The shore thing


Published July 1, 2006

Tim Higgins of Holiday walks toward his car with a stringer of mangrove snapper in hand. He caught his fresh fish dinner in about 36 inches of water.

That's "inches," not "feet."

Like many area shore fishermen, Higgins has learned that he doesn't have to distance himself from land to catch keeper fish. In fact, the Nature Coast abounds with fishable habitat where landbound anglers can walk right up and wet a line.

Now, Higgins will quickly tell you that he also fishes from a customized johnboat. But that's not always worth the hassle.

"Fishing from shore is less work, and with the size of my boat, it's a little crowded on the weekends," he said. "I do my (boat) fishing on weekdays."

Shore fishermen such as Higgins fare best in spots with fish-friendly habitat, such as oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, rock piles or potholes. Seawalls adjacent to docks and bridges can be productive, especially when a strong tide funnels through the structures.

Public fishing piers at Anclote Gulf Park (Holiday), Bayport Park, Ozello Park and Fort Island Beach (Crystal River) bring landbound anglers even closer to the fish.

Wading obviously expands your range and mobility, but even if you don't care to get your feet wet, the sea yields plenty of opportunity. Wherever you fish, respect private property.

Learn the routine

Clearly, inshore species' availability varies from the offshore assortment, so don't expect to catch many sailfish or amberjack from local sands. But shore anglers can look for a menu of snook, trout, redfish, flounder, black drum, sheepshead, and cobia.

Mullet commonly wander through shoreline shallows and past seawalls. The googly-eyed vegetarians rarely consider baits or lures, but anglers armed with cast nets or snatch hooks can secure several fine dinners with their daily recreational limit of 50 mullet.

"If you know what you're doing (shore fishing) can be good. But like any type of fishing, it's hit or miss," Higgins said.

As with most hobbies, those who have mastered the shore game can help accelerate a novice's learning. Higgins moved to Holiday from Cleveland two years ago. Since then, local anglers have been the professors of his saltwater fishing education.

"I suggest talking to experienced anglers," he said. "Most of what I've learned, I got from other fishermen. Tackle shops want to sell you bait, so the fish are always biting. But people you find by the water can be very helpful."

Of course, not many fishermen wake up seeking to divulge all that they've invested their time, effort and resources into learning. Treat other shore anglers properly, show a genuine interest in learning and the lessons will come.

"Most fishermen will (share their knowledge) when they get to know you," Higgins said. "But it takes time to earn their trust."

Watch 10 anglers and you might see 10 different gear selections. Aside from personal preferences, most shore anglers do well with medium-action spinning outfits loaded with 10- to 20-pound line and 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. Look for a rod with plenty of fish-fighting backbone, yet a flexible tip for long casts.

Rules of engagement

Shore fishing may involve less equipment than boating, but there's plenty to consider:

* Prevent spontaneous "donations." If you fish multiple rods, avoid loosing your gear to big fish by securing any unattended outfits in sand spikes (metal rod holders that anchor into the ground). PVC pipe with one end cut at an angle will suffice, as will a couple of strategically arranged rocks.* Best times: No amount of landbound effort will help you catch a fish that's not there. The most basic element in that angling axiom is the tide. As daily ebb and flow moves water to and from the shore, baitfish flow with these cycles. Fishing on incoming water means predators are moving toward you, while high tide should find them foraging as close to shore as they care to go.

Outgoing tides can offer strategic opportunities if you can reach the mouth of a coastal creek. Falling water ushers fish out of these arteries, and working baits around the deep holes of creek mouths often tempts game fish looking for a parting snack.

Also, consider that onshore winds muddy the coastal water and stymie the fishing. Moreover, shoreline shallows fluctuate greatly with cooling and warming periods. Fish when the water is most comfortable for fish and you'll catch more.

* Space awareness: Be careful on your backcast, lest you snag trees, guardrails or other anglers. Moreover, consider that a big fish will use any line-busting object it can find to free itself. Think ahead by scouting out the area and plan how you'll deal with obstructions.* Protect thyself: Shoreline shallows can present serious hazards, ranging from jagged shells and rocks to stingrays and irritable blue crabs. Invest in a good pair of wading shoes with non-skid soles if you intend to enter the water. On the shore, steer clear of fire ants, snakes and alligators (in brackish areas).

Florida residents do not need a fishing license for recreational fishing in saltwater from shore or landbound structure such as bridges, docks or piers. For complete fishing regulations, visit www.myfwc.com.