, generally called potholes. Larger sandy spots with deeper water are sometimes called “lakes,” while the random splotches of grass and sand, known as “broken bottom.” In any case, these transitional areas provide gathering spots with handy ambush edges.

Florida Keys guide Rich Tudor advises his anglers to aim for these lighter colored areas, as they represent the higher percentage spot in a flat. Catchable fish may well traverse grassy stretches, but those sandy edges are most likely to attract fish in the food mood.

For fishing efficiency, safe navigation and environmental prudence, make sure you know your surrounding depths and proceed accordingly. Generally, darker bottom is your grassy areas; white to golden brown is a sand hole, dark brown to gray means a sand or oyster bar and light green is your deeper cuts and “lakes.”

Patches of slick, shiny water amid the waves indicates shallow spots – generally sand bars – so proceed with caution. Also, keep watch for what looks like a bristly spot – the tips of shallow sea grass exposed by a leaving tide. And if you see herons, egrets or other wading birds standing ankle deep, steer clear of this skinny spot.

Unfortunately, not all boaters pay due attendance to the shallow grass flats, as evidenced by the ugly prop scars randomly cut through this fragile habitat. Tragic and completely avoidable by idling until sufficiently into running depths, these narrow, sandy trenches carved by reckless boaters actually have one upside – the lengthy habitat feature that often gathers trout, redfish and others.

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