What Is Flats Fishing?


For the neophyte, a flat and shallow area in the water may appear lifeless and not worth visiting. However, many seasoned anglers know that such areas can offer plenty of fishing action as many of these flats are fertile and rich in vegetation, making them the perfect home for baitfish. And where there is baitfish, there’s bound to be a giant predator fish lurking nearby. If that got you interested in fishing the flats or would like to know exactly what is flats fishing and how to go about doing it, then this article’s for you.

What’s a “Flat” Anyway?

As the name suggests, a “flat” refers to any large expanse of water with a generally flat layout or surface. Water bottoms that slowly taper off into the open are also considered as flats. The water depth in flats will vary accordingly. In small ponds, flats can be as shallow as ten feet or less. On the other hand, flats in larger lakes can be found thirty feet or more under the water’s surface. Don’t go looking for the deepest parts of the water though since flats are usually located higher than these. For instance, if the average depth of a lake is around twenty feet, you’re likely to discover the flat about ten feet beneath the surface.

Flats can be found in both fresh bodies of water and coastal areas, and the composition of the water floor will vary depending on the place, from mud to sand to grass and lose pebbles and more.

What Is Flats Fishing?

Flats fishing is simply the act of fishing in freshwater or saltwater flats, and can be done in a variety of ways like rod and reels, gigging, and bow fishing. When it comes to angling, you can use a variety of fishing techniques like trolling, jigging, bottom fishing, and others depending on your target species.

An important technique that many flats fishermen need to learn is sight fishing. Here you’ll be looking for or spotting the fish from your boat or while wading in the water (so don’t forget your fishing waders) and casting towards them, instead of throwing your line anywhere and just waiting for any fish to come and take the bait.

Fishing Gear and Equipment

In addition to your tackle, you can also use a couple of items that can help improve your chances of landing a fish. Some anglers outfit their boats with mini-towers or sight-casting platforms to improve their sight casting abilities. They even have fish finders installed.  Having a wide-brimmed fishing hat and polarized fishing sunglasses can also help to minimize the glare of the sun and its reflection in the water.

Baits and Lures

Your fishing tackle and setup, whether you use a jigging rod or a fly fishing rod, will all depend on the type of fish you’re targeting. The same goes for your baits and lures.

Many anglers prefer using baits simply because they appear to be more effective than artificial lures. In any case, you’ll want to use baits that are generally found in the flats you’re fishing in. This doesn’t mean that artificial lures aren’t effective though, because they are. Again, the type of lure will depend on the type of fish you’re after, but almost any type of lure, from topwaters to buzz baits to spoons and jigs will work.

Look for Structure

Many species of fish like to hold in places that have some form of structure. If you’re fishing in freshwater flats, for instance, look for fallen logs or small boulders. If you’re in open water, cast towards sandy holes, sea walls, channels, and sandy holes. Many fish species like to hold in places where there are structures since this provides them with some form of shelter. These structures also provide a nesting ground for different types of shellfish, many of which are common entrees in many fish’ menus.

Grass flats may or may not have a lot of structures depending on which part of the world you’re fishing in. However, there is still plenty of fish to be caught in such places because these are where most baitfish reside, and where there are baitfish you can be sure that the bigger predator fish are just lurking somewhere close by. Grass flats serve as a treasure trove of food for a variety of aquatic creatures big and small, and familiarizing yourself with the different characteristics of grass flats, from the types of grass growing in the area to the types of fish that commonly reside in them, will certainly make your angling adventure much more successful.

Another common type of structure you’ll find in lakes and large ponds are rock piles, many of which are scattered throughout the flat. Again, these rocks provide the perfect hiding place for baitfish and crustaceans which serve as food for the larger fish species.

In any case, you must familiarize yourself with the composition of the water’s floor or bottom to determine where the fish may be lurking. If you are flat fishing from a boat, having a fixed or portable fish finder that tells you the composition of the water underneath (e.g. grass, mud, sand, etc.) can be of great help.

Flats Fishing Tips


  • Talk to experts or hire a guide. Anybody can learn how to fish the flats on their own, but building adequate knowledge about flats and flat fishing by your lonesome can be a time-consuming endeavor. To cut your learning curve significantly, consider talking to local experts, or even hiring a guide. Take advantage of their experience and expertise and you’re bound to see you’re your flats fishing success rates go up by leaps and bounds sooner.
  • Learn to scout for fish. Scouting is a critical skill that anglers who plan on flats fishing should learn. You need to learn to identify potential hiding places and where the fish are distributed and concentrated to avoid wasting time casting in unproductive areas.
  • Keep your eyes peeled. Aside from knowing where to look, you also need to learn what to look for. There several telltale signs of where the fish may be hiding in the flats like splashes and other disturbances in the water. These won’t guarantee that there’s a fish to be caught there, but it will certainly increase your chances of hooking one.
  • Cover as much water as you can. Avoid staying in one place for long if you aren’t getting any bite there. Instead, move carefully and try to cover as much water as you can.

Globo Surf Overview

Fishing the flats is an exciting adventure, especially when you’ve learned how to spot potential fishing areas and have grown fairly good with sight fishing. Now that you know what is flats fishing and have learned a thing or two about how to successfully go about it, go ahead, grab your gear and give it a try. For sure this is one fishing trip that you’re going to enjoy.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!