Watch the birds: To have consistent success finding shallow-water reds and trout, a pattern is needed. Winter low tides have flats — areas often exposed or with skinny water — awaiting the incoming tide. Wading birds that eat the same things fish do, such as worms, shrimp, crabs and small baitfish, will precede the arrival of reds eager to enjoy the same smorgasbord. These birds are often concentrated in one area. This is where the most food is and also where the fish will arrive. As the water depth increases, look for tails or nervous water. Water surfaces that are different from surrounding water indicate fish beginning to move and feed.
Technique: When a large brown tail appears waving slowly, it means a redfish has his snoot in the soft bottom getting food, causing his body to be almost vertical. This is the time to cast. A 7- or 8-weight fly rod with floating line should have a tapered leader at least 9 feet in length. Accuracy is needed to cast almost on the fish's nose small dark crab patterns with a weed guard and bead chain eyes attached to a 20-pound tippet. When the tail goes down, the fish is horizontal. The fly should be moved a few inches. A violent strike should be your reward.
Pro's pointers: As the water deepens with the incoming tide, fish will not show well. A reliable technique for finding them is to look for sand holes. Grass flats will have areas that look bare, varying from a few feet in diameter to larger. They indicate water that is deeper and a frequent ambush point taken up by reds and large trout. Change to a baitfish fly pattern, such as a chartreuse-white or brown-orange closer or deceiver. Cast enough times to cover the sand hole carefully.
Fly fisherman Pat Damico charters in St. Petersburg and can be reached at captpat.com or (727) 504-8649.