I will be posting my current Sarasota fishing report on this page. It will be updated every week or two as conditions and species change. It will include the baits or lures along with the species and locations.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles and reports can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
December 7 Sarasota fishing report
Action in Sarasota Bay has been very good! The deep grass flats north of New Pass provided clients casting jigs and flies with a variety of species. Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, pompano, bluefish, jacks, grouper, and ladyfish kept the rods bent. Gulp Shrimp and Bass Assassin jigs produced for spin anglers while Clouser patterns worked well for those casting a fly. River trips produced snook and jack crevalle on Rapala plugs and flies.
November 25 Sarasota fishing report
The best bite the last two weeks has been on the deep grass flats. Bluefish to 5 pounds, Spanish mackerel to 3 pounds, pompano, speckled trout, grouper, sea bass, jacks, ladyfish, and other species hit Bass Assassin baits and Gulp Shrimp on a 1/4 ounce jig head. The flats north of New Pass were the most productive spots. Big Pass had ladyfish and a few mackerel, pompano, and small permit. Action on the beaches has slowed in regards to mackerel and kings, though patient anglers are finding some very large tripletail on the crab pot buoys.
November 11 Sarasota fishing report
Action in the Gulf of Mexico off of the Sarasota beaches has been outstanding the last two weeks! The water temperature is now in the low to mid 70s and bait fish are plentiful. Not a lot of the action was found on the surface. The best bet has been trolling spoons and planers and chumming with live bait. Clients did have a few casting opportunities. King and Spanish mackerel, sharks, bluefish, and the stray false albacore were caught. Sharks are plentiful and great fun on medium tackle. They tend to migrate with and feed on the mackerel. This bite is dependent on conditions; strong winds from any direction other than east shuts things down. Hopefully, this will continue until Christmas.
October 26 Sarasota fishing report
Weather has been an issue the last couple of weeks. A harsh rain storm, persistent east winds, and unusually warm temperatures made fishing a bit challenging. The best bite continued to be the deep grass flats. Spanish mackerel to 2 1/2 pounds, bluefish to 3 pounds, speckled trout to 20″, gag grouper, ladyfish, and more hit jigs and live baitfish on the grass flats in 6′ to 8′ of water. Snapper and small redfish took live shrimp under docks near the passes. I ran my first river trip this week. The water temperature was 81, which is too high for the snook to move in. Still, largemouth bass to 3 1/2 pounds and big gar made the trip fun.
October 13 Sarasota fishing report
Fishing has been steady over the last several weeks. Speckled trout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and ladyfish hit Bass Assassin jigs cast over grass flats in 6′ to 10′ of water. The flats north of New Pass have been best. Spanish mackerel are showing up in the inshore Gulf of Mexico as well. This action should really take off and hopefully false albacore and king mackerel will join the party. Jacks are schooling up in Robert’s Bay and Little Sarasota Bay. Snook are moving into these areas from the passes and beaches.
September 17 Sarasota fishing report
This will be my last report for a couple of weeks as I am heading to the NC mountains to terrorize the smallmouth bass and trout! LOL I had a charter today with my local regular clients Doc and John. Action was steady for the 6 hours we fishing with 17 species being landed. With zero breeze, we started in Big Pass, bouncing pompano jigs on the bottom. We also saw some breaking fish and cast into them. The boys caught tons on ladyfish, jack crevalle, another type of jack, blue runners, and a small permit. A move to structure using live shrimp produced red and gag grouper and mangrove snapper. We finished up casting Gulp Shrimp on a 1/4 ounce jig head on the deep flats north of New Pass, catching Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, bluefish, catfish, and other species.
August 30 Sarasota fishing report
Between vacation and some rain, it has been a while since I posted a Sarasota fishing report. Action continued to be very good on the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay. The water is a bit less murky north of New Pass. Anglers casting Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits, Gulp shrimp, Rapala X-Raps, and chartreuse over white Clouser Minnow flies did well. Speckled trout (several were between 20″ and 23″), bluefish, jacks, gag grouper, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, mackerel, and a cobia were landed in recent weeks. Stephen’s Point, Middlegrounds, Bishop’s Pt., and Buttonwood were all productive spots. Fishing will probably shut down for a week or so due to the hurricane.
August 10 Sarasota Fishing Report
Fishing continued to be good on the deep grass flats in north Sarasota Bay, though we did have to deal with storms early in the week. The flats north of New Pass were the most productive. Clients on Sarasota fishing charters caught bluefish, speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, ladyfish, grouper, and catfish casting Bass Assassin jigs and Gulp Shrimp. The Middlegrounds, Stephen’s Pt., Buttonwood, and Long Bar were all productive spots. Snook are in the passes and starting to move back inshore. Spanish mackerel were schooling in the inshore Gulf of Mexico before the wind turned west.
August 3 Sarasota Fishing Report
Anglers on Sarasota fishing charters experienced good action on a variety of species this week. Once again, the best bite was on the deep grass flats. Afternoon showers have the water temperature around 85 degrees, which is good for this time of year. Spanish mackerel showed up in decent numbers and were found feeding on small bait on the surface. Speckled trout, bluefish, jacks, grouper, snapper, ladyfish, and catfish were also caught. Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits and Gulp Shrimp caught all of the fish. Stephen’s Pt. and Buttonwood were the top spots. Structure in the bay is loaded with snapper and grouper, though most of the fish are small. Live bait fished on the bottom worked well.
July 26 Sarasota fishing report
The best bite continues to be working the deep grass flats in North Sarasota Bay with jigs. Bass assassin Sea Shad baits and Gulp Shrimp were very productive. Both were fished on a 1/4 ounce jig head. Speckled trout numbers were on the rise and bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, grouper, snapper, catfish, and other species were landed. Stephen’s Pt. and Buttonwood were the top spots, though the Middlegrounds produced a few fish as well. Weather was an issue late in the week and I had to cancel a couple of trips.
July 16 Sarasota Fishing Report
Weather was an issues last week as Tropical Storm Berry shirted the area, bringing some rain and wind. As it passed, fishing rebounded quickly. The Gulf of Mexico is churned up a bit, bringing dirty water in through the passes. The best fishing spots have been in north Sarasota Bay where the water is clearer. One great sign is the dramatic increase in speckled trout. The season is closed to harvest as they bounce back from last year’s red tide. Along with trout, anglers landed bluefish, jack crevalle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, ladyfish, catfish, and other species. Bass Assassin jigs and Gulp Shrimp caught all of the fish. Stephen’s Pt. and Buttonwood were the top spots.
July 5 Sarasota fishing report
I took the end of the week off as the 4Th of July festivities kind of take over the town. Action was steady this week, though we had one morning that was breezy and the fishing a bit slow. The best spots this week were Stephen’s Pt. and Big Sarasota Pass. Clients on Sarasota fishing charters caught Spanish mackerel and ladyfish in the pass on jigs and live minnows. Spephen’s Pt. and the Middlegrounds held bluefish, speckled trout, jacks, snapper, grouper, sharks, ladyfish, catfish, and other species. Most of the fish were caught on Bass Assassin jigs and Gulp Shrimp.
June 29 Sarasota fishing report
Despite water temperatures in the upper 80’s, fishing was very good this week. The deep grass flats yielded speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, pompano, bluefish, jacks, grouper, snapper, and ladyfish. Most of the fish hit Bass Assassin jigs, but free lined shrimp produced a few fish as well. Bait is plentiful on most of the flats and that attracts the game fish. Stephen’s Pt., Middlegrounds, Bishop’s Pt., and Buttonwood were the top spots this week.
June 22 Sarasota fishing report
Once again, the best bite has been on the deep grass flats in north Sarasota Bay. Just about every flat with submerged grass in 6′ to 8′ of water held fish. There was a lot of bait fish that accounted for the good fishing. Anglers casting Bass Assassin jigs and Gulp Shrimp caught some decent sized bluefish, speckled trout, jack crevalle, ladyfish, catfish, and more. Middlegrounds, Bishop’s Point, and Buttonwood were the top spots. There are a lot of snook in the passes and off the beaches. However, west winds have hampered that fishing.
June 15 Sarasota fishing report
Clients on Sarasota fishing charters experienced good action on the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay. Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits and Gulp Shrimp on a 1/4 ounce jig head caught most of the fish. Southwest wind had the Gulf churned up a bit, so the flats that were a bit away from the passes produced best. Middlegrounds, Buttonwood, and Bishop’s Pt. were the top spots. Bluefish, speckled trout, jacks, flounder, mangrove snapper, sail cats, and loads of ladyfish were caught.
June 8 Sarasota fishing report
Anglers experienced good action this week. The best bite was on the beach, in the passes, and on the flats close to the passes. Jigs with a Gulp Shrimp produced most of the fish. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, speckled trout, catfish, and a bunch of ladyfish and a little shark kept the rods bent. Spanish mackerel were found in the Gulf, just off of New Pass, although they were scattered out and a bit fussy. Small Rapala plugs fooled a dozen or so. Ladyfish were schooled up heavily on the New Pass bar, feeding on the surface. Middlegrounds and Marker #5 were the best flats.
June 1 Sarasota fishing report
Fishing was good this week on the flats, passes, and off the beach. Clients on Sarasota fishing charters caught a ton of Spanish mackerel off of the Lido Key beaches. Schools of aggressively feeding mackerel were seen between Big Pass and New Pass. The top producing bait was a #8 white Rapala X-Rap slash bait. Jigs and spoons fooled fish as well. Large ladyfish, bluefish, whiting, catfish, and mackerel were caught in both passes on jigs and X-Raps. Gulp Shrimp on a 1/4 ounce jig head produced ladyfish, jacks, bluefish, and speckled trout on the flats near the passes.
May 25 Sarasota fishing report
The best bite this week for anglers on Sarasota fishing charters was Spanish mackerel out on the beaches. Schools of mackerel were plentiful as there is a ton of bait. Silver spoons, plugs, and jigs cast into the fish produced strikes. A lot of the fish were on the small side, but there were some decent ones mixed in, too. Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass also had breaking fish, along with ladyfish and a few bluefish. The flats at Marker # 5 and Middlegrounds produced a couple of speckled trout, ladyfish, and sailcats.
May 19 Outer Banks fishing report
I was up in North Carolina in Kill Devil Hills this week for a little vacation. Of course, I did some fishing along with some great seafood meals and adult beverages. Whiting, known locally as “surf mullet”, and skates hit shrimp fished on the bottom. One of the whiting went 18″, which is a good one. On calmer days, I cast Gulp Shrimp on jig heads from the surf and landed spotted sea trout and bluefish. The trout were tough to land in the surf with their soft mouths, but most were going to be released anyway. We saved enough whiting and a couple of trout for a little fish fry, great fun!
May 11 Sarasota Fishing Report
Fishing was decent this week, with the highlight being schools of breaking jack crevalle. We encounters schools of jacks feeding on the surface in several locations throughout Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay. They hit Bass Assassin jigs and Rapala X-Raps. Ladyfish were caught in Big Pass, the nearby flats, and up in the north bay. Snook hit plugs early in the morning and speckled trout and bluefish were caught on jigs on the deep grass flats. I am headed to the Outer Banks for some surf fishing and R&R, next report will be in two weeks.
May 4 Sarasota fishing report
Once again, ladyfish on the deep grass flats provided the majority of the action for clients this week. Most of the fish were caught by anglers casting Bass Assassin jigs, but live shrimp caught fish, too. It was good to see that some very healthy speckled trout were caught as well. This is a good sign as Sarasota Bay bounces back from the red tide. The FWC has just passed a law that speckled trout, reds, and snook are catch and release for the next year. Some anglers look down on ladyfish, but they really are a lot of fun and put up a good fight for their size. They are a great little fish for kids and novice anglers to practice on and gain experience.
April 27 Sarasota fishing report
With sheepshead pretty much done, the best action this week was on the grass flats. Ladyfish provided most of the action, keeping rods bent for clients. Bass Assassin jigs and live shrimp worked well. A few bluefish, mackerel, speckled trout, and sailcats were caught as well. It was tough on Monday as a severe front had moved through. However, the bite picked up each day, with Thursday being very good early in the morning. Another front moved in on Friday. Bait is showing up on a lot of the flats, which is a good sign for our summer fishing.
April 20 Sarasota fishing report
Clients on Sarasota fishing charters had decent action tis week, although weather was an issue early and late in the week. Wind not only makes it difficult to fish, it stirs up the water. Finding “clean” water was important. Every spot that was dirty only produced catfish. Flats that were better produced a lot of ladyfish with a few jack crevalle and bluefish mixed in. Most of the fish hit Bass Assassin jigs, but shrimp caught some fish as well. We had an excellent fly fishing trip on Thursday morning. The grass flats north on New Pass were very clear with a lot of bait. Fish were busting on the surface and chartreuse/white Clouser MInnow patters were very productive.
April 13 Sarasota fishing report
It is all about bending the rods with a lot of family trips this time of year. Action was decent this week for clients going out on Sarasota fishing charters. Big Sarasota Pass, Marina Jack flat, and Middlegrounds had good numbers of hard-fighting ladyfish along with bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and speckled trout. Bass Assassin jigs (glow/chartreuse), Rapala X-Raps were all productive. Friday was the best day, as we encountered large schools of ladyfish with bluefish and mackerel mixed in terrorizing bait in shallow water on the Big Pass sand bar. Then, later in the morning, we caught Spanish mackerel and blue runners trolling spoons near Siesta Key Beach. Sheepshead are really thinning out, though there are still a few around, mostly smaller males.
April 6 Sarasota fishing report
Anglers on Sarasota fishing charters this week experienced decent action on the grass flats near Big Pass. Ladyfish were fairly plentiful with a few other species mixed in. Speckled trout to 18″, Spanish mackerel and bluefish to 2 pounds, jacks and sail cats hit Bass Assassin jigs, live shrimp, and threadfin herring. Brian caught the fish of the week as he wrestled a nice redfish out from under a Siesta Key dock using live shrimp. Ladyfish were also caught in Big Pass on jigs. I only targeted sheepshead one day, but the bite was still strong in the rocks in the pass.
March 30 Sarasota fishing report
Fishing was decent this week, though clients on Sarasota fishing charters had to battle some wind and a little rain. The sheepshead bite continued to be very good. Live shrimp fished on the bottom near structure and docks in both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass produced plenty of nice sized fish. Though the spawning run is winding down, there are plenty of fish that are still around. Anglers seeking action found it by casting Bass Assassin jigs on the grass flats on the east side of the bay. A couple of speckled trout were caught as well, which is a great sign.
March 23 Sarasota fishing report
Fishing was steady once again this week, though anglers did have to battle some breezy conditions. The sheepshead bite was very good, with most of the fishing being in the 2 pound range. Rocks, docks, and other structure, particularly in the passes, held plenty of fish. Live shrimp was the best bait. Ladyfish hit Bass Assassin jigs in Robert’s Bay on the incoming tide. Anglers casting flies hooked them as well as a snook up in a residential canal. One young angler sight cast to a couple of tripletail in the bay and caught one on a live shrimp.
March 16 Sarasota fishing report
The sheepshead bite remains strong in both Big Sarasota Pass, New Pass, and surrounding docks and bridges. Live or frozen shrimp fished on the bottom worked well. Most of the fish were in the 2lb range, with some larger ones mixed in. Small Spanish mackerel hit Rapala plugs trolled and cast in the passes and inshore Gulf of Mexico. Ladyfish and the occasional Spanish mackerel and speckled trout hit jigs and shrimp on the deeper flats. We had perfect conditions on Tuesday and caught a half dozen king mackerel trolling spoons in the Gulf of Mexico just off off the inshore artificial reefs.
March 2 Sarasota fishing report
Sheepshead were caught around structure in Sarasota Bay and on the artificial reefs in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. This has been the most consistent bite for the last few weeks. Live shrimp caught them along with a few mangrove snapper. Docks and structure in both passes were the top spots. Also, there is a ton of tiny fry bait in Robert’s Bay which has attracted good numbers of ladyfish. Clients caught them using Bass Assassin jigs and live shrimp. Dolphins were aggressive and shut down the bite several times. A few speckled trout were landed as well.
February 23 Sarasota fishing report
Action really picked up this week in Sarasota Bay! Water temperatures were in the mid 70’s and small fry bait is plentiful on the flats. Anglers casting jigs experienced fast action on large ladyfish and a couple of speckled trout. Snook and jack crevelle hit live shrimp and Rapala plugs in creeks and residential canals. The sheepshead bite remains strong. Very few of the fish are under the 12″ minimum. Some decent mangrove snapper were landed as well. Live shrimp worked well fished on the bottom.
February 16 Sarasota fishing report
The best bite in Sarasota Bay right now is sheepshead. These tasty saltwater panfish are hitting live and freshly frozen shrimp under docks, bridges and around submerged structure. Most of the fish were decent sized, over 14″ or so. Mangrove snapper to 14″ were also taken in the same areas. In addition, a few snook and jacks were caught on Rapala X-Raps in creeks and canals.
February 2 Sarasota fishing report
The big jack bite was hot for another week, but then slowed down after the cold front. Water temperatures in the mid 50’s sent the fish seeking warmer water. Before the front, jacks to 12 pounds, snook, and redfish hit Rapala plugs in the Manatee River. Hopefully the upcoming warm weather will get them biting again. The best action in Sarasota Bay was sheepshead hitting live shrimp around structure. The fish are spread out and it seems like their numbers are increasing each week. Small snook hit lures in creeks and residential canals.
January 19 Sarasota fishing report
Winter fishing patterns continue in Sarasota. The best two patterns have been fishing docks with live shrimp for sheepshead and black drum and casting plugs and jigs in creeks and rivers for jack crevalle and snook. Docks in 8′ to 10′ of water near Big Pass produced sheepshead and drum. Most of them were solid fish in the 14″ to 16″ range. Anglers casting Rapala plugs in Phillippi Creek fooled snook and jacks. The Manatee River has some VERY big jacks that were breaking on the surface and hit jigs and plugs.
January 5 Sarasota fishing report
Fishing has been fair over the last two weeks. Fishing pressure was high due to the Christmas traffic and we are still rebounding from the red tide. Sheepshead showed up under docks and around structure near the passes. We caught them and mangrove snapper using live shrimp fished on the bottom. Big jacks were found on the flats and in the channel and hit plugs, jigs, and flies. Ladyfish were caught in deeper areas using jigs.
December 22 Sarasota fishing report
Weather was an issue over the last two weeks. However, the forecast is good for the holiday week. Ladyfish hit jigs on drop-offs in 7′ to 10′ of water. Sheepshead were present in good numbers under docks near Big Pass. Snook and jacks have moved up into residential canals and creeks. Anglers fishing the Myakka River hooked snook and gar casting plugs.
December 8 Sarasota fishing report
Weather has been an issue the last two weeks. Several severe fronts moved through and I had to cancel several trips due to wind around 20 knots. It does seem to have helped the rd tide, though. Ladyfish and small Spanish mackerel were breaking on the surface off of Siesta Key. Sheepshead and snapper took shrimp fished under docks and along rocky channel edges, especially south of Siesta Drive Bridge. Cooler water has snook and jacks moving up into area cheeks and rivers.
November 24 Sarasota fishing report
Fishing remained steady, though unspectacular, over the last two weeks. Red tide still persists off the beaches and in Sarasota Bay, from the passes north. The best fishing has been in the area from Siesta Drive south to Blackburn Point. Sheepshead moved into the area and were caught under docks by clients using shrimp. Mangrove snapper were caught in the same spots as well. Jack crevelle hit plugs in residential canals and creeks. Ladyfish were caught on jigs on the open flats.
November 10 Sarasota fishing report
I ran both Myakka River charters and Sarasota Bay charters this week. Anglers casting Bass Assassin baits and Gulp! Shrimp on jig heads experienced fast action on ladyfish. With the persistent red tide, the area between Siesta Drive and Blackburn Point were the most consistent areas. A few speckled trout were caught as well. Pilchards fished under docks fooled jacks, snook, and snapper.
Action in the Myakka River was fair this week. It got VERY warm by the end of the week, and that slowed the bite. Still, anglers casting Rapala plugs hooked a couple large snook and landed fish to 24″. The approaching cold front should improve the fishing.
November 3 Sarasota fishing report
I did most of my fishing in the area rivers. Anglers had good success on snook, jack crevelle, and largemouth bass casting Rapala plugs. Snook ranged from 15″ to 15 pounds. We landed fish to 35″ and lost two larger ones. #10 gold Rapala X-Raps and BX Minnow plugs fooled all of the fish. The Braden River, Myakka River, and Manatee River were all productive. Charters in Sarasota Bay were a bit slower, with jack crevelle to 4 pounds and mangrove snapper hitting pilchards fished under docks and along shorelines.
October 20 Sarasota fishing report
Fishing was fantastic this week! I got out four days, taking a mixture of clients and friends. The snook bite was on fire all along Siesta Key. Snook to 34 inches were landed this week and several were hooked that we could not handle. A few the fish were caught on white #8 Rapala X-Raps first thing in the morning. Speckled trout to 16 inches, ladyfish, mangrove snapper to 14 inches, and jacks also hit the plugs early in the morning.
However, most of the fish hit live pilchards. Redfish to 24 inches, jack crevelle to 4 pounds, and mangrove snapper to 15 inches were also caught on the live bait. I like the combination of taking an advantage of the early morning bite with lures than switching over to live bait when that action slows.
Action from this week!
Regular clients Doc and John had a great day on Thursday. They caught snapper, jacks, snook, ladyfish, and a trout casting Rapalas. A switch to live bait resulted in over 40 snook along with several other species. Doc finished up with an inshore slam, catching snook, trout, and redfish all in one trip.
Bait fish were plentiful in Sarasota Bay this week. At the end of my charter on Thursday, we saw a dozen large schools of bait on the flats near Marina jacks. This is a great indication of quality water. It can also mean that the mackerel, false albacore, and other migratory fall species will be arriving soon. They are generally right on the heels of the bait. Hopefully the approaching front will kick start the inshore Gulf fishing.
October 13 Sarasota fishing report
The area south of Siesta Drive down to Blackburn Point provided steady action for clients on Sarasota fishing charters this week. I got out a couple of times after Hurricane Michael moved through. The water was a bit stirred up, but the fish did not mind. We had outgoing tides in the morning this week. The best spots were creek and canal mouths along with docks on points. Rapala X-Raps produced a few fish at first light, but most of the fish were caught using live pilchards. Bait was present on the flats in several spots near Big Pass. Chumming docks, shorelines, oyster bars, and creek mouths produced snook (mostly schoolies), jack crevelle to 4 pounds, and mangrove snapper to 15″. Action should improve as it cools off. Great to see the bay clearing and the fish biting!
October 7 Sarasota fishing report
I am back from a long road trip up to New Hampshire and Maine. Red tide was pretty bad when I left around Labor Day. It is still present, though the effects have eased off a bit. Persistent anglers can find juvenile snook, jacks, and mangrove snapper’s in the area at the south end of Siesta Key. A few schools of ladyfish are showing up in the flats around the passes and out on the beach. This is a good sign of things clearing up!
I have been doing a little freshwater fishing and local lakes. Bluegill and other panfish along with a few crappie are caught using jigs and small spinner baits. This fishing, like our saltwater fishing, will pick up as it cools off and the water temperature drops.
Sarasota fishing report information
There are many factors that go into fishing success. My Sarasota fishing report page will reflect this. Seasonal patterns are one of the primary factors influencing fishing success. Anglers can view my complete Sarasota fishing forecast.
Fishing in the cooler months is all about the weather. We start receiving serious cold fronts here in Sarasota, Florida around November. They usually persist until mid-March. Unseasonably pleasant winters will result in fish maintaining their spring and fall patterns. Conversely, an unusually cold winter will keep fish in their winter pattern.
In the winter time I do three types of fishing; bottom fishing, River snook fishing, and on nice days drifting the deep grass flats. I use live shrimp to bottom fish for sheepshead, snapper, drum, and other species around docs and other structure. Local area rivers produce snook and bass for anglers casting plugs. When conditions are favorable on the open flats, we use jigs and live shrimp to catch a variety of species.
As it warms up fish move out of the deeper waters where they spend the winter. The flats and passes become alive with snook, redfish, speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and other species. The passes and deep flats produce the most action while some anglers seek the challenge of catching snook in redfish in the back country.
When conditions are right, the fishing in the inshore Gulf of Mexico can be fantastic! East winds will result in clear water and plenty of baitfish. This will in turn attract Spanish mackerel, false albacore, sharks, cobia, and other species. Often times, the fish will be seen feeding aggressively on the surface. This is great fun as just about anything tossed into the feeding frenzy will draw strike.
For many anglers, the heat of summer means one thing; tarpon! The silver Kings invade our area in early May and stay until late July. This is very challenging fishing, and not for everyone. However the reward is the fish of a lifetime! Tarpon to 150 pounds are landed off of the area beaches every summer.
While I still do a little tarpon fishing, most of my summer trips are run in Sarasota Bay. With all the anglers out on the beach chasing tarpon, fishing pressure in the Bay is lighter. My normal approach is to cast lures or shrimp at first light then use my cast net to catch bait and chum mid morning. Either way, with the heat of summer, we are will off the water early.
You’ll see me mention “deep grass flats”often in my Sarasota fishing report. This is where the majority of fish on my fishing charters are landed. These areas are large with a mixture of grass and sand bottom. Shrimp, crabs, and bait fish all hide in the grass. That obviously makes it an attractive place for game fish to feed.
Speckled trout in particular are associated with these deeper grass flats. But anglers will also catch Spanish mackerel, Pompano, bluefish, jacks, a lot of ladyfish, snapper, grouper, cobia, sharks, catfish and more while fishing the deep grass at one time of year or another.
We primarily drift fish while working the deep grass flats. Anglers cast out lures, flies, or live bait as we drift across a productive areas in search of fish. Bass Assassin jigs, Rapala plugs, and spoons are effective artificial lures. The top live bait is a shrimp. These are fished either free line or under a noisy cork. In the summer time, live bait fish such as scaled sardines are used.
Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass produce a lot a fish for clients on Sarasota fishing charters. Anglers reading my Sarasota fishing report will see Big Pass in particular mentioned quite often. Sheepshead school up there thick and late winter and early spring. Mangrove snapper and snook are found in the rocks in the summer time. Ladyfish are often times thick right in the middle of the pass itself. Bluefish and mackerel can also be encountered as well.
Anglers drifting the passes cast jigs out and bounced them along the bottom. This is very effective and produces Pompano, bluefish, mackerel, and loads of ladyfish. Free lining a live shrimp with a split shot or fishing a live shrimp on a jig head can also be very productive. However, when the fish are biting jigs are more efficient as there is no need to stop and rebate the hook.
Sarasota Bay fishing report
There is a ton of structure in Big Pass as well. This is particularly true of the whole area along the north side of Siesta Key. The water is deep, there is good current flow, and abundant structure. This is a recipe for an excellent fishing spot, and it is! Bottom fishing with live shrimp and bait fish is very productive. Anglers do need to time this during periods of lesser current flow. It is difficult to anchor in fish when the tide is screaming.
Spinning tackle is used on the vast majority of my fishing charters. The reason is quite simple; it is effective and easy to use. Many freshwater anglers are experienced with close to faced reels. However, it usually only takes a few minutes before there casting like a pro with the spinning outfits. 10 pound spinning outfits are light enough that anglers enjoy the fight of even a smaller fish while still giving them a chance of the hook something larger.
Anglers seeking a bit more of a challenge will opt to targets snook, redfish, and jacks in the back country areas. This type of fishing is more of a “quality over quantity approach”. I use the trolling motor to ease the boat along a likely looking shoreline, while anglers cast lures towards the shoreline. I do use live bait occasionally as well.
River fishing charters
Visitors to my site will often see ”River snook fishing”in my Sarasota fishing report. This is a unique angling opportunity that I offer to clients. I am not aware of any other guide to do so. I use my 14 foot Alumacraft jon boat for this fishing. Shallow water and primitive ramps require this. However, this also results in less boat traffic and a quiet, serene angling adventure.
The Manatee River, Myakka River, and Braden River, are all within a 45 minute drive from the Sarasota beaches. Each has a distinct feel and personality. The Myakka River has some stunning scenery and big snook. The Manatee River is pretty as well but a bit more developed. It offers the most variety. The Braden River is the most developed but offers fantastic fishing for jack crevelle in the cooler months. Snook and redfish are available as well.
One unique aspect of fishing the rivers is the chance to catch freshwater species as well. The Manatee River and Myakka River are both brackish below the dams. This results in saltwater fish such as snuck, redfish, jacks, and juvenile tarpon being found in the same water as largemouth bass, sunshine bass, catfish, gar, and bream. These freshwater species will take the same lures meant for the saltwater fish.
In the spring and again in the fall we experience runs of pelagic species. This means that they spend most of their time in the middle of the water column and do not relate as much to bottom structure. Spanish mackerel and false albacore are prime examples. King mackerel show up here offer beaches as well. This fishing is dependent on conditions, the water needs to be clear and calm. When it is, fishing can be outstanding!
Inshore Gulf of Mexico
This type of fishing is very exciting in that it is visual. Often times we don’t even fish until we actually see the mackerel and false albacore busting baits on the surface. We will also look for big schools of bait fish which can be seen dimpling on the surface. Artificial lures work very well when the fish are breaking. We will also catch some of the live bait fish and cast them back into the school of bait.
On days when the fish cannot be seen working on the surface, trolling can be an effective technique. Trolling spoons and plugs is a great way to locate Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and even big King fish. It is also a great way to put a lot of fish in the boat quickly and is an easy technique for anglers with limited experience.
The “inshore artificial reefs”will be mentioned regularly in my Sarasota fishing report. I am referring to three man-made groups of structure that were placed between one and to miles off of Lido Key. The Gulf floor is for the most part flat and featureless. Therefore, any structure will attract fish and hold them there. Those three reefs provide excellent fishing for bottom fish such as sheepshead, snapper, and grouper along with pelagic species such as mackerel, King fish, cobia, and false albacore.
Fly fisherman are certainly not to be left out of the action! False albacore in Spanish mackerel will most certainly hit a well presented fly out in the Gulf of Mexico. This is terrific sport for anglers wielding a fly rod. Any inshore species that can be caught on a jig will also take a fly. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, and more will hit a Clouser Minnow on the deep flats. Snook and jacks prefer whiteCrystal Minnow patterns in the back bays.
An 8wt outfit is a good all-around choice for fly fishing in Sarasota. It might be a tad light if the false albacore are running large. Otherwise, it is a good choice for the water and species that Sarasota offers. An intermediate sink tip line and then 9 foot tapered leader with a 24 inch piece of 30 pound bite tippet finishes off the outfit.
Readers will see a lot a families including children and my Sarasota fishing report. I really enjoy taking families out, it has become a big part of my Sarasota fishing charters. Many of these anglers have limited experience. One great thing about fishing here is that there are many species that do not require a great deal of skill or patience to catch. This is a good thing!
Also, while I don’t mind if clients keep a couple fish for dinner, I strongly encourage catch and release. Sarasota gets a lot a visitors and thus a lot of fishing pressure. It is important that the focus of the fishing trip beyond catching fish and enjoying quality time with families. I will certainly filet and bag up your catch at the end of the trip. Current Florida fishing regulations and license requirements can be found HERE.
This post, the Complete Guide to Inshore Saltwater Fishing, was written to help anglers become more successful when fishing the inshore salt waters of the Eastern United States. I grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay and it’s tributaries. I moved to Sarasota, Florida and started running Sarasota fishing charters in 1991. Most of the information in this article should be applicable to the majority of coastal anglers on the coasts of both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
Many of the pictures are of Florida. I am approaching this project with the idea that most anglers reading it have some fishing experience. I will therefore not cover the rudimentary aspects such as casting and knot tying. There are a ton of great resources for that already, so I find no need to do it again. I hope you find it informative and enjoyable!
Inshore saltwater fishing tackle
Like every hobby, equipment is required. My advice when it comes to fishing and tackle is similar to starting any other hobby. Anglers should purchase the best equipment that they can reasonably afford. Buying the cheapest equipment possible usually does not result in money saved. What normally happens is that the angler tires of the cheap equipment and spends money on the decent equipment at a later date.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Inshore saltwater fishing rods and reels
Let’s start with the most important components; the rod and reel. If I had to choose one outfit to fish with in inshore salt waters, it would be a 7 foot spinning rod with a 3000 series reel. This outfit is heavy enough to fish around bridges and docks for bottom fish, while still being light enough to cast quarter ounce artificial lures. Anglers targeting larger species such as striped bass will need to go with heaver tackle.
“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon”
Rods come in different actions. I prefer a fast action rod. This means that the rod is stiff at the butt section and through most of the rod. However, it gets limber towards the tip. This type of rod has good backbone for setting the hook and handling a big fish. The lighter tip allows for easy casting, especially with light baits and lures. A rod with a slow action is no fun to fish with, in my opinion.
Many spinning reel manufacturers use a universal sizing system. The larger the number, the larger the real. Most 3000 series reels will be a very similar size between manufacturers. I personally like reels with large handles. Spinning reels are versatile and are the best choice for most anglers fishing and saltwater.
Conventional rods and reels for saltwater fishing
Conventional outfits certainly have their place in saltwater fishing. They work well when casting heavier lures such as plugs. Light conventional outfits are also great for bottom fishing and light trolling. However, most anglers, particularly those new to the sport, will find spinning tackle the best tool for most inshore angling applications.
There are many different brands to choose from when it comes to rods and reels. Anglers will find that within a certain price range, the quality of the equipment is very similar. At this point it just becomes a matter of personal choice. Several manufacturers have a great reputation and saltwater. Penn, Shimano, and Quantum are just a few. While anglers can spend a lot of money on a rod and reel, a quality outfit can be purchased for around $120.
Inshore saltwater fishing; line choices
Now that we have the rod and reel, it’s time to fill the spools. There are two basic line choices when it comes to fishing line; monofilament line and braided line. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Monofilament is much less expensive. The disadvantages are that it will twist up and it has some stretch. It requires changing more often than monofilament. Knots are also easier to tie.
Braided line is much more expensive. However, it will last a very long time. It also has zero stretch and great sensitivity. The downsides to braided line are that knots can be a little bit more difficult to tie and backlashes are extremely difficult to remove. On the 3000 series reels, I prefer 10 pound monofilament line or 20 pound braided line, depending on angler preference.
Inshore fishing in saltwater
The next order of business is the terminal end. I have a simple system that I like to use that is very efficient. A shock leader is required when fishing in saltwater. This is a short leader that is heavier than the main, or running, line. The shock leader will greatly reduce cutoffs and rub offs from fish. Most saltwater fish species will fray the line.
So, a 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader is tied to the running end of the line. Fluorocarbon leader is a bit more expensive, but it is worth the cost. It is much less visible in the water than inexpensive monofilament leader is.
The strength of the shock leader will be determined by water clarity and fish species being targeted. 30 pound test is a great all round choice and is what I use 90% of the time. I will bump it up when fishing for large snook or toothy Spanish mackerel. Conversely, I will drop it down when fishing for speckled trout or mangrove snapper in very clear water. Northern anglers will need to adopt the same strategy of choosing the leader based on species and water clarity.
The leader is attached to the line in one of two ways. A small black swivel can be used, this is the easiest method. However, many anglers prefer to tie the leader directly to the line. I prefer this and use a double uni-knot to do so.
I do prefer to double the end of the running line with the spider hitch before attaching the shock leader. This is especially important with monofilament line on the reel. The double line acts as a bit of a shock absorber, helping when a large fish is boat side. It also helps reduce the weakness that is created when two monofilament lines are tied together. It eliminates the need for a swivel.
Terminal fishing tackle for inshore saltwater fishing
So, now we are ready to go fishing! We have our rod spooled up with the shock leader attached. Now, we just need to tie something with a hook on it at the end of the line, whether it is a hook or artificial lure.
The beauty of this little rigging system is the simplicity. An angler may choose to tie on a top water plug first thing in the morning to take advantage of the dawn bite. Then, when that slows he or she can simply remove the plug and tie on a jig, spoon, or hook. This makes changing up the rig quick and easy. After several changes, the shock leader will become too short and it will need to be replaced.
Inshore saltwater fishing hooks
Hooks come in a myriad of sizes and styles. However, saltwater anglers only need a few hook sizes and styles to get started. Several packages of #2, #1, #1/0, and #2/0 live bait hooks will cover most angling situations. Again, anglers targeting larger fish using larger baits will need to increase the hook size.
Many anglers have switched to using circle hooks. Circle hooks usually result in fewer fish being hooked deep. Most fish will be hooked in the corner of the mouth. Anglers using circle hooks can NOT set the hook! The line should just be tightened up and the fish will usually hook itself.
It is also a good idea to have several packages of #1/0 long shank hooks. These work really well when anglers get into a school of fish with teeth, such as bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Some flounder anglers prefer them as well.
Inshore saltwater fishing sinkers
Sinker choice is pretty simple. The rule of thumb is to use the least amount of weight required to hold the bottom. Several bags of split shot, (these are very small pinch-on weights), along with sliding egg sinkers and bank sinkers is all that’s required. Sinker weight will depend on the water depth and current in the area that are being fished.
Egg sinkers have a hole running through the middle which allows the sinker to slide on the line. This lets the fish to pick up the bait and move off with it, without feeling the resistance of the weight. Surf anglers use a “fish finder” rig which allows for virtually the same thing. With that device, a pyramid sinker is clipped on, making it easy to change weights with current conditions.
Inshore saltwater fishing with artificial lures
Jigs for inshore fishing
There is evidence pointing to the jig as being the first artificial fishing lure. A jig is basically a hook with some type of weight near the eye and a plastic tail or hair dressing. The lure is retrieved using a twitch and pause. This retrieve causes the jig to hop up then fall seductively through the water column. That is how it gets its name. Jigs can imitate both bait fish and crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.
Jigs come in countless sizes, shapes, and colors. However, there are two basic styles. There is the jig and grub combo and bucktail style jigs. Both have their advantages. Jigs also come in numerous weights and lengths. Heavier jigs allow anglers to fish deeper water. As in all fishing, the jigs should match the available forage.
Fishing with the jig and grub combo
The jig and grub is very versatile. With this system, anglers purchase the jig heads and the plastic bodies separately. This allows for constant changing of colors and lengths as well as styles. This is a very productive system that works well anywhere on the planet.
Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida where I fish, the jig and grub is the most popular artificial lure. One quarter ounce jig heads are the most often used size as the water is fairly shallow. Anglers fishing deeper water or places were current is present will need heavier jig heads. Red, white, and chartreuse are three of the more popular jig head colors. I personally don’t put a lot of emphasis on jig head color.
Soft plastic baits for inshore fishing
Soft plastic tails are used with the jig. These also come in endless styles and colors. Shad tail, curly tail, paddle tail, and jerk worm styles all produce. While there are many different varieties, they all imitate either a bait fish or a crustacean of some sort. A jig head with a shad tail body is probably the most commonly used combination.
Shad tails and curly tail grubs have a great built in action. The tails look very natural when they are moving through the water. Curly tails are more popular in fresh water while shad tails are the choice in salt. Paddle tails and jerk worms require the action to be imparted by the angler.
Hair jigs are also very popular. Bucktail jigs were the original types used and were made from deer hair. They are still available and are still very effective. Freshwater anglers have used marabou hair on their jigs for decades. It has great action but does not hold up as well as buck tail does in salt water.
Synthetic hair jigs have become very popular in the last 10 or 15 years. They work well and are more durable than some of the other dressings. A plastic “trailer” can be added to the hair jig to give it even more action.
Jigs catch just about every species on the planet. A jig can be used to mimic just about any type of forage that a fish feeds on. There are also several different techniques that anglers jig fishing use to be productive. Jigs can be cast, vertically fished, and trolled.
Jigging techniques when inshore saltwater fishing
A vertical jig presentation catches a lot of fish. This technique is very easy to master. Vertical jigging is done in deeper water. The jig is simply dropped down to the bottom and then the lure is worked vertically. This action, where it hops up and falls naturally, is an effective presentation. Anglers do not even have to be able to cast to catch fish.
This is often done from a drifting boat. Drifting allows anglers to cover a lot of water efficiently. No time is wasted as the bait spends the entire time in the strike zone. Most fish are found on or near the bottom. Anglers can also use a trolling motor to work a drop off or other structure.
Freshwater anglers have been employing this technique for decades. Bass, walleye, striped bass, trout, and really any species that holds on deeper structure can be caught using this approach. However, it is not practical in shallow water as the boat will spook the fish.
Casting jigs when inshore saltwater fishing
Most fish caught on jigs are done so by anglers casting. This is the most effective technique when fishing water ten feet deep or less or when fish are breaking on the surface. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink, and then worked back to the boat. The most productive retrieve is usually one where the jig is worked near the bottom.
However, as with all lure fishing, the retrieve should be varied until a productive pattern emerges. At times, a steady “swimming” retrieve will produce well. When fish are working on the surface, a fast, erratic retrieve will usually work the best.
The jig and grub combo is by far the most popular lure along the southeast coastal United States. Anglers from Maryland to Texas use these baits to fool a variety of species. The low cost and versatility of the jig and grub combo makes them an easy choice.
Fishing jigs with live bait
Jigs can also be used in conjunction with live bait. This is a long proven technique in both fresh and salt water. In Florida where I guide, we often add a piece of shrimp to the lure. We call this “tipping the jig”. It can really make the difference when the water is cold or dirty. The extra scent helps the fish find the bait.
The jig and minnow has been producing fish for anglers for a long time. A buck tail jig with a small minnow hooked through the lips is a terrific combination. It is especially effective when drifting for flounder. The lure bait combo is deadly when slowly bounced along bottom structure. It can be cast out or vertically fished.
Inshore saltwater trolling with jigs
Jigs can also be trolled effectively. I grew up in fishing the Chesapeake Bay. Anglers trolling white buck tail jigs for striped bass use them to achieve success. Bluefish and other species will take a trolled jig. The primary issue when trolling jigs is to make sure the lure does not spin, which will cause line twist.
There are many lure manufacturers out there. They are will produce fish when presented properly. My personal favorite line of baits in from Bass Assassin. They make a wide variety of baits and colors that cover every angling application, from pan fish to salt water.
Scented soft plastic baits have become very popular, and with good reason. These baits produce for anglers jig fishing. The Gulp! line of baits is the industry leader, in my opinion. The Gulp! Shrimp has produced many fish for me and my clients over the years. They do cost a little bit more money, but on days when the bite is tough, they can make all of the difference.
Plugs are effective saltwater fishing lures
I love fishing, but I really love plug fishing! The reason? Plugs are very productive on a wide variety of species and are a blast to use. Casting is half the fun; making accurate casts under trees or near docks is very satisfying and challenging. Bites range from subtle takes to downright ferocious strikes. Anglers need to take care, however. Anytime a lure with multiple treble hooks in involved, extra caution is required. Plugs come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, but can be broken down into two categories: surface or top water plugs and sub-surface baits.
Inshore saltwater fishing with topwater plugs
Top water plugs come in two basic styles; poppers and walk the dog baits. Poppers are very easy to fish and are quite effective. The Rapala Skitter Pop, Rebel Pop R, and Chug Bug are three popular examples. These are floating baits that have a concave face. The technique is simple; cast it out, let it settle for a moment, then twitch the rod tip sharply causing the face of the plug to dig into the water and make a loud “pop”.
The famous Zara Spook is the best-known example of a walk-the-dog bait. The Rapala Skitterwalk is another effective bait. The retrieve is a bit more difficult to master. After being cast out, the rod tip is held down near the water and a rhythmic twitching retrieve causes the lure to dance back and forth on the surface.
A slow retrieve works best with topwater plugs
One common mistake anglers make plug fishing is working top water baits too quickly and aggressively. This is particularly true on a very calm day. Slow, subtle action will generally draw more strikes. Another mistake often made is striking too soon. The sight of a large predator blowing up on the top water plug is very exciting, often resulting in a reflex strike that pulls the lure out of the fishes mouth. Instead, waiting until the weight of the fish is felt and then setting the hook in a smooth, sideways manner will result in more hook-ups. This is much safer as well.
Fishing with sub-surface plugs
While a top water strike can be spectacular, more fish are caught on subsurface baits. Most of these lures float on the surface and dive down when retrieved. Primarily, the lip on the lure determines the depth the plug will run. However, line size and retrieval speed are also factors. Lure manufacturers will have the pertinent information on the box. Rapala X-Raps are my personal favorites.
Plugs are available in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Lures should be used that are designed to dive down to the desired depth. Anglers should match the size of the plug to the available forage. Olive is my favorite all-around color, but gold and black and chartreuse work great in stained water, and pearl and silver are very effective in clear water.
Suspending plugs can be deadly. They sink slowly and are worked back with a twitch and pause retrieve. That pause, where the bait just suspends, seemingly helpless, really triggers the strikes. Lipless crank baits, such as the Rattletrap are very easy to use. Just cast it out and reel it back in; they have a great built in action. Chrome with a blue back is the favorite color almost everywhere.
Trolling with plugs is effective when inshore saltwater fishing
Trolling plugs is a great technique to locate fish when scattered about in a large area. This also works well with children and novice anglers; if they can hold rod they can catch a fish. This applies to the inshore bays, passes, and near shore open water. Simply let out half the line, close the bail, and drive the boat around just above idle speed. Sometimes working the rod tip will elicit more strikes.
One trick that served me well on charters when plug fishing is to troll the passes. The traditional method is to drift with the current and cast jigs plugs or spoons. Once the drift is complete the boat idles back up and drift is repeated. As you idle back to the start, why not drag plug behind? Many mornings I catch more Spanish mackerel this way, as they prefer a fast-moving bait.
Fishing with plugs in open water
Casting and trolling plugs in the inshore open bays, near shore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean is an extremely effective technique in the spring through the fall when pelagic species move through. Anglers should look for birds and bait schools on the surface and troll around the edges of the bait, not right through the middle.
Sight casting to breaking fish is terrific sport! Spanish mackerel, bluefish, striped bass, false albacore, and other species will often be seen tearing up schools of helpless bait fish on the surface. Spanish will stay on top longer and not move as much as the albies. False albacore can also be very fussy; you may need to scale down the offering and go lighter on the leader. With all species, ease the boat into position and cast into the fish or troll around the edge of them and be prepared to hear your drag scream!
Inshore saltwater fishing with spoons
Spoons are another simple, but effective fishing lure. Spoons are basically a piece of metal bent into the shape of a spoon with a hook in it. They wobble and flash and imitate wounded bait fish. Spoons come in metal finishes such as silver, gold, and copper and there are also painted spoons.
Fishing spoons come in two different varieties; casting spoons and trolling spoons. Both are extremely effective for certain game fish when presented properly. Casting spoons are usually wider and heavier. Trolling spoons are light and slender with a very tight “wiggle”. Both require the use of a swivel, otherwise line twist will become an issue.
Saltwater fishing with casting spoons
Casting spoons come in a variety of weights, with ½ ounce to 2 ounce spoons being the most popular. They wobble enticingly when retrieved. These lures are very easy to use. The angler simply casts it out and allow it to sink to the desired depth. The spoon is then reeled in using an erratic retrieve. These lures are great when fish are breaking on the surface. A very fast steady retrieve often works in this application.
Spoons are a great “search” bait. They cast a mile and a lot of water can be covered quickly. This helps anglers eliminate unproductive water in short order. Gold weedless spoons are very effective in shallow water. They also cover a lot of area while riding just above the submerged vegetation. Anglers targeting redfish have been using them for decades.
Saltwater fishing with trolling spoons
Trolling spoons are more slender. They are designed to be trolled and are fairly light. Trolling spoons are almost always used in conjunction with some device designed to get down in the water column, sinkers and planers are most commonly used.
Trolling spoons come in various sizes and colors. The lure used should match the size of the available forage. Fish can be surprisingly fussy when it comes to bait size. The same is true when it comes to speed. Mackerel prefer speeds of up to seven knots while other species prefer a slower moving bait.
Inshore saltwater fishing tips
Bottom fishing is a very simple, yet effective, angling technique. Many fish live and feed on or near the bottom. Bottom structure holds bait and game fish.
Bottom fishing is an easy and effective technique that any anglers can use successfully. It places natural bait on the bottom in hopes of attracting a fish. Live, fresh dead, and frozen bait can be used. Baits vary by location, depending on the forage available locally. Bottom fishing is effective in just about every fishing location for a wide variety of species.
While bottom fishing is basically dropping a bait to the bottom using a lead weight, there are nuances that will make a difference in terms of success. Leader strength and length, hook sizes, weights, and rigs are all factors that the successful bottom fishing angler will take into account.
Effective inshore saltwater bottom fishing rigs
There are several rigs that anglers use when bottom fishing. Sliding sinker rigs and spreader rigs are two of the most popular rigs for bottom fishing. Both have multiple variations and both are effective. Sliding sinker rigs allow fish to pick up a bait off the bottom and move off without feeling any resistance. Spreader rigs suspend multiple baits at various depths just off the bottom.
Sliding sinker fishing rigs
A sliding sinker rig consists of a leader and a sinker with a hole in it. Egg sinkers work well in this application. Egg sinkers come in many different sizes. They also roll on the bottom and do not hang up easily. Surf anglers use a device called a “fish finder”. This is a small plastic tube with a clip on it. The line passes through the tube and a clip is used to attach the weight. Pyramid sinkers are most often used by surf casters.
With either rig, most anglers use the same approach. The running line is passed through the sinker or fish finder. A swivel is then attached to the end of the line. The swivel stops the sinker from sliding down. The leader is then tied on to the other end of the swivel. Leader lengths vary, but most anglers use 2′ to 3′ of leader. A hook finishes off the rig.
More bottom fishing rigs
One variation of this is called the “knocker rig”. It is just like the sliding sinker rig above, except the sinker is placed on the leader between the swivel and the hook. This results in the sinker sitting right on the eye of the hook. The knocker rig has two advantages. It keeps the bait right on the bottom where the fish feed. Also, if the hook hangs up, the sinker will often “knock” it free, thus the name. I use this rig a lot when sheepshead and snapper fishing. It is very effective.
Spreader rigs separate the hooks both horizontally and vertically. Wire arms are often used. Snelled hooks are attached to the arms. The hooks then go off to the side and away from the main line. Rigs can be hand-tied without the hardware. When the fish are biting, double headers are common. This rig works well fished vertically from a boat, bridge, or pier. Surf casters employ them as well.
Bottom fishing hooks and weights for inshore saltwater fishing
There are many different styles of hooks that anglers use when bottom fishing. Short shank live bait hooks are the most often used as they are easier to hide in the bait. Some anglers prefer a long shank hook. This is particularly true of flounder fishermen. Circle hooks are popular now as well. Circle hooks more often result in the fish being hooked in the mouth. This reduces the mortality rate among released fish. Circle hooks are mandatory in the Gulf of Mexico.
The rule of thumb when choosing a hook is to match it to the size of the bait being used, not the size of the fish being targeted. A small hook in a large bait will usually not result in a hook up. Using a hook too large may hinder a natural presentation. Many large fish have been landed by anglers using small hooks, anglers should resist the urge to use a hook that is too big. Hook strength is also an issue. Fine wire hooks are good for small fish or those with a tender mouth. Larger fish and fish that need to be horsed out of heavy cover require a hook that is stout.
Sinkers for inshore saltwater fishing
Sinkers also come in various styles. Egg, bank, and pyramid sinkers are the most commonly used in salt waters by inshore anglers. Egg sinkers work well with sliding rigs while bank sinkers are best for spreader rigs. Pyramid sinkers are primarily used by surf anglers. The amount of weight used is determined by the depth and current that the anglers is dealing with. The goal is for the weight to be just enough to hold bottom when anchored or bounce along the bottom when drifting.
Top bottom fishing baits
Bait choice runs the gamut and is generally determined by the local forage available. Just about any fresh fish caught can be cut into strips or chunks and used as bait. Check local laws for current regulations. Squid is a universal frozen bait that produces fish everywhere. Local bait shops will have other frozen baits available and will give anglers the best advice as to the bait of choice.
Shrimp is king in Florida where I fish and really along the entire Gulf Coast and up the east coast to the mid-Atlantic. Shrimp are a terrific bait live as well as fresh dead or frozen. They are the “nightcrawler of saltwater”, just about every inshore species love them. Live shrimp are hooked in the horn while dead ones are threaded on the hook.
Live bait fish can certainly be used by anglers bottom fishing. Flounder fishermen use live minnows with great success. Florida bottom fishermen use live pin fish for grouper and snapper. As with any fish, live or dead, check local regulations before fishing.
Saltwater bottom fishing techniques
Anglers fishing from boats need to make a choice; whether to anchor or drift. Both methods produce and have their advantages and disadvantages. Drifting is generally preferred when anglers are seeking a school of fish in open water. Drifting allows anglers to cover a lot of water, eliminating unproductive areas quickly. Both the spreader rig and slider rig will produce for anglers when drifting.
Flounder fishermen use a sliding sinker rig often. Flounder lie right on the bottom and this is an effective rig. Anglers targeting bottom fish that school up such as croaker, spot, weakfish, whiting, and sheepshead will do well with the spreader rig while drifting.
Note sinker at the eye of the hook, this is the “knocker rig”
Many bottom species such as grouper in the south and blackfish further north relate to structure. This structure includes ledges, hard bottom, wrecks, and artificial reefs. Anglers targeting these species usually choose to anchor and present their baits. This is especially true on smaller pieces of bottom.
Boat positioning is crucial when bottom fishing
Anchoring properly is critical to success when working a piece of structure. The preferred technique it to anchor so that the boat ends up just a bit up-current and up wind of the structure. Baits presented right on the edge of the structure will hopefully draw the fish out away from their protection. Anchoring is a skill that only time and experience will perfect. GPS trolling motors have helped greatly with this!
Anglers bottom fishing from bridges and piers usually choose a spreader rig. It is effective in this application. Sliding sinker rigs can certainly be used, especially when cast out away from the pier or bridge. Often times the best approach is to fish as close to the pier and bridge pilings as possible. A knocker rig works well when doing this. Sheepshead and other species feed on barnacles attached to the pilings.
Surf fisherman do a lot of bottom fishing. Most fish caught off of the beaches are done so by anglers soaking a piece of bait on the bottom. This is true from Texas to Maine. Cut squid, cut bait fish, shrimp, and crabs are all great baits that produce a wide variety of species.
Inshore saltwater fishing on the flats
The term “flat” is a broad one. For the purposes of this discussion, it will be defined as follows; “a flat is a large area of similar depth surrounded by deeper water”. Flats are very productive fishing areas. The reason is simple; food. Much of the forage that fish feed on lives in fairly shallow water. For the most part, we are talking about water between 1 foot deep and 10 feet deep.
Grass can only grow in water as deep as the sunlight will penetrate. Water clarity, current, and bottom composition are all factors that determine whether submerge grass will grow. But, where grass beds do exist, bait fish and crustaceans will thrive. This in turn will attract game fish.
Flats do not need to have submerge grass beds to be productive. Sand flats will also have crabs and other crustaceans. Some flats will have hard bottom areas and submerged rocks. These flats will most likely hold bait and game fish at one time of the year or another.
Flats fishing techniques in saltwater
There are quite a few different techniques that will produce for anglers fishing the flats. Anglers can drift the flats, anchor and chum or bottom fish, and troll. All three methods will produce fish when done correctly. Obviously, game fish need to be present as well.
Drifting is a very effective technique when fishing the flats. This is especially true for large flats. Drifting allows anglers to cover a fairly large amount of area relatively efficiently. This will help locate fish while at the same time eliminating unproductive water.
Live baits and artificial lures are effective when drifting the flats
Anglers drifting the flats can choose to either cast artificial lures or drift with live or cut baits. The choice mostly depends on the area being fished and the species being sought after. Here in Florida where I fish, we cast jigs, spoons, and plugs in front of the drifting boat in search of speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, and other species. This works well further north for species such as bluefish and striped bass.
Drifting the flats with live or cut bait can also be extremely effective. Flounder and other species caught on or near the bottom are particularly prone to a live or cut bait drifted in a natural manner. Squid cut into strips is a very effective bait. In reality, any type of cut bait or live bait will produce when bounced along the bottom.
Inshore drift fishing techniques
Free lining a live bait is a deadly technique when drifting the flats. As the name implies, it involves hooking a live shrimp or bait fish and floating it out behind the boat. The result is that the bait is slowly pulled behind in a very natural manner. If the current is strong or if wind is present, a split shot or two may be required to get the bait down in the water column.
The best technique when fishing a flat is to approach it upwind and up tide of the area to be fished. In a perfect world, choosing a flat where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same or similar direction is preferred. Anglers then cast lures ahead of the drifting boat while anglers using live or natural bait present their offerings under the boat or just behind it.
Anglers can drift fish or anchor
Once fish are located, anglers can choose to continue the drift or anchor. If continuing to drift is chosen, angler simply keep fishing until the bite slows, then they idle back around and re-drift the area. Anglers choosing to anchor drop the hook, fish the area thoroughly, then move on when the action dies down.
Anglers choosing to anchor a flat will do so in a similar manner. The boat is anchored up current and hopefully upwind of the spot to be fished. Generally, anglers choosing to anchor on a flat have a specific spot in mind. This could be a piece of structure, a ledge, a bridge piling, or an area of hard bottom. Chumming can work well in this application, as it will hopefully draw game fish from all over the flat up behind the boat.
Inshore saltwater fishing in inlets and passes
Inlets and passes are terrific spots to fish! These are basically “fish highways”that game fish use to migrate between the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and the inshore bays. The term “pass” is used on the Gulf Coast of the United States. Pass is just a different word for an inlet, it is essentially the same thing.
Many inlets and passes have rock jetties running alongside. These jetties offer shore bound anglers a great spot to fish. Inlets and passes will naturally have good current flow as these are areas where the water bottlenecks down. In certain locations, anglers will need to plan their fishing trips around the slack tides. In many inlets and passes, the tides run very swift, making it difficult to fish during times of peak current flow.
Bait fish and crustaceans will seek refuge in the rocks of these jetties. Anglers casting artificial lures and live and cut baits will be successful. Often times, there is a hole on the backside of the jetty in the ocean or Gulf. This hole was created by an eddy in the current flow. This can be a great spot as fish will use the spot to stage.
Drift fishing inlets and passes
Fishing can be good in the inlet or pass itself. Again, anglers must choose the best times to fish. In Florida where I fish, tides are not quite as strong as they are in the North East. We often drift right down the middle of the pass while bouncing jigs in search of pompano and other species. Snook will stage in the passes and inlets in the summer time. Sheepshead and snapper will be caught in the structure itself.
Anglers fishing along the East Coast must be careful when fishing the inlets. Strong tides and high winds can create a very dangerous situation. Also, anglers must take boat traffic into account as well and never impede the flow of boats. Anchoring in a swift current can be quite dangerous as well. No fish is worth sinking the boat or getting hurt!
Chumming is very effective when inshore saltwater fishing
Chumming has been around for as long as humans have been fishing. Anglers use chum to catch a wide variety of species. Fish will respond to chum of all kinds in a variety of applications. These tactics not only work anywhere that anglers fish.
Chumming is basically the act of using food to attract fish to the angler. It can be done from shore, bridges, and piers. However, most associate chumming with boats. Chum can be live, fresh dead, or frozen. All are effective when used properly. Chumming is a deadly technique that should be part of every angler’s arsenal.
Fishing with frozen chum
Frozen chum blocks are very effective. These are basically chunks of ground up oily fish. Oily fish such as menhaden, sardines, mackerel, and mullet make the best frozen chum. The oils that are emitted from the chum block help to attract the fish. Chum blocks often come in a mesh bag. This makes using them very easy. They are simply tied to a cleat at the start of the boat. As the chum thaws, it is dispersed behind the boat. Chum blocks are available at just about every saltwater bait shop.
Fresh dead chum can also be extremely effective. This can be as simple as cutting up a few pieces of shrimp and tossing them in the water. This can work very well in the cooler months for fish species such as sheepshead and snapper. Anglers bottom fishing offshore will often cut up a fish they have caught, using it as chum.
Fishing with live chum
One of the most effective chumming techniques is the use of live bait fish as chum. This is a bit of a specialized method. It does require a lot of bait fish. Anglers catch small bait fish using a cast net. The baits are then put in a large, recirculating live well. Keeping a lot of baits alive and frisky is very important. The live bait is then tossed out behind the boat in hopes of attracting game fish.
The technique when using chum, no matter what kind, is basically the same. The angler is usually stationary, but it can be done from a drifting boat as well. Drifting is primarily done offshore in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. Whether from an anchored boat or a dock, bridge, or pier, the chum is dispersed into the water. The current will take the chum away from the boat or structure and draw in the game fish.
Strategy does come into play when chumming. Tide is the most important factor. Anglers will want to anchor the boat up tide of the area that is to be fished. This is true whether anglers are chumming inshore or offshore. The stronger the current, and the deeper the water, the further up current the angler will need to position the boat.
Fishing with chum offshore
Chumming has been a mainstay of offshore anglers for decades. Those fishing wrecks, artificial reefs, and areas of hard bottom use chum to excite the resident fish. Chum can be dispersed both on the surface and on the bottom surface. Chum will attract a wide variety of species. Bottom fish such as grouper, snapper, grunts, and other species will respond to chum on the bottom.
Chum deployed on the surface can attract bottom fish as well. This is true if the angler is fishing and water that isn’t that deep or if the current isn’t very strong. Surface chum can also be used to pull fish up off the bottom. It is very cool when a school of fish rises up off the bottom and starts feeding on chum right at the surface!
Anglers will oftentimes use both methods of chumming. A frozen chum block can be lowered to the bottom while another is tied off the stern. Sometimes the surface chum will attract bait fish, which in turn will attract the game fish. Anglers can use tiny hooks to catch some lively ballyhoo and other bait. Once the fish are in the chum “slick”, it is time to go fishing!
Best rigs for offshore chumming
Every angler has his or her favorite rig for offshore fishing. It is basically a running line, a leader, a hook, and if required, some weight. If fish are seen right at the surface in the chum, free lining bait back to them can be extremely productive. A piece of bait with no weight floating back looks very natural. In fact, the desired effect is to have it looked exactly like the other chum floating back.
Anglers bottom fishing will obviously need to add some weight. I prefer the “knocker rig”where the egg sinker lies right on the eye of the hook. Many anglers prefer to put the sinker on the running line then a swivel and a leader and hook. Both work fine, it’s just a matter of preference. With both bottom fishing and surface fishing, water clarity will be a determining factor in leader size.
Just a quick note; in the Gulf of Mexico, anglers are required to use circle hooks when fishing offshore. Florida fishing regulations have become a bit strict. There are closed seasons on grouper and snapper. The consensus is that circle hooks reduce the mortality rate of released fish.
Chumming is an effective saltwater fishing technique whether drifting or anchoring
Chumming can be effective from a drifting boat as well. This is something that is done more often in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. The chum is just dispersed over the side of the boat as it drifts with the current and wind. As in all forms of chumming, the hope is that it will draw game fish to the angler.
While many anglers think of chumming as in offshore technique, it is used quite often when fishing inshore as well. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, I use every trick that I know to help my clients catch fish. I use chumming as a technique on a regular basis to achieve this goal.
On those days when the water is chilly, chumming with small pieces of shrimp can be the difference between success and failure. Sheepshead and snapper are a bit lethargic in this cold water. A couple shrimp diced up into tiny bits and tossed back into the current will oftentimes stimulate the fish.
Chumming with live bait fish
Chumming with live bait fish is a deadly technique! This is something I do all summer long and into the fall until the water temperature hits around 70°. When bait fish are plentiful, it is a simple matter to cast net up a bunch of pilchards (scaled sardines) or threadies (threadfin herring) to use. Local anglers call this “white bait”or “shiners”.
Using live bait is one of the chumming techniques that I use all summer long. I mostly do this on the deep grass flats. These are submerge grass beds in between 6 feet of water and 10 feet of water. This deeper water is cooler than the shallower water is. Anglers seeking action and variety target the deep grass flats in the summer time.
I anchor the boat up current and upwind of the flat that I want to chum. Then, I simply toss out a few handfuls of live bait as chum. If the game fish are around, it won’t take them long to find the chum. Often times fish will be seen “popping”the bait behind the boat. Hooked baits are then tossed out and hookups are soon to follow.
Chumming with live bait produces many different species
Many different species are caught on the flats using this technique. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, bluefish, sea bass, flounder, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, and other species will all be attracted to the chum. This is a great time of year for novice anglers and children to experience some terrific action!
Using the proper amount of chum is extremely important. This is something that an angler will only learn by experience. Also, every day is different. This is especially true with live bait chumming. Some days just several baits every five minutes will be plenty. On other days, it will take a lot of chum to keep them behind the boat and excited.
Using the right amount of chum when inshore saltwater fishing
The goal when chumming is to attract the fish, and get them excited, but without filling them up. If too much chum is used, the fish will remain back in the slick, but will become difficult to catch. The best bet is to use chum sparingly in the beginning then step it up if the bite is a bit slow. It is always better to start slow like this than to chum too much in the beginning.
Anglers will sometimes find that fish are hitting the chum bait but will not take a baited hook. This tends to occur more often when the water is very clear. The solution is to go lighter with the leader and use a smaller hook. Also, wherever possible use little or no weight.
Trolling for success inshore
Trolling with light tackle produces very well inshore. I do a lot of drifting on my Sarasota fishing charters, both in the passes and over deep expanses of grass. There are usually other anglers fishing, so courtesy dictates a slow idle back around to make another drift. Since we will just be easing along, why not drag a bait behind?
My go-to lure is a #8 X-Rap in olive or glass ghost (white), it has been very productive as it matches the bait we have in our area. Once the treble hooks get beat up, I remove them and add a single 1/0 hook on the rear. The hook-up ratio remains good and it makes releasing fish MUCH easier. In fact, some plugs now come with a strong single hook for just this reason.
Again, just let out about half the spool and move at idle speed or just above. Many times clients catch more fish doing this than they do when drifting and casting. Spanish mackerel in particular find it difficult to resist a fast moving plug, but bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, trout, and other species will also fall prey to this method. One technique that often pays off is the twitch the rod tip sharply while trolling along. This will often times elicit a violent strike! Fish find the little pause where the plug drops back to be irresistible at times.
Trolling is a great way to locate fish
Trolling is also a good technique to employ when fish are scattered about over a large area. The best approach is to move into the tide or wind and when a fish is hooked the boat is stopped. Anglers can then cast jigs, plugs, or spoons as the boat drifts back over the school. As action drops off, resume trolling again until another bunch of fish is found. One benefit to this is that the same lures that are great trolling baits are also equally effective cast out and retrieved back in; there is no need to have separate trolling and casting outfits.
Trolling has been a staple of anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean for many years. Pelagic species such as Striped bass, bluefish, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and cobia migrate along the coastline. These game fish follow behind the huge schools of bait fish. This is their primary forage. A fast moving plug or spoon mimics the prey. This is a very easy technique than any angler can employ to catch a big fish!
Top trolling lures when saltwater fishing
Plugs are a great choice when trolling. The larger the lip on the plug, the deeper it will dive. Fairly stout tackle will be required when trolling a large plug. Conventional tackle in the 30 pound class is perfect for this application. Heavy spinning tackle will work as well. A plug that dives down fifteen feet or so is perfect to target a large king mackerel. I prefer to use a 5′ piece of 80 pound flourocarbon leader instead of wire. Wire will prevent cut-offs but will limit strikes.
Small plugs can also be extremely effective in open water. Often times the bait is very small. A #8 Rapala X-Rap is a prefect match for the smaller forage. White is a very productive color. Surface activity will alert anglers to the presence of game fish. Mackerel, striped bass, and false albacore can be seen terrorizing helpless bait fish on the surface. The best approach is to skirt the edge of the feeding fish. Do not drive the boat right through the action. They will go down and may not resurface.
Spoons also produce a lot of fish. Clark spoons and other manufacturers make special spoons designed for trolling. Spoons can be used when trolling in a couple of different ways. Due to boat speeds, some type of device is needed to get the spoon down in the water column.
Trolling techniques to get lures down deep
The easiest method is to tie a trolling sinker to the end of the line. These are torpedo shaped and come in a variety of weights. A ten foot long leader is tied to the sinker and then a trolling spoon is tied to the tag end. This is really quite simple and deadly on Spanish mackerel, bluefish, false albacore, and more. Fish will have to be hand-lined in once the trolling sinker reaches the rod tip.
Planers are another device used to get spoons down deeper. They are effective but are a bit more complicated. The planer is tied onto the running line. A twenty foot leader is attached to the planer, followed by the spoon on the tag end. Planers come in several sizes, but #1 and #2 planers are the ones used in shallow water. A #1 planer will dive five to seven feet. A #2 planer will dive down around fifteen feet.
Proper techniques when trolling with planers
The planer must be “set”. This is done by slowly lowering the planer into the water after the spoon is let out. With the ring up, water pressure will pull the planer down. The planer is then let out behind the boat to the desired length. The rod is then placed in a holder. When a fish hits, the planer will “trip”, allowing the angler to fight the fish without the drag of the planer. Plugs can be used with planers, but they must have a small lip. Large lips will trip the planer. Advanced anglers use wire line and umbrella rigs to catch striped bass and bluefish in deeper water. Downriggers are also used by some anglers. These are complex techniques that requires special, expensive equipment.
Inshore saltwater fishing, surf fishing
Surf fishing is a very popular form of angling, especially along the eastern seaboard. Gulf Coast anglers practice it as well, though to a lesser degree. Much of the shoreline from Florida to Texas does not have sand beaches. Surf fishing is basically standing on the sand and casting out into the ocean. But, as in all forms of fishing, it is much more complex than that.
Surf fishing is quite condition dependent. If the conditions aren’t good, fishing is usually pretty tough. Persistent anglers can always scratch out a fish or two, but if it all possible, it is best to maximize the conditions when going surf fishing. Wave height, water quality, winds, tides, weeds, and season are just a few of the factors. Many books have been written on the subject of surf fishing. I will try to cover the basics here.
Surf fishing tackle
Surf fishing tackle is similar to spinning tackle with the exception of the rod length. The smallest surf rods usually start at around 10 feet and go up to 14 feet or more. The longer rods are required for both casting distance and to keep the line up out of the breaking waves. Many anglers choose to fish with two different outfits. They will use a 10 foot rod for smaller fish and a heavier 12 to 14 foot rod for larger fish.
Many anglers prefer surf fishing on the high tide stage. Generally speaking, the two hours before the high tide and after the high tide are the prime times. Couple that with having those times at dusk or dawn, and the chances of success increase. Surf casting can be excellent at night as well, particularly in the warmer months. Serious surf anglers will often use the extremely low tides to scout out the best spots. Cuts and offshore bars can often be seen at this time. Fish will use these cuts to move through the bars and onto the beach.
Surf fishing baits
While many fish are certainly caught by surf anglers using artificial lures, the vast majority of anglers choose to surf fish with natural bait. This bait can be live, fresh dead, or frozen. Of the three, fresh cut bait is the best all round choice. The optimum bait will change with location and season. Local bait shops are a great resource to get information on what’s hitting in the surf and the best bait to use.
Shrimp are very popular bait from the mid-Atlantic south to Florida and around to Texas. Fresh shrimp works best but frozen shrimp are fine. Live shrimp are available in some locations. Shrimp catch just about everything in the water and are great choice for anglers searching a “mixed bag”.
Anglers using will do well with a two hook spreader rig, a pair of #4 or #2 hooks, each baited with a small piece of shrimp. This is a great all round rig and will catch smaller species such as whiting, sheepshead, pompano and more while still given the angler a chance to catch a larger drum or other species.
More surf fishing baits
Squid is another universal bait that will work everywhere. It is relatively inexpensive and available at just about every tackle shop. Anglers can cut the squid into small pieces and use it in the same manner that frozen shrimp is used. Squid can also be cut into strips and used on a fish finder rig. This is the preferred method for flounder and for other larger fish species.
Just about any fresh fish can be cut up and used for bait, as long as it is legal to do so. Anglers should check local fishing regulations. However, some fish are better than others. Generally speaking, the oilier the fish the better it will be for bait. Mullet, menhaden, small bluefish, and spot are all popular baits.
Crabs can also be used by surf fisherman as bait. They are particularly effective when fishing for red and black drum. Weakfish find them irresistible as well. Crabs can tend to be a bit more expensive and do not stay on the hook as well as other baits. Sand fleas ( AKA mole crabs ) are a popular bait for pompano and other species.
Surf fishing techniques
Many surf anglers use a two-pronged approach. They will use a lighter 10 foot rod with a two hook spreader rig to catch the smaller species. Once a legal fish is caught, they will cut it into large strips and use that on a longer 12 foot or 13 foot surf rod with a fish finder rig and a heavy sinker. This is a great approach as it allows anglers to experience action on the smaller outfit with smaller fish while still having the chance to catch a very nice fish on the larger outfit.
As mentioned above, artificial lures can certainly be used when surf fishing. Anglers targeting striped bass in the northern part of the country do well with large poppers. These are cast out and worked aggressively on the surface. The loud ‘pop” attracts the striped bass and bluefish to the bait. This works very well when fish are actively feeding on the surface.
Spoons and jigs can be cast out into the surface well. Anglers can wait until they see breaking fish or other activity such as bait fish on the surface, or just blind cast in hopes of a strike. it can get tiresome throwing a heavy lower on a big heavy surf outfit. As in all fishing, bird activity is a great sign that fish are feeding nearby.
Tides for inshore saltwater fishing
Tides are one of the most important aspects of saltwater fishing. They often confuse novice saltwater anglers. Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon. Tides are strongest around the full moon and then strong again on the new moon. Conversely, tides are not as strong on the quarter moons.
Every angler has his or her preferred tide. There is no one answer to the question,”what is the best tide?” Tides don’t determine when to fish, they determine where where to fish. Anglers fishing the flats often prefer a high tide. The same goes for surf anglers. Anglers fishing tidal rivers, inlets, and passes often prefer the outgoing tide.
Tides will position fish when saltwater fishing
The best approach is to look at the tide and imagine how it will affect the fishes movements. Low tides will move fish off of shallow areas and into deeper areas where the they will feel safe. As the tide rises, the fish will move out of these deeper areas and up onto the flats to feed. Falling tides will cost fish to stage at ambush points.
Only experience and time on the water will tell an angler what they need to know to be successful in the water that they are fishing. Logs can be helpful to some anglers. Noting tide stage on successful days will help anglers determine the ideal tides in their area.
Top inshore saltwater fishing species
Speckled trout; aka spotted sea trout
Speckled trout are one of the most popular inshore game fish. They are arguably the most popular inshore species from along the entire Gulf Coast. Speckled trout are available to anglers from Chesapeake Bay down to Texas.
Most anglers target speckled trout on the flats, though fish are caught in deeper water and off the beach as well. Trout are an aggressive, beautiful fish that hit hard, put up a bit of a tussle, and taste great. That explains why they are so desired by anglers, especially down south.
Speckled trout average around 16 inches. Anything over 20 inches is a nice fish and a speckled trout over 24 inches is a trophy. Anglers seeking numbers of trout will do best to target flats in 4 feet to 8 feet of water. This is where the majority of average sized fish will be found. These fish are generally found in fairly large schools. The larger fish are loners and can often be found in very shallow water.
Both live and artificial baits are effective for speckled trout
Both live bait and artificial lures produce a lot of speckled trout. It really is just a matter of the time of year and angler preference. The number one live bait is the shrimp. Live shrimp are available year-round and produce speckled trout along with just about every other inshore fish species. Shrimp are especially effective in the cooler months when pin fish and other small nuisance fish are less of an issue.
Live shrimp are often fished over the grass flats under a noisy float in southern waters. These floats are called “popping corks”. This is a very effective fishing technique. These floats are placed 3 feet above the hook. A live shrimp is then impaled on the hook. A # 1/0 live bait hook is a good all-around choice when targeting speckled trout.
The rig is cast out and allowed to settle. A sharp twitch of the rod produces a noisy “pop”. This simulates feeding fish and will attract trout and other species to the shrimp. Live bait fish can be used under the cork as well.
Fishing with live shrimp using no weight
Live shrimp can also be “free lined” out behind the boat. This means the shrimp is baited on a hook with no other weight. The shrimp can then be allowed to swim naturally. This works well in deeper water, over six feet deep.
Live bait fish are extremely effective for speckled trout as well. 2 inch to 3 inch pin fish, croakers, and grunts work well either free line or fished under a float. The float will keep the bait from getting down into the grass and suspend the bait at the proper depth in the water column.
Speckled trout respond well to live bait chumming
Chumming with live bait is an extremely effective technique anglers use in the warmer months. This is a staple for captains running fishing charters in Florida. A large cast net is used to procure several hundred scaled sardines or threadfin herring. The boat is then anchored in a likely spot and these live baits are used as chum to attract speckled trout up behind the boat.
Artificial lures fool many speckled trout. The number one artificial lure for anglers targeting speckled trout is the jig and grub combination. It is a simple yet very effective lure. This combo consists of a jig head and a soft plastic body. It is a very versatile lure as the tail sizes, shapes, and colors can be easily changed.
The jig/grub combo is the top trout fishing lure
The jig head is a hook with a piece of lead molded and near the eye. This lead adds casting weight and also is what imparts action to the jig. Jig heads come in many different sizes, weights, and colors. One quarter ounce jig heads are the best all round choice for fishing water between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep. Red, white, and chartreuse are the best colors. Jigs have one single hook which helps when releasing fish.
Plugs are also extremely effective lures for speckled trout. They tend to catch larger fish. Plugs are meant to imitate bait fish. Anglers should choose a plug that imitates the forage that the speckled trout are feeding on. Plugs that stay up on the surface are called “topwater” plugs. They produce explosive strikes and are very effective when worked in shallow water.
Diving plugs are effective when saltwater fishing the inshore waters for trout
Shallow diving plugs float on the surface but dive down several feet when retrieved. These plugs work well in water deeper than two feet. Suspending plugs slowly sink and suspend in the water column. They are deadly on speckled trout. Plugs do have a couple of drawbacks. They are expensive and sport a dangerous pair of treble hooks.
Most anglers targeting speckled trout choose to drift. Most flats cover a fairly large area. Drifting is the most efficient way to locate fish. Anglers using both live bait and artificial lures cast out ahead of the drifting boat and work the baits back. Once a productive area is found, anglers can anchor and cover the area thoroughly or re-drift the area.
Big trout are often found in shallow water
Larger speckled trout are often found in shallow water. These fish tend to be “loners” and not in schools. Potholes (small depressions in shallow flats) will hold some trophy speckled trout! The edges of oyster bars and mangrove shorelines will also produce.
These fish can be finicky in shallow water and they spook easily. Anglers need to be patient and stealthy. Long casts are required. Artificial lures work well as it can be difficult to use live bait in the shallow grass. Topwater plugs and soft plastic baits on 1/16 ounce jig heads work well.
Fishing for saltwater trout at night
Night fishing can be an extremely effective technique for speckled trout. Lighted docks and bridges attract shrimp and small bait fish. This in turn attracts the trout. Outgoing tides are generally preferred. Live and artificial shrimp work well free lined in the current.
Speckled trout are fantastic eating and prized wherever they are caught. Here in Florida, we have a slot limit on them, with one large fish over 20” being legal to keep. I personally strongly encourage anglers to release all large trout. These are breeder females and are crucial to the success of the species. With the angling pressure that trout receive in the more populated areas, it is very important to release these big girls unharmed to breed.
Striped bass are the most popular inshore saltwater game fish in the Northeast. They range from Maine down to South Carolina. They have also been transplanted successfully in many large freshwater lakes. There is also a population of striped bass in San Francisco Bay. Striped bass are often found in schools. They grow quite large with the world record being a touch over 80 pounds. Stripers can be caught using every inshore fishing technique.
Striped bass spawn in the brackish tributary rivers. Chesapeake Bay is responsible for about 80% of the striped bass spawning activity. The Hudson River in New York is second in that regard. Juvenile striped bass spend the first couple years in the freshwater and brackish rivers before migrating out to the open water. Striped bass can live up to 30 years old.
Striped bass can be caught using a wide variety of angling techniques. They are caught drift fishing, trolling, sight fishing, chumming, and surf fishing.
Drift fishing for striped bass
Drifting over productive areas with either live bait or artificial lures produces many striped bass for anglers. Channel edges, depth changes, areas of hard bottom composition, artificial reefs, bridges, creek and river mouths, and inlets are all prime spots.
Anglers choosing to drift with natural bait will have success use in both live and cut bait. A free lined pogy or menhaden is a deadly bait for a trophy striped bass. Small live eels are used as well, especially in Chesapeake Bay around the bridges. Cut bait such as strips or chunks of fresh fish and squid will also produce. Anglers choosing to drift while using artificial lures will do well with jigs and heavy vertical jigging spoons.
Some anglers choose to anchor and chum a spot, rather than drifting it. This can be an extremely productive technique. The boat is anchored up on a drop off, piece of hard bottom, or other likely spot. Menhaden oil or other chum is dispersed with the tide from the stern. Several rods are rigged and hooked up with chunks of fresh baits such as pogy or menhaden. Any oily fish will work; bluefish and mackerel are fine baits. It is important to use circle hooks in this application to reduce the number of fish that are gut hooked. Many states require this by law.
Surface action when striped bass fishing
There is nothing more exciting than casting to schools of “breaking” striped bass! Stripers will herd schools of bait fish up in the water column and trap them against the surface. Once they do this, the feeding frenzy is on. Fish can be seen splashing and feeding on the surface from quite a distance away on a call morning. Often times, bluefish and even false albacore are mixed in with the stripers.
Artificial lures are great fun in this situation. Anglers casting surface poppers, shallow diving plugs, spoons, and jigs will all experience fast action as long as the lure resembles the bait fish in size and color. Some days it does not matter, the stripers will hit just about anything in the water that is moving. This action normally occurs in the fall in the inshore bays and in the Atlantic Ocean close to shore.
Trolling for striped bass is very effective inshore
Trolling produces many striped bass, and normally the largest specimens. However, trolling can be cumbersome with all the gear that is required, but it is the most efficient way to get a lure down deep or many of the largest striped bass live and feed. Experienced anglers use wire line and specially designed to reels to get their umbrella rigs and other trolling gear down deep. Many of the charter boats in Chesapeake Bay are using this fishing method.
Anglers using lighter tackle can have success troll and as well. Anglers can use 20 pound conventional tackle and trolling sinkers or planers to get their lures down to the fish. Plugs with large lips will dive down without any other gear. For the most part, this type of trolling is best done in water 20 feet deep or shallower.
Inlets are great spots for inshore striped bass fishing
Inlets are excellent spots to target striped bass. This is especially true for anglers without a boat, as most inlets have jetties which allow anglers access. The best time to fish inlets is generally on the turn of the tide, when the current flow is reduced. It is difficult to fish when the current is running hard through the inlet.
Anglers fishing the inlets can choose to use both natural and artificial baits. Those casting poppers and other plugs along with spoons and jigs do quite well when working parallel to the rocks. They will also make opportunistic cast whenever breaking fish pop up. Anglers bottom fishing need to constantly adjust the weight in order to minimize snags. Often times, the best spot to bottom fish is on the backside of the jetty where there is a sandy bottom and a current eddy.
Striped bass are targeted by surf anglers as well. These fish are prized by surf casters from the main beaches down to Cape Cod and as far south as Hatteras in North Carolina. Experienced surf fisherman usually have several rigs ready to go. They will often bottom fish with a large piece of bait on a fish finder rig, letting it set in the holder. While waiting for a bite, anglers can cast poppers and other artificial lures and are also ready if a “blitz” should happen to occur.
Red drum, aka redfish
Redfish are one of the most popular inshore species, right up there with speckled trout and striped bass. Redfish inhabit the entire Southeast part of the United States, from Texas around to Florida and up as far as the mid Atlantic. They are an extremely popular game fish in all these areas.
Redfish are known by several different names depending on the geography. Red drum, channel bass, and puppy drum are several of the more popular ones. Here in Florida we simply call them redfish, or “reds” for short. They are found on the shallow grass flats where they school up. Redfish are often caught under docks and near other structure as well.
Fishing in shallow water presents some challenges. Fish are quite spooky when there’s barely enough water to cover their backs! This means that anglers must be stealthy when approaching them. Many shallow draft skiffs are specially designed to be extra quiet on the flats. Wading is also a great way to sneak up on skittish redfish.
Tides are important when fishing for red drum
Tides are critical when targeting redfish. Most anglers prefer a low, incoming tide. This tends to congregate the schools of redfish on the edges of bars and flats. They will also stage in what we call “potholes”. These are slight depressions in the shallow grass flats. The difference can be minimal, but enough to hold fish. A 3 foot depression on a flat that has 10 inches of water can hold an entire school of fish.
As the tide rises, reds will move up onto the flats and scatter out. They are feeding but are also scattered out. This can make them difficult to locate. On the highest stage, or flood tide, the fish will move way up under the mangroves. So, while it is easier to get the boat up on the flats on the higher stages of the tide, the fish are also much more difficult to locate.
Both lures and live baits are effective for redfish
Anglers targeting redfish in shallow water can be effective with both artificial lures and live bait. Artificial lures are generally best when prospecting for fish. The reason is simple; lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water much more quickly than they can do with live bait. Live bait can work very well once fish are located in a certain area.
One of the most effective lures for locating redfish on a flat is the weedless spoon. The venerable Johnson Silver Minnow in the half ounce, gold color has fooled many redfish over the years. It is a simple bait that can be cast a long way, is extremely weedless, and has a great fish attracting action. It has a large single hook which rides up in a weed guard covering the tip. There are many other manufacturers who produce quality weedless spoons as well. Local tackle shops will have a good selection of the most productive baits. A small black swivel is required when using spoons to help eliminate line twist.
Fishing for redfish with soft plastic baits
Soft plastic baits can also be very effective when searching for redfish. They don’t cover quite as much water as spoons do as the bait is moved a bit more slowly. Soft plastic baits are more effective when the angler has a general idea of where the fish may be. Bass assassin makes a terrific line of soft plastic baits in a myriad of sizes and colors. A 4” to 5” bait is about the right size with both paddle tales and jerk worms style baits being effective.
Anglers have a choice in how they rig their soft plastic baits. The most simple technique is to rig the bait on a 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce jig head. The hook will ride up in the bait will generally be snag free, though it will pick up grass on the head. Jig heads designed to fish in shallow water have a slightly different shape. The head curves up so that it skims over the grass. Jig heads can also be purchased with a weed guard, further reducing the chance of hanging up in the grass.
Other options when inshore saltwater fishing with soft plastic lures
Another option is a swim bait hook. These can be used to rigged the bait either Texas rigged while some have a weed guard. Both result in a fairly weedless presentation. These hooks also have a weight in the middle of the hook, resulting in the bait having a natural horizontal look.
Plugs can also be effective for redfish on the flats. If the water is very shallow, a foot or two deep, anglers will have to use top water plugs. Redfish have an inferior mouth, that means it is behind the nose pointing down. However, they will take a bait on the surface. Rapala Skitterwalk and Heddon Zara Spook baits are both very effective lures. Anglers working slightly deeper water or mangrove shorelines can score with a shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap slashbait.
Live bait produces redfish
There are situations where live bait can be more effective when fishing the shallow flats. As mentioned earlier, redfish will stage up in potholes and in channels on the lower tide stages. A large live shrimp fished in these holes can be deadly. Many anglers remove the tail and insert the hook in that area. This results in the shrimps natural juices dispersing into the pothole. A # 1/0 live bait hook and a light split shot is all that is required. A float can be used to add casting weight and indicate bites.
It can be a bit overwhelming searching for reds on the shallow flats. There are just so many places that the fish can be! Many anglers believe that finding schools of mullet on the flats is a key to success. The thought is that the mullet stir up the bottom while swimming along, dislodging crabs and other forage from the weeds. This is a natural chum line that will attract redfish. Birds, bait fish, and other game fish are also signs of a lively redfish flat. Otherwise, it is just a matter of patience and experience.
Many redfish are caught by anglers fishing docks and other structure. Docks provide both cover and forage for redfish. I have found in my experience that the most productive redfish docks are in between four and 8 feet of water.
Dock fishing for red drum
Anglers who prefer casting artificial lures can use the trolling motor and slowly work a line of docks. A quarter ounce jig with a soft plastic body work well for this type of fishing. One days when the bite is tough, switching to a scented baits such as the Gulp shrimp can make the difference.
It is tough to beat a live bait when fishing docks for redfish and other species. It gives anglers the opportunity to thoroughly work a good dock. A large live shrimp is a great year-round bait. They are easily acquired at local bait shops. A #1/0 live bait hook in a split shot or two is a simple and effective rig. An added bonus to this technique is that many other species will be caught as well. Snook, mangrove snapper, flounder, black drum, and other species will intercept a shrimp meant for a red.
Live bait fish can also be used effectively when targeting redfish under docks. The same live bait chumming method is deadly on redfish and snook when implemented around the dock. A 3 inch pin fish or grunt can also be deadly and will usually catch larger fish. The downside to using live bait fish is that anglers in most instances will have to catch their own.
Seasonal redfish patterns
Redfish in the south follow a seasonal pattern. In the winter most reds are caught in canals, creeks, and under docks in the backwater areas. In spring they scatter out onto the flats. Most fish will be in very small pods. By late summer they are schooled up into larger numbers on the flats before moving out into the Gulf. In the fall, reds can be anywhere, flats, Gulf, Atlantic Ocean, and backwater spots.
Large schools of big redfish are often encountered in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. These schools are easy to spot. In clear water, the water will actually turn red. Fish are also seen milling and busting baits on the surface. These fish are tackle-busters. Anglers need to gear up for these fish!
Redfish are caught by surf anglers as well. These fish can be very large. Runs of “channel bass” as they are known in the mid-Atlantic, are legendary. Crab fished on the bottom is the top bait. Clams, shrimp, and cut bait will also produce redfish.
Spanish mackerel are a terrific, and in my opinion, underrated game fish. They are widely distributed along the East Coast of the United States as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They are very fast fish, feed aggressively, and are excellent table fare when eaten fresh.
Spanish mackerel are a pelagic species. This means that they spend most of their time in the middle of the water column. They do not relate to bottom structure, other than the fact that that same structure attracts bait. Spanish mackerel also make a seasonal migration up the coastlines in the spring, then back down in the fall. They spend their winters in the tropical moderate climates.
Here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide, our prime times for Spanish mackerel are spring and fall. However, if we experience a very moderate winter or a cooler than average summer they can be caught all year long. Spanish mackerel are a fish that pleases every angler, whether they fish from shore, in the bays, or out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
Spanish mackerel fishing techniques
Mackerel can be taken using a variety of baits and techniques. I personally enjoy catching them using artificial lures and fly fishing. Mackerel hit so hard and make such long runs that it is really quite exciting to catch them while casting artificial lures on light tackle.
The most productive artificial lures are spoons, jigs, and plugs. Live shrimp and bait fish catch plenty of fish as well. Anglers can fish from the surf, jetty, or pier. They can also fish bays, passes and inlets, in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean from a boat.
The lead head jig plastic grub combination produces a lot of fish in Florida and beyond. These lures are very versatile, cast well, are cost-effective, most importantly catch a lot of fish! Spanish mackerel most often respond to a fast retrieve. Therefore, jigs with a Shad tail body work best when targeting them. The Shad tail grub has a terrific motion when retrieved through the water either slowly or more quickly. Anglers cast the lure out, allow it to sink, then retrieve it back in at a fairly brisk pace with sharp hops.
Spoons and plugs are productive baits for Spanish mackerel fishing
Silver spoons are another very effective lure when targeting Spanish mackerel. Their main advantage is that they cast a long way. A 1/2 ounce silver spoon is a very good all-around size when targeting Spanish mackerel. The lure can be cast out and retrieved back steadily or by using an erratic motion. It is important to use either a snap swivel at the lure or a swivel between the leader and the running line to prevent line twist.
Plugs are another very effective lure for catching Spanish mackerel. However, they do have a couple disadvantages. They are bit more costly, which can be an issue when the toothy Spanish mackerel start cutting lures off with their teeth. Also, dealing with trouble hooks and a thrashing Spanish mackerel can be dangerous. Careful anglers will find them worth the trouble, especially when trolling.
Spanish mackerel habits
Spanish mackerel prefer clear water. They mostly feed by sight. Anglers should therefore target Spanish mackerel in clear water using light colored lures. Lighter colors tend to be more effective in light clear water. White, silver, and olive have all been productive patterns for clients on my fishing charters.
Live bait certainly accounts for many Spanish mackerel landed by anglers. Live shrimp are the most effective and widely used live bait for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. Just about every bait shop along the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard up to the mid Atlantic carry live shrimp.
Inshore saltwater fishing for Spanish mackerel
Shrimp are very easy to use. Anglers simply hook the shrimp under the horn just above the brain and cast it out into the water. Anglers fishing from the surf or jetties as well as piers may need to add a sinker for casting weight. A hook with a long shank will help reduce cutoffs from mackerel. A #1/0 is a good all-around hook size.
Whenever possible, the best approach is just allow the shrimp to be hooked on with little or no weight. This is called free lining and it works very well. Sometimes a small split shot will be required. This is the best approach when fishing with live shrimp from a drifting boat or when anchored over and artificial reefs.
Live bait fish are extremely effective for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. However, catching in using them is a bit more involved. Most anglers using live bait fish will catch them themselves. A cast net, the ability to throw it, in a large bait well with a good recirculating pump are required.
Spanish mackerel respond to chumming
Chumming is one of the most productive fishing methods in saltwater. It is a very effective technique as mackerel respond well to chum. Anglers can chum with frozen blocks or with live bait fish. It works very well over structure such as artificial reefs.
Anglers will need a leader of some sort when targeting Spanish mackerel. While some choose to use a wire leader, I stick with a heavier fluorocarbon leader. I feel that the risk of getting cut off versus the extra number of bites is worth using the fluorocarbon leader.
Anglers can attach the leader to the running line by using a small number 10 black swivel. It is important to not use a shiny swivel as this will attract mackerel, resulting in them severing the line at the swivel.
The leader may also be attached to the running line using a leader to leader not such as the Double Uni-knot. Finally, the hook or lure is attached to the terminal end.
Spanish mackerel fishing techniques
As mentioned above, there are multiple techniques which will produce Spanish mackerel. Casting, drifting, trolling, and fly fishing will all put Spanish mackerel in the boat. As with all fishing, current conditions will dictate the best place to fish in the technique to employ.
Drifting open water while either casting artificial lures or flies or free lining a live bait out behind the boat is simple and very effective. On the West Coast of Florida and along the entire Gulf Coast this method works well both on the deeper grass flats and 4 foot to 10 feet of water as well as the open Gulf of Mexico. Anglers will do well to keep their eyes peeled for signs of fish such as birds working and fish feeding on the surface.
Drift fishing passes and inlets is effective
Drifting can work very well in the passes and inlets also. Anglers simply set up a drift allowing the boat to cover a productive area. Both lures and live bait work well. Anglers on the East Coast will have to choose times when the title flow is moderate. It is just too difficult to fish this way when the tide is very swift.
Anglers without a boat most certainly catch their share of Spanish mackerel. Piers, jetties, bridges, and beaches can all be productive areas, especially in the spring and fall. The keys to fishing these areas are clear water and the abundance of bait fish. Anglers encountering these conditions when the water temperature is in the low to mid 70s have an excellent chance of successfully targeting Spanish mackerel.
Shore fishing for Spanish mackerel
The same methods that work while fishing from a boat are productive for shore bound anglers. Lures can be cast out and retrieved while live bait can be allowed to naturally attract mackerel. It is important to try to make the presentation as natural as possible and use as little weight as is required. As with boat fishing, keeping a sharp eye out for signs of activity will lead to a productive outing.
Trolling is an incredibly productive technique for Spanish mackerel. It is also quite simple. Anglers tie on a lure such as a spoon or plug, and let it out behind the boat a good distance. Then, the boat is simply driven around a bit above idle speed. When a Spanish mackerel takes the lure, there is little doubt. This is a very easy and relaxing way to fish and is productive both inshore, in the passes and inlets as well as out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
Spoons and plugs are the two best lures to employ when trolling. The jig will tend to roll and spin at those higher speeds while the plug and spoon will track naturally with a great wobbling action. Once a productive area is located, anglers can troll back and forth through that area maximizing the action.
Bluefish are the sole member of the family “Pomatomidae”. They are a pelagic species, meaning they spend their time in the middle of the water column. They are widely distributed throughout the world. Anglers from Maine south and around to Texas target them from boats, jetties and piers, and the surf. Pound for pound, bluefish are one of the strongest fighting game fish in the sea.
Most of the bluefish that we see in Florida are smaller than their northern brethren. Here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide, bluefish average 2 pounds and a 5 pound blue is a nice fish. However, though they are smaller, they are just as much fun. This is due mostly to the fact that we fish for them with very light tackle. Bluefish grow much larger in the northeast. The world record is almost 32 pounds!
Bluefish are caught in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, along the beaches, and offshore in open water. They prefer clean, clear water. Bluefish school up in large numbers and are very aggressive. Often times bluefish will be seen feeding voraciously on the surface. This is a great opportunity as just about any lure or bait cast into the mix will draw strike.
Bluefish will feed on the surface
No matter what the bait fish being pursued, there are few angling circumstances that can compete with breaking fish when it comes to pure excitement! The sight of a school of game fish terrorizing hapless bait fish on the surface is exhilarating. Also, anglers know that just about any bait or lower tossed into the mix will draw a strike.
While many anglers target Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and other species, bluefish can be often found in these feeding frenzies. This is one instance whether anglers can bump up the leader to steel and not see a marked decrease in strikes. These fish are usually so fired up and aggressive that they will hit a spoon, plug, or jig with reckless abandon.
Bluefish will be caught when fishing for other saltwater species
Many bluefish are landed by anglers seeking other species. A very popular technique in Florida is to drift the grass flats while casting a lower or live bait in search of fish. Anglers will encounter schools of Florida bluefish while doing this. When one fish is caught, expect more to follow. Bluefish will sometimes be seen feeding on the surface, but quite often there will be no indication of their presence until one is hooked.
Bluefish are very aggressive and a fast-moving lure will get their attention. Jigs, spoons, and plugs are the most popular artificial lures. If I was targeting bluefish or was fishing in an area where I knew they could be present, I would choose a jig and grub as my preferred lure.
Jigs are a productive lure for bluefish
Jigs are my preference when fishing for bluefish for several reasons. Most importantly, they are effective and catch fish. But there are other reasons as well. Bluefish have very sharp teeth and cutoffs will occur.
In clear waters, a fluorocarbon leader will produce many more strikes than a steel leader will. For this reason, lures and hooks will be cut off by bluefish. Jigs are relatively inexpensive. They also have one large single hook, making handling and releasing bluefish easier.
Fishing for blues with spoons and plugs
Spoons are another effective lure when targeting bluefish. A 1/2 ounce spoon is very aerodynamic and will cast a long way on light spinning tackle. Silver is the preferred color in clear water. Most casting spoons come with a treble hook which can be easily replaced with a single hook if desired. A snap swivel at the lure or a swivel between the leader and running line will reduce line twist.
Plugs are very productive when chasing bluefish. It is very exciting to see bluefish blowup on a top water plug! However, there are a couple drawbacks to casting plugs. Plugs are expensive with the average cost being around $10. Several anglers casting into a school of bluefish can lose a fair amount of money quickly! Also, most plugs come equipped with treble hooks. These can be dangerous when trying to unhook an angry bluefish.
Fishing for bluefish using live and cut bait
While casting artificial lures and flies is great fun, many bluefish are caught using live and cut bait as well. Live shrimp and live bait fish are the top live baits. Mullet, squid, mackerel, porgy, and sardines are the top cut baits. In reality, any fish that is legal to keep can be cut up and used effectively as bait.
