Sarasota Flats Fishing Charters

Sarasota flats fishing charter

Sarasota Flats Fishing Charters

I am Capt. Jim and I run Sarasota flats fishing charters. The majority of my fishing time is spent on the flats, both deep in shallow. The reason for this is simple, flats are where the food is that is where the game fish will be. There are two distinct types of flats fishing in Sarasota; shallow water flats fishing in deep water flats fishing.

A flat is basically a large area of similar depth. This means it is relatively flat, thus the name the key to life in Sarasota Bay is submerged vegetation and sea grass. As locals, we call these areas “grass flats”. Due to the fact that all vegetation needs sunlight, the depth that which the vegetation will be found is limited to water clarity. The water in Sarasota is fairly clear and therefore grass will grow in water up to 10 feet deep.


fishing charters in Sarasota Bay


The deep grass flats are what I term areas of submerged vegetation and water between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep. I fish these areas a lot! Anglers can expect to catch a variety of species and experience decent action. Fishing the shallow flats is generally left for more experienced anglers who would rather catch a couple quality fish then go more for numbers and action.

Sarasota flats fishing charters

I cater my Sarasota flats fishing charters to the type of clients I have on the boat. If the crew includes a family with children or an experienced anglers, I will almost always stick to the deep grass flats. This is much easier fishing and odd the success are very high. Unless we are in some type of extreme weather situation, the deep grass flats will produce some type of action.

The top species caught by anglers on Sarasota flats fishing charters in the deeper areas are speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, pompano, ladyfish, jack crevalle, bluefish, snapper, catfish, and sharks. Anglers will occasionally encounter cobia and even tarpon. I am usually drifting and casting lures or fishing with live bait, though I will anchor at times and free line a live bait.

Anglers fishing the shallow flats are almost always more experienced. I also try to limit this to parties of to anglers, as it gets a little difficult to do this type of fishing with more than that. Artificial lures are used most of the time as they allow for the anglers to cover a lot of water while searching for fish. Lures are fun to fish and will catch fish that are not necessarily in a feeding mood. I will also chum with live bait fish at times on the shallow flats.

Fishing deep grass on Sarasota flats fishing charters

As previously mentioned, the deep grass flats are excellent spots for anglers looking for action and variety. Even when I have experienced anglers, I will often hit these flats just to been the rods and get some action in. Speckled trout and ladyfish are available all year long. Other fish such as pompano, Spanish mackerel, and bluefish or more migratory in nature. Spring and fall is generally best for these types of species.


Sarasota flats fishing charters


My preferred angling method is to drift the grass flats with the wind and tide while casting artificial lures. The lure that I use most often is a 1/4 ounce lead head jig with some type of soft plastic grub body. I use two different tails; a Bass Assassin Sea Shad and Gulp Shrimp. Both of these cover just about every situation I find myself in.

Other lures can be used as well. The two other lures that I most often use on my Sarasota flats fishing charters are spoons and plugs. Spoons are excellent lures as a cast a long way and put out a lot of flash and vibration. They are particularly effective on Spanish mackerel. Shallow diving plugs known as jerk baits are also effective, especially when schools of bait fish are seen in the area.

Live bait is certainly very effective when fishing the deep grass on Sarasota flats fishing charters. One of the top techniques used in Florida and throughout the Gulf Coast is to fish a live shrimp under a popping cork. This is a noisy float which suspends the shrimp above the grass and helps attract fish to the bait. Free lining the bait works well in deeper water.


Sarasota fishing report


In the warmer months, I will employ a technique called live bait chumming. During this time of year, bait fish are usually thick on the grass flats near the passes. I use a cast net to fill the live well, then move the boat to a likely flat and anchor. Live bait fish are tossed out behind the boat to float back in the tide. If there are game fish around, it won’t take them long to home in on the free bait. Hooked baits are then cast out and the action can get crazy!

Fishing the shallow flats in Sarasota

Shallow water fishing can be challenging, there is no doubt about it. Sarasota is a fairly heavily developed area and sees a lot of boat traffic. Larger game fish such as snook, redfish, jacks, and large trout are spooky and not easy to catch in shallow water. Sometimes just the act of waiving the rod around when casting will send them scurrying offer deeper water.


fishing for snook


Tides are very important when fishing the shallow grass flats. I personally prefer a low, incoming tide. This way I can ease up on the flat as the water rises. Fish do the same thing, moving up on bars and flats to feed as the tide rises in they become covered with water. Outgoing tides can be productive, especially for snook. Ambush points such as oyster bars and Creek mouse are top spots.

I use three different types of artificial lures when flats fishing in shallow water. These are plugs, soft plastic baits, and weedless spoon. For the most part, the water is too shallow to use a diving plugs, however I will use a small shallow diving Rapala X-Rap jerk bait on a high tide over a grass flat with bait.

Top lures for shallow water flats fishing

Top water plugs are effective and great fun to fish on the shallow flats. I mostly use them early in the morning or on days when there is some cloud cover. Top water plugs will draw some very exciting strikes! One of the main benefits of using them is that anglers can fish very shallow water and potholes without fear of snagging the bottom. These do take patients and the hookup ratio is fair, but they are exciting and a lot of fun to fish.


fishing for redfish


Soft plastic baits are extremely effective when shallow water flats fishing in Sarasota. I often go to a larger profile bait, with the Gulp 5” Jerk Shad in white being my preferred bait. I will fishing on a light 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce jig head along with a swim bait hook. The swim bait hook allows me to bury the point in the bait, rendering it relatively weedless.

The third lure that I use when shallow water flats fishing is a 1/4 ounce gold weedless spoon. There are several factors whom a quality baits. This is without a doubt the top lure when I am searching for redfish. Redfish often Rome shallow grass flats and water that is only a foot deep. The weedless spoon cast a long way, puts out excellent flash and vibration and will run in very shallow water.

Shallow water flats fishing with live bait

There are times when I will use live bait when working shallow on my Sarasota flats fishing charters. In the winter, fish will pile up into slightly deeper areas in the flats. These can be troughs or depressions called potholes. Low tides are best as they will concentrate the fish. A large live shrimp tossed into a pothole and allowed to sit can be extremely effective during this time of year.

In the warmer months, chumming with live bait produces a lot a fish. It is not as challenging thus less rewarding, then casting lures but almost always provides more action. So, it becomes a matter of angler preference and philosophical disposition. The technique is similar as when fishing the deeper flats, except that larger bait is required and I’m usually fishing specific areas such as shorelines, oyster bars, docks, or deeper holes.

Fly fishing on Sarasota flats fishing charters

Anglers can certainly use their fly rod on Sarasota flats fishing charters as well. Any fish that can be caught on a lure will take a well presented fly. The species targeted and to some degree the techniques employed are the same. Obviously, there are slight differences when it comes to tackle and I will briefly discuss them here.


Sarasota fishing guide


The best all round outfit is an 8wt rod with matching reel and line. I like to keep my leaders simple, using 5 feet of 50 pound butt section and then 4 feet of 30 pound fluorocarbon. This will cover just about every situation a fly angler will find themselves in. Intermediate sink tip lines are best on the deeper flats while I floating line can be used in shallow water.

I only use several flies on my fly fishing charters in Sarasota. These are a Clouser Minnow, Crystal Minnow, and D.T.Special. In my opinion, it is much more about location and presentation than fly pattern. I use chartreuse over white and all white most of the time, though I will go with a bright red and yellow fly sometimes for the ladyfish.

In conclusion, this article on Sarasota flats fishing charters will help anglers understand the options available to them as well is how productive flats fishing can be in our area!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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