If you’re fly fishing around Sarasota and you’re looking for sight fishing tips, then you should find some helpful information here. For fly anglers fishing in saltwater, sight fishing for gamefish in shallow water represents the apex of the sport.

As a guide in the Sarasota, Florida area, I run a large amount of fly fishing trips focused on sight fishing. Sight fishing on the fly is popular in this area because we generally have excellent water clarity. The waters from the south shore of Tampa Bay, Sarasota, and all the way down to Placida, provide excellent sight fishing opportunities for fly anglers. The tips on sight fishing in this article are specifically focused on fly fishing.

An angler celebrates a sight fishing success

Sight fishing success feels so good

Sight Fishing Fly Anglers

Fly anglers that sight fish on the flats operate a little differently. In its purist form, sight fishing involves looking for fish, finding fish, and only then casting a fly to the fish. There is no prospect casting in traditional sight fishing. Casts are not wasted when there is no obvious target.

Sight fishing is hunting, stalking, and stealthy boat positioning. This kind of fly fishing involves specialized equipment. Serious sight fishing fly anglers use small skiffs that slide quietly through shallow water. They propel them with a push pole, not a trolling motor.

Sarasota Area Sight Fishing Species

The three primary species that we target when sight fishing in the waters around Sarasota are snook, redfish, and tarpon.  Additional species that can be targeted are larger seatrout, tripletail, and sheepshead. Guides and fly anglers generally implement a specially designed approach for each species they target.


The Discipline of Sight Fishing

Sight Fishing is a discipline. Serious fly anglers that engage in sight fishing become aware of the demands of this discipline. Similar to other disciplines, this form of fly fishing requires an angler to refine their skills and approach. Many fly anglers allocate time to practice some of the important principles of sight fishing. They try to carve out as many small advantages as possible in this discipline.

Maverick Mirage skiff boat in shallow water

The shallow water Maverick Mirage

As a shallow water guide, I’m immersed in the discipline of sight fishing. Over time, I’ve formed opinions, and developed an approach to sight fishing that works for me and my fly anglers. I share a portion of my sight fishing tips in this post. Many of these tips focus on sight fishing fundamentals that some fly anglers tend to overlook

Below you will find a list of tips that you should find helpful in your pursuit of becoming a better sight fishing fly angler. As one would expect, a large portion of information is dedicated to casting. But you will also find a generous amount of information on line management, eyewear, clothing, and the mental approach necessary for this discipline.

If you’re interested in fishing with Captain Brian Boehm, text or call him at 941-400-6218 or visit his website

Casting Tips

Casting a fly rod is simple for some and somewhat of a struggle for others. Your ability to cast a fly rod obviously has a direct impact on your success. You don’t need to be an expert caster to sight fish in shallow water. I’ve witnessed fly casters with casting deficiencies succeed at sight fishing. With that said, your objective should be to improve, regardless of your skill level.

An angler fights a snook next to the mangroves

A side armed cast delivered the fly to this fish

Fly anglers should try to shore up casting deficiencies. Even the best casters have something that they can improve upon. There are numerous components that go into good casting. Once mastered, certain techniques will exponentially increase your likelihood of sight fishing success. The tips below should point you in the right direction and give you a better understanding of what you can work on that will directly impact your success.

Casting Accuracy

Accuracy is important for obvious reasons. You need to deliver a fly to a fish accurately. It’s not hard to get accurate using a regular casting motion. But when you’re on the bow of a skiff, there are often scenarios that pop up that require a caster to be accurate using atypical casting motions. Back casts, long roll casts, and delivering casts side arm are often necessary to deliver a fly to a fish.

An angler fights a snook on a fly rod

Sight fishing at close range takes an accurate delicate touch

Accuracy on the first try goes a long way. Shots materialize out of nowhere in shallow water. A redfish can meander invisibly through a foot of water until all of the sudden, there it is. Getting accustomed to making uncomfortable and nontraditional casts accurately, takes time and some experience.

If accuracy is a struggle for you, then try this method. Joe Mahler, an excellent casting instructor out of Fort Meyers, teaches this method. You can use it for sight fishing situations that arise within 60 feet of you. You can place your pointy finger on top of the rod instead of your thumb. Simply start with your casting elbow pointing where you want the fly to go. Then push your forearm forward and snap your wrist with your finger on top pointing exactly where you want the fly to land. You will be surprised how deadly accurate you can be when using this technique.

Limit False Casts

Why do you need to limit your false casts? Because we are trying to limit the amount of commotion that will inevitably tip off fish to our position. We have clear water and our fish are aware that from time to time their shallow water realm will be infiltrated by bipedal intruders on floating discs. The act of false casting is not much different from waving your hands above your head to get somebody’s attention. As a dedicated fly angler, you should do your part to minimize this motion. The best way to do this is to limit your false casting.

