By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA
** Since the advent of the Florida net ban, hordes of anglers have adopted the back bay flats as their primary fishing venue. Thus, what once was a quiet pastoral setting has now become busy with boats of all configurations. And those crafts that can go where other boats “fear to tread” – the shallowest of waters — have a distinct advantage over greater draft vessels. We call it “skinny water fishing” which, in addition to those shallow draft vessels, requires special techniques and baits.
And, if you do happen to own a vessel that draws too much water, just anchor it up near a mangrove or oyster bar. Then put on your wading shoes and get out of the boat and start fishing.
One very important aspect of skinny water fishing is “stealth.” When there’s only a thin layer of water separating you from the fish, they become very aware of the slightest sound. A pair of pliers dropped on the deck – a hatch slammed shut – in this environment is a no-no. Here in “Shallowland” silence is truly golden.
Along the same lines, never zoom up to a fishing spot with your engines roaring. It’s best to shut down several yards away from your destination. Then pole or paddle into the strike zone. You might also try using a trolling motor to move you in — but remember, try to avoid varying the speed of that electric motor.
Once you’re set up, look around. Finding fish is not brain surgery. With aid of a good pair of polarized glasses you should be able to easily see them moving through the shallows.
And if fishing for reds, keep an eye open for tails. Redfish like to forage for crustaceans and baitfish down in the grasses, thus leaving their tails piercing the water’s surface.
One of the best techniques for catching tailing redfish is using very light weedless lures, like a plastic jerkworm tail “Texas-rigged” with a worm hook. On a recent outing with Capt. C.A. Richardson of FlatsClass.com, I was introduced to Capt. Mike’s “Flats Candy” – a sort of longish curly tail body, rigged with a weighted blood red worm hook. It worked like a champ for me, casting well and gliding through the skinniest of water without snagging the bottom. That day I hooked two really nice reds using this unique bait.
Other anglers like to “prospect” the skinny waters throwing topwaters like popular MirrOlure TopDogs, Zara Spooks, Bagley’s Jumping Finger mullet, etc. Richardson recommends that if you see a fish chasing your lure, keep on reeling and twitching. In nature, a bait fish will always try to get away. That’s you’re your lure should emulate. Above all, try not to “plop” your bait right down on top of the fish.
The Watts brothers (Greg and Bryan) have a great technique they call “drag and drop.” You cast your bait just beyond the fish – then drag it right to the fish and gently drop the lure right in front of its face. It works every time.
Other lure choices include weedless spoons, in-line spinner baits and bucktail jigs that are designed to run through the water with the hook facing upward, such as Hank Brown’s “Hook-Up” jigs.
With some learned skills, fishing skinny can really produce some remarkable results. Once you get with the program, I think you will discover that the shallow flats can be and extremely productive and quite enjoyable fishing venue.