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Texas Flats Fishing: The Complete Guide

Complete Guide to Texas Flats Fishing

Picture this: a light, humid breeze ripples across the surface of the water. Soft clouds slowly move across the sky and shine brightly as you stand on the front of a flats skiff. The sun is at your back. You can see every detail of the shallow flat for hundreds of yards. The silence is deafening. No other boat or person is in sight. Suddenly you feel the boat stop and begin to turn as your guide whispers behind you. You look in the direction he is pointing and see shapes appear on the flat, heading toward you. The tails of the fish glow bright blue as they come into casting range. This is the moment all fly fishers dream about. Welcome to the world of Texas flats fly fishing!

Whether it’s your first time fishing the Texas flats, or you’re a seasoned veteran, the Texas coast has something to offer. Each morning as you head out for a day of fishing, it’s hard to know what you’ll see or find. But expect to spend a day in a stunning coastline hunting for large fish in knee-deep water. Whether it’s a huge black drum, a school of trophy speckled trout, sheepshead, or a pack of redfish, we can promise one thing, they all aggressively eat flies. But you have to prepared for a number of situations. Hunting redfish and other species that live on the Texas flats can present different sets of challenges. This is why we have put together our top tips and tricks that will prepare you for any situation on your Texas flats fishing adventure.

Texas flats boat in the marsh

The Texas Flats

What makes the Texas flats ripe with fishing opportunities is the diversity of the landscape. The shallow flats of the Texas coast can support a huge amount of life. Shrimp, crabs, and countless other food sources thrive in this shallow water environment. This provides the fundamentals for a world-class fishery, one that can support large numbers of different types of fish we pursue daily. The key is knowing where to look depending on cloud, wind, and tide conditions as this can help give you clues as to which flat will be productive.

Turtle Grass Flats

The Texas flats are covered in a patchwork of grass flats that provide safety for much of the food that redfish prey on. Some patches of turtle grass are vast and it can be hard to cover them effectively. Fish are often moving slowly when looking for food over turtle grass. The dark background makes it difficult to spot feeding fish unless they are hunting aggressively. When this happens they are often spotted making wakes or tailing. Sometimes they create large clouds of mud as they root out hiding shrimp and crabs. If you see the water get suddenly cloudy, slow down and take your time picking apart the area. Try to find the source of the cloud or look for clues as to which direction the feeding fish is heading to get in front of it.

Fish the Edges

Try focusing on the shallow edges of large turtle grass flats. Redfish will sometimes scatter food out of the grass bed and out into the open. They can be spotted much easier on the lighter background of the surrounding sandy flat and can often be found traveling along the transitions. It also helps to find the medium to smaller-sized patches separated by sandy gaps. Redfish can be seen from a distance much easier as they move between the different patches of turtle grass and present you with a clear shot.

Anytime you are fishing close to turtle grass it is important to have weed guards on your flies. Not only does this prevent your fly from snagging during the retrieve, but it will keep nearby grass floating in the currents off your hook. Because fish are moving slowly with their faces buried in the mud, you may be tempted to fish heavier flies. Try going lighter instead. Bead chain or light dumbbell eyes will ensure that the fly stays out of the grass but still gets into their line of sight. Often the fish will hear the sound of the fly lightly hitting the water and come over to investigate.

Redfish over turtle grass

Sand Flats

Sand flats also make up much of the Texas flats fishing experience. These areas offer exciting sight fishing opportunities to any angler and can test your nerves. Fish cruising sand can be seen from long distances. This allows you plenty of time to prepare for your presentation but allows the excitement to build. Stay calm and take time to position yourself. These are the moments we live for on the Texas flats. Take a deep breath, stay calm, and make your first cast count!

