Flats Fly-Fishing Basics

Looking for a change of scenery? Try flats fly-fishing. If you’re thinking of making the switch from lake fishing to saltwater fishing, flats fly-fishing is a good way to start.

You might like flats fishing because you can catch some nice game fish without having to go out too far. Here’s a how-to guide on the basics of flats fly fishing.

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What is flats fly-fishing?

Flats fly-fishing is, well, fishing in the flats. You’ll be fishing from a flats boat in shallow saltwater.

Flats fly-fishing is quite different than deep sea fishing because the water is still and clear. You’ll be able to see the fish swim by you, and then it’s up to you to lure him to your line.

You’re going to use equipment that’s a little different, too. We’ll go over that in a bit. But first, let’s look at the four types of flats fishing spots:

Saltwater inlets

Saltwater inlets are a good place to start because they have a good moving current. You’ll find fish hiding behind structures in the water, and in the deeper pockets of water.


Marshes are a bit more still than inlets, but you’ll usually find a stream of water running to or away from them. Lots of fish food lives in the grasses of marshes, and at low tide, predatory fish will come looking for it.


Channels are nice and deep, so you’ll find a nice variety of species in channels. You’ll see bottom dwellers and game fish. Rigging is usually the way to go in channels.

Oyster bars

Oyster bars are probably the trickiest of flats fishing spots. It’ll be easy to hang up your line on grass, or snag it on the coarse bottom. But once you get the hang of it, there are lots of predatory fish to be caught.

No matter which spot you choose, it’s going to be a little different from fly fishing. Let’s take a look at the equipment you’ll need to bring.

Flats fly-fishing equipment

Before you think about your fishing gear, think about your own safety. Flats fly-fishing can be windy business—and when the sun reflects off the water, you’re bound to get burned. Wear long sleeves and plenty of sunblock.

Another tip is to use polarized sunglasses. They’ll protect your eyes, but they’ll also make it easier to see through the reflection on the water. You’ll spot more fish that way.

Now, for your equipment: You know that when you’re fishing the flats you’re probably not going to be hauling in a half-ton shark. That said, you’ll need 7- to 10-weight rods.

Most guides fish for bonefish with a 9-weight rod with 10-pound braided line. If you’re fishing in a really windy area, you may even need a 10-weight rod.

Depending on where you fish, you’ll need a jig. If you’re trolling over oyster bars, find a bucktail jig for bottom-bouncing.

No matter which lures you choose, a good tip is to match the color of the lure to the color of the water’s bottom.

And whatever fish you’re targeting, remember that live bait always works best. Use shrimp or bait fish for the best results.

Learning the sport

You might have reservations about it, but a lot of sportsmen recommend fishing with a guide. When you’re just learning the ropes, it can be useful to have someone to show you the basics.

Guides will usually let you bring your own equipment, but they’ll also have some that you can use. The benefit of hiring a guide is that he’ll be able to use his experience to spot targets even when you may not see any fish at all. He already knows the area and where to look.

If you decide you’d rather go it alone, there are a few tips that will help you catch game fish. First, look for water that’s moving when there’s no wind.

Anything that seems out of the ordinary could be a sign of fish. You’ll learn what to look for through experience – once you’ve seen it, you won’t forget it.

If you don’t see any signs, you should know a little bit about where the fish ought to be. Cast near channels, sea walls and near the edges of the flats. Try topwater casting first—but if that doesn’t work, try spoons.

Try to fish with the wind facing your back. Fish will look for food by swimming against the wind, so use this to your advantage.

Finally, don’t get mad if a needlefish takes your bait. A lot of times, sportsmen will yank their line away from a needlefish. Instead, let the needlefish eat your bait because that’ll get the attention of bonefish.

Flats fly-fishing is a great to introduce yourself to saltwater fishing. There’s not a lot of risk, and you’ll stay close to shore. You’ve learned the basics–now it’s time to go try it out!