We talk quite often about the proper equipment to use when fishing, but today I thought we might get into where to fish.
I sometimes overhear people fishing on bridges or docks warning others to not cast in a certain area for fear of snagging bottom.
Of course, if you are in casting distance of a structure that should be your preferred target. Many who are only casual fishermen believe all you need to catch fish is water and bait. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In order to catch fish consistently, you must locate their feeding stations. Most summers, I spend a week in Key Largo as a guest of relatives. In exchange for my room and board, I am expected to provide my boat and guide service. Each year my guests are surprised to find good bottom fishing is difficult to come by even in the Florida Keys. They are of the mistaken opinion that all you need do to catch fish is separate yourself from the land. There is much more to it.
Fish are like people in that they have favorite places to take a meal. Also like us they don't care to work hard for their food. The same rules of structure apply in fresh or salt water. Any place where small fish or crustaceans can take shelter is a structure. Here in the brackish inshore waters of the coast, the most common structure is an oyster reef. Oysters can provide one of the most productive and difficult places to fish. The shells of an oyster bar can hide crabs, shrimp and minnows, but it is also a tackle buster.
Recently I walked out onto a dock where a family was fishing. As usual they were using 25 or 30 pound test line and two ounce lead pyramid sinkers -- tackle much too heavy for the Halifax River.
As we passed the time I noticed a school of about a dozen small redfish were feeding atop a nearby-submerged oyster bar. When I pointed out the fish to the family they became very excited, but I had to tell them that if they threw those large weights into the school, the fish would probably leave and they would likely never get the sinkers back. I suggested that since the oysters were less than a foot below the surface, a better way to fish them would be to place a shrimp about six inches below a bobber and allow the bait to drift with the tide into the school of red drum. The family was not prepared to fish in that manner so I told them to cast a shrimp as close to the oysters as they could without hanging up. Maybe one of the reds would eventually sniff out the bait. Sometimes I can be guilty of over-teaching so I beat a hasty retreat.
Oyster bars usually have a deeper drop off on one side and many times predatory fish will wait there for small baitfish to wash across the top of the reef. Any change in depth can be a good fishing spot. Larger fish will hold in the deeper water of a drop off watching the shallows for unsuspecting bait to venture too close. Understand that a reef or sand bar that comes out of the water at low tide will draw a lot of fishing pressure as will a downed tree. These places are easy for the casual fisherman to find.
Up in Tomoka State Park the relatively new Gary's Inlet is a cut about 70 feet wide that has a swift tidal flow. Practically every boat that comes down the Halifax stops there to fish. The obvious places are not always the best. A submerged bar, tree or debris may be a better choice. Any time you become unexpectedly hung to the bottom while fishing that is a place to mark.
I fish in an area that sees a lot of action, but the places where I do best are those that remain mostly concealed from the average fisherman. Many anglers like to run a trolling motor and cast to the shoreline. That works, but if you can locate oysters in deeper water, you may give yourself a better chance. Remember fish seldom feed in water with a clean bottom unless they are following bait pods. Be a student and take the time to find their dining areas and you will put them in yours.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.