To catch a saltwater fish, you need to think like a saltwater fish. Five factors affect where and when fish will feed: structure, current, water temperature, weather and bait. Fish live in a three-dimensional world where they can move horizontally or vertically and potentially travel thousands of miles in search of a meal. Some fish are ambush hunters, while others stalk their prey or simply graze on vegetation or invertebrates. But all fish use these factors to find food and keep from being eaten. Understanding how these elements work together will help you find the fish.
In a saltwater habitat, any hard structure is an oasis for fish. Look for bridges, jetties, breakwaters and buoys above the surface and channels, drops, shoals, sloughs, wrecks, reefs and hills below the water to hold saltwater fish. Many times, even a subtle variation in bottom contour or an unassuming piece of structure will hold a surprising number of saltwater fish.
Some saltwater species will be in the structure, while other fish will hover on the outskirts. Even if the fish are permanent residents of the structure, it will take the right combination of these factors to get them feeding in their saltwater habitat.
When fishing saltwater structure, remember that it can be your friend or foe. Not only are rocks, pilings and wrecks good places to find fish, they are also good places to lose fish. It will take heavier tackle, stronger fishing line, tighter drag and super fish-fighting skills to keep a big fish from breaking off in the structure.
Depending on what saltwater species you are targeting, you can anchor, troll or drift over the structure. When trolling, try to make a figure eight pattern over the structure. Fish can often be found hundreds of yards from the structure, so be sure to cover the surrounding water, too. To drift over the structure, pull the boat directly over the structure, then take the motor out of gear and drift away in the wind and current. Use a GPS and compass to track the direction the boat is moving, then return on the same course to drift across the structure. To anchor over the structure, situate the boat up current and drop a fluke (Danforth) anchor into the sand or a wreck anchor directly into the structure. Be careful not to damage the structure when anchoring.
If you're fishing a smaller piece of structure with other saltwater anglers, be sure to share. Anchor, drift or troll so that everyone can have access to the fish.
In saltwater fishing, as in real estate, the three most important keys to success are location, location, location.
Saltwater current brings food to fish like a buffet on a conveyor belt. Predators hold in the current waiting for a passing meal, and bigger fish will use the current to confuse smaller fish. To understand saltwater fish, you have to understand the current.
Saltwater fish use current and structure to hunt. Some fish will position themselves up current of the structure while others will hide behind it. Structure can actually affect current by making the water move faster or slowing it down. Sometimes, current will create structure. When the tide rises, it may fill a dry area with water. When the tide falls, the fish will congregate in deeper water.
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