Fly Fishing the Flats

Fly fishing is a small sliver of the fishing world in Florida’s inshore waters. But for those who participate, it’s addictive.

Fly Fishing the FlatsFly fishers will never land the numbers of snook, redfish and trout caught by the sardine fleet or even by those who cast plugs and jigs. But the equipment they use and the way the fish are sighted, stalked and battled make each memorable.

Successful winter fly fishing is mostly sight fishing, and that’s the magic of it. The cold water kills off the algae that makes the water cloudy in summer, and the flats become air clear — ideal for visually stalking even hard-to-see critters such as sea trout.

Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor have miles of these clear flats, and during a cold winter like this one, the clarity is likely to extend through March. The fish prowl the knee-deep water looking for tiny crabs, shrimp, and killifish that have survived the cold, making ideal targets for fly-fishers.

Wade-fishing is ideal for fly-rodders; it eliminates the problems of hooking the outboard, or your fishing buddy, on the backcast, and also presents a low profile that allows a close, quiet approach without spooking the fish. They can see you almost as well as you can see them, thanks to the clear water.

Saltwater fly-rodding has a bad reputation as being ultra-difficult, mostly because its most dramatic venue is fly fishing for giant tarpon in spring and summer. That fishing does, indeed, require special skills, and the ability to deliver a fly 90 to 100 feet can be essential.

But when wading for snook, reds and trout, a much mo