Knowing where to start your search for inshore fish is half the battle of catching them.
Achieving inshore saltwater success from a boat or the bank is a relatively rudimentary task once you understand the basics. Knowing where to begin your search for fish is half the battle of being successful.
Fish, like humans and all other animals, have places they prefer to hang out. Several variables can dictate where fish are at any given time. Variables like weather, seasonality, tides (and their subsequent strength and/or weakness), availability of cover and forage, as well as water conditions (turbidity (clarity) and salinity) all contribute to a fish’s geographical location.
However, there are certain “go-to” places—fish magnets if you will—where fish congregate throughout the year. A thorough understanding of where to begin your search and why will help you narrow that search for fish.
When we refer to “inshore fishing,” we are talking about fishing in areas immediately adjacent to land, and those waters out about one nautical mile around that same land. These areas include shorelines, bays, bayous, estuaries, rivers, inlets, beaches, and any other water feature that holds salt, briny, or brackish water.
Once you move beyond a nautical mile from shore, this usually means you’re fishing “offshore.” Most inshore fishing is done in shallow water using relatively medium-light, medium, and medium-heavy gear. As a general rule, when fishing these waters, make certain to check the applicable regulations for the type of fishing you are doing—as it’s always a good idea to remain compliant with them.
As we’ve mentioned, to catch inshore fish consistently, you have to know where to look for them. For game fish to congregate in certain areas, these areas must provide a few things. Most importantly, they must provide feeding opportunities. That is, they must offer food. No matter how great a spot looks, if it is devoid of food, the game fish simply will not frequent these areas nor remain there. Here are some of the best areas to begin your search for saltwater game fish.
Grass flats are a magnet for inshore game fish (most commonly trout and redfish) as they provide ample feeding opportunities. The grass on shallow flats offers bait plenty of hiding opportunities and food for them as well.
On most grass flats you will find grunts, pinfish, shrimp, crabs, and any number of other staples of a gamefish’s diet. Grass flats are almost exclusively found in shallow water, as sunlight penetration dictates their aquatic weed growth. As water depths increase, sunlight penetration decreases. As the sunlight become scarce so does the seagrass. The most productive grass flats are typically found in 2 to 8 feet of water.
Grass flats are shallow by nature, providing ample opportunities to fish soft plastics which imitate natural forage. Look for the thickest grass accumulations, making certain this grass is green and healthy. Game fish avoid dead grass for the most part, no matter how thick it appears. In emergent grass (that which has topped out), throw soft plastic Gulp! baits such as the Gulp! Grub, Gulp! Jerk Shad, Gulp! Paddleshad, Gulp! Shrimp, or a Gulp! Swimming Mullet on a weightless swimbait hook. Twitch the bait over and through the emergent grass. When strikes occur, pause a second or two before setting the hook.
For pre-emergent grass (that just below the surface), throw the same baits on a lightly-weighted (1/8-to 1/4-ounce) swimbait hook twitching it on an aggressive cadence, killing the bait in open pockets. Killing the bait, or letting it fall in the pockets, often triggers aggressive strikes.
Mangroves, shorelines, and islands provide excellent fishing opportunities as they are often home to large game fish, such as snook and redfish. Other predatory game fish such as tarpon and jack crevalle frequent these mangrove features as well as any number of other species.
Mangroves offer an almost impenetrable structural solace to both game fish as well as forage. Tangled heavy roots, limbs, and leaves offer protection for forage from predation. Forage such as crabs, shrimp, and baitfish gather amongst mangroves where they too have plenty to feed upon.
When fishing mangroves, think of the plants as hard ground. That is, look at them as a solid shoreline. Look for breaks, cuts, and irregularities in this imaginary solid structure where points, inlets, cuts, and the like form. Pay close attention to sudden water depth changes too, as these condense both forage as well as game fish.
These irregularities in the structure offer ambush zones for game fish to hide in wait for food. Cast to these taking care to work baits past points, making certain to throw into the backs of cuts where fish lay along its edges. Throw soft plastic Gulp! baits such as Gulp! Shrimp, Gulp! Swimming Mullet, Gulp! Jerk Shad, or a Gulp! Paddleshad on a weightless swimbait hook (when water is shallow).
Skip the weightless bait back into cuts and breaks, allowing it to sink initially, then twitching in out. If fish are deeper in the water column, fish baits on a weighted jig head.
Channels are commonplace inshore, serving as the superhighways in which fish travel from one place to another. While commonplace, channels are one of the most overlooked structures that hold both game fish as well as their forage.
Channels connect grass flats to deep water; they wind between mangrove shorelines and islands and onto other water features. They snake from marinas out into passes and out to oceans. Knowing where these channels are, and where they go is key to catching more fish. Channels also provide deep water shelter for fish as tides drain water from shallows.