Anglers choosing to surf fish almost always opt for cut bait. It really just is a practical decision that is also effective. The East Coast beaches tend to have higher waves and rougher surf. Cut bait stays on the hook better during a long cast and with the stronger current and wave action. Bait can be cut into long narrow strips or into chunks. Pier anglers often times use cut bait as well. The best rig when using cut bait to surf fish for bluefish is the fish finder rig.
Anglers can certainly use live bait when surf fishing as well. This is particularly true on the Gulf Coast where the wave and tide action is generally more gentle. When using live bait, the best approach is to use the least amount of weight possible. Anglers will find bluefish on the West Coast quite close to shore, often in the first trough.
Drift fishing for bluefish
Anglers drifting over the flats and in the passes and inlets will catch bluefish on live bait. One technique that works really well is to free line the bait. This means that the shrimp is hooked on to the hook with no weight being added to the line. The shrimp or bait fish then swims naturally in the water. Since bluefish are often high in the water column, this is a very effective technique. To reduce cutoffs, a long shank hook is preferred.
Passes and inlets are virtual fish highways that game fish and bait fish use to migrate between the inshore bays and the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. These are natural spots to find bluefish. Currents can be strong in these areas, so artificial lures are usually a better choice. Anglers can cast to rocks and rip rap or bounce a jig vertically along as they drift. Once again, keeping an eye out for surface activity will increase the chances of success.
Bluefish are good eating when prepared correctly
In my opinion, bluefish get a bad rap when it comes to eating quality. I find the smaller bluefish and the 2 to 3 pound range to be delicious! However they do require a bit more care. I bleed any bluefish that I plan to keep. I do this by cutting the gills and putting the fish in the bait well. This will result in the fish pumping all the blood out of its body, making the flesh not quite as dark. Then, I get the fish on ice as quickly as possible.
Bluefish are oily and do not freeze well. Keep only what you need for a meal that evening. There is an area of darker meat on the backside of the fillet. On larger fish, this area can be cut out for cooking. On smaller fillets, it is best to cook it and work around the dark strip if desired. This darker meat is perfectly safe to eat, some people just find it a bit unappealing.
Flounder and fluke
Flounder and fluke are without doubt one of the favorite species of inshore saltwater anglers. They fight hard and are fun to catch, but their popularity rises from their value on a dinner plate. They are fantastic eating!
The term “flounder” is a bit confusing. Down south, we have southern Gulf flounder. Up north, anglers have fluke and winter flounder. The fluke is more like a southern flounder, having a very large mouth. Both are voracious predators. The winter flounder has a very small mouth. For the purposes of this discussion, we will term both fluke and southern flounder as “flounder”.
Flounder and fluke habits
Flounder are a unique fish. They begin their lives like most fish. At some point, they start swimming on their side and the eye migrates so that both are on the same side. The fish then spends the rest of its life swimming on its side and “looking up”.
Flounder are perfectly designed to live and feed in inshore saltwater bays. They bury themselves in the sand, completely camouflaged. They lie there in wait, ambushing prey as the tide brings bait past. Flounder will relate to structure of some sort when available. Bridges with good current flow are prime spots, as are docks and inlets. Flounder are also taken in the surf and in the open Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
Flounder fishing techniques
Fuke and flounder are predators and target live bait fish and crustaceans. Live minnows are a top flounder bait. They can be purchased at some bait shops. Many flounder anglers use a minnow trap to catch their own bait. Shrimp are a great bait in southern waters. Strips of squid and other cut bait work quite well and are a good choice when fishing in areas with a lot of crabs.
Artificial lures catch plenty of flounder as well. The most effective flounder lure is without a doubt ta jig. Jigs can be fishing right on the bottom, where the flounder feed. Both buck tail and plastic grub jigs produce fish. Many anglers combine both the jig and bait by adding a minnow, strip of squid, or piece of shrimp to the jig. This approach works very well!
Drift fishing works very well for flounder
Many anglers choose to drift fish when targeting flounder. This is an effective technique when fish are scattered out over a large area. A sliding sinker rig will keep the bait right on the bottom. Spreader rigs work well, too. Often times the bite will feel like a snag. This is due to the flounder being buried in the sand. But, don’t be surprised when the “snag” comes alive!
Anglers targeting structure usually anchor, though a piece of structure can be drifted as well. Flounder will often position themselves in the sand just off the edge of the structure. Also, flounder will usually be on the up-current side of the structure. This applies to bridges as well.
Bridges are great flounder fishing spots
Bridges are flounder magnets. Often times, bridges are constructed in a spot where the bay narrows down. This means that current flow is usually stronger under bridges. This makes them excellent ambush spots for flounder and other inshore species.
The channel edge under the bridge can be the best spot. Fish like edges and depth changes. That, in conjunction with the structure of the bridge makes this a prime fishing spot. Anglers can anchor or drift, depending on current and laws. Some bridges prohibit anchoring underneath them.
Pompano are found along the entire Gulf of Mexico coast and up the Atlantic coast to the mid-Atlantic. Most pompano are caught by anglers surf fishing. Pompano may be encountered at any time of the year, with spring and fall being the prime times.
Pompano look very similar to juvenile permit. They also tend to live in the same environments. Permit have longer fins with a bit of black on the tips. If anglers have any doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution and release the fish.
Many pompano are caught by anglers fishing with jigs
Jigs produce most of the pompano landed by anglers fishing the inshore bays. A close look at a pompano will reveal a small, inferior mouth. The term inferior mouth refers to the fact that the opening of the mouth is on the underside of the head. This will indicate the method by which a pompano feeds. It swims with its head down and tail up forage on the bottom for crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.
This explains why jigs are so productive when targeting pompano. A jig that is bounced off the bottom kicks up a tiny puff of sand. This very closely mimics the action of a fleeing crab or shrimp. Jigs produce on the beaches, in the passes and inlets, and in the bays. Bright colors such as red, chartreuse, and white are the most productive patterns, but as with all fishing, keep changing it up until a favorite emerges.
Small jigs work best for pompano fishing in inshore waters
Many anglers land pompano while casting 3 inch to 4 inch jigs while drifting over the deep grass flats. The same Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits that work so well for trout, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species will also fool pompano. The same jig and fall retrieve is productive. The deeper flats, those between 8 feet and 10 feet deep, produce more pompano. However, they can be encountered over sandbars in as little as 2 feet of water.
While the larger jigs will catch the occasional pompano, when specifically targeting pompano, smaller jigs are often used. Not surprisingly, these are called “pompano jigs”. As noted earlier, pompano have a quite small mouth, so a smaller bite-size jig works well. These jigs are very plain looking. There simply a round jig head with a little bit of dressing, usually synthetic care. Combinations of white, yellow, chartreuse, and red have proven to be effective colors.
Pompano fishing with bananna jigs
There is another type of lure specifically designed to for pompano. They are called “banana jigs”. They are long and slender, and shaped like a banana, thus the name. When jerked up sharply, they fall in a very erratic manner. Pompano find this action irresistible. Some also have a little fly near the hook. Often times pompano will be hooked under the chin with the second little teaser hook.
Anglers drifting the deep grass flats simply cast the jig out ahead of the drifting boat, allow it to sink, and work it back in using short hops. The same technique works for those fishing for pompano off the beaches. When the bite is tough or when the water is a bit off-color, tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp can really make a difference.
Many pompano are caught using live bait as well. Live shrimp are the most popular bait. They are readily available at every Florida bait shop. While live shrimp or fresh dead shrimp are best, pompano will certainly take a frozen shrimp as well.
Sand fleas are a top bait when pompano fishing
There is another bait that’s very effective when targeting pompano, though using it can be a bit more involved. These are called mole crabs, better known as sand fleas. Very few shops keep these, though some do have frozen sand fleas available. Live sand fleas are much preferred to frozen baits. Dedicated surf anglers use a special rake which they use in the surf line to catch the sand fleas. Obtaining sand fleas requires more effort, but many anglers swear by them.
One great thing about pompano is that anglers without a boat catch more than their fair share. Surf fishing for pompano is very popular throughout the state. Pompano Beach is even named after this special fish! Surf fishing tactics very a bit on each coast, so I will go into the difference and techniques.
Surf fishing for pompano
The surf along the Gulf Coast is generally a bit more gentle than that of the Atlantic Ocean. Starting from the beach and moving out to sea, beaches will have several troughs and bars. Many times the pompano will be in the first trough 10 to 15 feet from shore. This means that long casts are not required.
The best approach for targeting pompano on the Gulf beaches is to use fairly light spinning tackle, in the 10 pound class. Anglers can then choose to use a quarter ounce jig and cast and retrieve, or to fish with live bait. As stated above, putting a piece of fresh shrimp on a jig head can be the best of both worlds. As an added benefit, other species such as whiting, sheepshead, flounder, ladyfish, and more will take a shrimp-tipped jig.
Small hooks and baits work best when surf fishing for pompano
Anglers choosing to fish with live bait will do well by keeping it simple. A small #4 hook and a split shot or two will get the job done. By using as little weight as possible, anglers will achieve a very natural presentation. It is best if the shrimp is slowly moving along the bottom with the current.
The surf on the Atlantic Ocean tends to be a bit rougher. Also, tide differences are more extreme. Lastly, anglers are often have to cast into a stiff breeze. For these reasons, angler surf fishing for pompano on the East Coast use the more traditional style.
Atlantic coast surf fishing
Surf rods are spinning rods that are 10 to 13 feet or even longer. They have large spinning reels with high-capacity spools. These long rods allow anglers to make a very long cast and keep the line up out of the crashing waves. After the cast rods are placed into sand spikes. These are simply pieces of PCV tubing that hold the rod upright.
There are several rigs that can be used for this type of surf fishing. The most common when targeting pompano is the “high low” rig. This is simply two different hooks where one is close to the bottom and the other about a foot or so above. A heavy pyramid style weight is at the very bottom. It is not uncommon to catch two fish at once with this rig.
Ocean surf fishing techniques
The other commonly used rig off of the surf is the fish finder rig. This is a device that has a clip to hold on the pyramid sinker with a hollow tube allowing the line to run freely through it. The biggest advantage of this rig is that fish can pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling the weight of the sinker. However, because the bait lies on the bottom it tends to attract more sharks and other undesirable species.
The fishing technique with both rigs is basically the same and quite simple. The hooks are baited up, and the rig is cast out as far as possible. Once the bait settles, the rod is placed in the sand spike with the line taught. Once the rod tip indicates that a fish is biting the rod is removed from the spike in the hook is set.
Sheepshead are a member of the Porgy family. They feed primarily on crustaceans and are rarely taken using artificial lures. Live shrimp and fiddler crabs are the top baits. Sheepshead fishing is best in February and March in the south, later in the season up north. Fish are schooled up thick around structure as this is when they spawn. Sheepshead are very good eating, but are difficult to clean.
Sheepshead will almost always relate to some type of structure. Docks, bridges, seawalls, piers, rocky ledges, and oyster bar are all structures which will attract sheepshead. They are caught on ledges and artificial reefs in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean as well.
Most sheepshead are caught on or near the bottom. The basic rig consists of a 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader. 30 pound test is a good all-around strength. Some weight will be required to get the bait down to the bottom. In fairly shallow water with little current, a split shot or two will be plenty. In deeper water or with current present, a 1/2 to 1 ounce sliding egg sinker should be fine. Tie on a #1 or #1/0 live bait hook.
Bottom fishing rigs for sheepshead
There are a couple different ways to use this sliding egg sinker. Both allow the sheepshead to move off with the bait without feeling any resistance. The first method is to slide the egg sinker on the running line. A #10 black swivel is tied between the running line and the leader. The swivel stops the sinker from sliding down while still allowing the line to slide freely through the sinker.
The second method is called a “knocker rig”and is the technique that I usually employ on my fishing charters. With the leader attached, the end of the leader slides through the sinker and then the hook is tied on. The sinker will lie right against the eye of the hook. This rig results in the bait being right on the bottom. It tends to hang up less. The sinker being on the hook does not discourage bites.
Shrimp are by far the number one bait for anglers sheepshead fishing. Shrimp are available at nearly every bait and tackle shop. Live shrimp are generally preferred, however fresh dead and frozen shrimp catch plenty of sheepshead as well. Some serious sheepshead anglers prefer fiddler crabs. These are fine baits, however anglers will usually have to catch their own. The same goes for oyster crabs. Sand fleas will also produce sheepshead. A few bait shops keep these in stock.
Best technique for hooking sheepshead
Sheepshead are notorious for being expert bait-stealers. Often times anglers will only feel a slight “tap” or two and then the bait is gone. One mistake many novice sheepshead anglers make is to try to set the hook when they feel a bite. This will usually result in the fish getting away with the bait unscathed.
This is the best technique to use when sheepshead fishing regarding hooking these sneaky fish. Cast the bait out and let it settle. Tighten up the line and then keep it as still as possible. The first indication of a sheepshead being interested is a subtle “tap”. It is very important to not move the rod tip at all! The angler needs to wait until a steady pull is felt. Often times, there will be multiple “taps” before this happens.
Once a steady pull or a little weight is felt on the line, the line should be reeled up quickly than the rod tip slowly raised. Reeling quickly will remove any slack and get the hook started into the sheepshead mouth. That mouth is full of hard teeth and often times the hook will not penetrate. Reeling quickly and slowly lifting the rod tip offers the best chance for success. But one thing is for certain when sheepshead fishing, more fish will be missed that will be hooked!
Jack crevalle are very powerful, using their broad bodies and large forked tails to put up a terrific fight. They are generally found in fairly large schools, and this adds to the aggressiveness. Competition forms within the group to see who can catch and devour the prey. This makes them a fantastic game fish!
Jack crevalle are perfectly suited to anglers who prefer casting lures and flies. While they can certainly be caught on live bait, and many are, they are so aggressive that using lures is a natural choice. Just about any artificial lure will catch jacks. Jigs, spoons, plugs, and flies are all effective. Jacks prefer warmer water but are caught up to the mid Atlantic.
Inshore saltwater fishing for jacks
Here in Florida, jacks do have a seasonal migration pattern. They are generally found in creeks and residential canals in the cooler months. Jacks are a subtropical species and cannot tolerate water temperatures in the mid-50s for very long. The water in these residential canals in creeks can be up to 10° warmer than the exposed open flats. This results in jacks being congregated in a small area, making them much easier to locate.
As it warms up jacks will move out of the creeks and canals and onto the nearby flats. The warming water temperatures will have them in a mood to feed. Often times they will give away their location by feeding aggressively on the surface. Anglers can scan the water surface for feeding fish along with bird activity. At this point it is just a matter of getting a bait in front of them. Any lure that even mildly resembles the forage will draw a strike.
Jacks will seek out cooler water in the summer time. This can be deeper flats and 10 feet of water, deeper canals, the passes, in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Summer is the one time when live bait can be more effective for jacks. The water temperature being warm has them a little less aggressive. Chumming with live bait fish will fire them up and get them in a mood to feed.
Jack crevalle fishing strategies
One technique that we use here in Sarasota quite often is drifting the deep grass flats. We simply drift over the submerge grass with the wind and tide while casting out lures in search of game fish. Jacks will often times be found in such locations, even when surface activity is not present. As with jack fishing everywhere, they usually school up and are quite aggressive.
The jig and grub combo is a great all round saltwater bait. It is a great choice when targeting jack crevelle, and really any other inshore species. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch shad tail trailer is a good all-around combo. Color doesn’t matter that much, though when possible it is best to match the clarity of the water. Light-colored baits work best in clear water while darker colored baits work better and water that is stained.
Anglers casting plugs enjoy some terrific light tackle action on jack crevelle. They will draw some ferocious strikes! Top water plugs are fun and exciting, however shallow diving plugs are generally more productive. Anglers can blind cast likely looking spots such as mangrove shorelines, seawalls, docks, and other structure. Casting plugs into breaking fish is obviously great fun. Two drawbacks to using plugs are the initial cost and having to deal with a pair of treble hooks. Some manufacturers are now offering plugs with a pair of single hooks.
Tackle used when jack crevalle fishing
Spoons are very effective lures for jack crevelle as well. They cast the mile, can be worked back aggressively, and closely mimic most bait fish that are in the water. They are reasonably priced and anglers can easily replace the trouble hook with a single J hook.
Fly anglers will do well with any bait fish imitations. In all white or chartreuse over white clouds or minnow on a number one hook is a great all round choice. One of the few times that jacks can be fussy is when they are feeding on tiny glass minnows. This is a circumstance where the fly fisherman can shine, as it is easier to match the hatch with a small fly than it is with a heavy artificial lure.
The tackle an angler uses when targeting jack crevelle depends on the size of the jacks that may be encountered. After all, the world record is 66 pounds! In Sarasota where I fish, most jacks are in the to to 5 pound range with the occasional fish reaching 10 pounds. For this fishing, the same light to medium spinning tackle that is used for snook and redfish and other species works fine. A 30 pound to 40 pound piece of fluorocarbon leader is used between the running line and the lure.
