How to Fish the Grass Flats

Fisherman and dog on boat in marsh
(SUDRES Jean-Daniel/hemis.fr/Getty Images)

Depending on where you live, a grass flat can be a different thing to different people. In South Florida, a grass flat is a shallow area of usually turtle grass. It can be very shallow, even out of water at low tide to as deep as 5 or 6 feet deep. Farther north, a grass flat may contain different grasses or maybe even no grass. But it is still shallow water, and fishing techniques in either area are basically the same. They include drifting, poling, using a trolling motor, and anchoring.

Why Fish on a Flat?

We call these stretches of water flats because the water is shallow and always remains flat—that is, there are no waves. In this case, still waters do not run deep. It takes some depth of water for wind to create waves, and generally, the deeper the water, the bigger the wave can be.

Predator fish feed on the flats because the shallow water gives them an attack advantage. Bait fish can only run left and right, not up and down, and they become easier to ambush and chase down. The grass flats are also a self-contained estuary and juvenile fish of many species live in the grass for protection. So, fishing on a flat, we are looking for feeding predator fish in shallow water.

Drifting

One of the easiest ways to fish a flat is to simply drift over it. Watch the tide and move to the up current end of the flat, cut the engine, and allow the current to take you back across the flat. With the movement of the boat directed by the current and whatever wind is present, you can cast artificials or natural bait in any direction from the boat.

The easiest way to drift fish over a flat is with a float rig. It could be a popping cork or one of the many clacking floats like a Cajun Thunder or Thunder Chicken. Under the float, use some type of live bait, maybe a live shrimp or a live pinfish. It could be any of the baitfish choices available to you at your local tackle shop. The idea is to keep the bait off the bottom and moving as naturally as possible through the water along with the current. You could try using a fresh dead strip bait on a plain hook with no weight. Free line this strip bait behind the boat and work it a bit to keep it off the bottom. There are times when strip bait could catch more fish than a live bait! Drifting is good when seeking spotted seatrout.

Poling

Very similar to drifting, poling allows you to move the boat silently over the flat. We use the current to our advantage to generally move the boat, but from a poling platform, we can see farther and locate fish on the flats. We call it “sight fishing,” as we use a pole to push us into casting range to a fish we have located. The disadvantage here is that the person doing the poling and moving the boat seldom gets to fish. You will see guides poling their boat from the aft platform with one angler on the bow. They are generally after redfish, sharks, permit, or bonefish on the Florida Keys. All of these fish can be found on a grass flat.

Fishing the Edge of the Flat

Flats are generally bounded on at least one side by a channel or a cut. This deeper water is home to a variety of fish—tarpon and snook are the first to come to mind. In some areas, mangrove snapper will also be on the edge. Guides will push their poles into the bottom and tie off to allow their angler(s) to fish the edge of the flat. These are larger fish that, while sometimes seen on the flat, usually feed the deeper edges. This is where schools of baitfish meander in the tidal current, and these fish will feed voraciously on them.

Bottom Line

Regardless of where you live and what type of flat you have, these simple methods can work for you. The common thread here is that you have feeding fish in shallow water. The other factor is that wherever you are, the tide will run out from under you. Make sure you are off the flat and in deeper water before that happens—or you will be high and dry for a few hours until the tide comes back in. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt…