Flats and Backwater Fishing

Backwater fishing, also called flats fishing, is when you fish in shallow saltwater near the shoreline using a skiff or flat boat. A skiff is a basic, flat-bottomed boat that is open and uses outboard power. It also has a power plant, hull and several seats.

Tackle for Backwater Fishing

Like other types of fishing, backwater fishing requires different techniques and tools, such as rods, reels and tackle. Here are some things you’ll need to get started:

  • A six- to seven-foot medium action rod.
  • A 15-pound braided test line or other light line.
  • A leader line made of fluorocarbon or monofilament that is two to three feet long and weighs 20 to 30 pounds.
  • An assortment of 1/0 to 3/0 circle hooks (the type of fish you’re trying to catch and the bait you choose will determine which hook you should use).
  • Several different types of lures, such as plastic jigs and metal spoons. You can also use plugs, poppers, spinner bait and soft plastic lures. When deciding which bait and lures to use, think about the types of smells, sounds and movements will best attract the fish you’re trying to catch.
  • A lead-head jig – this is the most popular type of lure for backwater fishing.
  • A spinning reel or baitcaster reel that matches the weights marked on your rod.

Tip: Make sure your gear is corrosion-resistant since you’ll be fishing in saltwater.

Most Popular Spots on the Water

To get started, you’ll want to find the backwater spots where the fish hang out. To get to these spots, you’ll need a flat-bottomed boat or a skiff. Here are some of the best spots for backwater fishing:

Saltwater inlet: You can usually find these by looking for shallow sandbars; however, you’ll find the fish in the deeper parts of the water. The best way to catch fish in these areas is to:

    Drift: Let your boat drift through the deeper water or coast along the shoals while you bounce your jig.

    Anchor: Set your anchor, then use your plastic lures, live bait, or metal spoon as you cast up the current. Then, let your bait ride the current and drift past the fish.

Marsh Edges: Saltwater fish like to swim along the edges of the marsh grass looking for prey. The best places to catch them are in areas where water is either rushing in or out of a creek or other body of water.

You’ll want to make sure your boat is close enough to cast your bait right next to the mangrove or marsh edges. You can either let your jig brush along the bottom or try “walking-the-dog” or topwater fishing with a live shrimp attached to a popping cork.

Oyster bars or grass beds: These can be tricky spots to fish because it’s easy to get your line tangled on the rough bottom or twisted in the grass. To avoid snags, you should dangle your bait over the bottom using a popping cork, jig or topwater lure.

Fish like to swim along the outside of the grass beds or bars looking for prey that has gotten too far away from the reef. To catch these fish, slowly glide your boat over the reef and aim your bait at the edges. If you have a push pole, or your boat has a trolling motor, you’ll have an advantage because you’ll be less likely to scare the fish when your boat goes over obstacles in the water.

Channels: Much like creeks and rivers, channels have deep water, which can make for great backwater fishing. Channels are great for catching many kinds of fish, including predatory game fish and bottom dwellers that like to hang out in schools in the deep holes. Bigger fish like to search for prey that has strayed into the deep water; therefore, working a jig along the edge of a hole can be a good way to get the fish to bite.

Croakers, grunts and other saltwater panfish like to hang out in groups in the deepest parts of the channels. A good way to catch these fish is to bounce your bait along the bottom using a Carolina rig.

Other great places for backwater fishing include channel entrances, tidal flats, and potholes.