Jack crevalle fishing can require stout tackle
Anglers who fish on the East Coast of Florida may need to beef the tackle up a bit. The inlets and residential canals there as well as the open bays hold some very large jack crevelle. Light conventional tackle may be a better choice, especially when fishing around docks, bridges, and other structure.
The same decision holds true for fly anglers. While an eight weight outfit is perfect for the Sarasota area, anglers on the East Coast or in the Caribbean might be better off with a 10 weight outfit. With either selection an intermediate sink tip line is the best all round choice. An 8 foot to 10 foot paper leader with a 30 pound bite tippet finishes off the rig.
Jack crevalle are targets of opportunity
As a fishing guide in Sarasota, I’m on the water around 200 days a year. Rarely do I actually target jacks. In most instances they are a happy interruption to our snook fishing attempts. I treat them as a target of opportunity, never turning down a chance when I see a school of jacks foraging on the surface.
The one time I do target jacks is in the creeks and rivers in the wintertime. Starting around late October depending on the year, jacks will begin their migration up into the creeks, rivers, and canals. For whatever reason, they tend to do less feeding on the surface in these areas. Blind casting with plugs such as the #8 Rapala X-Rap will allow anglers to cover a lot of water quickly and find the jacks of their in the area. In most instances, finding jacks is equal to catching them.
Fly fishing for jacks
This is a great opportunity for novice anglers to catch a large fish on fly. Short easy casts are the norm in jacks are generally not fussy about presentation. A 5 pound Jack puts up a terrific fight on a seven weight or eight weight fly rod.
It disappoints me to hear jack crevelle called trash fish or an undesirable species. Pound for pound, very few game fish strike as violently or pull as hard as do jacks. There is no need to disparage them just because they aren’t as desirable table fare
as some other species. Instead, appreciate them for what they are, one of the hardest fighting fish in the sea!
Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are very similar inhabits to largemouth bass. However, they can grow to 50 pounds! Snook can be caught all year long using a variety of techniques and baits. They do have a limited range and are generally found in the southern half of Florida and in south Texas.
Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. They spawn out onto the beaches and in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean from May through September. Many snook will stay in the passes and inlets as well. They find the deep water, good current flow, and abundant structure quite attractive.
Late spring and early summer are great times to catch a trophy snook in the passes and inlets. They are bunched up and in relatively large schools in a pretty small area. While artificial lures will produce, live bait works best in this situation. Live shrimp, pin fish, grunts, croakers, and large scaled sardines are the top baits. Most anglers anchor and cast the baits out near docks and rocky shorelines.
Fishing for snook on the beaches
Snook are sight fished off of the beaches. This is great sport, especially on a fly rod. Snook can be seen cruising right in the surf line just inches from shore. They are bit spooky, in a quiet presentation is required. This is part of what makes fly fishing so effective. Small white buck tail jigs, small plugs, and small white flies are the top baits. Anglers can go fairly light on the tackle as there is usually very little structure for the fish to break off on.
After the spawn as fall arrives and water temperatures begin to cool, snook will move out of the passes and off the beaches. They will spread out into the inshore waters to feed. Fall is an excellent time to target snook. Flats and structure inshore will hold good numbers of snook.
Snook fishing with artificial lures
Anglers who enjoy bass fishing and casting lures will find snook fishing appealing. Top water and shallow diving plugs, soft plastic baits, and weedless spoons are the top lures. Mangrove shorelines, docks, and oyster bars are prime spots. Anglers can cover a lot of water and a lot of likely looking spots using artificial lures. It can also produce some very exciting strikes!
One deadly technique this time of year is to chum using live bait. This is a bit of a specialized technique. It requires a large bait well, good pump, and a large cast net and the ability to throw it. Once the angler has several hundred to inch to 3 inch baits in the well, the boat is anchored up in a likely spot. A few of the live baits are tossed out unhooked to attract snook up behind the boat. Once they are attracted and excited, they are usually fairly easy to catch using hooked live baits. This is a great opportunity for an angler who is less skilled and experienced to catch snook.
Tactics for winter snook fishing
Every winter is different here in Florida. If the winter is mild, snook will remain on the flats all year long. However, a severe cold snapper or two will push them up into residential canals and creeks. Snook are a tropical species and cannot tolerate water temperature below 58° for very long. These canals and creeks are warmer and offer snook a refuge from the exposed open bays.
Miles of residential canals along with creeks and rivers provide sanctuary for snook in the winter. Casting or trolling artificial lures allows anglers to cover a lot of water quickly. Shallow diving plugs work very well. A 5 inch or 6 inch soft plastic swim bait on a light jig is another effective bait. Large live shrimp can be deadly once a productive area is located.
As it starts to warm up and spring, snook will move out of their winter hunts and spread back out onto the flats and inshore waters. This fishing is a lot like the fall fishing. Both artificial lures and live baits will be effective. There is one difference however, normally the large scaled sardines have not arrived yet. Once they do, live bait chumming again becomes a very effective technique.
While snook do not have teeth, they do have very sharp gill plates. For this reason anglers use a shock leader. A shock leader is a 24 inch to 30 inch piece of leader tied onto the end of the running line. Most anglers prefer a line to line knot such as the double Uni knot when attaching the leader. This eliminates the use of a swivel which can detract from the action of the lure.
Snook fishing at night
Snook are also nocturnal. This obviously means that they feed at night. Many snook have been caught from lighted docks and bridges at night. These lights attract shrimp and other bait fish, which in turn attracts the snook. Outgoing tides are preferred. The basic technique is to anchor a cast away from the light on either the dock or the bridge fender, cast the bait up current, and let it work back naturally towards the light with the tide.
The best live baits for snook are shrimp and live bait fish. Live shrimp can be purchased at all local area bait shops. The larger hand picked shrimp are preferred when fishing docks and other structure. When they are not available, normal-size shrimp works fine. Small to medium-size shrimp are actually preferred when fishing at night as they match the size of the shrimp that are naturally in the water.
False albacore fishing is incredible! It is one of my favorite forms of angling where I fish in Sarasota, Florida, right up there with casting plugs for big snook. Part of what makes it so exciting is that there is much more involved than just fishing. It is a bit like hunting and fishing combined. Patience is required as we tried to figure out the movements of the false albacore, waiting for a good opportunity.
False albacore are a pelagic species. That means they spend most of their time in the middle to upper part of the water column. They range from Texas to New England. Bottom structure and other cover is really not a factor, other than bait tends to congregate in those areas. False albacore basically tear around the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and devour helpless bait fish.
But, it’s not as easy as just seeing where they are, driving over, and casting into them. Will actually, sometimes it is! But most of the time it is not. Most of the time the fish are quite fussy. There are days where they pop up here, pop up there, never stay in one place long enough to get a good shot. That is just part of the game. Most days though, staying patient will result in at least a few good opportunities.
There are several factors that add to making the fish finicky. Generally speaking, fishing for false albacore is best when the water is clear. Obviously, that means they can see well. Therefore, longer casts and lighter leaders are required. Also, often times the false albacore are feeding on glass minnows. Glass minnows are very small, sometimes only and inch long. A a 6 inch bait tossed into the middle of that 1 inch bait will not look natural and usually will not draw strike.
False albacore fishing tackle
Tackle for false albacore fishing is pretty basic, though it needs to be an excellent working condition. False albacore make long, fast runs and will test the drag system on the reel. They are basically small tuna fish and are fast and powerful. The guides on the rod need to be free of nicks and abrasions. Finally, all knots need to be well tied.
The best all round outfit for false albacore fishing is a 7 foot spinning rod in a medium heavy action. A stiffer butt section is required to subdue a nice false albacore. But, the tip needs to be limber enough to cast a light lure a fair distance. A 3000 series spinning reel spooled up with 10 pound monofilament line or 20 pound braided line completes the outfit.
I like to double 4 feet or so of my running line when using monofilament. I do so using a spider hitch, but a Bimini Twist is fine as well. Then, I attach a 30 inch section of 20 pound fluorocarbon leader to the double line using a Double Uni Knot. Going as light as 20 pound leader will increase strikes. However, Spanish mackerel can be a nuisance. They will cut right through that 20 pound leader quickly. If Spanish mackerel are present, and you can get away with it, bump the leader up to 30 or even 40 pound test.
A strong onshore breeze will shut down the false albacore fishing. Rough, choppy, dirty water is not to the liking of the fish. Several days of land-based wind will have the water settled down. That is just part of the game when false albacore fishing, and really fishing in general. Seasons vary, but spring and fall are generally the best times to fish.
Artificial lures and flies work best for false albacore fishing
I rarely use live bait when false albacore fishing. Artificial lures are very productive and to me just more enjoyable to fish. My number one bait is a #8 Rapala X-Rap slashbait. White and olive are my two favorite colors. These lures are just the right size and have a great action. They float on the surface and dive down a couple feet when retrieved.
Bass Assassin Sea Shad jigs are my second choice for false albacore fishing. Lighter colors work best. Jigs are particularly effective when the fish are a little deeper in the water column. There will be days when the albacore are up and down. Anglers cast the jig to the last known location of the fish and are allowed to sink before being retrieved back in.
Small spoons work well when saltwater fishing
Small Silver spoons are another productive lure for false albacore. Spoons come in all shapes and sizes and can be easily tailored to match the available forage. Spoons cast a mile and can be worked either near the surface or down deeper. They are great all round lure for both false albacore and Spanish mackerel.
With all artificial lures the technique is basically the same. I like to run on plane as slowly as the boat will stay up and search for signs of fish. Any bait fish dimpling on the surface or birds working will get my attention. I will then stop and patiently scan the area to see if fish are coming up. If nothing materializes, I move on.
Fishing strategies for false albacore
Sometimes, if I see a big flock of birds sitting there, I will give it more time. This can be an indication of a big school of bait beneath them. Birds will often times sit on the surface like that waiting for the false albacore and mackerel to drive the bait fish to the surface.
Once fish are found, the boat is stopped and I try to determine a pattern in their movements. Here in Sarasota, the fish mostly seem to be moving north to south. If the fish are staying on the surface and not moving the boat can be eased into casting position. I then shut the motor off and allow the boat to drift into casting range.
The best retrieve for false albacore fishing is usually a very fast and erratic one. The plug and spoon both have this type of action built-in. A fast retrieve with short jerks of the rod tip should produces strike.
A fast retrieve works best when false albacore fishing
The best retrieve with the jig and grub combo is usually to allow the jig to sink a few seconds then reel it back in as fast as humanly possible. But, fishing is not the same every day. If you get into the fish and these retrieves don’t produce, switch up the retrieves and then even maybe the baits until a productive pattern is found.
Ideally, fish will surface and stay up and in one spot. But, that does not happen all the time. More often than not the fish pop up quickly for a few seconds and are moving fast. If the speed and direction can be determined, the boat can be placed in a position to intercept them. If this sounds hit or miss, well that’s because it is! There are times where you just can’t get on them. But that’s part of the challenge and part of what makes it fun.
Trolling produces false albacore
While I prefer casting lures to breaking false albacore, trolling can be an effective way to locate them. If the fish are up and down and hard to get on, trolling can be an effective way to hook one. Those Rapala X-Raps do a fine job when trolling.
Spoons may be trolled as well, though anglers will need to use a swivel between the leader and the running line. Jigs tend to roll over and are not as effective when trolling.
While I primarily fish for false albacore with artificial lures, live bait will certainly catch them. One extremely effective technique is to chum with live bait or frozen chum. This is a great technique for children and other inexperienced anglers. It gives them a good chance to catch a big fish without having great casting skills.
Once the boat is anchored a couple handfuls of live chum is tossed out or a bag of frozen chum is tied to the stern. If the mackerel and false albacore are around, it won’t be long before they find the chum. Then, it is just a matter of hooking a bait on and tossing it out behind the boat. A hookup should quickly ensue. No weight is used on the line, just a #1/0 hook.
Fly fishing for false albacore
Fly fishing for false albacore is fantastic sport! Other than tarpon, it is the hardest fighting fish that Sarasota offers to visiting fly anglers. The technique is basically the same, as I try to put the boat 30 or 40 feet away from a school of breaking fish. The fly is cast out and the angler strips back as quickly as possible. The strikes are ferocious!
A 9wt fly outfit is best, though if the albacore are run an unusually large, a 10wt will be a better choice. Floating lines are fine as the fish are almost always taken on the surface. A 10 foot tapered leader with a 20 pound bite tippet and a #4 bait fish pattern fly completes the rig. Glass minnows, Crystal Minnows, Clouser Minnows, and D.T. Specials are the top producing flies.
False albacore release techniques
False albacore are generally considered not very good to eat. After catching one of these gallant game fish, angler should hoisted up for a quick photo than get it back in the water as soon as possible.
The procedure for releasing a false albacore is a bit different than other species. They need water moving through their mouth and over their gills. Therefore, when a fish is being released, the angler throws it headfirst into the water as quickly as possible. This will get the water moving over it skills and it should respond and swim away.
Anglers targeting false albacore do have opportunities for other species. There are days when many Spanish mackerel are seen, but not as many false albacore. The same artificial lures mentioned above will catch a lot of Spanish mackerel. The only real difference is the need to bump the leader up to 40 pound test. Northern anglers may encounter bluefish and striped bass.
Cobia are a species that are caught along both the Atlantic coast up to Chesapeake Bay and along the entire Gulf of Mexico coast. They are found inshore in the bays, along the beaches, and offshore. Cobia grow very large, over 150 pounds. They are generally found alone or in very small pods.
Cobia often times relate to structure. Anglers targeting cobia will run the navigation markers in search of fish. They will hover near the surface on the down current side of the marker. Most of the time, they are easy to catch once spotted. Small baitfish, shrimp, eels, and artificial lures will produce cobia.
Artificial reefs hold cobia, as do natural ledges. Often times the fish will come up right behind the boat. Anglers also slowly cruise the beach in search of cobia milling right on the surface. Anglers catch cobia in the inshore waters as well. They are normally an accidental catch. Even a small cobia will put of a great fight on tackle designed for smaller fish!
King mackerel are ordinarily found offshore in deeper water. However, they do come in close to the beach at times.Trolling is a very productive technique. Anglers troll with lures such as plugs and spoons as well as with live bait fish. Reefs, ledges, and bait schools are all prime spots for inshore fishing for king mackerel.
Bottom fish are highly sought after by inshore saltwater anglers. In an effort to not be repetitive, I am going to include them all in one section. For the most part, locations and techniques are quite similar. These species include snapper, grouper, tautog (blackfish), grunts, croaker, spot, perch, black sea bass, whiting, and winter flounder,
Most bottom fish are caught on some type of “natural” bait, whether it is live, freshly dead, or frozen. Top northern baits include bloodworms, squid, crabs, clams, minnows, and cut fish. Southern anglers use shrimp, small bait fish, squid, and cut bait. Spreader rigs and sliding sinker rigs are equally effective.
Most bottom fish relate to structure. This is especially true for grouper, snapper, and blackfish. They are often found very tight to the cover. Other species such as perch and spot will school up in open water. Drifting is often the best way to locate these fish. Snagging is usually not much of an issue in open water with sandy bottom.
Grouper are a highly desired bottom fish in southern waters. They taste great and are almost always caught close to structure using natural bait. There are many species of grouper throughout the Gulf and southern Atlantic Ocean. Gag grouper pic posted.
Snapper are another family of very desirable and tasty fish. They school up in large numbers and relate to structure of some sort. They are plentiful in the shallow inshore southern waters. Most snapper are caught on bait. This is a mangrove snapper.
Black sea bass
Black sea bass are a very popular bottom fish along the entire east coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. They relate to structure and school up in large numbers. They are a staple of head boats from the Carolinas to New England. Sea bass are great eating!
Black drum range from Texas to the mid Atlantic. They are very popular throughout the Gulf states and are targeted in shallow water. They grow large and put up a good fight. Most anglers consider the smaller specimens to be much better to eat.
Key West grunt
Grunts are a staple of charter and head boats along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts up to Virginia. They are easy to catch and taste great. They school up over ledges and structure.
Tautog (blackfish) are a very popular bottom fish that are targeted around structure in the New England area. They prefer small crabs and other crustaceans. Tautog are famous for being very light biters. They are terrific table fare.
Inshore Saltwater fishing Conclusion
First of all, thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you found it informative and worth the time and cost. I tried to include as much of the basic information that I thought would be useful, without it being overwhelming.
Any angler who would like some clarification or has a question on something that I did not cover, especially if it is Florida related, can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will try my best to help you out, if I can.
Also, the same goes for anglers visiting the Sarasota, Florida area who might like to give our inshore fishing a try! Sarasota offers anglers quite a few fishing options all year long. Sarasota is also a destination that has something for the entire family. World class beaches, shopping, and restaurants will keep all of the members of the family busy and happy.
In conclusion, I hope you found this article, the Complete Guide to Inshore Saltwater Fishing useful!