Fly on Foot: Boatless Fly Fishing Secrets (Part 3 - Flats on Fly)

By Trey Dyer

In this final issue of the Fly on Foot series, we explain how to target fish on the flats of Central Florida without a boat.

By far the most popular type of fishing in Central Florida, flats fishing for redfish and trout can be unreal. Giant schools in less than two feet of water are frequent in areas like the Indian River Lagoon, the Banana River and the world famous Mosquito Lagoon.

Author Trey Dyer with a nice redfish caught on the flats

Sight fishing from the top of a casting platform at a school of 400 tailing redfish is the ultimate flats fishing experience, and if you have never done it in Central Florida before, I HIGHLY recommend you taking a fly fishing charter with Captain Scott MacCalla through Get Local. There is not a better guide in the area to fish with.

For those of you looking to get out on your own and do some DIY flats fishing, this article will give you a good start on getting flats fish on the fly.

Safety 

Wading the flats for redfish is a fun and effective way to catch fish without a boat. However, there are many safety concerns to take into account when wade fishing.

The calm flats of Florida’s lagoons have cut up many feet on many occasions, so get yourself a good pair of hard soled shoes or boots. Remember to shuffle your feet when walking to prevent yourself from stepping on a stingray (which will end your day of fishing real fast).

Always be mindful of your surroundings. While attacks are extremely rare (there has not been a fatal gator attack since 2007) gators may be present in the waters you wade in. Remember to keep your distance and be mindful of where the animal is. I have been fishing here all my life, and as long as you do not bother them, they have no interest in bothering you. Also, never wade at night, the time when sharks and gators most actively feed and hunt. 

Finding a flat with baitfish is key

Get Your Spot

Like any kind of fishing, finding good access to fishy waters is key. First and foremost, you’ll want to find shallow flats with plenty of sea grass. Try and find flats with patches of sand and potholes mixed in. Oftentimes redfish and trout will sit down in these holes and wait for bait to come by to ambush it. You want to make sure the flat you are wading has hard bottom. Nothing is more frustrating than sinking deeper and deeper into submerged mud as you try and wade a grass flat.

Some Flats will be more productive than others. Flats that are adjacent to deeper water and channels provide fish with cooler water when it is hot and warmer water when it is cold, making them a good place to start. Clear water is also key. Fly fishing for redfish and trout in muddied and soupy water makes it very difficult to catch fish.

Author Trey Dyer with a nice Central Florida Snook 

Over everything else, finding a flat with baitfish or crabs and shrimp on it is key. If there is no bait, there is nothing for the redfish and trout to eat. If there is nothing for them to eat, there is no reason for fish to be on that flat. Look for schools of baitfish jumping and nervous water. If you see a school of baitfish frantically jumping and running in a certain direction, you know you have hungry predator fish that are feeding.

Get Your Flies 

While a trout may not hesitate to bust a topwater fly, redfish sometimes have difficulty hitting topwater presentations. Therefore, I usually throw a fly that either sits in the middle of the water column or a fly that will bounce along the bottom.

For redfish, shrimp and crab flies can work year round. The Shrimp Mofo Merkin Crab is a great choice to drag in front a tailing red.  The Shrimp Mofo Furry Shrimp is also another great fly to throw at reds on the flats. These flies are particularly effective in wintertime when the mullet have moved offshore and the redfish are mainly feeding on crustaceans. In spring, summer and especially the fall, mullet and other baitfish patterns are great options.

For trout, baitfish patterns and topwater flies are my go to patterns. Gurglers and sliders like the Shrimp Mofo gurgler or popper shrimp are my favorite for actively feeding trout. For trout that need to be enticed, a clouser minnow or streamer like the Shrimp Mofo poof streamers are great flies to throw.

Exploring the Pine Island Conservatory on foot

Where to Fish

This is always the toughest part about the shore-bound angler. Where are there good flats that accessible by foot?

The Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is a great place to start. With Dozens of miles of walking and driving trails on the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon, this area provides you the best chance to catch flats fish without a boat. Causeways in the area, shorelines around docks, and public parks on the lagoons and wildlife refuges like the Pine Island Conservatory are also other good places to start. Look on Google maps for sandbars and flats near shorelines to find your best opportunities.

Get Out and Fish

Like always, experience is the best tool you can use when fishing. Get and explore shorelines and flats, cast different patterns and try to mimic the bait that is in the area. You just may end up with a nice fish and a long run down the grass flat.