As this is written, red tide is gone and our waters are clean everywhere, not just Charlotte Harbor, so that’s a good thing. Tarpon are on the beach and in the big pass. Redfish and snook are on the flats around Boca. It’s back to normal — for the moment, at least. Now we just need to locate some fish.
This week we’re going to talk about finding fish in new areas — or just finding fish period. When I go to any new area, one of the first things I look at is Google Earth. Google Earth’s satellite photos show most of the sandbars, grassflats, oysters beds and shallow areas where fish will hang out. That’s a huge help help, giving me an idea of where to go and what to look for when I get there.
After I find an area on the map that I think looks fishy, I will take the boat there for some ground exploration. When I am going to those areas, I go slow (unless I’m in my tunnel hull, ‘cause that boat will go anywhere). The number one thing I look for is moving water. What moving water does is pushes the bait around, which gets fish feeding. It also oxygenates the water.
Once I find an area that has moving water, I don’t start fishing just yet. First I look around to see if there is any life, like mullet or baitfish. I also look for structure: Grass, oysters, dropoffs, anything. No sense fishing a desert. If the area has some of those things, I’ll start to fish throwing a lure that will cover a lot of water quickly, like a gold spoon or maybe a topwater.
Ideally, you want to try those areas on both low and high tides. For example, maybe there’s an oyster bed that the fish hang out on only when the water is high. But you would never know that oyster bed is there at all at high water, because you can see it only at low tide. Low water is when you find a lot of stuff simply because it’s easier to see things when there’s no water on top of them.
Another thing that I look for is good ambush spots. Now what I mean by ambush spots is where a predator is going to sit and hide and wait for food to go by, but where that predator is also not going to become prey itself. Things that I look for are creek mouths, dropoffs, potholes, and mangrove trees that have a healthy root system hanging down.
Why am I looking for those things? Well, creek mouths are a great place to catch fish because all the water moving in and out will be pulling bait through there. Remember, in high-current areas, there will always be a deep corner or deep water around the mouth that usually holds a lot of fish.
Healthy trees have a lot of roots hanging down in the water. Think about all the hiding places for fish and also for bait. All those roots are making highways for fish on high water and your predators know that, so most of the time on high water fish move into the best trees to feed. It’s not uncommon to pull up to the mangroves at high water and catch 20 redfish under the same tree. Check the same tree on low water and you’ll just catch a couple or maybe none.
Mullet are my best friends when it comes to finding redfish. Mullet kick up the bottom where the redfish feed and make it easier for reds to find their food. Sometimes you’ll find redfish right in the middle of schooling mullet.
Now when the water drops out, the fish drop out too. When the water is lower, most of the time I’ll fish oysters beds or potholes, unless I have some deep holes back up in the islands. Potholes are just sandy areas in the middle of the grassflats. They will hold a lot of fish and bait. When I’m searching for fish, I’ll just bounce from sandhole to sandhole. The fish are going to be hanging out where the sand meets to grass camouflaging themselves. As the bait moves in to the hole the fish are there, waiting easy meal. I’ll be casting something weedless so I don’t get hung up in the grass.
Sometimes just going to a new area, not knowing what’s there or really anything about it, can be the best way to improve your fishing. Think about it: Normally you go to your same spots over and over again. You know how to fish these areas, but you’re not trying new techniques or looking for new things there. Get out of your rut. You can learn a lot by just slowing down to pay attention to all the little details instead of just fishing. I know it’s not always easy, but it will pay off in the long run.
Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.