- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
Saltwater fishing has many faces, but for the saltwater angler who thrills to the “hunt” of sight fishing and things that happen up close and personal, there’s nothing quite like fishing the flats. This type of fishing can be done from a poled skiff or while wading, and it opens up angling avenues to a variety of top-rate species. These include, among others, bonefish, tarpon, permit, and barracuda. Furthermore, flats fishing is accessible in a wide variety of warm water locations – from remote Christmas Island to sites within view of downtown Miami. It also lends itself to either conventional spinning or fly-fishing equipment, and virtually guarantees major thrills anytime you hook a fish. That’s because flats’ species are some of salt water’s real powerhouses when it comes to the fight they provide.
Good polarized sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat will protect your eyes and help you spot fish by reducing glare.
Equipment is, to some degree, a matter of choice. Whether you use spinning gear or opt for a fly-fishing rig, be sure to have plenty of monofilament or backing. You’ll need it if you hook a decent fish. Beyond that, probably the two most important items you can have are good polarized sunglasses and proper head wear. The polarized glasses don’t need to be expensive, but they do need to work well. If you wear glasses, your best bet is to buy a pair of polarized prescription lenses. Those with normal vision or contact lenses can buy a pair of polarized sun glasses. Your hat or cap should have a wide brim and protection in the back. This helps ward off the effects of the sun, but having your eyes well shaded also makes spotting fishing a bit easier.
You also need comfortable clothes, suitable footwear if you wade, and if fly fishing from a boat a line basket to avoid foul-ups at a critical moment. A good sun screen is a must, and if you don’t believe it, mention of the fact that skin cancer is one of the most common causes of death for longtime flats guides should be all the convincing needed. Be sure you have plenty of fluids, and I personally think it is a mistake to dress in the bright colors often seen in angling attire for flats fishing. Instead, opt for drab colors that match your surroundings, in effect using camouflage. After all, you are a predator, and an effective predator always tries to blend into the terrain.
Flats fishing usually means finding the fish prior to the cast, which requires the angler to stand and search for visible clues.
One of the keys to consistently successful flats fishing, no matter what the species you seek, is being able to see fish. That lets you determine the direction in which they are moving and make your casts accordingly. This sounds easy enough, but in the case of bonefish in particular, seeing the fish can be devilishly difficult. You look for tailing activity on the surface, which is fairly easy to detect on those all too rare occasions with the sea looks like a vast expanse of glass. More frequently though, you will have to find the fish in other ways. The best approach, and it is simple once you master it, is to look for shadows rather than the fish themselves.
Making Meaningful Connections
Once you spot fish, the game’s afoot. There’s no time for delay or study. You’ve got to get into position quickly if you are in a boat (it’s much easier to spot fish from the poling tower of a flats boat than when wading), and no matter whether floating or wading your cast has to be the essence of precision. Misjudge the speed of the fish and you will either spook the fish by casting in their midst or make a useless cast behind them. What you want, with a fly, lure, or bait, is to cast far enough in front of the fish to avoid spooking them then retrieve across their line of movement. If your presentation intercepts them just right and the fish are in a mood to feed, be ready for connection with a rocket.
Tarpon can be among the most finicky of flats species, but when they're in the mood to bite, get ready for a long battle.
That sounds simple enough, but it isn’t. Permit are so spooky that they remember sudden and urgent business a half ocean away if anything at all goes awry, and understandably all fish are nervous in the shallows. Moreover, flats’ fish can be extremely finicky even if everything is precisely as it should be. Sometimes tarpon look at the most tempting of offerings with total disdain, and you can strip a streamer across their path time and again with no action whatsoever.
Some of the best action normally comes with strong tidal movements (in or out), so awareness of the tidal tables is important. Similarly, if you are in an area where you haven’t fished before, at the least you need to make some inquiries at local outfitters or bait stores. Better still, even if you can’t afford it day after day, hire a guide for at least one day. You can absorb a lot of local knowledge from the guide and then, if you wish, go it on your own.
Flats fishing isn’t for those who seek to fill coolers with fish which will eventually become gourmet fare. But if you want pure excitement, whether it comes from a sizzling 150-yard run provided by an eight-pound bonefish, the ultimate challenge of outwitting a permit (and they are powerful beyond belief once you get past the tremendous hurdle of hooking one), or perhaps fighting a 100-pound tarpon for minute after strenuous minute, try the flats.