SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
Captain Bryon Chamberlin spotted this redfish in a
Tampa Bay Pot hole
By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer
Fly fishing is a sport that rewards the angler who
carefully considers his prey and pays attention to the
conditions and terrain that they inhabit. For anglers
who regularly fish the flats, potholes are a prime area
where every species of inshore fish can be targeted. Potholes
provide an advantage to both the angler and the fish that
can be exploited to anglers advantage.
Potholes are classically defined as clear sandy depressions
in grass flats that are devoid of vegetation. One thing
that they all have in common is a recessed contour that
attracts both fish and the prey they feed on. In reality,
potholes contain cover to varying degrees. Most potholes
are a combination of sand and grass. If you carefully
examine them, youll find sand in the deepest section
and grass on the borders. Fish that take up station in
these depressions are often found on the grass perimeter,
where they are less visible to prey.
Quite often, fish will wander between holes, staying just
inside the edges or seams. At other times, they can be
seen right over the sand in the middle of the hole. Not
all potholes are created equal. Some will be almost perfectly
round and shallow, while others are oblong and deep. Many
of these depressions are man-made, but others are created
by tidal action or even scouring by boats. Extreme low
tides are excellent for scouting areas to fish. When the
bottom is exposed, the topography can be closely examined.
Look for birds feeding on a flat with potholes. The same
food theyre feeding on will attract game fish when
the flat is covered with water.
Potholes can be fished either from the boat or wading.
If the water is clear, fish on a shallow flat can be very
spooky. During the winter, gin-clear water often necessitates
getting into the water for a more stealthy approach. When
fishing from a boat, a long accurate cast is a real asset.
There will be times when the wind is up and the water
is off color, and a cast of 40 feet or less will be all
thats required. More often than not, an accurate
60-plus-foot cast will be needed for any measure of success.
When poling a flat, both the angler and the guide must
be as quiet as possible. Its important to make sure
the pole doesnt hit the side of the boat and enters
and exits the water without making a splash. Pole extremely
slowly in very shallow water, as fish are sensitive to
the pressure wave a boat pushes. Many anglers are not
aware, but simply moving your feet on the platform can
spook fish. Another mistake rooky anglers make is rocking
the boat with their casts. When fish are spotted, take
time to plan your attack, and dont let a high waving
rod alert your prey to your presence. Keep the rod low
and behind you so you can launch a quick side arm cast.
As you scan the flats and potholes, pay attention to any
movement on the periphery of your vision. Fish that are
stationed over grass on a pothole may give their presence
away with only a shadow or subtle movement of their mouth
When wading, a stealthy approach is equally as important.
Small flats with potholes can be completely blown if you
motor to close, slam hatch lids, or toss an anchor. Advance
quietly, poling at least the last one hundred yards to
the area you intend to fish. Stake out or anchor well
away from the action. Slip into the water and approach
pot holes slowly. Move to fast and your body will create
a pressure wave that the fish will sense If the visibility
isnt great, or youre fishing early or late,
and cant see fish, target the edges where grass
and sand meet. The edges "seams" are perfect
ambush spots for the predators youre targeting.
Start with presentations about two feet outside the sandy
area. Make sure you target the deep grassy ends of the
potholes. These areas can be very productive and always
warrant a couple of casts.
After working the edges of the holes and the seams, begin
casting into the sandy areas. Fan the hole with casts
to cover them completely and vary your retrieve. If a
quick strip doesnt produce, try slowing down and
working the fly close to the bottom.
When the water is clear enough for you to spot fish, they
will often be traveling between holes. When possible make
a cast into the fishs path with at least a five
foot lead and let the fly settle to the bottom. As the
fish approaches, "bump" the fly to imitate a
baitfish or crustacean that has been surprised and spooked
by the predator. Fish lying right over sand in a pot hole
are the hardest to make a presentation to. The cast must
land far enough away not to be noticed and stripped so
the fly doesn't approach the predator.
Match flies to whatever forage is most prevalent. Generally
speaking use smaller flies and fish them slower in the
winter. In the warmer months switch to a larger pattern
and work it a bit faster. Patterns with lead eyes like
Clousers are very effective in the winter. In the warmer
months try flies that mimic baitfish like the "Leftys
Deceiver." Whether youre fishing from a boat
or wading make an effort to use the elements to your advantage.
Keep the sun at your back for the best visibility and
face the action. On an incoming tide fish will naturally
stage at the edges of a flat and move into the pot holes
and slues as the tide rises.
If the fish are hard to approach try stationing yourself
in an area where you have a good view of a pot hole or
series of holes. Stay off to the side in the grass where
youre less visible and keep a low profile. By staying
a long cast away, you can easily see the fish when they
enter a hole or pass across the white sand bottom. By
just waiting them out, you can target reds, trout and
snook as they wander the flat. Its important to
be able to land the fly line and the fly softly and dont
rip the line off the water for the next cast. Stand still,
be observant and make your casts low and slow. It takes
patience, but can be very productive.
In most cases there are few obstructions on a flat allowing
you to use a light six to eight weight outfit. Lines and
leaders can be varied according to the conditions. On
a shallow, clear flat use a floating line and a long leader.
A twelve foot leader with a thirty pound fluorocarbon
bite tippet is standard. If the fish are particularly
wary, drop down to a twenty or even fifteen pound bite
tippet. When fishing holes with deeper water, (six-eight
feet) switch to a 200 grain clear sink-tip fly line with
a ten foot leader.
Pot holes on a flat concentrate fish for fly anglers.
They provide cover for predators and a way for them to
enter and exit a flat. Learn to fish them according to
their unique topography, the time of the year, tides and
local conditions and theyll consistently provide
action to the savvy angler.