Fly Fishing the Sand

THERE’S A REDFISH JUST 20 FEET TO MY LEFT. I ALMOST walked by him. How come I didn’t see him earlier? Surface glare! He’s in a foot of water. Stationary. That’s rare. Most are prowling. Most are on the move. He hasn’t noticed me even though I’m close. Maybe I should slowly back away before casting. Then again, he might notice me if I do that. Movement is always risky in the skinny water. No, I’ll stay in place and ever so slowly crouch down and side arm a cast 4 or 5 feet away from him. There. He heard the plop of the fly (maybe too much weight on it) and noticed the cast (fly line). He’s moving away. Accelerating. Now gone. Too bad. He was a good one. Mid to upper 20’s in inches. A missed opportunity and I’m not getting many. Two or three quality shots on a good day. Some days none. Yesterday was a “none” day. The day before I spotted only one. It’s a tough angling gig out here on the Sand.


The sand flats that I’m fishing are only shin to knee deep, that’s it. Walk several hundred yards out from shore and it’s the same. In the shallow water the Redfish are generally on high alert and usually prowling (moving). I go slow, try to minimize my wading wake, constantly scan the water, try and use whatever light there is to my advantage, constantly fight glare, and hopefully spot one before it sees me. Spotting one from far off heading my way is better than seeing one up close as I get time to prepare, position myself and cast from a safe distance so they don’t detect my presence. Fishing blind is useless out here. I have to see them to catch them. And many things inhibit my ability to see: low light, low and high cloud glare, a wind ruffled surface, sometimes dense morning fog that seems to take forever to burn-off or blow away, and short Autumn days where the sun arcs low on the horizon.

shoreline in distance

Clear, full sun days with no wind are perfect but I rarely get both at the same time. The wind tends to be daily, strong and persistent. A perfect day is a rarity. Maybe a perfect day doesn’t exist. When it is mostly sunny, 11 am to 3:30 pm is my best sight-fishing opportunity. That’s when the sand flats become illuminated. That’s when the Redfish contrast well against the pale bottom. Sometimes I can see them from a long way off…50 yards or more.

barrier island road flooded

When the light is poor I often only spot one at 20 feet or so, maybe even less. Often they see me first at that range and bolt. Sometimes at that short distance they don’t notice me, so I crouch and I use a roll/flip cast and plop the fly near them and strip. A few have followed my impression almost to the rod tip. So close I end up stripping my leader butt section through the top guides. They follow, see me then flee.

hiking tidal flats to bay
Roman (friend) scanning the water, sand dunes in distance

On the Sand I’ve seen no surface disturbances to give them away. No schools feeding and nervous water to wade to. There are schools of mullet but nothing charging them. I’ve seen smaller baitfish but again nothing aggressively pursuing them. I’ve seen no tails protruding from the water. There’s no real significant structure where they hang out: few troughs, etc. They either show up to feed, or don’t. I usually see them in the afternoon. Of course that could simply be because the light is generally more idyllic for spotting then. They are usually on the hunt when covering the sand; usually moving but on occasion stationary. I’ve seen a few in one spot digging in the sand for prey…lug worms, crustaceans. Those fish are my best chance; the stationary ones; their heads down.

morning fog, intense glare

I came here for the low shin deep clear water, the light sand bottom and the sight fishing possibilities, and of course the challenge. Angling as demanding as anywhere. I drive to the tidal flats as close to the bay as I can get then hike in the rest of the way, always watching the morning sky and light, hoping for that perfect day. Once on the water the search begins; the hunt for Redfish. I’ve seen some in the 30 inch range and had two large ones eat my impression this trip but with no hook-up. Fly casting to a thirty inch Redfish in one foot of clear water…imagine that!

mainland port town

some mangroves on edge of bay and tidal flat (a bit of structure)

old port town

stilt structures


old port town

redfish flies for the sand

2 thoughts on “Fly Fishing the Sand

  1. Wow Bob, great post. Wish I was out there wading the endless shallows with you guys. Those reds are pretty wicked fish. I’ve seen videos of people in boats with balconies to spot the fish, holding long poles to navigate the shallows. I was wondering if the tides ever leave you deeper than expected, or is it always that shallow. Wouldn’t want to be miles from shore when suddenly it’s up to my waist… or higher. Kind regards!

  2. Daniel: Merry Xmas to you and family. Hope all is well with you and University.
    Saw many of the Flats Skiffs (boats) you describe. Those elevated structures on skiffs are poling platforms. They cut their engine on flat and pole silently from an elevated position…sightfishing!
    Very cool.
    The sand flat I go to are totally safe….tides minimal. Most dangerous thing would be stepping on a stingray. I was in hefty wading boots, simms, and walking slow so would spook them and they swim away….saw several in my 12 days…but not too many. They want to avoid you.
    What I like about area is I can drive nearby and then get out, walk and explore the sand. No one around. Saw some real biggies, came close on a few.
    Ok, have a good holiday season.
    Thanks for commenting.

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