Find the Features

From the front of a skiff, these large sand flats may not appear to have many features. Do not be fooled! Unless you know that a specific flat has consistent redfish activity, look for shoreline features that may funnel traveling fish. Outside points of bays are great places to ambush moving redfish. Also, look for islands or areas that transition from deeper channels to shallower water. Channels and gutters tend to carry more current during tide changes and are places where bait congregate, attracting hungry redfish. If wind or tides are draining backwater lakes or marshes, this is an ideal spot to find aggressive redfish. Watch for surface activity and pay close attention to skinny water along shoreline gutters. Packs of redfish can sometimes push shrimp and baitfish up against the shore. They can often be seen taking turns charging into the shallows to harass rounded-up bait.

On sand flats, let the weather and water conditions help you pick the right fly. These fish can be less picky about the specific pattern. But you will want to downsize and use a lighter fly in bright sun and clear water conditions. If there is cloud cover or colored water, lean on larger fly patterns that are darker. Black and purple flies will stand out better in tougher conditions, making them easier for redfish to see.

Texas flats redfish

When to go

Flats fishing in Texas can be done 12 months out of the year. But just like any saltwater fishery, some months are better than others. Because Texas flats are so shallow, they experience temperature changes quickly and this directly affects how the fish use each area. This is where local knowledge becomes valuable. Behaviors and habits change as the seasons warm or cool. Knowing exactly where to be to take advantage of prime weather windows can make all the difference when flats fishing in Texas.

Fall and Winter on the Texas Flats

If you live in a state that experiences harsh winters then a trip to the Texas flats will help cure those wintertime blues. Redfish, black drum, sheepshead, and speckled trout can all be found consistently when the days get short and nighttime temperatures begin to drop. We still occasionally experience daytime temperatures pushing 80 degrees in the middle of February. When that happens, expect to see happy fish. It’s best to focus on areas close to deeper water where temperatures fluctuate the least. These areas will hold higher concentrations of fish. So if you are seeing activity, it’s a good idea to slow down and pick apart the area carefully. There could be more fish waiting to come up shallow as the day warms up.

Spring and Summer

As days get longer and temperatures increase, so does the redfish activity. These are the prime months to be flats fishing in Texas. All species spread throughout the area and begin to feed more heavily. Fish activity increases with the temperatures and you can have days with many shots at aggressive fish. Don’t be afraid to move this time of year. If you don’t see much activity in one particular spot, switch it up. Check all the different types of water we have available on the Texas coast. You might find that fish are concentrating on sand flats rather than turtle grass on a certain day, so keep mixing it up until you find the right combination.

Flyfishing Texas salt marsh

 

Top Texas Flats Fishing Spots

A series of barrier islands runs along the entire length of Texas’s Gulf Coast creating some of the best shallow water flats fishing found in the country. This means picking where to go can be somewhat overwhelming. Each region varies slightly. But below we have highlighted a few well-known areas to have excellent Texas flats fishing opportunities.

Galveston Bay

The Galveston Bay area is known for its productive mudflats, reefs, and jetty fishing. There are few seagrass beds in the bay yet still plenty of places to sight fish in shallow water. The bay holds many tidal marshes and backwaters that flood and drain which attract redfish and speckled trout as they feed on fleeing shrimp and bait. Galveston bay is well within striking distance from Houston and is a highly regarded redfishing destination.

Laguna Madre

The Laguna Madre runs from Corpus Christi to the Mexico border. This area is located between Padre Island and mainland Texas and consists of large seagrass beds and sand flats. Padre Island is one of the largest barrier islands found in the world and is designated as Padre Island National Seashore. It is separated into two regions, the upper and lower Laguna Madre and offers many flats fishing opportunities within the stunning South Texas landscape just a few hours drive from San Antonio.

Matagorda Bay

Matagorda Bay is another premier Texas flats fishing region situated between the Laguna Madre and Galveston Bay. Along with San Antonio and Espiritu Santo Bay to the south, this area offers excellent Texas flats fishing. Well-known for its speckled trout fishing, this area consists of pristine marshes, grass beds, and sand flats home to redfish and large black drum. The fishing is as diverse as the landscape and is a perfect example of what Texas flats fishing has to offer.

