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How do you find moving coastal fish?

By Staff | Apr 15, 2022

Those big offshore snapper and grouper are wondering what happened to the fleet? Spring winds kept many in port this past last week and muddied up the shallows for the skinny water crews while tarpon anglers were looking to intercept pods of fish moving along the coastline or already in Captiva and Boca Grande passes.

How do you find these moving coastal fish? Scout around or stake out and wait using those binoculars to scan for rolling fish. Tarpon also like passes but might not always be in them but staged outside, in the general area or in summer, inside Charlotte Harbor.

If you’ve spotted a moving school of tarpon, quietly motor out away from them, then far enough ahead in their intended path, get in place, then set up to cast when they approach.

This is the magic moment for the tarpon lover. To be standing on the bow of a skiff quietly watching a group of 10 or so chrome giants slowly making their way towards you in the clear water, heart racing, making that perfect cast, then watching a single huge fish break from the pack and seemingly in slow motion, inhale your fly or maybe a small struggling crab or panicked pinfish, before taking to the air.

One thing for certain is that mud or no mud, a redfish can always smell a free meal so don’t let off-colored water slow your redfish game. Pick tide days where reds can get under the mangroves to feed, then skip cast those cut up ladyfish, mullet or pinfish steaks under the structure and let it rest. Quite often you’ll get an instantaneous strike so be prepared by getting that bail closed quickly after the bait touches down and starts to settle.

Redfish wolf it down so circle hooks are a must and even those can be swallowed at times. New redfish anglers often are surprised and react slowly when bottom baits are inhaled and a 10-pound red quickly runs far back and under the brush. This slow angler reaction time usually means swallowed bait (hooks) and an even tougher time getting the fish worked out from under the cover, especially when the novice angler excitedly stands up and does an overhead Bassmaster power hookset, which, of course, instantly breaks the line on the cover.

Be it a big red or snook under the bushes or dock, never do a power hookset with a circle hook. They aren’t designed for that. First stick the rod tip in the water while quickly reeling tight to the fish. Do not raise the rod tip during the strike or fight, until the fish is well clear of the structure.

How long should I camp on a spot? I very quietly pull up to a spot and secure the boat so the wind doesn’t move me or my baited lines. If your boat is equipped with dual Power Poles, this is, of course, easy. If you have only one, then throw a small anchor off the front, or drive a stake into the mud and tie off. I carry a 6-foot length of PVC (one end weighted and pointed) in my flats boats for this purpose. Glue a cap on the PVC to protect your hand when pushing it down into the mud and drill a hole through the pipe to attach your thin bow rope.

Cast your baits and give it 20 minutes, then pack up, quietly relocate, set up, and do it again. Have patience and keep quiet. Advertising your presence doesn’t help your game.

Right now with snook on the move to the coast, don’t be surprised if a whopper sucks up your redfish bottom offering. Over the years many monster snook have fallen to a mullet head or other cut baits on bottom. Just like tarpon, they are opportunity feeders, feeding from the top to the bottom of the water column.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.