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Structure is the keyto uncovering fish

By RICK FRAZIER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000


The key to being a successful landlubber is finding structure, anything from a small pothole to a large grass flat.

The bay and gulf bottoms are primarily flat and covered with deep sand and mud. But fish are drawn to anything that provides cover. It doesn't necessarily have to be natural. Man-made cover such as bridges, docks and sea walls attract fish too.

Oyster beds are one of the easiest forms of structure to locate because they give themselves away at low tide. To tell if the bed is alive with crabs, shrimp and other crustaceans, look for white ibis.

If you see the small white birds with long curved orange bills probing the bottom, it's a good bet the bed is bustling with food. The key to catching redfish, trout and snook that inhabit these beds is to come back at high tide. That's when the water depth will allow our prey to get up on the bed and feed on the same things the ibis were chasing.

Grass flats are another form of structure that are easy to find. They're everywhere in the bay. Again, low tide is the time to find the thick, lush turtle grass beds that will hold the better fish at high tide. What you want to look for is the transition areas from shallow water to deep. The subtle change in water depth holds fish. Edges, drop-offs and ridges are the favorite spots. Try to make a mental note of these areas so you'll know where to go at high tide. Better yet, draw a map so you can get back to the same spot. As with oyster beds, birds help pinpoint better areas. Look for herons, both great blue and white. Pelicans, cormorants and terns also seek the prime areas. Sandbars also stick out at low tide. They're especially good if they happen to be close to deep water. During the incoming tide when the water just begins to cover the bar, all types of fish converge from the deep to feed. Just like finding worthy oyster beds and grass flats, birds are the key here too. Ibis, tri-colored herons and little blue herons are good signs things are cooking. Passes or cuts are known for attracting fish. Everything from pinfish to tarpon can be caught in them whether they're the size of John's Pass or Bear Creek. Cuts are like fish highways and carry fish during moving water as they come and go from their day lairs or feeding areas. Again, watch for bird activity. Try to target the passes on the falling tide because productivity is much better when all the bait is being washed into the gulf.

Rock jetties and riprap are also good cover. Most of the rock jetties around the bay curve around bridge shoulders and along the gulf passes. The rocks or riprap are used to reduce erosion. Wherever you find rock jetties, you can bet there is good current flow and fish. The way to fish these rocks is to let your bait flow naturally along the jetty.

Pilings or stickups from old docks are worth a great deal of attention, especially at low tide. These areas may not hold the numbers of fish that a pass will, but you can bet the quality of the reds, snook or trout there is good. Most times fish will wait with their nose to the current, so present your bait so it slides by. Shorelines, particularly the ones with a sudden drop-off, are good. Beach or mangrove lines are great spots for all kinds of fish. Current is the key here too. Cast your bait up current and walk it along the shoreline as the tide carries it out.

Residential docks draw fish. The key to fishing these docks is working them from a sea wall or shoreline. Walking on the dock sends unnatural vibrations through the water that fish can sense. Look for the docks that house the biggest boats, sailboats in particular, because they are the deepest.

-- If you've had a great day fishing and want to share it with our readers, call the LUBBERLINE at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail captrick@luckydawg.com.

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