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5 Things to Know Before Your First Trip on a Flats Skiff

Embarking on your first flats skiff adventure promises an exciting journey through shallow waters. Whether you're a seasoned angler or new to the sport, mastering flats fishing requires careful technique. In this article, we'll explore five essential tips to ensure your trip is successful and memorable. From understanding the flats ecosystem to honing your casting skills, these insights will equip you for an unforgettable angling experience.

This article covers:

The Flats Skiff Experience

Flats fishing off a skiff in Beaufort, SC. Courtesy of Indigo Fishing Charters.

What is a Flats Skiff?

flats fishing skiff is a fishing boat designed specifically for shallow-water fishing. Built with a flat bottom, these boats offer high stability and buoyancy, making them ideal for navigating in shallow inshore waters. Their lightweight and small size allow them to navigate to more remote areas where larger boats cannot venture.

What Makes a Flats Skiff Unique?

The design of a flats skiff means it can glide over the surface of the water with minimal disturbance so you don't spook your targeted fish. The compact design also allows you to easily navigate narrow channels and weave around obstacles in the water. Many flats skiffs have poling platforms at the rear of the boat, where your guide will use a long pole to silently push the boat forward. By eliminating the need for noisy engines or splashing oars, poling gives you a stealthy advantage.

Advantages of Using a Flats Skiff for Fishing

In addition to the added stealth and maneuverability, fishing from a flats skiff offers several key advantages.

Enhanced Sight Fishing

The elevated poling platform on a flats skiff serves a dual purpose: facilitating silent propulsion and offering an elevated viewpoint for fish spotting. This characteristic makes flats skiffs an exceptional option for sight fishing.


No matter if you're targeting tailing redfish on a saltwater flat in Charleston or fly fishing the backcountry in Key West, a flats skiff is versatile enough to tackle any angling situation. Your guide’s skiff puts you in the perfect position to have a successful day on the water.

Fishing Rods for Flats Fishing

Ensuring you have the appropriate gear and equipment is crucial to your trip. Among the essential considerations is your fishing rod. It's crucial to understand what factors to consider when selecting the ideal rod for flats skiff fishing.

Picking the Right Rod Weight

The weight of your rod gauges your success when flats fishing. The term “weight” refers to the weight of the line that the rod is designed to handle. The best weight depends on the type of fish you're going after. Here are some general guidelines to follow when selecting a weight for your rod:

  • For smaller fish like bonefish or redfish, a rod with a weight of 7 to 9 will work well.
  • Larger game fish like tarpon will require a rod that can handle a 10-weight line or heavier.

Choosing the Ideal Rod Length

A longer rod allows for longer casts, which can be helpful in wide-open areas. On the other hand, shorter rods offer more control but sacrifice casting distance. For flats fishing, most experts recommend rods that are between 9 and 10 feet long. This length gives you a good balance between casting distance and accuracy, so you can reach those hard-to-reach fish while still being able to control where your cast goes.

1. Understanding the Flats Fishing Environment

Targeting redfish in Charleston, SC. Courtesy of Lowcountry Premier Fly Fishing

Flats fishing requires specific techniques and strategies to successfully target your desired species. Various types of flats, like mud flats and sand flats, offer exciting opportunities for anglers. These flats share key characteristics: a flat bottom, typically found near the coast or inland, and teeming with fish. Situated close to shorelines or connecting waterways to the ocean, they're heavily influenced by tides. During low tide, some flats are fully exposed, while high tide brings floods and increased feeding activity. Fish like tarponredfishbonefishpermitsnook, and more can be found in these inshore habitats.

FloridaGeorgiaLouisianaSouth Carolina, and North Carolina’s coastal environments offer world-class flats fishing. Specifically in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, this environment's vast network of waterways creates ideal sight fishing in the flats. For more information on the science of flats fishing, check out this article.

2. Understanding the Behavior of Your Targeted Species

Redfish during a flood tide in South Carolina. Courtesy of Lowcountry Fisherman.

If you know what you’re fishing for, knowing your target’s behavior beforehand can improve your success on the water. Each fish species behaves differently - some may be more aggressive, while others may be more cautious. Fish like permit for example have enhanced eyesight and are opportunistic feeders, requiring you to present your fly with ease and little movement. Such knowledge plays a key role in determining how successful your day on the water will be.

Fly Presentation Strategies for Different Saltwater Species

Casting the fly in an appealing manner is a game-changer when targeting saltwater species like bonefish and redfish. By understanding their unique behaviors, you can tailor your fly presentation strategies to each species effectively. Here are a few strategies to use for bonefish and redfish.

Fly Presentation for Bonefish

Bonefish, known as 'ghosts of the flats,' are elusive creatures that often feed on shrimp and small crabs. To mimic these prey items, lightweight flies with subtle movements will give you the edge needed to catch one. When targeting bonefish: 

  1. Cast the fly ahead of a cruising bonefish.
  2. Wait until it gets close before initiating small twitches with your rod tip.

This tactic will make the fly behave like a fleeing crustacean, triggering an instinctive chase from the bonefish.

Fly Presentation for Redfish

Redfish are more aggressive feeders that aren't easily spooked. They often root around in shallow waters in search of crabs and mullet. Larger, brighter flies that create noise or disturbance can attract a redfish’s attention. When targeting redfish:

  1. Cast your fly close to the fish.
  2. Initiate aggressive strips to imitate prey, subtly and quickly moving the fly. This creates the illusion of panicked prey, something redfish are drawn to. 

Other Species

If you are interested in learning the techniques for targeting another species, check out AnyCreek’s Ultimate Guides on tarponsnookpermit, and sea trout for an in-depth look at your target. Remember that every day on the water is different, and adapting to current conditions is necessary. Be sure to ask your seasoned guide their best practices for targeting these species.

