Crystal River, Florida November 16, 2007
In fishing, as with most sports, it is easy to get carried away when buying equipment, learning new skills, and practicing with both. This post hopes to remove the mystery behind flats fishing in Florida and provide you with a simple and hopefully short list of the truly necessary, bare-bones, set of skills and equipment needed to be a successful flats fisherman in Florida.
Put down all the over-blown fishing strategies, casting techniques, and lure selection hype that you have ever used or read about and pick up the no-nonsense professional advice presented below.
Boat? Who needs a boat? All you need is a good pair of wading boots or old sneakers. Sure, a boat can get you to many more fishing locations than can be fished from the combination of your car and your feet, but never think that the spot you can wade from the parking lot of the boat ramp is not a prime fishing location. Many times the good fish holding structures around boat launching areas are overlooked by boaters in their hurry to power over the water to find their favorite and probably over-fished spot.
Here are three of my favorite spots in the Ozello/Crystal River, Florida area that I often wade during an incoming tide and often catch Redfish and Speckled Trout.
No-nonsense equipment doesn’t mean junky equipment and it doesn’t mean expensive equipment. No-nonsense equipment is high-quality, rugged, affordable, and functional beyond the fishing skills of all but the most demanding professional tournament anglers. For a day of wade fishing the flats of Florida you need the following equipment and only the following equipment. The only thing you could possibly need to add to this list is your personal medications. Of course, there are many different equipment lists that I could present to you but this is the exact equipment that has been proven to catch fish year after year.
- Shimano Carbomax 7′ one piece spinning rod
- Shimano Sedona 4000FB spinning reel
- Trilene XL 10 lb test clear monofilament
- Trilene XL 20 lb test clear monofilament (leader)
- Fingernail clippers on a retractable lanyard
- Quick drying polyester shirt with chest pockets
- Quick drying polyester shorts with pockets
- Hard billed Sunhat
- Polarized Sunglasses
- Wading boots or old sneakers
- Micro flashlight
- Sunscreen and lip balm
- Bug spray
- Small drybox for tackle, ID, and fishing license
- Small Leatherman tool with scissors
- Tackle selection
- Snack food
A graphite/glass composite rod is what you need. It is much more rugged than pure graphite and outlasts rods four times more expensive and casts and fights fish as well as any on the market. My all-time favorite flats fishing rod is the Shimano Carbomax 7′ medium action one piece spinning rod. Shimano’s part number is CMS70M. I know what you are saying, “If this guy is such a good fisherman, why is he recommending a freshwater fishing rod for saltwater flats fishing?” Well, this is your first lesson in no-nonsense fishing and its equipment. Don’t believe the marketing hype of the equipment manufacturers. They almost all make excellent equipment but, without exception, they push the uneducated buyer into spending too much. A comparable rod from Shimano that is categorized as “saltwater” will truly be an exceptional fishing rod but it costs three times as much as the Carbomax and it is not as rugged over the long haul because it is made of 100% graphite instead of the more reliable graphite/glass composite. The Carbomax rod is completely usable in saltwater and nothing, not even the reel seat, will corrode.
A good quality properly cared for fishing rod usually lasts much longer than your fishing reel. I know it seems that it should be the opposite but it is not. Unless you intend to spend time having an expensive reel regularly serviced, do not waste your money by purchasing a spinning reel that costs more than the rod. The best no-nonsense spinning reel for flats fishing in Florida is the Shimano Sedona B Series SE4000FB with front drag. When you are done fishing, gently hose off the reel with freshwater, let it dry, spray it with WD-40, and wipe off the excess. The life of your rod and reel is extended dramatically by this little bit of care.
Now add some good ten pound test monofilament fishing line and your rod and reel combination is ready to fish. Trilene XL clear is my favorite as it is very limp an rolls off the reel smoothly and is slow to twist up as is very common with line fished from a spinning reel. The new braided lines such as PowerPro are excellent but I do not recommend them for spinning reels because the line is held by the finger during a cast and the small diameter and low stretch characteristics abrade the skin from your finger tip after just a few casts. You also need a spool of twenty pound test monofilament fishing line to use for making leaders (we talk about leaders later). Although the flourocarbon monofilaments are very popular for making leaders and do work very well, I am not convinced that they have the “invisible in water” property that they claim. Since they are triple the cost of regular monofilament and have only marginal, if any, added benefit, they do not qualify as no-nonsense equipment.
Your clothing is needed to protect skin from sun exposure and to regulate your body temperature. In the summer select light-weight, long-sleeved polyester shirts preferably with large chest pockets and light weight polyester shorts with a built-in synthetic mesh liner and large pockets that can close with velcro. In the winter, simply add an additional layer underneath the light weight shirt. Some polyester thermal underwear is always nice when the north wind blows.
Of course, wading in the cold winter time water is only enjoyed by the hardiest of individuals and I recommend switching from wade fishing to kayak or boat fishing during the colder months of the years.