Ideally, a fly angler can deliver a fly up to 60 feet with two or three false casts. With practice this is very doable. A fourth false cast isn’t a deal breaker, but over the course of a day on the water, it will reduce the number of shots you get at innocent fish. Once fish catch a view of you, they have been damaged and the ability to catch them usually drops drastically.

an angler holds a fly rod and casts at tarpon in the gulf

Tarpon fishing will test your casting abilities

Shooting Line

Shooting line is the key to reducing false casts, but what is the key to shooting line? Line speed, double hauls, and a consistent repeatable casting stroke. Making sure that you’re shooting line into the back cast helps as well. But if that still isn’t doing it for you, then you can cheat a little bit.

Overlining your rod is a surefire way to help you shoot more line with fewer false casts. A nine weight line on an eight weight rod is going to be much easier to shoot for most anglers. It certainly helps quite a bit in windy conditions as well.

There is an obvious downside to this approach. A nine weight line is not going to come down on the water nearly as delicately as a eight or even seven weight line. You may booger more fish when that line lays down on the water. But with careful practice, you can learn to lay down heavier lines with a softer touch.

Deliver Flies on the Back Cast

As mentioned in the accuracy section, situations frequently arise for fly anglers on the bow that require delivering a fly with a nonconventional cast. A fish coming at you from 3 O’clock when you’re set up to cast at 9 O’clock is among the most common occurrences you will experience while fly fishing in the Sarasota area. The natural inclination for an angler is to try to turn their entire body towards the fish and to use a traditional forward stroke to deliver the fly.

An angler fights a snook on a fly rod near mangrove islands

This fish was fed with a back cast delivery

This rarely works for a few reasons. First, it takes time to reposition yourself on the bow and it can often be noisy. Secondly, your fly line is now traveling over the boat and probably getting dangerously close to your guide or his push pole. Turning to make a forward cast at a fish coming backside is an inefficient practice at best. At worst your fly will buzz your guide’s head or bury itself in his shoulder.

A better approach is to deliver the cast to the fish on your back cast. This is an approach that, without practice, can often cause an angler to struggle. The tendency of most anglers is to oversteer the final back cast, causing it to become underpowered or even tangled on its final approach.


If you are struggling with delivering flies on your back cast, then you are likely not grasping the concept. If you can deliver a fly on the forward cast, you can just as easily deliver a fly on the back cast. Recently, an angler on the bow of my skiff struggled with this concept until they had a casting faux pas. It’s something that almost every angler experiences.

A snook leaps out of the water while a fly angler stays tight while bringing in the fishWhile casting towards 10 O’clock he lost the line on his back cast and he watched as his fly line went sailing in a tight loop 80 feet backwards towards 4 O’clock. It was an “Aha” moment for him. With no effort at all he had delivered a beautiful 80 foot dart on his back cast. Previously, he had overengineered and oversteered his back cast, struggling to get out 50 feet. He used his new knowledge as a foundation to build his back cast from. It was remarkable to see an angler go from struggling to excellence so quickly.

So, if you can deliver a fly on your forward cast for distance, but struggle with you back cast, then you should simplify things because you are likely working too hard. Consider accidentally losing your line on the back cast. It’s a real eye opener. Then use that knowledge as a foundation and build your form and accuracy from there. Orvis has a video presentation on delivering flies with your back cast.


Soft Landings

The ability to land a fly softly is often imperative while sight fishing in shallow water. A bulky fly will never land softly. A short leader, or a leader built with an oversized butt section, rarely lands softly. Delivering your fly cast on a downward trajectory will also guarantee a splashy landing.

An angler should strive to unfold their cast just over the water and then it should drop softly down. Overpowering a cast will almost always guarantee a crash landing. Overpowering a cast will flip and catapult the fly line and fly into the water. Match the proper power to the proper distance on casts. Being delicate in close range situations is the proper approach.

If you’re looking for additional fly fishing resources, you may find this article helpful.

If you’re interested in fishing with Captain Brian Boehm, text or call him at 941-400-6218 or visit his website

Line Management Tips

Line management plays an integral role in good casting. If you don’t practice good line management techniques, then you are by default practicing bad line management. This becomes glaringly obvious when the line wedged below your shoe prevents you from delivering a fly to a target.

An angler strips line into a fly line taming bucket

Captain Brian stripping line into the bucket

Fly anglers that practice poor line management are easy to spot. They are the anglers trying to double-dutch their way out of the tangle of fly line wrapped around their feet. Their running line frequently tangles and knots up at the least opportune time.

Line management is one of the easiest parts of fly fishing to learn, so it makes sense for you to actively practice good line management techniques. Managing your fly line regularly will greatly reduce the amount of line related issues you encounter. You can release your final cast with confidence, knowing that your line will shoot through the guides and deliver the fly to its final destination. Treat your line right and it will treat you right.

