Capt. Doug's tips for catching fish on the flats
Have you ever wanted to know the techniques guides use to catch redfish? How to catch more fish on top water, or what are the factors that affect fishing? I do not clam to know everything about fishing. However, over the past 35 years I have fished the flats of Titusville and Cocoa Beach. I have caught a lot of fish on these flats and I'm willing to tell you how I have done it. Just don't ask me where, that's what I get paid to do.
On this page I will try to answer all your questions. If I don't know an answer I will let you know that too. If you have a topic you would like me to cover please feel free to ask. firstname.lastname@example.org
What you should expect and what your guide expects from you.
Tips for Spooky Reds
Tips on catching tarpon
Tips for catching redfish in Cold Water
Factors that affect fishing
How to Catch Gator Sea Trout
Fishing edict Part one, how close is to close?
Choosing the right lures.
Sight fishing flat, clear, skinny water
Sight catching fish with Top Water
Fishing edict, how close is to close? 8/5/2003
This is one of the worst subjects I know I could address but I feel it is one that needs to be retold to the few yahoos out there that don't seem to understand.
If you are interfering with another persons ability to catch fish.... you are too close to them.
If you are spooking off a schools of fish another person is trying to fish.... you are too close to them.
If you are standing next to another fisherman and you are not on a party boat.... you are too close to them.
If are getting tangled up in another fisherman fishing line.... you are to close too them.
If you are in a fly fisherman back-cast.... you are to close too them.
If you hook the same fish another person is fighting.... you are to close too them.
If you can tell the color of their eyes and you are a different boat.... you are too close to them.
If someone in another boat asks what cologne your wearing.... you are too close to them.
If someone in another boat takes a drink out of your cooler.... you are too close to them.
Choosing the right lures. 6/15/2003
Here are a few that I use
I have said it time and time again. Most lures were designed to catch fisherman not fish. This is something you need to keep in mind when shopping for lures for any type of fishing. I begin to think at times there are more companies out there making lures than there are fisherman. Every time I go to the the tackle shop or one of those large discount stores I always take a look to see what tackle has hit the market.
I feel like I in need to make something very clear at this point. Just about every lure out there will catch fish. The question is will it catch fish consistently. A good rule of thumb when looking at all those shinny toys is, Match the hatch. Ask yourself these simple questions;
1) Does this lure look like anything the fish I am targeting feed on?
Think about rainbow trout fly fisherman. They spend a good bit of time trying find the perfect fly that resembles the natural food the trout are feeding on that day.
Think about what type of live bait you would be fishing with. Would you be fishing with mullet or shrimp? Find a lure that looks and acts like the bait you would be fishing with.
2) What are the fish feeding on?
This question can be answered easier than you think. When you're out fishing. watch to see what type of bait is abundant. Is something feeding on them? A lot of times when I'm on the water I will see huge schools of mullet. However, many times the predators are feeding on needlefish on the outside edge of the schools.
3) Where are the fish feeding?
Many times you can see fish feeding on the surface. Other times they are feeding just below a school of bait. Then there are those days the fish are just sitting near some cover waiting for that unsuspecting meal to come to them. Study the are you are going to be fishing and watch the bait. They will tell you all you need to know.
These are just a few of the things you should keep in mind when picking out a lure. Now lets think about Matching the hatch.
Brake it down like this;
How big is the bait the fish are feeding on? Match the size of the bait with your lure.
Are there a lot of smaller predators in the area? If there are a lot of smaller fish doing the feeding you may want to step up the size of you lure to weed out the smaller fish. Keep in mind, the more smaller fish you don't catch today the more larger ones you will catch tomorrow.
What color are the bait? If they are mullet you want to fish with something with a dark back and silver/white bottom.
Color is a topic we could spend too much time on. What it all boils down to is visibility in the water. I hear people making this subject a lot more difficult than it really is with their dark lures in light water and so on. Drop your lure in the water. If you can see it and it wont scare the fish, you are okay. When I say scare the fish I mean you may not want to use a hot pink grub in clear water, but if the water is a little cloudy I wouldn't rule it out.