Columbia has a large selection of inexpensive and functional models. But any brand works as long as it is light weight, loose fitting, and made from a synthetic, fast drying material. You can fish in a raggedy cotton tee shirt if you wish but for all-day trips on the water the superior comfort provided by a loose fitting, polyester shirt and short makes them no-nonsense choices.
Your wading boots need not be fancy armored anti-stingray boots or even chi-chi stylish bonefish boots. Just buy a pair of sturdy scuba-diver booties and fear nothing except oyster shells.
A hat is a must have accessory and I recommend a hard billed version instead of a floppy bill. In windy conditions the soft bill is annoyingly flippy-flappy. The hard bill provides stable sun protection and even doubles as a face saving rain shield in times of need. Again, Columbia has good models that are reasonably priced.
Never leave the house without your high-quality polarized sunglasses. Sunglasses are so important that you need to make sure you never forget them. If you do forget them, go home and get them or stop at a store and buy some new ones. I am not kidding! Polarized sunglasses are so important mainly because they allow you to see under the water even when the sun is producing significant glare on the water’s surface. But sunglasses also provide protection for the eyes just as your clothing is protecting your skin. Fishing all day in bright sunlight without sunglasses can cause headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Fishing all day in bright sunlight with good polarized sunglasses prevents all these maladies. My favorite glasses have always been ActionOptics with brown glass lens. The glass lenses are extremely durable and the brown color is useful in both the bright light of a summer day and the overcast gloom of a winter morning.
Choosing tackle is where most fisherman make the most mistakes. The number one reason they make these mistakes is because the tackle manufacturers know that fisherman are attracted to bits of plastic with flashing glitter and bold colors. Never expect the lure you like to be equally attractive to a fish. Sorry but fish the world over don’t care about the latest and greatest flashing chunk of plastic. However, years of trial and error by millions of fun seeking fisherman have found certain lure shapes, lure movement patterns, and lure colors that consistently attract fish. Just stay with these basics, learn to be confident in their time-tested effectiveness. Don’t be persuaded by your buddy’s constant talk about his mail-order super lure. Here is a list of lures your tackle box should not be without along with the several color patterns that always work when fished with confidence.
- Heddon Zara Spook
- Saltwater super spook in “redhead” color
- Mirrolure 52M
- Classic Black Back/Silver
- Culprit 6″ Jerk Worm
- Albino Shad
- Watermelon Pepper
- BassAssassin 4″ Curly Shad
- Chartreuse silver glitter
- Candy corn
- Owner Offset WideGap Worm Hook 3/0
- Offshore Angler 1/4 and 1/8 oz. jig heads
- Red deluxe shad head
- Glow deluxe shad head
A Small Box
Let us put all this into a small box and see if it fits into your pocket. I recommend a Flambeau 3003 Tuff Tainer. It is big enough to hold your leader material, hard lures, jig heads and a few of each type of soft lure. It does fit in your pocket but I agree that it is not very comfortable or secure so I would advise a small waist pack that can be used to store your tackle as well as your snacks, water, sunscreen, micro-light, personal identification, fishing license, and bug spray. Choose a inexpensive model such as the High Sierra Passport Lumbar Waist Pack. Don’t spend big money on a waterproof pack. It is not possible to make it waterproof. Instead, spend time making everything in the pack waterproof by using plastic bags and small waterproof containers.
A Small Light
Quite often while wade fishing early in the morning or late in the evening, there is just not enough sunlight to properly tie a knot or find that last chartreuse curly shad. The answer is to bring with you a small flashlight that can clip onto the bill of your hat thus freeing your hands for more important duties. I have used a many different types but my current favorite is the Bil-Lite from Q-Lite, Inc. This light is sturdy and bright and has a lens that focuses the light into a clean circle with very little light wasted around the edges. The batteries are easy to replace but the light is not waterproof so be careful.
Now we have all the the equipment needed to make you a first class flats fisherman. But this equipment is of no use unless you know how to use it. The skills you must acquire and practice are as follows:
- Cast accurately in both distance and direction
- Tie strong small knots when attaching hooks and creating leaders
- See fish under the water using your polarized glasses
- Know the tide and how it effects the location you are fishing
- Know the weather and how it effects the location you are fishing
Accurate casting is achieved no other way than with practice and the best way to practice is to go fishing. Don’t worry about your poor casts but do learn from them. Notice how the wind effects your casts. Notice how the lure type and weight effects your casts. Fish and learn and enjoy your lessons.
Seeing fish underwater is only possible when you have very good eye sight and have spent many days on the water. Even the best fisherman seldom actually see the entire fish but can tell you from just the way the water is moving over a swimming fish or the shape of a shadow on the hard bottom exactly what species of fish is being seen. After you have spent years fishing you also will have this skill. Until then, look for movement in the water; look for water moving in a way inconsistent with the surrounding water. Cast in front of every movement and you soon learn from your trial and error.
