These days, in-shore fishing is all the rage. Sunday morning TV is loaded with shows featuring anglers plying their skills against redfish, snook, seatrout, jacks and a bevy of other shallow water fish. It’s a happy coincidence that many of the same skills developed for catching the king of American game fish, the largemouth bass, are equally effective in the briny stuff. Even better that the actual boats and tackle carry over too, so you’re already equipped to catch the wave and didn’t even know it. And with our lakes becoming more, ummm, popular than ever, it’s a good thing that we have miles of coastline for the savvy angler looking for a new challenge. There are however a few things that ought to be noted before you plop the tourney boat in the nearest salt marsh and begin chuckin’ plugs.
First and foremost is the inevitable disruption in your priorities. Right now, your life is simple. There’s bass fishing and…well, bass fishing. But the first time you pitch a jig under a boat dock in the Intracoastal Waterway and a big snook grabs it you’ll see what I mean. Suddenly yanking a 3 pound bass out of a grass mat seems ridiculous. This effect is amplified by the fact that they both happen on the same tackle. It’s bass fishing with bigger, stronger bass and you’ll remember that first fight.
Actually you’ll remember the whole trip…every time you look at your trailer. You see, not all of the note worthy aspects of in-shore fishing are good. For instance you’ll be able to stand in the garage and listen to your trailer rust for the rest of the time you own it, which may not be long. Those I-beam aluminum jobs make good replacements. And it’s not just the trailer that’s in peril. There is a particular squeal familiar to all bass fishing converts that occurs when one of the bearings in your coveted baitcaster succumbs to salt water-induced corrosion. You cast, it howls, and the lure stops miles short of its target. A gallon of quality oil won’t stop the inevitable.
One of the good things about in-shore fishing is the sheer amount of water available. Of course one of the bad things is the sheer amount of water available. To a seasoned bass fisherman, figuring out a new lake is part of the fun. Fire up the Big Motor and let her rip. Fish five minutes and run again. Look at the map. Run some more. Simple. In the salt water backcountry, you fire up and run, too…that is until you find the first spoil near the channel you were just running in. What’s a spoil? It’s a shallow spot formed by the dredges they used to create said channel in an otherwise open grass flat. They pile up the mud, the tide flattens it out and you run the boat into it. Fortunately they’re soft so it won’t likely hurt the boat. This also makes them hard to wade on while you are trying to push your boat off them. Then you are likely to hurt the boat. Spoils are not usually on your map but are often marked by long white stripes on the bottom where other folks have plowed a swath with their Big Motor. Since the tide is involved you may safely run an area in the morning and skid to a halt in the afternoon.
Incidentally, they call them spoils for their affect on your day. At least that’s what I think.
The really good way to ruin your day is not on a spoil though. No sir. Your day will be much worse when you run into an oyster bar, and I’m not referring to the restaurant variety. “Catastrophic damage” is the operative term here. Oyster bars are hard, sharp, shallow, and great places to fish. I find the fishing better if the boat is not perched on the bar leaking gear oil. On the bright side, you can now record the exact location on your GPS, and you’ll have the opportunity to add low water pick-ups to your new lower unit. Knowing how to shuck oysters can be very helpful at these times.
Skinny water not withstanding, in-shore angling is really not that tough. It’s the fish that are tough. Everything you catch will have sharp teeth, fins, or gill covers. This leads to the only real difference in rigging. For in-shore, you’ll have a short leader of 30 pound fluorocarbon tied to your main line. It sounds beefy but you’ll still get cut off on a somewhat regular basis. And remember the oyster bar…well if a fish can’t cut you off, he’ll rub you off on the oysters, barnacles, crab traps, channel markers or any number of other obstacles. Permit and redfish are famous for this. Snook just run you into the mangroves.
So you didn’t hit the spoil leaving the launch area and avoided the oyster bars on the run in. The fishing has been very good. The falling tide has caused the snook to pull out of the mangroves and you’ve actually landed a few without injury. Now the tide bottomed out and a beer is really starting to sound good. Back to the Big Motor. It’s then that you realize the tide has now left you stranded. That 21 footer that worked so good on Table Rock Lake now looks like a barge floating in a sea of weeds. You see, the flats are normally deeper right at the edge of the mangrove trees where you have been fishing. As soon as you get away from the trees, the water is a two feet shallower – or six inches too shallow to run your boat, depending on how you look at it. Either way, don’t panic; they’ll still have beer at the marina when the tide comes back four hours from now.
If you’re lucky, the very tide that is now holding you hostage will drain the flats enough to concentrate fish in the holes like the one you are stuck in. Bust out the curly grubs cause it’ll be seatrout all around! You should be able to catch one nearly every cast, giving you the chance to tell your friends back at home that you stayed out because the fishing was just that good. In reality, they’re seatrout and you’ll be tired of them in an hour. I guess there could be worse ways to pass the time. Heck, if you run out of grubs just throw the jig head. Your strike-to-cast ratio may fall some but you’ll still catch fish. I recommend red jig heads for this advanced technique, but please don’t ask me how I know.
100 grubs later, the tide has gifted you just enough water to submerge the tops of the turtle grass, which have become your makeshift gauge of the situation. Hours ago you got out and waded around looking for a spot deep enough to launch the boat like some 25-to-Lifer looking for an escape tunnel under the guard shack. Now its time. You get as far back as possible in the hole you’re in. Raise the jackplate, trim it down and stomp the Hotfoot throttle. The Big Motor wails, flingin’ seaweed like an overgrown Salad Shooter. Trim it up and keep it pinned as your flasher reads zip, zero, and zilch, for the few hundred yards it takes to finally reach the marked channel. Ahhh…freedom is yours as you cruise the bay headed home.
Back at the marina, a local salty dog looks over your boat and tackle with a bemused look, then wonders out loud if you know there are no bass in these waters. Of course you know. After all, you used to be a bass fisherman.