It doesn't matter if you are 40 miles offshore or flats fishing for bull reds, the water surface can be your best friend when locating fish.
Ever go fishing with one of your buddies and have the exact same line, bait, leader and rod, while your buddy is catching fish after fish and you are catching nothing?
Were they just getting lucky or was there more to it than that?
Sometimes it can just be plain luck, but sometimes maybe your buddy is seeing something on the waters surface that you are not.
Bottom line is, you can get invaluable information by paying close attention to the waters surface. Look for fish making a ripple in the water as it swims near the surface, perhaps maybe a school of redfish "humping up" the water (making a small wake), or a tarpon rolling on the surface.
Bait busting on the surface is also a tall tail sign of predatory fish lurking below.
When you get to an area don't just throw your line in right away just to get it wet. Stop and take a look for 3-4 min. You won't believe how many things you will see in just a few minutes of looking around.
Once you key in on some movement make a cast in that direction.
A day of fishing for me consists of endlessly looking around for movement on the waters surface.
Mullet make that big "V" shape wake as they swim very close to the surface or even that nervous water look is often mullet. These can be good places to look for redfish as they will often swim with the larger mullet. Sometimes I find that snook will also be in with the mullet, but they are not as consistent with this pattern as the redfish are.
When flats fishing for bull reds look for a different wake. One that looks like a small boat wake moving across the flat, also known as the "hump" or humping up. Keep your eye out for puffs of sand and swirls in the water as redfish and snook often cause these when spooked and leaving an area. Don't forget about the elusive tailing redfish.
Look for rips in the current and good current flow around oyster bars and mangroves, as these can be great ambush points.
If you see a pod of bait, look out for spanish mackeral or maybe a kingfish skyrocketing through the bait.
All fish show their sign on the water surface in there own way. Being able to identify what fish is causing certain signs on the water surface is a key element of piecing together a successful day on the water.