The Real Scoop on Sight Fishing

It’s common for first time saltwater flats anglers to come into their first fishing experience with expectations that are unrealistic, and a perspective of flats fishing that is severely skewed toward fantasy.  They think the fish will be easy to find, easy to see, and the cast and fly presentation straightforward.  Anyone who has sight fished the flats knows that on most days none of these are true.

I think this misconception is primarily because most anglers’ exposure to flats fishing is through magazine articles, whether in print or online. In these articles, the fish on the flats are always so obvious, it seems there can be no way an angler can miss it. The bonefish on the flat stands out from its surroundings, as does the school of tarpon swimming toward the boat. I realize the magazines are using the best photos they have as a means to sell more copies, but what they typically present in their feature stories is not the way it typically happens in reality.

I think it would be useful to anglers who are new to sight fishing on the flats, or who are planning their first saltwater flats trip, to see photos that truly show what it is like.  Seeing a clearly outlined fish just waiting to be caught is pretty rare. Instead, an elongate shadow, a piece of bottom that moves, a nose sticking out of seagrass into an area of open sand – these are more typical of what you will see. 

In all cases, time on the flats is required. This time is training your brain to establish image recognition patterns. Once these image recognition patterns are established, your brain will be telling you to prepare to cast to a fish (or call a fish out to an angler on the bow) before you really ‘see’ the fish.

The photos below provide a sampling of what you will actually see when sight fishing.

What the magazines tell you to look for when fishing for tailing redfish

This is more typical

What the magazines tell you to look for when searching for cruising redfish

The real scoop. See the redfish in the middle of the pothole, moving left to right?

I wish bonefish were always this easy to see

How many bonefish can you count in this photo?

A bunch of big tarpon are coming your way, see them?

Close to the boat, still not clear as day

Now next to the boat, what you typically see in the magazine photo spreads. The chances of this fish eating a fly are close to zero