3. Practicing Your Casting Before the Skiff

Skiff fishing off the coast of Fairfield Country, CT. Courtesy of Wandering Albatross, LLC.

Improving your casting skills is essential for success on the water. One effective way to do improve your cast is by practicing in your backyard or any open space. While this might seem unconventional, even experienced anglers rely on this method. It's especially beneficial to incorporate this practice into your trip preparations and don't hesitate to seek additional tips from your guide during your outing. If you're eager to learn more casting tips, this article is exactly what you need

Why Practice Casting Before Your Trip?

Getting acquainted with the feel of the rod, the rhythm of the cast, and the necessary movements ensures you are ready to handle real-life fishing situations. Casting accuracy and distance can make all the difference between hooking a fish or startling it.

A particularly useful technique for flats skiff fishing is the double haul cast, known for its power and speed. It involves a synchronized pulling and releasing motion with both hands, allowing you to cast further with less effort. This technique can be difficult to master, so take the time to practice at home or at a local watering hole.

Mastering Your Line Management

When fishing in saltwater conditions, wind and waves can easily tangle your line. Practice stripping line in controlled loops and keeping it clear from obstacles to ensure smooth casts. This will be key on a flats skiff, as you may encounter obstacles in the way of your cast.

Mastering the Sidearm Cast for Tight Spaces and Combatting the Wind

The sidearm cast is a fundamental skill to master for any angler aiming to navigate tight spaces or combatting challenging winds. This cast is great for getting under overhanging vegetation or structures, and when kept low, it is a stealthy casting technique. Here’s a quick rundown of how to perform this cast.

  1. Positioning: Stand sideways to your target with your dominant foot slightly forward. Keep your grip firm on the rod, and ensure your elbow is at a comfortable angle.
  2. The Backcast: Start with the rod tip low and close to the water. As you begin your backcast, accelerate smoothly but swiftly to around 10 o'clock position (imagine a clock face).

The Forward Cast: Without pausing at the top of your backcast, swiftly bring the rod forward to about 2 o'clock position. Release the line at this point, allowing it to shoot towards your target.

4. Understanding Fly Selection and Presentation

Spring tarpon fishing in Tampa, FL. Courtesy of Capt. Nick Angelo.

Tips for Fly Selection

Different saltwater species encountered on the flats will respond to different types of flies. Therefore, it's crucial to tailor your fly selection to match the targeted species and fishing conditions. Here are some tips to consider when flats fishing on a skiff:

  • Consider the feeding habits of the species: For example, bonefish are bottom feeders so flies that mimic crabs or shrimp are usually more effective. Tarpon, on the other hand, feed on larger prey like mullet and herring, so flies that imitate these baitfish can be a good choice.
  • Keep local conditions in mind: Water clarity, temperature, and prevalent baitfish can all influence which flies will be most effective. In clear waters, for example, more natural-looking patterns might work better.
  • Experiment with different sizes and colors: Don't be afraid to switch things up if one type of fly isn't working. Different sizes and colors can trigger strikes from finicky fish.

In addition to selecting the right flies, mastering effective presentation techniques is equally important. There are a few things to consider when learning these skills. 

  • Learn to read the water: Recognize signs of feeding fish such as ripples or flashes in the water.
  • Perfect your cast: Aim for accuracy over distance. It's more important to place your fly where the fish will see it than to cast a long way out.
  • Practice stealthy approaches: Try not to spook fish with sudden movements or shadows on the water. This is especially key for fish like permit and tarpon.

5. Staying Patient When the Fishing Gets Tough

When the fishing is slow, other talents are shown. Courtesy of The Seahunter Fishing Group.

Flats fishing is full of surprises. Some days, you'll reel in fish after fish, while other times, it feels like the flats are deserted. These slow spells can really challenge your patience and determination. But keep in mind, fish behavior on the flats can shift in the blink of an eye. Their feeding habits depend on various factors like tides, temperature, and weather conditions. So, even when things seem quiet, stay alert—your luck could change in an instant. During these quiet periods, here's what you can do:

  • Keep Your Lines Wet: Even when there's no action, keep casting. Every cast you make is an opportunity to catch a fish.
  • Sharpen Your Skills: Use this time to practice your casting or fly presentation techniques.
  • Observe: Pay attention to the water around you. Look for signs of fish activity such as ripples on the surface or birds diving into the water.
  • Relax: Take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. Flats skiff fishing is about more than just catching fish; it’s also about appreciating nature.

On your journey to becoming a proficient flats skiff angler, patience is undoubtedly your greatest ally. Embrace it, cultivate it, and let it guide you during those quiet moments on the water. With time, you will find that this approach not only improves your chances of success but also deepens your appreciation for flats skiff fishing as a whole.

Plan Your Flats Skiff Fishing Adventure with AnyCreek

Pre-inshore fishing in Homosassa, FL. Courtesy of Florida Outdoor Experience.

Embarking on a flats skiff fishing journey is no small feat. It requires not only the correct gear and knowledge but also the wisdom of an experienced flats fishing guide. This is where AnyCreek comes into play, acting as a bridge between adventure seekers and experienced guides. When you opt to book your flats fishing trip through AnyCreek, you're choosing quality and safety. Our world-class guides come with years of experience in navigating these waters, offering invaluable insights that can drastically enhance your flats skiff fishing experience.

AnyCreek guides are seasoned professionals with years of experience casting in saltwater conditions. Book a guided trip with an AnyCreek guide to learn more about the flats fishing experience and successful fishing on a skiff with those who know the waters best. 

For more information on skiff boats and what to expect, watch our “Skiff Talk” series on YouTube.

Frequently Asked Questions about Flats Skiff Fishing

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