3) surface or sinking
I hear people say all the time that you should only use top water lures when it is overcast, at first light or when the sun is setting. That is a bunch of you know what. If the fish are feeding on the surface, throw top water. I see it all the time. 1 PM, in the summer, the sun is beating down, not a cloud in the sky, reds going nuts busting mullet out of the water. If they are feeding on the surface, throw surface plugs.
One of my rules of thumb. If you are working top water and the fish follow the lure but wont take it, they pop at it but just wont commit, if they just don't seem to care about what you are presenting to them, Change to a sinking bait.
Now keep in mind that I am a die hard top water fisherman. I am addicted to that surface strike and will do most anything to try and make a fish come to the top.
4) soft baits or hard plastics
This is more of a person preference / weed question. What I mean by that is if there is a lot of grass in the area you are fishing switch to something weedless. Most of the time the only truly weedless lure is a jerk bait.
One advantage to hard plastics is their shape. Most of the time you will find that these lures look more like the bait you are trying to match. You can also find suspending lures that are neutrally buoyant. This gives you the advantage of working a lure slower while still getting it down to the fish.
You want to find a lure that when worked looks like the bait.
The biggest problem I get to see every day on the water is how people work a lure. Try this. If the fish are short striking you. slow it down a little. If the keep short striking, try speeding up a little. If it continues, put a smaller lure on. You are throwing something they want if they are trying to take it. You just have to make a few adjustments.
Types of lures is a topic I could write a book about. I have tried not to mention any lures by name on purpose. If you want to know what lures I use read my fishing report. Now, I want you to think about this when you watch your next fishing show. These people are paid or sponsored by the tackle companies to use their products. I have seen days out there where you could throw a hook in the water and catch fish. What it all comes down to is what you feel comfortable with. The main thing I look for in a lure besides it catching fish is durability. If you find something that will last and catch fish, you have a gem.
Also keep in mind that even when the pros are fishing for real, they pre-fish an area a few days if not weeks to figure out what they are going to use and where they are going to fish.
Sight catching fish with Top Water!!! 3/27/2003
One of the biggest problems I see people make daily is how they present a lure to fish on the flats. If you keep a few things in mind when sight casting I know you will get more hookups and put a lot more fish in the boat.
Making a lot of noise with a lure is one of the best ways to spook off fish. Think of it this way. Casting a topwater plug at a fish is a lot like throwing a rock at them, then trying to make the want to eat it. With that in mind try a few of these suggestions next time you pull out the top water.
1) Keep the splash of your lure to a minimum. When you cast try feathering your line to slow down your lure prior to it hitting the water. I do this by lightly touching my line with my free hand as my lure nears the desired location I want my lure to land. This is something that takes a bit of practice. I would recommend not trying this for the first time while casting a red. Practice casting schools of bait or potholes on a flat.
2) Do Not Cast Too Close To The Fish!!!!! I always try to cast over the fish a few feet and in front of them a few feet if they are tailing. If they are pushing I do the same thing except cast a few more feet in front of them. Keep in mind that one of the worst mistakes you can make is retrieving your lure towards the fish. This is one of the best ways to spook a red. If you do spook them, let them go. At this point the more you cast, the more you will spook them. wait till they move off and see id=f they settle down. One they do then try your cast again.
3) Try to let the fish find the lure. If you can get a cast 20 feet in front of a school of moving reds and wait till they are a few feet away before you start your retrieve, you will find that the lead fish will almost always be willing to strike. When reds are pushing fast and are not spooked the reason is they looking for that next unsuspecting bait fish. Try to make your lure look like that fish.
4) Never Stop Your Retrieve. Something I tell all my clients is to act like you are the lure. If you were out there swimming around and something came along wanting to eat you what would you do? That is exactly what the bait in our rivers do to. That is why mullet jump like they have wings. You need to keep this in mind when a fish comes after your plug. Don't yank your lure away from the fish, but speed it up a little. Tap it a little harder. Most topwater plugs are supposed to resemble a injured baitfish. So make it look like an injured baitfish that is in fear for its life.
