You watch that push jet across the shallow flats, you lead the fish with the perfect cast, and then … Smash! Fish On!
Sight Casting The Push
Florida inshore shallow flats fishing takes on many forms. One of the most popular is sight fishing. This involves hunting for your target by scanning the surface for movement, looking for shadows, or chasing down surface explosions.
Of these, sight fishing “pushing” fish is the most popular. Pushing refers to the head wake of a fish in extremely shallow water while moving across the flat. This is a V-shaped pattern with a wake that skims over the fish’s head. It takes some experience to ID fish solely based on this push, but after years of experience, many local anglers can do just that.
For those new to the method, many casts will be made by mistake to species like mullet or even bonnetheads. But that’s fine, and all part of the learning experience.
When anglers do find a fish pushing across a shallow flat, the idea is to lead the fish – meaning, place your bait or lure ahead of the fish’s direction of travel. While doing this, it is also important not to spook the fish.
For inshore fly fishermen, this is fairly easy because the fly is generally going to be light and not make that much of an impact, but for those casting heavy lures or baits, it is far more important that your cast be far enough away from the moving fish that they don’t freak out and change directions.
Playing With Shadows
The other half of sight fishing is looking for shadows. When fish aren’t cruising and are laid up, during bright calm days – you will be able to make out the fish’s shadow while scanning the shallows. Again, there will be a lot of mistakes had here, but after some time – you again learn which shadows are the ones you’re after. Even at that, many of us are still guilty of thinking a small bonnethead is a redfish from time to time.
When the area you’re fishing is close to a line of mangroves, scanning into the root systems is another great place to look for shadows. Specifically, this is a favorite hangout for snook. It isn’t that rare to all of the sudden come up on a 3-foot shadow that at first you’ll think is a log – but then you realize it is floating off the bottom and it winds up being a monster snook.
Bombing The Thrash
Especially during the summer, when massive schools of baitfish roll into Tampa Bay, it is very common to see these schools getting smashed by inshore fish. Finding a massive commotion of surface thrashing and baitfish flying is something you are certain to go checkout.
A lot of times you can just lob your lure or bait right into this frenzy and get hooked up fairly quickly, it is not uncommon to wind up with an inshore slam from a single active school of baitfish. In any case, finding and targeting this type of activity is also a form of sight fishing and should not be ignored.
Popular Species In Tampa Bay For Sight Fishing
Tampa Bay is loaded with all kinds of species that can fall in line with sight fishing. But, of these, there are a few that are the most popular. Redfish first come to mind. These guys will push across the surface, put their tails up in the air, and even smash bait on the surface. Most sight fishermen learn to ID the push from a redfish fairly quickly. It does have its own unique signature.
Black drum on the other hand can show up in massive groups leaving the surface looking like a traffic jam of fish swinging through – and that would be accurate. Once you’ve seen this in person, you learn to ID this species fairly quickly as well.
More into the shadow hunting form of sight fishing, species like snook definitely hit the top of the wanted list. Tarpon can also get stacked in this group from time to time as well.
Seatrout is not considered a top sight fishing species in Tampa Bay by far, but when targeting surface thrashing schools of bait, it is extremely common to pull some out of the chaos – This includes big gator trout.
One we don’t talk about too often, but can definitely be spotted in the clear shallows is flounder. While you will not find them pushing wake on the surface, you will see that telltale silhouette if looking hard enough.
Other species that you can locate and target this way include tripletail, cobia, sheepshead, and a handful more.
In the end, regardless of your targeted species, or just looking for a fun day on the water, sight fishing the flats in Tampa Bay is a great skill to learn and can create some of the best inshore fishing memories. Join us.