This is the time of year that I notice the west wall coming alive. The water over there is finally starting to clear up. The water temps are still on the cool side — just warm enough to keep whitebait alive yet still cool enough to make the redfish fight harder. It’s salty because there isn’t much freshwater influence from our rivers — and everything will stay this way until the summer rains start.
The west wall isn’t for everyone. Your first factor is going to be draft. The west wall doesn’t have a pronounced sandbar like the east side does; it just kind of gets shallower the closer you get to shore. Yes, there are some troughs there, but you may or may not be able to get to those troughs.
The other downside about the west wall is tides. If you have a crappy tide on the west wall, then you’re stuck with a crappy tide. It’s a long, relatively straight wall of mangroves. It’s not like the east side, which is comprised of small islands and keys. Those islands and keys create pinch points and funnels that exaggerate the tide, and you can make that work for you on days when the tides are weak.
Can’t do that on the west wall.
What the west wall does have are feeder creeks and canals. From Trout Creek at the mouth of the Myakka River all the way down to Muddy Bar on Cape Haze, there are feeder creeks that can be fish magnets. The problem is getting to them. I almost want to say that if you have more than a 12-inch draft, just flip the page to the next column. There will be days that you can get to those creeks and be productive, but not many — and I’ll explain why.
Without a pronounced sandbar and a lack of grass this time of year, the west wall doesn’t offer much for structure. The mangrove shoreline is about it. Imagine you’re a fish that needs structure for food and safety. You can’t head out to deeper water because without a pronounced sandbar like the east side, you are open to predators. You have no choice other than to head in to deeper waters, and that means going to those feeder creeks.
Most of them are deep, relatively speaking. So as that fish seeking safety, you’re going to go there and hide out until the tide comes back in and you can get to your mangrove shoreline. Lo and behold, those feeder creeks are full of delicious things to eat if you’re a snook or redfish. Small blue crabs, mangrove crabs, finger mullet, sand brim and other baitfish abound. And when the tide comes back, those fish will start to filter out and make their way back out to the shoreline mangroves.
As an angler, your job can be a difficult one. You need to get to those feeder creeks at about the slack before the incoming tide. You may not have enough water to do it. There have been many days I’ve had to push my boat across the little sandbars in front of these feeder creeks. But the first two hours of the incoming tide is where the creeks shine.
Expect small fish first. Small snook and rat reds will be the first fish to make their way out. Be patient. The bigger fish have to go last because they need the most water. It’s not uncommon to catch oversized snook and redfish in these little feeder creeks. In the one that I frequent, I have had bull sharks and cobia swim by. One day, the deep hole at the mouth was full of tarpon. They got stuck in there because it was the only water they had. I’ve even had a group of wild hogs swim up the creek when I was in it. You never know what some of them will hold.
You’re going to want to add a couple things to your tackle box if you’re going to try fishing the creeks. Step up your leader a bit, because fighting an oversized snook or red in a creek not much wider than your boat can be a challenge. There is no keeping them out of the mangroves, so you need stronger leader.
The other is bug spray. The no-see-ums and mosquitoes are going to be thick back in the smaller creeks. Again, it’s hard to do, but do not touch the trees! You will be comfortable and happy in these creeks until you touch a mangrove tree with your hand, line or boat. Now you’ve just awoken your own personal hell of buzzing bloodsuckers.