Stream to Salt VIII: What to Do When the Fish Aren’t Here . . . Yet.

Sometimes all you can do is wait patiently and hope the fish show up.
All photos by Evan Jones

The Stream to Salt series is designed to help anglers of all abilities identify and overcome specific challenges arising from subconsciously applying “trout brain” to saltwater fly fishing. The goal is not simply to provide a list of new habits to memorize, but also to foster a deeper understanding of why some of the habits and assumptions developed while trout fishing can be detrimental in the salt, and how to adjust. 

While much of this series has emphasized the benefits of covering water in order to find fish, in reality, not every angler has the time and the ability to get out and explore a large area. Sometimes, your options are between squeezing in a narrow window of fishing time in a less-than-ideal location, or not fishing at all. But if that’s your situation, all is not lost; you just have to find the areas saltwater fish are most likely to visit at some point during the next tide cycle(s), and try to be there waiting when they arrive.

Letting the fish come to you requires considerably more patience–and luck–than going out to search for them, but it can also put you in close range of your target species when you choose the right place to wait. While there are no guarantees, here are three features to look for when choosing a potential ambush spot:

Dimpled bottom on a bonefish flat, indicating that fish have been feeding here regularly.

1. Shallow flats with dimpled bottoms

As they “graze” along the flats, bottom-feeders such as bonefish and redfish leave divots on the seafloor. If you don’t see any fish in these areas, they’ll likely come back around for another look at some point.

2. Submerged obstacles

Any major structural feature that is periodically exposed at low tide and then covered by higher tides can provide great feeding opportunities for all kinds of sea life, which begin to gather around as the tide rises. Keep your eye out for any structures that might attract fish at lower tides, and mark them for another visit when the water levels come up.

These rock outcroppings, seen here exposed at low tide, had fish milling all around them a few hours later

3. Coves that block prevailing winds

Fly anglers aren’t the only ones who desire a respite from the wind: fish will also seek out the shelter of coves when the breeze picks up, usually during mid-afternoon. Pay close attention to points where the calmer waters of the cove meet up with the choppier open waters beyond, since fish will often stack up right at the transition.

Check out the rest of the series:

Stream to Salt I: Don’t Wait to Rig
Stream to Salt II: Keep Moving
Stream to Salt III: How to Cover Water
Stream to Salt IV: Fly Design
Stream to Salt V: Timing the Strip Set
Stream to Salt VI: Understanding Tides
Stream to Salt VII: Avoiding Unproductive Options
Stream to Salt VIII: What to Do When the Fish Aren’t Here . . . Yet.
Stream to Salt IX: How to Pace Yourself

Evan Jones is the assistant editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog. He spent a decade living on the Florida coast and now makes his home on the Front Range of Colorado.

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