So far, fall has been kind to Floridians, with harsh cold fronts staying well north. For the most part, the fronts we've seen have brought the typical rain on the front side, but only minor temperature dips. This has preserved the vitality of a favored inshore fishing tactic: flats drifting.
Using wind and tide to propel a shallow draft boat over fertile sea grass beds presents ample opportunity to get baits in front of active fish. Artificials are best, as you can cover a lot of water to locate the sweet spots.
Casting ahead of your drift and working baits back to the boat is the way to go. Anglers will start with a likely area, typically a flat close to a channel, creek, canal or river mouth. Access to deep water gives fish the security of quickly evading any threats, while providing the temperature moderation of depth.
Thick carpets of sea grass will hold plenty of fish, but experienced flats anglers are looking for areas with sandy depressions known as "potholes." Some are perfectly round, while others look more like elongated troughs.
Also productive is "broken bottom" where grass and sand mingle without clearly defined shapes. In either scenario, the sand reflects natural light and appears white or yellowish against the surrounding darkness of sea grass.
Sandy spots hold greater depth, and therefore attract predators like speckled trout, redfish and snook, which utilize the boundaries of sand and grass as ambush points. They lay low, watching for baitfish and crustaceans flowing on the tide.
Similarly, the rocky shallows of northwest Florida offer additional ambush spots where limestone outcroppings, often skirted with sea grass, give predators the attack angles they need.
Recently, my longtime friend and media colleague Capt. Bill Miller, host of the Central Florida cable program "Hooked on Fishing," visited Capt. William Toney for a day of flats fishing off Homosassa. Joined by Miller's angling mentor Capt. Bobby Buswell, the guys worked the shallows off Homosassa Point on an outgoing tide.
In this scenario, the fish were pulling back from the crowns (tops) of the flats and working their way back to deeper edges and holes. Miller said his group caught about 20 trout, several black sea bass and a few odds and ends. DOA Deadly Combos (rattling cork with white pearl and root beer colored DOA shrimp) and 3/8-ounce CAL jigs with yellow heads and pearl bodies did the trick.
Miller reported that his group's best action occurred over irregular hard bottom — a mix of sand, sea grass and scattered limestone outcroppings. Here, predators find lots of crabs, shrimp and baitfish hiding within the many nooks and crannies of this varied habitat.
"The trout seemed to be lying in the troughs and feeding as the tide took the bait into the deeper water," Miller said.
Farther south, in the Tampa Bay region, Capt. C.A. Richardson has found plenty of trout and redfish action over shallow grass. His top bait is a 3-inch paddle tail minnow in natural colors on a 3/16-ounce jighead.
"Just straight crank the jig and tail combo across shallow flats, especially where wading birds are working and you'll be hooked up in no time." Richardson said.
He's also catching big trout on 5-inch jerkbaits on rigging hooks. Richardson advises enhancing a plastic bait's appeal by adding a scent enhancer such as Pro-Cure mullet scent.
Editor's note: David A. Brown has a B.A. in journalism from the University of South Florida and you can see his work in Florida Sportsman, FLWOutdoors.com, Cabela's Outfitter Journal, TIDE, In-Fisherman, Louisiana Sportsman, The St. Petersburg Times and Saltwater Angler. He also ghost-wrote and published "Fish Smart Catch More!" for Tampa's cable TV host Capt. Bill Miller (www.billmiller.com) and a couple more publishing projects will be docking soon. He operates a professional writing/marketing agency, Tight Line Communications.