What is Flats Fishing?

So when someone says they want to go flats fishing they are referring to generally shallow water. Anywhere from a couple inches to a couple feet would classify as being on a flat. It can be right next to a highway or it can be a section of water 70 miles offshore. Tidal stages vary across the world but the water levels on our flats here in the Florida Keys will average about a two foot change. Sometimes the flat will be high and dry at a big low tide (completely out of water) and a couple hours later there will be a couple feet of water up there when the tide rises.

Backcountry Fishing out of Key West

Sight Fishing on the Flats

The Keys are famous for sight fishing in crystal clear shallow waters that surround the island chain. There is nothing like hunting a fish in a foot of water and watching it come over and take your bait or fly. A lot of times fish can get pretty wary in the shallows and it may take a properly presented cast to trick these fish into eating. Some species are more tricky than others but the end result of hunting down a fish and watching the bite on the flats is incomparable. 

Key West Flats Species

Here in Key West we have quite the variety of different species that swim around in our backcountry waters. The “big three” to try and target by most sport fisherman will be the Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish. Catching all three of these in one day is called catching a Florida Keys Grand Slam and is anything but easy to do. Each of them are special and offer different challenges but all are a blast to catch on the flats with both spinning gear and a fly rod. But we have more than just the “big three” to catch, Barracudas, Jacks, Sharks, and snapper among others are frequent on the flats surrounding Key West and the Lower Keys. 

Fly Fishing on the Flats of Key West

So you think you’re a badass fly fisherman? Come down here and prove it. Fly fishing in Key West is the super bowl of saltwater fly fishing. It is one of the most challenging and rewarding places I have ever guided or fished. Sure there are some days where you can stroll out there and there are tarpon are all over the place and you’re a hero. But the days when you stand on the bow all day long for one or two shots at a tailing permit, you’re going to wish you would have practiced before coming down. Now I’m not saying that this is an impossible game by any means. I have guided a lot of “not so experienced” fly anglers to some really awesome fish by putting ourself in the right place at the right time. But fly fishing down here can be extremely humbling for both myself as a guide and the angler. When the shots get tough you really need to be prepared for putting yourself up against it. Practice your double haul and back casting, a couple hours in the back yard before a trip and go a long way.