Knowing the tide is as easy as looking up the high and low tides in a local tide chart. But knowing how the tide effects your chosen fishing location requires you to go fish that location. The most important thing to learn is that fish like moving water. They use that moving water to wash bait into an ambush or they use that moving water to signal that they can now swim up onto a previously dry mud flat or a previously too shallow grass flat. Once the water stops moving, the fish know to stop what they are doing and start to do something else. It is your job to know what the fish will do next. A good rule of thumb is to fish a grass flat or mangrove shoreline during the incoming tide. As the water floods the flat or shoreline, the fish move further and further onto the once shallow area in order to find food. As the tide begins to move out, you can reposition yourself so you can cast into the deeper channels that drain the flat or shoreline. As the water moves off the flat, the fish begin to retreat to deeper water and use the channels on the flat to help ambush bait that is being washed out with the tide.
Knowing the weather is not easy. Wind can completely alter the tide prediction. Sudden changes in temperature seems to slow down the fishing action but Sudden decreases in barometric pressure seems to speed up the fishing action. It is just not possible to know all that the weather does to your favorite fishing spot. The best rule to follow is to fish the morning and evening during the summer as the cooler temperatures and absence of direct sunlight make the fish hungrier and your presence less noticeable. In the winter, fish the few days before a cold front brings its high winds, cold temperatures, and bright blue skies. Once the harsh winter weather passes through, stay at home and clean up your tackle and wait for the next cold front.
Tying strong small knots is a must and next to casting is the easiest skill to acquire. No-nonsense fishermen need only to learn three knots: the Uni-Knot, the Spider Hitch, and the Surgeon’s Knot. There are many useful and wonderful knots that a fisherman can use but learning to tie these three perfectly, quickly, and in all weather is all you need to know.
The Uni-Knot – Attaching hook to leaderThe Uni-Knot is a knot tying system! If you learn the uni-knot you have learned the single most useful knot on the planet.
- First, run the line through the eye of the hook for about six inches. Turn the end back toward the eye to form a circle as shown in illustration #1.
- With thumb and finger of the left hand, grasp both strands of line and the crossing strand in a single grip at the point marked just forward of the hook. Now, make six turns with the end around both strands of line and through the circle, as in illustration #2.
- Maintaining the same grip with the left hand, pull on the end of the line in the direction shown by the arrow until all the wraps are snugged tight and close together. Snugging down tightly at this stage is essential for maximum knot strength. Finally, slide the finished knot tight against the eye of the hook by dropping the tag end and pulling solely on the standing part of the line as shown by the arrow in illustration #3.
- The excess end can be trimmed flush with the knot after final positioning, as shown in illustration #4.
It takes just one slight variation to transform the hook tie into a loop arrangement, which provides more lure movement. When you get to the position specified in illustration #3, simply grab the tag end with pliers and tighten the knot without allowing the loop to slide through the eye of the hook.
The Spider Hitch – Creating a double line
It is important to create a double line before tying your leader to your standing line. The reason is that your knot is much stronger when the line is doubled. This knot is not as good as a Bimini Twist. But it is much easier to tie and just as strong for the short duration battles typical of flats fishing with light spinning tackle.
- A. Double back the end of the line until you have about three feet of double line and grip the two strands with thumb and finger near the tag end, make a two inch diameter loop near the tag end and take the base of this loop in the same thumb-finger grip.
- B. Wrap the doubled line around your thumb (and around the small loop too) for five turns.
- C. Slip the end of the long loop through the little loop. Pull the entire long loop through, allowing the wraps to slide, one by one, from your thumb.
- D. At first, tighten the knot by slowly and gently pulling the double line as one unit. If you detect that one of the lines in the knot are not tightening evenly, then just pull the single line that is causing the problem. Pull each line separately very gently until the knot is nice and smooth. Then, once again, pull all lines as a unit until the knot is as tight as you can make it with hand pressure and trim the tag end close to the knot.
Surgeon’s Knot – Connecting leader to double line
The Surgeon’s Knot makes a fast, easy and reliable connection for tying a heavy monofilament leader, or double line, directly to either monofilament or braided fishing line.
- 1. First, lay out the leader parallel to the double line made using the Spider Hitch, letting the end of the line and the end of the leader overlap for six or eight inches.
- 2. Tie a simple overhand knot in the doubled section, making sure that both the short end (line) and long end (leader) are pulled completely through. Do not tighten the knot at this point.
- 3. Next, simply go through the same opening a second time, with both strands exactly as before, again making certain both ends are pulled through.
- 4. Finally, draw the knot tight by gripping both strand on either side of the knot, and drawing down with steady pressure. As with the Spider Hitch gently tighten each line separately until the knot is smooth and tight. The ends of this knot may be trimmed flush with the wraps.