Last week I wrote about the anatomy of potholes and how to approach them. Depending on conditions, you will want to tailor your strategy when fishing them. 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 fish’s path with at least a 5-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. Fish lying right over sand in a pothole 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 them.
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 Lefty’s Deceiver, a bend back pattern. Whether you’re 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.
On an incoming tide, fish will naturally stage at the edges of a flat and move into the potholes 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 pothole or series of holes. Stay off to the side in the grass where you’re 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 sandy bottom. By just waiting them out, you can target reds, trout and snook as they wander the flat. It’s important to be able to land the fly line and the fly softly and not 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 6- to 8-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 12-foot leader with a 30-pound fluorocarbon bite tippet is standard. If the fish are particularly wary, drop down to a 20 or even 15-pound bite tippet. When fishing holes with deeper water, 6 to 8 feet, switching to a sink-tip fly line with a 10-foot leader might be more productive.
Potholes 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 they’ll consistently provide action to the savvy angler.
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