Channels are “rivers” of sorts, located inside a larger body of water like an inlet, bayou, bay, or the like. Channels are particularly good when water is moving through them, on the tides, whether rising or falling. When fishing channels, look for bends, deep areas, shallow areas, or any other irregularity that will concentrate fish. Also, fish depth changes along the edges of the channel.
Remember, any irregularity along a channel is worth wetting a bait on. Throw a soft plastic Gulp! Swimming Mullet, Gulp! Paddleshad, or a Gulp! Shrimp on jig heads. Be certain to weight the bait enough to get it to the bottom and concentrate your effort there. Weight the bait so it kicks up sand or bottom silt as this attracts game fish and draws strikes from curious and hungry fish.
Inlets offer everything both game fish and forage need to survive, such as shelter and plenty of food. Inlets also offer direct access to oceans, and crisp, moving tides to keep them healthy and robust.
Most inlets also feature either seawalls, rock abutments, or pilings designed to keep erosion to a minimum. Here, fish congregate close to shore offering easy access to anglers—whether fishing from boats or onshore.
Inlets can be very popular places too due to their ease of access. However, inlets can be a difficult place to fish, either by boat or on foot, as boat traffic is often dense. Additionally, brisk current due to rising or falling tides in narrowed or necked down inlets can add to the level of fishing difficulty as water moves very swiftly.
Inlets are great spots as they have just about every type of game fish frequenting them. As the current is concentrated from rising or falling tides, throw baits which are heavily weighted. Pay particular attention to rocks or rip rap directly adjacent to seawalls and other manmade structures as these typically concentrate baitfish and game fish.
Throw a soft plastic Gulp! Swimming Mullet, Gulp! Paddleshad, or a Gulp! Shrimp on jig heads. Be certain to weight the bait enough to get it to the bottom and concentrate your effort there. When fishing rocky bottoms, weight baits with just enough so the bait “ticks” the rocky bottom, and does not fall in between the rocks resulting in snagging.
Piers are manmade structures who are wildly popular places for both fish and fishermen. Piers offer structure which provides shelter for both gamefish as well as everything they prey upon. Piers offer fishermen with the ability to get out away from shore without a boat, where fish frequent. Piers also offer breaks from current and heavy surf depending on their location.
At any given time, depending on season, any number of fish will be present at piers. These can include sharks, tarpon, drum, kingfish, cobia, jacks, snook, flounder’ bluefish, sheepshead, pompano and any number of other fish.
Seasonality plays a large role in how to fish a pier. The fish you are targeting determines which baits to throw. Often times, the best spots on piers reveal themselves by the number of anglers there.
When targeting predominant bottom feeding fish, throw a soft plastic Gulp! Swimming Mullet, Gulp! Paddleshad, or a Gulp! Shrimp on jig heads. Be certain to weight the bait enough to get it to the bottom and concentrate your effort there. When targeting active feeding fish, those that hunt baitfish, throw these same baits on lighter jig heads, keeping them up off the bottom. Work them on a lively cadence to imitate injured or escaping prey. Vary your retrieve speed and bait presentation depths until strikes reveal where fish are feeding.
Manmade structures always concentrate inshore fish, and bridges are one of the best of these. Bridges offer abutments, retaining walls, and pilings which all attract and hold fish. Any of these can be fish magnets throughout the day or night.
Bridges also offer deep water as dredges have excavated around them to provide safe passage for boat traffic. This deep water is yet another reason why bridges are so attractive to fish. Bridges also provide current breaks, shade, and, of course, food.
Current is king when fishing bridges. Rising or falling tides offer moving water around bridge structures, as does a wind driven current (to a lesser degree of course).
Look for current washing around or over structures like pilings or rip rap. Throw baits into the current adjacent to the piling, rip rap, or abutments and work in and along the current seams. Remember, any irregularity is worth wetting a bait on.
Throw a soft plastic Gulp! Swimming Mullet, Gulp! Paddleshad, or a Gulp! Shrimp on jig heads. Be certain to weight the bait enough to get it to the bottom and concentrate your effort there. Weight the bait so it kicks up sand or bottom silt. This will draw strikes from curious and hungry fish.
On retrieves, occasionally “bounce” the bait off of hard structures such as pilings, rip rap and abutments. After bouncing it off the hard structures, kill the bait, allowing it to fall. Watch for strikes as the bait falls to the bottom.
When armed with a bit of knowledge you can quickly find fish by beginning your searches in high-percentage places. By fishing Berkley Gulp! baits using the techniques included here—you too can maximize your catch quotient.