Stretch Your Line

Before you get started fishing it’s important to take some of the coiled memory out of your line. There are a few ways to stretch your line. Some anglers will tie their leader off to a post, peel the fly line from the reel all the way to the backing, and then introduce tension to the line by pulling back against it. Gentle tension is all you will need. This will straighten the line sufficiently and greatly reduce the amount of line management issues you encounter.

A second method for stretching your line is more hands on. Peel off more line than you plan on casting. Work your hands over the line and stretch out any areas where it seems to have memory. Spend a fair amount of time straightening the running line which is the narrow line that has a tendency to tangle up. The benefit of using this technique over the first technique is that running your hands over the line will help you detect nicks, cuts, and defects in the line very early on.

a fly angler smiles back at the camera as he fights a redfish

All smiles after sight fishing success

Treat and Clean Your Line

After your line is stretched to satisfaction you can apply a line treatment with a soft rag. This helps to clean detritus and other material off the line while at the same time preventing your line from drying out and cracking. Most line treatments add some level of slickness to the line which enhances the line’s ability to shoot through your rod guides.

Line Taming Bucket or Mat

There are tools that can be used to help you manage your fly line from the bow of a skiff. Carbon Marine offers a full line of line management products. On my skiff we use a line taming adjustable bucket. It protects your line from the wind and keeps your line ready for the next cast.

An angler fly fishes for snook off of a maverick mirage

The bucket is your friend

The most important part of using one of these products is that you need to deposit your line into the bucket in the correct order. When the line goes in the bucket in the correct order it will also leave the bucket in the right order. Start by making a long cast into water and then stripping your line directly into the bucket. This will ensure that your line is in the correct order. Never randomly stuff your line into the bucket, this will almost guarantee that your line will become entangled when you go to shoot line.

Some anglers prefer the mat to the bucket and others prefer the bucket to the mat. The mat works great in most situations, but when the wind picks up, the bucket clearly outshines the mat. You can also pick up the bucket and walk to the back of the boat to make back door shots. This is something that you can’t effectively do with a line taming mat.

If you’re interested in fishing with Captain Brian Boehm, text or call him at 941-400-6218

Tips on Dress Code

How much energy should an angler devote to what they wear while fly fishing in Florida? The answer to that question is definitely not none. There are a few things that I really believe make a difference for anglers on the bow of my skiff.

The more surface area of your body that you can cover with clothing, the better off you are. Being mostly covered by clothing greatly reduces the amount of time you will need to spend reapplying sunscreen. It also reduces the amount of skin that can be damaged when you forget to reapply sunscreen.

An angler holds out a snook that he caught while sight fishing in lower tampa bay

Hoods keep your ears covered

A hat is an obvious must and a buff should be viewed as a must as well. You should also consider using a UV protected long sleeved shirt. Given the option, buy the shirts that have a hood incorporated into the back. The hood further reduces the amount of sunlight getting to your face and it protects the top of your ears which can be a skin cancer hot spot. Wearing UV protected quick dry pants eliminates the need to lather your legs up with sunscreen.

Your footwear can vary, but know that sandals are a really bad idea. Sandals are a magnet for fly line. Bare foot is okay, but your feet will be exposed to the sun and require regular reapplication of sunscreen to prevent burning. Some anglers wear socks on the bow and that seems to work well for them. Others wear boat shoes made by companies like Simms or Sperry.


Don’t Skimp on Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized glasses matter. Your ability to see fish well is directly related to the quality of your polarized sunglasses. I can’t offer much advice to those anglers that need to wear prescription lenses while fishing. I will say that the anglers that I have had on my skiff that wear wraparound polarized glasses over their prescription glasses, really struggle to see fish.

What are the best polarized sunglasses for those who don’t have prescription needs? I’ve tried a lot of different brands and I’ve used both plastic and glass lenses. Glass lenses generally offer more longevity than plastic. I’ve had some really nice pairs of polarized glasses with plastic lenses, but I’ve rarely gotten more than a year out of any pair before scratches began to impede vision.

A picture of polarized sunglasses

I now use only glass lenses and there are two manufacturers that I like. Smith Optics are phenomenal. They do a good job of protecting your eyes from harmful rays while at the same time providing one of the clearest views into the water that you will find. I use the bronze-colored lens in the Guide’s Choice frames. These are excellent glasses for the shallow flats and they work just as well in the Gulf when we’re staked out during tarpon season.

If you’re tired of the traditional polarized sunglass frame style, but don’t want to sacrifice performance, then you may enjoy the Vaurnet – Ice 1709 Grey Polar Blue Flash. These glasses offer probably the best protection for your eyes against harmful rays. The 1709s provide a crisp, clean view into the water and fish really stand out on sunny days.

