Pro Tips: Stop Fidgeting on the Saltwater Flats

Written by: Robert Morselli

Standing still on the saltwater flats can actually draw fish to you.
Photo by Sandy hays

Remember your parents telling you to stop fidgeting? Well, take that advice with you the next time you find yourself wading.

The rule of thumb we’ve all read and heard countless times is to approach your quarry carefully and cautiously in order to avoid scaring off everything with fins. Everything you do, even the tiny movements used to tie on a fly, can be noticed by fish.

Anne’s Beach (on Florida’s Lower Matecumbe Key), is a narrow beach marked by a gradual, 150-yard stretch of semi-soft base before you arrive at a well-defined drop off. While wading somewhere between waist- and chest-deep—well over 100 yards in and with swimmers safely behind me—and after staying nearly motionless for just three or four minutes, I noticed something striking: I became “structure.” It’s a fact that fish love structure because it can provide a safe hiding spot or a place to ambush prey from.

Anne’s Beach, in the Florida Keys, offers a gently sloping flat and plenty of fish.
Image via Google Maps

It’s impossible to be entirely motionless while wading: you’re doing the side-shuffle, casting, etc. But stay still long enough, and a community of fish will gradually build up right around you—and some of these fish might even be the quarry you’re tracking. The best examples are sharks, barracudas, box fish and, to a certain extent, jacks. Some species, such as snook or mackerel, are constantly on the move in shallow water— you have at best just one cast to attract them—but other species prefer to circle around, combing and recombing small patches of shallow water. These are the fish that I find hard to resist, more so when their skittish cousins (bonefish, permit), want nothing to do with my crafty, delicate presentations. While it’s unreasonable to expect this sort of behavior from all species, many do have the confidence level to approach you and stay with you even while you’re casting. At times, a barracuda’s curiosity can be almost heroic, and these fish often hang around and observe you for minutes before getting bored and darting off.

If you are not moving, species such as barracuda will come within range.
Photo by Sandy Hays

I repeated my experiment several times, and at one point there was so much fishy traffic around me that I was successfully dapping—with zero camouflage—in open water.

Here are a few pointers: wear dull, sand-colored apparel, and be sure to conceal flashy metal implements. Some species—like sand sharks, nurse sharks and lemon sharks—require sinking patterns as they’re nearly always nosing around the ocean floor. Barracuda are famous for taking surface flies, but will happily go for sub-surface offerings. Boxfish and jacks take flies at every level of the water column.

Next time you wade, stop fidgeting for a few minutes and watch a community of fish build up right around you. It’s an experience you’re unlikely to forget as you so rarely get to visually track your fly in salt water, at such an intimate distance.

Robert Morselli is the research director for the television show “How It’s Made.” A compilation of Robert’s fly fishing articles can be found at Fly Fishing Insider.

7 thoughts on “Pro Tips: Stop Fidgeting on the Saltwater Flats”

  1. What great advice, this happened to me while fishing my favorite Caribbean island! If things are not happening-stop,
    take a breather, have a little patience and you will be amazed what shows up.This also works on the flats on Marthas Vineyard for Stripers.

  2. Pingback: Tippets: Ocean Waste Hits Home, Standing Still on the Flats | MidCurrent
  3. Many years ago I was lucky enough to fish with a club member (Tropical Angler’s Club – one of the oldest still going strong in Miami) who preached that staking out and not moving his skiff at all on a flat that you wanted to learn was a great technique. He’d set up on the flat he was interested in then not move a thing for the six hour tide ( or until the change of the tide). His most important gear…. his watch and a tide table. He claimed that permit were like the crosstown bus and would cross a flat or work down an edge at the same tide stage, day after day… All that was needed was to figure out when…. and make a record of it.

    Likewise when wading, sometimes just getting into a spot that had some traffic nearby (a channel, a drop off, a noticeable current) and remaining still will show you a lot more than you’d ever guess.

    I long ago lost touch with the guy that showed me that trick – but still use it when I’m out exploring and just want to learn the movement patterns across a promising looking flat. By the way, the fellow that taught me the trick was an aircraft mechanic for a large airline who worked the midnight shift and could get off work an hour or two before dawn. He learned it by jumping in his skiff and running out to one spot or other just as the sun came up.. He’d sit until tide change -mostly watching, occasionally actively fishing -then make the run home long before mid-day….

  4. Trying not to be contrary here,but by standing still you become” cover ” rather than” structure”.Structure is a reference to permanent bottom features.Many anglers confuse the two.
    Secondly,there are plenty of signs warning users that no fishing is allowed on Anne’s Beach.I have no problem with anyone fishing there but be warned .The city of Islamorada is eliminating fishing and access to fishing(no parking on the shoulder near MM 77) at a rapid pace.These places were the very reason I always stopped in Islamorada in the past.Not so now.

  5. Also holding or barely moving will help you catch more bonefish-if you’re in an area where they are cruising. I wish I could follow my own advice! I’ve spooked several large bonefish in the Bahamas by moving slowly!

  6. It’s true. I was fishing for bonefish in USVI and as U stood still as not to spook some, a small blacktip shark started circling.
    It was unnerving but it eventually left and two smaller ones started the same thing.
    Eventually I caught two bonefish as well as a yellowtail snapper and the sharks bolted off once I had moved to reel in fish.

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