Inshore: Flats Patrol - The Fisherman

Inshore: Flats Patrol

Fisherman owner and publisher Mike Caruso films Jeff Lomonaco from White Water Outfitters working a fly rod on a shallow back bay flat.


Flats fishing does not get the credit it deserves in the Northeast!

During the peak of the summer season, fishing the shallows might seem like it would be pointless… but I’m here to tell you it’s far from it. Fishing these shallow portions of a bay or harbor during the warmest times of the year can produce some good fishing and one of the most exciting aspects of this style of angling is the sight-fishing opportunities, it’s quite similar to chasing bonefish in the Florida Keys.

If you haven’t done it before, I’ll be first to tell you that it’s a totally unique experience to present a lure to a striper or bluefish patrolling a shallow flat and watching that fish make an about-face, stalking your offering and then committing to it. The whole sequence of events is a total adrenaline rush that really makes you want to come back for more.

A few key things come into play when fishing the flats and even more so when sight casting the flats. The first thing to consider is the tides. When fishing a shallow flat, remember you will be potentially fishing some very shallow water, and at the bottom of a tide, you might only have inches of water on a flat where you could have 3 or 4 feet at the top of a tide. Most times, try to stick to fishing around the higher points of the tide on a flat for the best results. Also, I prefer the last of the incoming tide during the hot summer months. You’ll never have to worry about getting stuck, but from a productivity standpoint, the last push of cooler ocean water rushing on the flats will keep those lethargic summer bass and blues in the best mood to feed. You should also see the most bait activity with the last push of cool water, which in turn should attract both species. For best sight fishing results, having a high sun really helps when looking fish on the flats. A sunny day with a midday high tide is ideal for this exciting summer fishing experience.

When fishing a flat, you can either use spinning gear or swing a fly rod, and that method has proven to yield excellent results as well. For spinning, small poppers like Yo-Zuri TopKnocks, Tsunami IPOP poppers, Rebel Jumping Minnows, Cotton Cordells, and Stillwater Smack-Its are all good pics. You can also cast soft plastics on the flats for good shots of fish as well. I like Slug-Gos, weightless rigged Bass Assassins, 3-inch NLBN paddle tails, and Berkley Gulp Shrimp.

You can also go the fly rod route. For a topwater fly, Jeff Lomonaco from White Water Outfitters in Hampton Bays, NY told me you can’t go wrong with a Bob’s Banger for getting those flats blues and bass to come up for a swipe. As for other picks, a Clouser or even a plain teaser will get the job done most times. Stick with simple colors like white, chartreuse, yellow, or black to start.

When fishing the shallow flats, having a boat with a shallow draft is important for maneuvering and not running aground. I have done most of my flats fishing off a 17-foot semi-v boat that draws about 8 inches with just me on it. Also, elevation is key when fishing flats and being able to sight fish potential targets. You can always hop up on the bow of your boat, but having a poling platform is another way to really give yourself the best vantage point and see what’s going on. You’d be shocked how much of a difference that elevation does for you when searching.

Maneuvering the flats can be done in a few different ways. Ideally, you will want to be stealthy about it, and using your gas outboard isn’t always the best idea for that. Having a push pole is one way to move yourself around. Another is to take advantage of modern technology and put the Minn Kota trolling motor to good use. These days, you can control all movements with a remote control and even hold spots instantly with the unit. So this way, you can have the motor mounted in the bow of the boat while you fish from a platform in the stern – all while controlling the movements of the boat. Additionally, the motor is super stealthy and quiet and will not

One last thing I can recommend for fishing a flat is to use a good pair of polarized sunglasses. The difference between having these for fishing in these areas is night and day. Many experts recommend the green lenses for flats applications.

Give the flats a try this summer. This type of fishing usually does not get the credit it deserves in the Northeast!

Join The Fisherman Magazine as we hop aboard with White Water Outfitters for a day of light tackle and fly fishing for bluefish on the flats.



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