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Fire On the Flats
By Dan Vinovich

A school of white bass skipped across the water chasing shad 20 yards off the port side. A nice largemouth leaped for the sky off the bow. Suddenly, a big muskie porpoised next to the boat. Now you might be wondering what came next. Nothing. I just sat in the driver’s seat of my Tracker Targa, sipping a cup of coffee and listening to the sound of a flat at daybreak. You see these are the things that make a flat so special. A flat is not merely a muddy sloped piece of underwater real estate, but, in fact, is the delicatessen of the lake. This is the greatest example of the lake’s food chain in action. Let’s take a look at how these sounds really act out under the surface. The shad have gathered here to feed on the micros that inhabit the soft muddy bottom. As they feed, their vibrations and movement have attracted a pack of hungry white bass. The whites slash into the scattering school of shad like a swarm of bees defending their hive. The commotion on the surface has attracted even more predators. Gulls are the first to appear. They dive and light on the surface, scooping up the shad as they are being pushed up from the deep in a desperate attempt to escape the relentless attacks from the whites. Whoosh! During the feeding frenzy, a white bass has lumbered on the surface a little too long. A huge muskie just had him as an appetizer. A largemouth bass has also joined the frenzy. He too is on the surface pounding any shad that strays from the school. Deep underneath the school, there are other predators that have not yet made their presence known. The whites break off the attack for a moment. The gulls have driven the school of shad back down. Now, it is the walleyes’ turn. They are hitting shad like batters in a batting cage as they descend. After a bit, they too have had their fill. With the battle over, the flat looks like the day after a battle on a battle field. Dead and wounded shad start settling to the bottom. The big cats move in to feed on what’s left. They scour the bottom clean like giant street sweepers. Here, nothing goes to waste. A cruel and often brutal battle rages time after time and day after day, right under our noses. Let’s look at how to locate flats and when to fish them. When I am going to fish a new body of water for the first time, I always do my homework before I get there. If possible, a couple of weeks before I leave, I pick or order a map. I always try to find one from Fishing Hotspots. In my book, these offer the most information for the buck. Remember, this is going to be one of the most important pieces of equipment in the boat. Take your map and, in an open spot, make yourself a legend. A legend is a color-coded explanation of symbols you will be using on your map. The reason I use symbols and colors are to keep my map clean looking and easy to read, even in the worst weather conditions. For example, a flat is always shown as the color red. I circle each flat on the map in red. I never write any information in the circle . I leave this area open for GPS waypoint marks and positions. Instead, I find an open spot on the map to record information I gather each time I fish it. I will number these in red as well. For main lake points, I use green. For drop-offs and humps, I use blue. This keeps all of my information organized and readily available any time I need it. The information I record at the end of each day is as follows; weather conditions, such as wind speed and direction, cloudy, etc., the date, the water temperature, and water clarity. Over time, this becomes a valuable bible for that body of water. Flats can hold fish at any time of the year. That is why they are the first spots I will hit when searching out a bite. Picking a flat to fish is not rocket science. I always fish the flats the wind is blowing on or that have had wind on them on the days before. The key to fishing a flat seems to be wind related. I have fished a flat one day and smoked the walleyes, only to be shut down on the next day because it was calm. That is why I like to do a little running when I fish. During the course of the day, a flat can turn on at any time, especially if it was calm and then gets some wind on it. Paying attention to weather changes during the day is important. I have seen huge stringers of walleyes come off flats in a very short time. When it gets right, the fish will move in and the action will get fast and furious, only to shut down an hour later, so much you would think there were no fish on it at all. There are several ways in which to fish a flat. The first and usually most productive is trolling crankbaits. Trolling cranks is one of the best ways to fish a flat for one reason. It enables you to cover water quickly. Thus, eliminating unproductive areas of depths. Flats can often be hundreds of yards long, even miles. Therefor, covering ground can be one of the best ways to see if a flat is holding walleyes. A lot of traffic from pleasure boaters and other fishermen can make trolling tough at times, so here is a tip. Keep the lines close to the boat by adding an Offshore Tackle Snap Weight to the line. You can keep the amount of line out to a minimum while keeping the baits in the strike zone, which is more often than not on the bottom. Once you have located where and the depth the fish have set up on the flat, slower presentations can be used. One of my favorites is pulling spinners and crawlers. With this presentation, some speed can be obtained for water coverage while incorporating precise boat control to maintain depth and position on the flat. For this presentation, a bow-mounted trolling motor cannot be beat. Especially if it has a lot of power, such as the Minn Kota 101 36 volt. I can pull all day with this motor with power to spare. The third presentation I will use is to drift the flat, dragging Lindy rigs or jigs tipped with crawlers or leaches. This presentation will shine if the fish are a little sluggish or stubborn. One piece of equipment you will need for this presentation is a drift sock. The one I use is called Drift Control Sea Anchor. The Drift Control anchor slows my drift and stabilizes the boat. In other words, it lets me control the drift, not the wind. This is very important when you are fishing a spot on a spot. One word of advice; when you go to purchase one, get the right size. The bigger the boat, the bigger sea anchor you will need to slow the boat’s rate of speed. These are just a few ways to fish a flat. If you would like to try it with me, you can call Predator Guide Service at 309-347-1728 or by e-mail at trolling @mtco.com. Now get out there and give a flat a try. You might be surprised what you can hook into. If you are thinking about booking a trip, book now as dates are limited for the fall sauger runs. SEE ‘YA ON THE WATER! spots I will hit when searching out a bite.

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