Website Created by Keith Kalbfleisch
Hunting The Flats
By Captain Keith Kalbfleisch
The Hunter slowly slips along, carefully testing the wind as he goes, being vigilant to the slightest movement around him. He is attuned to his environment, noting anything that disturbs it, so that he knows where the Prey is before the Prey knows he is there. The sun, topography and wind are used to his best advantage, so that when the Prey suddenly shows itself, he will be in the most advantageous position to take his shot. The Hunter’s constantly moving eyes see a flicker of movement—Prey! Carefully stalking closer until he is ready, he reaches for his weapon and carefully makes his cast.
Cast? Yes cast. This is not the traditional hunting, but the careful pursuit of wary fish on the flats. The similarities to hunting are striking, as you will see. I am often asked how I can consistently catch great fish on our flats. Most want to know lure type, line size, bait of choice, or places to go, but they miss the most important tool in my success—stealth.
On most of Florida’s flats the fish are extremely wary. They grow up with dangers from above like birds, from other predators like porpoises and large fish, and then with constant pressure from anglers like you and me. This creates an animal that is alert and cautious by the time it is large—it had to be to get that way!
In order to consistently catch fish on the flats in the Orlando area, a stealthy approach must be used. I am amazed at bass anglers. They roar in at 60 mph to their spot, then start fishing! What’s even more amazing is that the bass will bite! I have often seen this behavior on the flats where a hopeful fisherperson will fly across the flat, shut down and start fishing, perhaps lowering their trolling motor noisily into the water, then happily cruising the flat with it. I find they are surprised back at the dock when I caught fish on lures, and they only caught some “shorts” on bait. They are convinced that I have been in some “secret spot”.
Our fish react to the noise. You may not see them move, but they will get real quiet and either sit or move away quietly—with a bad case of lockjaw! Many times I have watched a redfish tailing merrily away, but when it heard a passing boat, errant noise from my boat, or a pressure wave, it would stop tailing and become invisible. I have often watched “noisy” boats work an area with no success, then I follow later catching fish. Did the fish move in during the interim? I don’t think so, I think my stealth techniques were better.
OK, back to hunting. There are three major hunting techniques that have direct correlation to flats fishing near Orlando—still-hunting, stalking, and hunting from a blind. In still-hunting, the hunter quietly creeps along, looking for his prey. This is what you want to do the most often in fishing the flats, as silently as possible covering territory to find fish. I use an approach that I feel gives me the most stealth, yet covers the most area. I start out by running my main motor to within a quarter mile of where I plan on fishing (staying in the deeper water to protect the grasses and not disturb others), then I go to my electric motor to get to about 100 yards, and finally covering the remainder by quietly push-poling.
After you get to where you want to start fishing, work your way along the shoreline, gently poling and drifting while looking for fish. When you do this properly the wind is your main mode of transport power. You use the push-pole to set yourself up for a quiet drift, constantly watching for fish. In other words, you are creeping along looking for your prey—still-hunting! During this time you want to make long casts to flats “structure” such as sand patches, slight drop-offs, grass edges and points.
As you still-hunt along, you will eventually be blessed with that happy vision that sets all Central Florida flats anglers’ hearts soaring—redfish tails! Now we go into our second type of hunting, the stalk. In stalking, a hunter spots the prey in the distance and plans a careful, quiet approach to get within range. Same plan for our fish, just on water instead of land. You have to get your boat to within casting distance as quietly as possible, which for my boat is a downwind drift or controlled drift with my push-pole. Keep your profile as low as possible, generally casting beyond the fish and working it across the fish’s nose, slowly bringing it into the fish’s vision. Take your time with the retrieve, you don’t want it to appear the bait is attacking the fish!
When you are stalking your fish, you must be extra wary for other fish that may be nearby. Where there is one fish there may be others, and you don’t want to spook a fish that is near you that, in-turn, spooks the one you are after. is the equivalent to a hunter that puts a blind in a tree and waits for long hours for an animal to come by unaware of the hunter’s presence. This is the technique that I see most people using on our waterways. It consists of baiting up a line or lines, casting them out and then patiently waiting for a fish to come by and eat the bait. You will be much more effective with this technique if you scout the area just as a hunter does. Make sure you are in an area where the fish are moving by, and regularly feed. Otherwise you’ll be fishing, but not catching! Stealth is still required here. If you bang around the boat and let the fish know you are there, then you can count on a slow day.
The final similarity to hunting that I’d like to point out is your expertise with your “weapons”. Just as a hunter must hit the mark with bullet, arrow, etc., you must hit your mark when you’re casting. You need both accuracy and distance to be consistently effective. This type of fishing is active and requires concentration, but it is also fun and rewarding—the day will fly by! Now, go hunt the flats!