This is a great time of year to get out and fish, but it’s an even better time of year to get out and look for new areas to fish. It’s not 1,000 degrees, we are starting to get our “winter” low tides, and the winds aren’t screaming yet. Now is your opportunity to get out there and start looking for some of these areas we tell you to fish: Potholes, troughs, dropoffs, those sorts of things. They are much easier to find when the water is clear and shallow — like right now.
You will have to be careful doing this. You’re going to be pressing your luck with the draft of your boat. It’s probably a good idea to slow down to an idle at about 4 feet of water depth and take your time.
Keep your engine all the way down. It sounds counter-intuitive, but raising your engine and proceeding is a good way to get stuck. If your engine is down and you start to scrub bottom, you can always raise the engine and back out. With our water starting to clear up, you should be able to simply look over the side and judge if you can continue. Please try not to chew up a bunch of seagrass with your prop.
A pothole is just a small depression in a grassflat. When you’re on the flats, you will basically see light and dark areas out there. The dark is grass, the light is sand. Potholes are those light splotches that are just a few shades darker than all the other light splotches.
They are darker because they are just a few inches deeper than the sand around them. Those few inches may not seem to make a big deal — but when you’re a fish living in 12 inches of water, those 3 or 4 inches can be a world of difference.
These potholes will mainly hold trout. They can, on occasion, hold snook and redfish too. I don’t like to target redfish in potholes on extremely low tides. Those fish are in survival mode. They don’t have enough water elsewhere on the flats and have come out in search of deeper water. They usually don’t want to eat. They just want to sit in that pothole and not move so they don’t gather attention from ospreys and eagles before high tide rescues them.
These are some of my favorite things to find. I look for troughs in two areas: In front of mangrove shorelines, and the crossing our sandbars. Both can be highly productive during extreme low tides.
The troughs in front of mangrove shorelines are slightly deeper channels 4 to 10 feet off the tree line. These will produce fish because that can be the only water those fish have. If there isn’t enough water under the mangroves, where these fish want to be, they will fall out to the trough. They will move up and down that trough just like they will the mangroves.
The troughs through the sandbars are fish highways. That may be the only path for fish to get from deeper to shallower water. Big fish like cobia will use these to escape the shallow water and get to deeper water; smaller fish like trout will use them to return to the shallow water to escape becoming something’s dinner.
Because our sandbars are so prominent, these troughs are pretty easy to see and target. You’re looking for darker cuts through the light color of the sandbar, similar to the potholes.
I like to target the sandbar troughs a few hours before low tide. I’ll move to the potholes or the mangrove troughs just prior and just after low tide, and then move back out to the sandbar troughs for the incoming tide.
You’ll usually find these on the deeper side of our sandbars. These can be great places throughout the year, not just in winter. During the summer you can find sharks, tarpon and the occasional cobia running up and down these dropoffs.
This time of year they’re a solid bet to find ladyfish to use for tarpon bait. You’ll also find the cobia running the dropoffs looking for crabs, baitfish or puffers to eat. You can also find lots of bonnethead sharks running the dropoffs looking for crabs and shrimp.
The nice thing about the dropoffs is that they can be reached with a deeper draft boat. You may not be able to target the potholes and troughs on the flats. but you should have no problem fishing the dropoffs. In fact, those are probably your best bet for catching our winter fish.
But the only way you’re going to find any of these spots is to make like Lewis and Clark — which is to say, it’s time to go exploring. Get out there on those really low tides and mount yourself an expedition to find new areas to fish.
Capt. Cayle Wills owns and operates Bad Fish Charters on Charlotte Harbor. You can contact him at 941-916-4538 or Capt.Cayle@ReelBadFish.com. You can also visit him online at ReelBadFish.com or Facebook.com/BadFishCharters.