The drawback of these glasses is that on low light days, they can be a little dim. They are also not the best glasses for spotting cruising tarpon on the Gulf side. They work, but they are not as good as the Smith Optics bronze lens. With that said, I wear these glasses on most of my flats trips when there is sufficient light. They are just that good on bright days. Vaurnet does offer the same 1709 frames with lighter colored lenses, but I have not got around to trying them out as of yet.

Dull & Drab

An angler fishes for snook with a fly rod in Sarasota Florida

Soft colors are less likely to spook fish

I wear a lot of greys and soft blues. Blue Herons, a lethal wading bird, are successful with this color scheme, so it makes pretty good sense to mimic them. I don’t know that it is necessary to wear greys and soft blues, but I don’t want the color of my clothing to be the reason that we boogered fish. You should definitely stay away from bright colors. Reds, oranges, bright blues and greens are often very visible for timid shallow water fish.

If you’re interested in fishing with Captain Brian Boehm, text or call him at 941-400-6218 or visit his website

Tips on the Mental Game

Your mental approach plays an important part of your success when shallow water fishing. Success in the discipline of shallow water sight fishing on the fly is measured by different metrics. Because this is such a challenging game with a lot of moving parts, it’s obviously important to note what went wrong or what you did wrong in certain situations, so that you might avoid those pitfalls on your next opportunity. This is how people get better at most anything in life.

An angler admires the view on the flats

A fly angler takes a break from sight fishing to admire the view

However, it’s equally as important to note what you did well. What went well and what did you do right? This makes it much easier to maintain a positive attitude, which I believe is an important component to success. Make sure you appreciate the things you did right. A simple mental approach is – Do your best, learn from your mistakes, stay positive, and learn to live with your results. More specific tips and components of the mental game are addressed below.

Pursue Excellence Not Perfection

Perfection is never achieved. Chasing perfection is a double-edged sword. Perfection can be a worthy pursuit with the right perspective. If you understand that the closest you will come to perfection is excellence, then you’ll be alright. If you wrongly believe that perfection is attainable, then perfection will sit in judgement of you and rob you of your peace and joy. Fishing is fun – never forget that.


Some folks are blessed with a more patient demeanor than others. Patience is demanded in different ways when you’re sight fishing. When a fish is spotted, you may need to patiently wait for the shot to develop. You may need to patiently wait for the tide to come in before you’re able to get into an area with fish. If there are two of you on the skiff, you may need to patiently wait for your turn while your partner enjoys their time on the bow. Whatever it is that you are waiting on, practice as much patience as possible.

An angler fights a snook with a fly rod

If you can’t see a fish, trust your guide and good things may happen


Situations like tarpon fishing may come with long lulls in the action. In these situations, focus means staying actively engaged during down times. Keep an eye out for that random single fish that sneaks in the back door, stay disciplined in your approach, and stay in the ready position even though you don’t see the point at that time. Odd situations almost always arise out there and you will thank yourself for being disciplined enough to stay ready for them.

Have a Short Memory

Fly anglers that sight fish in shallow water are like NFL cornerbacks. In football, when a good cornerback gets burned by a wide receiver on a long pass, you might hear the commentator say that “cornerbacks need to have a short memory”. Meaning they cannot allow one bad play to affect the remainder of their performance during the game. Sight fishing in shallow water requires that you have a short memory.

An angler holds a redfish that he caught while sight fishing

This angler endured multiple denials until this fish finally said yes

There is no doubt about it, you are going to make mistakes. You’re going to blow some shots. You’re going to make some casts that you wish you could have back. The wind is going to get you at least a couple of times. If necessary, acknowledge your mistake, note what you should have done, and then mentally move on. Have a short memory, move on, and prepare for the next opportunity.


A positive attitude can make a world of difference in shallow clear water. This doesn’t mean that you need to bounce around and act unnaturally happy. But it does mean that you should be the most positive version of you (whatever that might be). An optimistic or even neutral approach always beats the negative Nelly. A positive approach promotes confidence and confidence is required when delivering a fly to a fish in shallow clear water.


Wrapping it up

Hopefully you found these tips to be helpful. Putting this information into practice will most certainly make you a more dynamic fly angler in the discipline of sight fishing. If you’re looking for information on which flies to use in this area, then check here. One of the more fun ways to practice sight fishing is on dock lights at night. Sight fishing with a fly rod really is the apex of fly fishing and it is a discipline that, when practiced well, has no comparison. Being deficient in some of these concepts does not preclude you from being a successful sight fishing fly angler. It just gives you things to work on.

Best wishes on all of your sight fishing endeavors.

Captain Brian Boehm
Quiet Waters Fishing
Sarasota, FL