Texas black drum

Challenges and Tips for Flyfishing Texas Flats

We all dream of those perfect sunny days when the water is clear and you can see for miles. We certainly get plenty of those while flyfishing the Texas flats. When the sun is high, try to keep it at your back for the best visibility. Consider tying on a lightly weighted or weightless fly to sneak it in front of the fish undetected. Being able to see a redfish’s mouth open up to inhale a well-presented fly is the stuff flyfishing dreams are made of!

But there are also cloudy days where sight fishing is tough. Sometimes the wind comes up and makes the water dirty. Don’t worry about the conditions, go fishing! All of our Texas flats species live in very shallow water, making them vulnerable to predators from above. Cloudy days and dirty water give them a sense of security because they can move freely and stay hidden in the shallows. They can get more active, even reckless. Redfish will come into water so shallow they are crawling rather than swimming. If you start to see wakes or nervous water around you, don’t hesitate to put a fly in its path. Even if you can’t see what kind of fish is pushing water, it’s likely a redfish, black drum, or speckled trout prowling for a meal.

Foggy weather redfish flyfishing

Essential Gear for Flats Fishing Texas

Redfish Flies

There are countless colors and variations when picking out redfish flies. So how do you know which one to choose? Fish in shallow water are typically there for one thing. To eat. That is why so many of our favorite redfish patterns are designed to mimic multiple food sources at the same time. Flies like the Texas Toad or Shallow Water Crack can imitate crabs if moved slowly along the bottom with long strips. They can also be fished higher in the water column and imitate shrimp using quick and short twitches. We typically let the conditions determine how heavy and what color a fly to use to match water clarity. Heavy flies in darker colors work best when the water has color. Light-colored, lightly weighted, and smaller flies are ideal for situations where fish are cruising shallow or clear water.

For more information on flies and techniques, check out our previous blog post on our Best Redfish Flies for Texas – Top 10 Fly Patterns

Redfish Flies

Rods, Reels, and Tackle

Being prepared with the right gear will give you all the confidence you need to succeed on the Texas flats. 8 weight rods are ideal for casting heavier flies in windy conditions. Having an 8 weight will give you all the power you need to deliver flies accurately and quickly with enough backbone to turn large fish after a run. Along with your 8 weight, a 7 weight rod is perfect for situations that call for a delicate presentation. If fish are up shallow, this requires a lighter fly and a softer approach. In this scenario stealth is your friend.

It is important to pair your rod with a reel that you trust can put the brakes on running fish. Sealed drags in any saltwater environment are a must to ensure that your gear is operating properly. This prevents corrosion from locking up the working parts of your drag system. There is nothing worse than hooking up with a fish of your dreams only to break it off because your gear malfunctioned. Wash and rinse reels and rods after each day to make sure they are ready to be put to work the following day.

We suggest 12-foot leaders when chasing redfish and other Texas flats species. Mono works fine but fluoro is your best option. It’s stiffer and therefore easier to turn over to help get your fly into exactly the right place at the right time. When presenting your fly to a tailing redfish, it is important that your leader turns over and lands straight. This ensures you have direct contact with the fly from the moment it lands in the water. Fish can sometimes eat the fly immediately after it lands and if there is slack in your leader or fly line, you may miss the hookset.

Proper Clothing

Flats fishing Texas means spending hours under the sun. Light, moisture-wicking sunshirts and hoodies help keep you comfortable in hot conditions. Neck gaiters like Buff’s help protect your neck and nose from getting sunburned, as do fingerless gloves for protecting your hands. If fishing in colder months, make sure have a wind-breaker or even a heavier sweatshirt to wear during runs in the skiff. It may be nice and warm when you are standing in the front of the boat, but it can get chilly when moving from spot to spot. Brimmed hats will shield your eyes and don’t leave the dock without a pair of quality polarized glasses. This will cut the glare and give you the best chances of seeing fish in difficult spots. It can be frustrating if your guide is calling out approaching fish and you are unable to see them due to improper eye wear.

