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Hitting the flats looking for the first catch of the new year

January 4, 2019
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

By the time I arrived at the ramp on New Year's Day, the tide had dwindled and dock reports from returning anglers where pretty grim.

With little free time and wanting to catch my first flats fish of 2019, we launched the boat.

The boat parade was on as flats boats, go-fast boats and family cruisers filled the channels heading north and south, keeping any sane fish wanting to keep his scalp and scales far away from that action and deep under cover.

The problem was, the tide had run out, the shorelines and roots exposed, where did they go? We needed fish!

By this time the sun had warmed the shallows as I slowly poled the boat through the clear shallow 50 yards off the shoreline and the same distance in, from the busy channel.

In Matlacha Pass, I call these open areas the "middle grounds" and in winter's low tide stages, these large usually unfished - certainly underfished - shallow portions of the pass get little pressure, which is just fine with me and the fish.

While poling I caught a glimpse of two sharks, both in the close to 4- foot range, moving left to right in the knee deep water. Suddenly I realized they were actually two jumbo snook that I had poled up on as they were taking in the afternoon sun. Sheepshead, trout, rat reds and snook where all there getting a shallow solar winter warm up as we poled along, far out from the shoreline while other boats frantically raced about looking for action.

By this time the sun was in the west as the fish continued to warm themselves while waiting for the tide to return to feed along the roots and food rich tangles of the mangroves.

Casting silver flake DOA Cal Jigs with 1/4 oz. jig heads (soft bodied plastic grubs) on ultra-lite poles brought an even dozen rat reds to the boat within one 50 yards stretch.

A slow hopping retrieve did the trick and also caught the interest and jaw of three bonus snook.

When the tide is low during a high sun day, try quietly poling or wind drifting these large open areas with a potholed mixed grass bottom. Get up on a platform or safely secured cooler and keep a sharp eye out while wearing good quality optics. You will be surprised at the numbers of fish you may run into, especially if you fish in quiet stealth mode. Better yet, you won't be crowded even on heavy traffic days.

Make long sidearm casts and be aware of boat positioning and shadows to get the best shot. Fly casters be aware of "lining" spooky fish. Big fish enjoying the sun in clear shallow water are still on high alert so be on your A game.

When using soft plastic jigs on the flats, using the right weight size is quite important. DOA Cal bodies are a bit stiff so a really light jig-head won't get the jigs fish attracting tail moving or flapping. Try a 1/4 or 3/8 jig-head to not only get the tail moving but to make better contact with the bottom with an added bonus of increased casting distance.

Zman grubs are made from a different material and the tails flail wildly. A cheaper pack of freshwater Mr. Twisters do almost as well.

An often overlooked and highly productive flats lure is the triangle shaped weedless bucktail flats jig.

Whatever your choice, fish them on long lite fluorocarbon leaders using long casts. Always tie with a loop knot for increased action. Learn to "feather" or choke your reel to minimize lure splashdown noise so as not to spook the spotted fish.

Even though some jigs like DO's are made with real shrimp, adding scent to a winter jig is a good move be it a chemical scent product or simply small shrimp bits.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or



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