Matching the Hatch is just as important in the saltwater as in
the freshwater. Look into the water. Size, shape, silhouette, profile, action,
density, color are all important features of bait and the flies we use to
imitate. Natural colors are the best during July and August.
When I used to guide for trout, the first thing I would do before wetting my
line would be to study the shoreline. I'd let mother nature tell me what fly I
should be using. I'd look at spider webs, underside of leaves, tops of rocks -
and sometimes underneath them. Fishing the flats is no different.
Next time you're out; look on the shallow edges of the water. The bait you
see is the fly you should try.
Ever thrown a fly that was so thin, small and sparsely dressed that it almost
resembled a bare hook? If you're on the flats in July and August you should be.
You'll notice small sand colored shrimp ½ in., muma chugs 1-2 in., 1-3 in. sand
lances, silversides 1 ½ - 3 in. and crabs - dime to silver dollar size. Try to duplicate
coloration and profile with your fly selection.
I've been watching 10-20 lb. bass feeding on all the above. Study of bait fish and
there imitations is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle when casting
to educated resident bass on the flats in July and Aug. in 1-3 feet of water at
high noon. A great book to help you is called, Saltwater Imitations and Their
Natural fleeing reaction:
Matching the natural fleeing reaction of bait is an important ingredient to successfully
fooling big stripers on the flats, and will usually mean the difference between hooking
up or not.
Ever thought about the variety of ways different bait react when fleeing or escaping a
predator? All the above-mentioned bait flee differently. Try stepping on a shrimp or
throw a pebble into a school of bait and watch the speed, pauses and darting movements
they make as they swim away. Scare a crab and it will normally borrow itself into the
sand and stay still. This action should become a normal tactic when imitating different
species of bait. The action you impart to the fly should imitate the naturals exactly
to be consistently successful.
Does the bait burrow itself into the sand for protection on the flats?
Sand lances - I use a Orvis Depth Charge fast sinking line with a weighted fly
(clouser) and drag it along the sandy bottom, using a one-handed fast strip in 1 ½ foot
strips. This imitates the natural's fleeing movement as well as where it tries to hide. What
I'm trying to do with the fly is drag it into the sand so it puffs up clouds of sand. I find
that this also helps disguise any imperfections in the fly and covers any negative scent.
What the sink line does, besides bumping the fly like a
borrowing sand eel, is it also focuses the bass's eyes parallel to the bottom so
he may not look up. If the fly is slightly above his position, he sees you or the
boat. This technique helps when casting to big bass when:
This leisurely approach to feeding normally occurs when there is no moving water,
or when the tides are not running hard.
1. They're not feeding aggressively.
2. Casually scouting for food.
3. Not in a hurry to feed.
Capt. Rich Benson (Top Flats Boat Guide on the Cape) once told me that the hardest
fly to fish is a crab, because you don't really fish it at all. The following story sums it up.
Bass in one foot of water
Another day we were seeing hundreds of Bass and all fish caught were
between 28 and 40 inches! All were caught on a Tom's Rattle crab. The largest
Bass of 40 in. was taken by leading it, allowing the crab to sink to the
bottom. We gave it two 2- inch quick strips to rattle the crab and get the
fish's attention. It changed direction and headed straight for it. The fly
was left motionless as some crabs naturally remain stationary with claws up
when being threatened. The Bass inspected it for realism then tipped up on
its head with its tail almost out of the water and sucked it deep into the
throat. We never felt the hit but instinctively set by sight. Yea-ha! I
haven't seen that much orange string in a while.
Tom Thomas is the inventor of this unique "HOT" fly. If you haven't got one
in your box it isn't complete. It works on permit and bones also. Tan, brown and
green are the colors.
Shrimp - They tend to flee in 1-foot spurts. On a side note, I created
a shrimp pattern by tying a piece of no-name material on to a hook and forming
it into a shrimp body. Then dipped it in softtex and rolled it in sand. Shape, size,
silhouette, coloration and a good sink rate was achieved. And it caught fish! HA.
Silver sides - These don't burrow into the sand, so I normally do a one-handed
strip, 1 ½ feet, quickly, with a pause in between.
I check my fly after every cast. Through thorough study of bass and retrieval tactics,
I've seen fish look at my fly with one eye, then the other, put their nose on it and
turn away. They won't give it a second glance if it is fouled and/or doesn't look like
the natural. I've even seen bass spook off a fouled fly.
Stripers have incredible eyesight and smell so check your fly after every cast. You
normally are only going to get one good shot, so make it count.
Keeping in mind these fish have a brain the size of a pea, you would think they would
be pretty easy to catch. But remember we are in their environment. Sight fishing is
similar to hunting deer or turkey. The amount of noise generated by you, other anglers
or boats means one thing - NO FISH on the flat or at least spooky fish who are less
apt to eat. Even the water lapping on the underside of your basket will spook fish.
Stand completely still or when walking move slowly. Stay as far away from other
anglers and boats that may not be trying to blend in with the sites and sounds
of the natural saltwater environments as you are.
For best visibility in the morning face west. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. face anywhere.
Afternoon face east. When the wind is blowing 15 to 30 knots you can still see the fish
but it's tough to cast a long leader into the wind. Find spots where they will travel past
you so you can cast with the wind. Allowing your leader to fully extend and put more
distance between fly and line.
These BIG bass are easiest to catch when they are feeding actively. What initiates
this? Most of the time it is speed of current moving the bait over, around or into structure.
The faster the current the more aggressively they will feed and the easier they are to catch!
During the course of a day most flats will have fish on them, but I try to only fish the ones
that have moving water. This equation works ninety percent of the time:
Moving water + structure = a compressed water flow. Compressed
(concentrated) water flow + bait = fish.
Take some time and study current movement. Seek out moving water on the flats and you
will be rewarded.
These fish generally travel the same route day after day taking all the guess work out of it
once you've put your time in to study it. The routes they take can and will change if there's
a lack of food, too much boat or wade activity, seals or water temperature change - too
warm or too cold. On the flats everywhere I fish the structure is related - creeks, channels,
sluiceways, bars, depressions, holes and rips. These types of structure are their highways
Search out areas that give you a height advantage. The higher up you are the larger
your visual cone will be, allowing you to achieve many of the pieces of the
puzzle we have already discussed.
When I go fishing, I take all this and more into consideration when deciding where to go.
In my opinion, sight fishing the flats is one of the most challenging and rewarding types
of fly fishing you will ever experience. But to achieve proficiency you need to have a clear
understanding of the flats you fish. Then you'll soon be realizing the best part
of fly-fishing - FISH ON!!!! ~ Randy Jones
Randy Jones is a full-time professional fly/spin fishing guide with over
18 years of experience. He has represented the Orvis Corporation as a
guide and chief instructor of their 2 1/2 day Saltwater Fly fishing
schools. During the summer, Randy can be found guiding the Monomoy Island area
where sight casting on the flats to trophy Striped Bass is his
specialty. During the Fall, Winter, and Spring Randy runs drift boat and
wade trips on the world class Salmon River for Steelhead, Coho, Browns,
Atlantics, and Kings.
or visit his Web Site: http://www.yankeeangler.com/