Pitching and Flipping the Flats for Trout, Redfish and Flounder
Pitching and flipping are common terms in Texas anglers’ vocabularies – Texas freshwater anglers, that is. Bass fishermen have been using these close-quarters techniques for more than two decades now. Salt water fishermen, on the other hand, have been slow to warm up to the techniques. However, both pitching and flipping can be productive along the Texas coast.
Part of this reluctance certainly has to do with the fact these techniques don’t launch the lure more than a dozen yards from the angler. However, during August most resident bay fish tend to hold a little deeper, thus anglers are able to get closer. But, even in some of the shallowest of areas, anglers exercising a little caution can easily position themselves within pitchin’ distance of speckled trout, redfish, flounder, black drum and other species.
Of course, there is an understandably large number of saltwater fishermen who are completely unfamiliar with these techniques. So, a little introduction by way of definition is in order. Flippin’ essentially uses a pendulum action to place the rod next to objects at close distance. Pitchin’ entails the same motion, with a bit more aggressive wrist action to ‘pitch’ the lure a greater distance. In each instance, the reel is allowed to freespool once the bait hits the water, letting it fall vertically without resistance rather than swinging back toward the angler on a taut line. However, neither technique is meant to be utilized at more than 30 feet or so.
But again, once saltwater anglers master these relatively simple techniques, they’ll be amazed how much they can employ them – even with their seemingly restrictive distances. Here are a few of the areas in which pitchin’ and/or flippin’ really shine in the saltwater world.
POTHOLES ON THE FLATS – Where there is sandy bottom and grass, there are sandy potholes. Often times on expansive grass flats, the potholes are the only distinguishing feature. During the warm weather months, when fish are more often found over sand bottom, these potholes are frequently utilized by speckled trout and redfish.
Usually predator fish utilize potholes in one of two manners. At times, they lie in wait in the grass just outside the pothole, waiting for a tasty morsel to swim or drift into the hole. Other times, they will lie within the hole waiting for a snack to emerge from the grass. In both instances, they are intently focused on the pothole as an ambush point. And, in each case, anglers are able to approach within close range assuming they use a minimal amount of stealth. In fact, it is not uncommon to wade or drift right over a fish hunkered down in a pothole without the fish ever spooking.
When working from the front platform of a poled or slowly drifting (as is possible during the dead-calm days of August) boat, anglers can easily pitch a soft-plastic into a pothole. Usually, if a fish is in the hole, it will grab the bait as it falls through the water shortly after impact. If the bait makes it to the bottom untouched, a few ‘jiggles’ of the rod tip will usually give the lure enough action to induce a strike.
JETTIES – Jetties are custom made for flipping and pitching, especially when fishing for species that love to hold tight to structure such as mangrove snapper, gag grouper and snook. This is particularly true on ‘irregular’ jetties, where isolated rocks are spilled out way from the main jetty structure. Whether fishing from a boat or the rock groins themselves, these areas are often impossible to work effectively with a traditional cast. Pitching bits of shrimp on a jig head is also an effective way to snare sheepshead as they work their way along the jetties.
PILINGS – Whether they are supporting a bridge, gas well or any other type of structure, pilings that rise vertically from the bay floor tend to hold plenty of fish. By pitchin’ or flippin’ a lure close and allowing it to fall on a slack line, anglers can effectively work their way around these structures. Fishing vertical structure is also a situation where hooking a fish on a short leash is advantageous in that it is easier for the angler to muscle a fish from cover. Fishermen who hook up at the end of a long conventional cast do not have nearly as much control as they fish puts its head down and swims for cover.
DOCKS – Though they are supported by pilings, docks fall in a category of their own. This is because of the typically close to the water canopy provided by the dock itself. This allows fish to enjoy not only the vertical structure of the support pilings, but also the shade provided by the horizontal structure of the dock.
However, docks present a little bit of a challenge for anglers. Working the pilings along the face of the dock is really no different than working any other vertical structure. But, flippin’ baits under docks takes a little more skill. And, the less clearance between the water’s surface and the dock, the more skill is necessary.
On the plus side, although docks on lake shores are usually hammered daily by bass fishermen, similar structures in the saltwater environment are rarely probed. Considering virtually ever inshore species in Texas has an affinity for the shelter provided by docks, it would behoove saltwater anglers to develop the skills necessary to efficiently work baits beneath these fish holding structures.
‘HOLES’ – Where deep holes or channels occur on otherwise shallow flats, wade fishermen can utilize pitchin’ and flippin’ to probe these small anomalies. By cautiously approaching these deep spots, anglers can avoid spooking whatever fish may be in them and effectively work the area from a few feet away. This is particularly effective for taking flounder, but trout, redfish, black drum and sheepshead are also common catches.
REEFS – Perhaps no other type of saltwater structure is fished as much by Texas bay fishermen as oyster reefs. These popular structures also present an excellent opportunity for pitchin’ and flippin’. Anglers wading the crown of a reef can usually flip baits alongside the reef and into holes and other anomalies that occur along the stretch of a reef. Anglers fishing from a boat can do the same thing by utilizing a push pole or trolling motor to maneuver close to the reef. Any irregularity in the reef’s contour should be probed thoroughly before moving on. Additionally, any ‘secondary reefs’ or small shell pads situated away from the main reef are excellent targets for ‘flippers.’
FLOODED GRASS – Flooded grass represents another shallow water application in which saltwater anglers can employ pitchin’ and flippin’. This is particularly true when redfish begin pushing their way back through stands of flooded grass plucking shrimp and crabs as they go. Often times these fish can be sighted by their exposed backs or tails. Other times, though the actually fish may not be seen, the tell-tell swaying of the grass will allow anglers to track the fish’s progress. In both these instances, fishermen can generally position themselves close enough to flip a lure in front of a feeding fish.
In other instances, anglers may see no visible signs of fish, but may ‘know they’re there.’ If that’s the case, it is usually productive to pitch or flip lures and baits into holes or ‘trails’ in the grass. Fish often use these relative clean areas to travel through the grassy maize and ambush prey. Probing them with a short flip is usually a productive means of prospecting.
These are but a handful of examples of how and where pitchin’ and flippin’ can be employed in the saltwater environment. Fishermen interested in becoming better anglers would be well-served to spend a little time in the backyard flippin’ baits into a bucket in order to hone their skills. Although these techniques have their limitations, they also have the potential to help anglers can fish they otherwise may not.