Clothing for flats fishing

Choosing the Right Fly Fishing Guide

There are many different reasons to consider hiring a guide for a trip to the Texas flats. If it’s your first time flyfishing for redfish in Texas then you should consider hiring a guide. The learning curve can be steep for a newcomer, even if you have plenty of saltwater fishing experience or have caught plenty of redfish. Getting in a boat with someone who has years of experience in a specific area ensures you get shots at fish. Guides know how to combine factors of wind and sun direction along with tides to put you in front of fish. Because they are on the water every day, guides are the best source for local intel on what techniques will work. All you have to do is show up to the boat ramp on time and make a good cast.

How many days do you have to fish? If just one or two, there are plenty of guides who can accommodate your schedule to make the most out of your trip. There are also full-service lodges operating along the Texas coast that have housing and meals included. These can range in quality and price, with some exceptional options available for a memorable fishing adventure. This is still a great option for individual anglers planning a week-long trip, but it’s the ideal option for groups of anglers wanting to take a trip together. There’s nothing better than sipping cocktails over a delicious meal with your buddies after a great day of catching redfish.

Questions to Ask Your Guide

There are a few questions you can ask before booking a guide or a week-long stay at a lodge. What is their preferred method of fishing? Some guides accept flyfishing trips but cater more toward gear or bait fishermen. If you flyfish only, it might be important for you to make sure your guide is a dedicated flyfishing guide before you commit as the tactics vary.

It is also important to ask if they are catch-and-release only. If you plan on taking fish home for the freezer, you should be upfront about it. Some guides have a strict catch-and-release policy, others may not. Are there other opportunities besides fishing during your visit? Some guides and lodges may offer duck hunting as an option alongside flyfishing for redfish. The Texas coast is a renowned duck hunting destination and your timing might line up with peak migration. If the guide or lodge you are talking with doesn’t seem like a good fit, it’s worth asking for other recommendations. They likely know other reputable guides in the area and can give you suggestions.

Texas flyfishing lodge

Safe Handling and Redfish Conservation

Handle with Care

As studies come out about the negative effects of poor fishing handling, it’s important to mention a few safe handling practices. If you are planning on releasing any fish you catch while flyfishing the Texas flats, consider pinching your barbs. This makes removing hooks extremely easy without damaging the mouth of any redfish, black drum, speckled trout, or sheepshead you land. Steady and constant rod tension during the fight will keep that barbless hook from popping out.

Don’t forget to get your hands wet before handling any fish to prevent removing too much slime from its body. We encourage everybody to hold their fish up to get some nice photos to remember their trip or a nice fish, but please make sure the fish isn’t out of the water for too long. The least amount of time they spend in the air, the better chances they have of swimming away happy. If all of us do this, we will continue to have amazing flats fishing in Texas well into the future. You may even recognize a certain redfish’s unique tail spot and find out you’ve caught the same fish more than once. It happens more than you’d think!

Redfish spot

Check the Regulations

If you plan on keeping a few fish, always be sure you have up-to-date regulations. Understand and be familiar with bag and possessions limits and size restrictions for all species. If unsure, go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website to learn more.

Redfish Conservation

If you want to get involved with redfish conservation in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, head on over the Coastal Conservation Association website to learn more about how to get involved. The CCA strives to keep anglers as stewards to help protect the resources we all enjoy and experience. They have chapters across the country and spread awareness through memberships, events, and initiatives.

 

Flyfishing the Texas Flats

With such a diverse coastline and a variety of places to explore, the flats of Texas have so much to offer the curious fly angler. Many people have spent a lifetime dedicated to flyfishing for Texas redfish. There are great online resources and books out there if you want to dig deeper. But the best way to learn and start putting the puzzle pieces together is to get out and experience it firsthand! Every day spent on the water is a chance to absorb more knowledge in understanding our amazing fishery. It’s a stunning landscape full of fun and challenging species to target with the fly. We hope you have more confidence to connect with these fish and the beautiful place they call home.