Savvy paddlers in Southwest Florida are used to being outside of the channel markers. It would be suicidal on most days for a kayaker to spend much time in the ICW channel. It’s kinda like walking along I-75, but with wakes. However, the deep flats on the outside of the shoals that shelter our tiny boats from big wakes can be a great area to find many of the fish we chase.
Dark-colored kayaks and paddlers in dark clothing are hard for boaters to see, especially close to the ICW channel. This one reason why kayaks in day-glow colors are so popular. Why do you think our kayaks are bright yellow? If your kayak is hard to see, we recommend flying a flag like folks use on bicycles, and wearing bright clothing.
Like most kayak anglers, we are addicted to skinny water. We both love those skinny water strikes from redfish and the “sleigh ride” that follows. However, it’s the wrong time for that right now.
Sure, sunny days warm up the flats, but smart fish avoid the shallows on those bluebird days. There are ospreys overhead, and the clear water makes hunting easy. Instead, they visit the shallows at sunset. We tend to avoid fishing along mangrove shorelines about then, since that’s when the no-see-ums take over.
So during the day, we have been hitting the deeper 6- to 8-foot flats out by the ICW channel with more success. This idea started on our son’s birthday. We opted for a rental boat rather than a kayak trip. We took a bucket of shrimp as “insurance” and headed towards many of the spots we frequent in our kayaks.
The rental boat’s trim and tilt was inoperable, so we were forced to fish in deeper water on the edges of our familiar kayak flats. Outboards with the prop down need lots of water, so we spent the day trying to keep the wind from blowing us up on a flat.
Outside of the channel, we found healthy deep grasses that held trout and ladyfish. We also hooked occasional redfish that magically morphed into sailcats when they got close to the boat. These healthy grasses were where it’s too deep for props to plow, yet shallow enough to let light reach the bottom. The grasses near Stump Pass where we fished were also nourished by tidal flushing and wake turbulence.
Shoreline triangulation was not as exact as remembering the location of crab trap floats above these grassbeds. In addition to marking productive spots for repeated drifts, crab traps are fish attractors too. Crab traps are baited, which also attracts baitfish and, of course, gamefish. Once crabs are in the trap, they don’t play well together, so their various parts create a small but continuous chum line. Just the scent of so many crabs in one spot will attract most gamefish.
We usually make a cast or two as we drift by crab traps. Bear in mind that the trap will be several yards upstream from the marker. Figure out which way the trap is from the marker and don’t cast between them. You must avoid hooking the rope that connects them. If you hook the rope, it’s hard to get the barbs out.
Whatever you do, don’t move the trap, that’s a serious no-no. If your hook is too deep to reach, cut your line, call it “tuition,” and don’t do it again. Crabbers hate finding hooks in the ropes they are handling. You would too!
The crab traps in Gulf waters are mostly for stone crabs. The traps scattered about in the bays are there to catch blue crabs. While it looks like they are “scattered,” that’s really not the case. The crabbers know where healthy grass patches are and put their traps there. Crab markers in an area are a good indicator of productive grassflats and a healthy population of crabs, baitfish and gamefish.
So, while ICW markers help keep boaters from parking on a shoal bar, crab traps are important markers for kayak anglers around deep grassflats. But they’re not the only markers that matter. Even a driven PVC pipe or old dock piling can hold fish.
These structures usually mark the edge of a deeper area. Anywhere water changes depth abruptly becomes a “structure” when tidal currents flow, creating turbulence and feeding opportunities. These spots are particularly good around low tide when bait leaves the flat. Hungry predators wait around those edges, looking for an easy meal and waiting for the next rising tide. If you want to intercept them, be there.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.