What is Flats Fishing?

Malcolm Tatum

As a form of fishing that is popular along the Florida Keys, flats fishing involves no complicated equipment and no special skills. In fact, you don’t even have to have a boat. Here are some facts about flats fishing, including how to prepare for a flats fishing weekend of your own.

The fish closer to shore are usually smaller than the fish found in deeper water.
The fish closer to shore are usually smaller than the fish found in deeper water.

Because flats fishing involves shallow water casting, even people who do not like to be out on a boat will feel comfortable with this form of the sport. While it is possible to simply stand in shallow water and cast your line for the bonefish, tarpon, and permit that are commonly found in the shallows, many people choose to use a flatbed skiff as the platform for the fishing expedition.

Along the Florida Keys, flats fishing can be enjoyed by wading out into shallows and casting a line.
Along the Florida Keys, flats fishing can be enjoyed by wading out into shallows and casting a line.

Generally, someone will act as the captain and look for shallows that appear to have plenty of fishing available. Once a spot is located, the skiff is anchored and the fishermen can cast their lines. As the day progresses, the skiff may move about to locate new schools of fish, providing more opportunities to enjoy a large catch for the day.

Flats fishing can also be enjoyed by wading out into shallows and casting the line. In effect, you are fishing from the shoreline and waiting for the fish to come to you, while a fisherman using a skiff is looking around and finding a location with plenty of fish. However, both methods can easily produce results. Flats fishing that is accomplished by wading in may take a little longer, but generally the results are as least as good as traditional fly fishing.

Preparing for a flats fishing expedition is not unlike preparing for any fishing trip. You will want to wear clothing that is light and airy, allowing you to be comfortable as the heat of the day progresses. Since you will be near or on the water for most of the time, make sure you wear a strong sunscreen and take along some sort of head covering, such as a hat or baseball cap. If the plan is to wade into the shallows, you may want to take along rubber boots that will protect your feet from being in the water for so long. Make sure that you take along extra line, plenty of bait, and that you also have plenty of water or sports drinks nearby so you can easily replace you body’s fluid levels that you will lose while perspiring.

Keep in mind that the fish you will catch while flats fishing may not be the largest in the world, but they will be plentiful and can make up quite a nice fish fry. Make sure you take along a container where you can keep your catch fresh and cool, until it is time to go home and begin cleaning and cooking the day’s take.

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Discussion Comments


@Vincenzo -- Flats fishing, in its purest form, is actually quite a bit "cleaner" than fly fishing. That is because you get on a flat and float around rather than wading through a river. Also, if you are in the Florida keys, you just know the weather is going to be warmer throughout the year so one could conceivably go flats fishing all year round instead of just in warmer months or when fish have migratory patterns.


Flats fishing sounds a lot like fly fishing only without the streams. One must have influenced the other at some point in the past, although I am not quite sure which one might have come first.

Then again, we don't do either flats fishing or fly fishing around these parts where lakes, bass boats and bank fishing reign supreme. I suppose regional differences determine what kind of fishing is popular in various locales around the nation.

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