5) Don't Set The Hook!!!! Wait till you feel the fish pull you. Trout a lot of times will hit baitfish to stun them before they come back for the kill. Reds a lot of times just miss the plug. If you try and set the hook the fish may not have you lure and all you are doing is pulling the plug away form them before they commit to it. I watch more people do this than anything else. I can't tell you how many fish I have watched swim away because the lure was yanked away.
Top water fishing is one of the most visually exciting ways to fish the flats. But it is also something that takes a bit of practice. The payoffs are well worth it though. I tell people all the time that, if you haven't caught a red on top water, you still haven't caught one.
Sight fishing flat, clear, skinny water 3/15/2003
Sight Fishing reds in flat shallow water in this area is becoming more like fishing bonefish every year. This is due to the number of people now fishing the flats and some of the unethical practices of many of our local fisherman and guides.
Years of "bumping fish" have made fishing so sensitive to the sound of a motor that you have to turn off your engine sometimes as far as 300 yards off a flat in order to fish an area. Bumping fish is when some lazy fisherman runs their boat across a flat trying to spook a school of fish up. Once they do this they turn around and try to catch them. I guess these people think they are duck hunting and the fish have to be pushed off the area they were feeding in order to catch them.
Another problem we now have is the excessive use of trolling motors on the flats. Trolling motors are a great tool for working deepwater docks and getting up on a flat, but too many people have been using them to chase down schools of fish. What this has done is made the fish sensitive to the sounds that these motors make.
I just had to get those items out of the way.
Sight Fishing is one of the most exciting forms of fishing you will ever experience. However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when heading out to stalk your prey.
1) How are you dressed? you want to make sure that when you get on the water you will blend in with your surroundings, or at least not stand out. If you are going to be fishing open water from a boat or wading. Wear something sky colored. If you are fishing from the shoreline where there are a lot of trees dress the color of the trees. The main thing to keep in mind here is do not wear, pink, yellow, chartreuse exc. When I have someone on the boat with one of these colors on I have the hardest time getting fish within casting range.
2) Fish have ears too. I watch more people spook off a school of fish before they get a chance to cast at them because they jumped down from the deck, closed a hatch, closed the cooler, scuffed their shoe, talked too loud, slapped a lure on the water to get grass off. If you keep in mind that when fishing from a boat you are in a drum and the water is an amplifier. When wading or fishing from a boat try to think of it as trying to sneak up on the fish and catch them off guard.
When I was a young boy my dad took me fishing along the seawall up the street from our house. He would make me cast at least 10 to 20 feet from the water and sneak up to the seawall. He always told me that the fish could hear me walking and I would spook them off if I didn't do as he said. He was right. We caught a lot of fish doing this.
3) They see you. Trout are one of the most difficult fish to sight cast because they see you long before you see them. In addition to the colors you wear your movements are one of the most important factors you need to take into account. You do not need to stand still all the time. What gets most people in trouble is fast or jerky movements. Remember, fish are very sensitive to movement. This is how most of the catch their lunch. The larger the fish is the better they are at spotting movement.
Now that you know what not to do here is a few pointers on things to do.
1) When you see a fish that you want to cast to.
a) Take a deep breath and relax. I watch more people get red fever and miscast.
b) Cast beyond and off the the side of the fish.
c) Work you lure as natural as possible.
2) When the fish spots the lure.
a) Do not stop you retrieve. If you do chances are it will spook the fish. Think of it this way. If you were a fish and you had a predator getting ready to eat you would you stop. Nether would any of the fish in our rivers. Anything different from what a fish is use to seeing will spook them.
b) When the fish starts to chase you lure, speed it up a little. This is great for bring out their predatory instincts.
C) Wait till the fish pulls you . I watch more people pull a lure away from a fish by trying to set the hook than I care to talk about. If you must set the hook just wait till you feel them pull you. reds will grab something and try to get away from the school before they eat it. Trout hit their food to stun it prior to eating. Shook suck their food in and sometimes don't even have the lure in their mouth.
3) Have fun!!!!! I see to many people get mad and upset if a fish gets off or they lose it.
4) Remember, fishing is a sport that is best experienced with someone for 2 reasons
a) You have someone to witness your superior fishing ability.
b) You have someone to take your picture while holding your fish.
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