Lemons don't immediately become lemonade -- the process requires slicing, squeezing, sweetening, mixing, and chilling. The same principle holds for the adjustments often required for dialing in the shallow-water bite, a task heavily dependent on weather and celestial bodies.
The sun's light and heat can help or hinder fishing, depending on season and time of day. Looking first, at temperature, Louisiana guide, Capt. Ross Montet knows that summer finds coastal fish most active in the early morning hours, with activity levels dwindling as stifling heat raises water temperatures.
The cooler months sees an inverse effect, with fish becoming more active later in the morning when the sun warms the shallows.
The moon's gravitational pull controls the tides and this daily ebb and flow delivers several important impacts. First, moving water -- in or out -- stimulates feeding by positioning baitfish. Focus on potholes, bars, island points and other ambush spots where predators can pick off passing meals in moving water. When fishing inlets use the tide to your advantage. As a general rule, fish the point on outgoing tides and inside the inlet on incoming water.
Creeping tides bring lower levels of aggression, but a smoking tide can make it tough to get lighter baits down in the water column and limit your overall presentation time by sweeping your bait off target. Experiment across the water column and with various baits and/or rigs. Somewhere in between you'll find the sweet spot. Monitoring your sounder is also a big help in these situations.
As far as access, southwest Florida guide, Capt. Ron Hueston says he looks for snook and redfish to feed in and around the laydowns and exposed roots of mangrove shorelines on higher tide stages, and then retreat to peripheral areas once the tide falls. Isolated mangroves, driftwood, rock or shell points can all be productive spots for fish waiting out the low tide.
Because he'd rather pursue snook around concentrated shoreline targets, Hueston often passes the low-tide hours drifting grass flats for speckled trout. Here, he's fond of popping corks with soft plastics like a Savage Gear 3D Shrimp.
"Popping corks are easy to cast a long distance and they let you cover a lot of water to find where the fish are holding," Hueston said.
THE SLAMMING DOOR
Opportunities open and close with tidal movement, but moon phase has much to do with how quickly the process advances.
Capt. Ray Van Horn pitches bass style jigs into the Everglades mangroves for the redfish, snook, black drum and tarpon that feed within the dense root systems on high water. During a past outing, we left a promising shoreline because a strong tide had pushed the water way into the inner mangrove swamp and the fish moved far beyond our reach.
The plan was to kill some time chasing tarpon on a nearby flat and return to catch our fish as they exit the mangroves. Unfortunately, the day's strong outgoing tide gained steam faster than we'd anticipated and we missed the window.
Van Horn estimated that we arrived about 30 minutes too late and most of the fish had already gorged. The water was still running out, but that magical window of opportunity had closed and the fish were likely scattering across the flats and bars in front of the island.
That part's frustrating, but fast-falling tides can effectively seal off the exit to a backwater creek or deeper trough inside a shallow bay. When exploring areas flooded by a high tide, knowing the day's tide schedule is essential to ensuring your ability to exit. Monitoring the tide and moon phase on FishTrack.com or it's mobile apps will keep you out of trouble.
During the super moon of 2013, I fished an Florida grass flat with Capt. Geoff Page, who searched long and hard to find the speckled trout he had been catching with ease just a few days earlier. After working the troughs and drops where the fish had been consistently holding, Page slid up to the flat's crown and voila -- we hit the jackpot.
A steady hour of activity translated into multiple double headers and a mixed bag of trout, mackerel, bluefish and even a few mutton snapper digging out to slam our DOA Shrimp. The key here was the increased water level, complements of this extreme lunar event. Of course, what goes up must come down and the outgoing stages of strong moons will drain a flat and usher all the fish into surrounding troughs and channels. Follow the water and it'll take you to the fish.
Florida anglers look forward to summer's new and full moons because they gather beach-roaming snook into spawning areas near coastal passes. Snook eggs remain buoyant for two to three days, so snook leverage the strong outdoing tides on the bright and dark phases to wash the next generation into deep water to minimize pre-hatch predation.
Wind: Flat calm, blazing hot conditions often define the dog days of summer; so inshore anglers welcome a refreshing breeze. But that's not only a comfort thing. Capt. Joe DiMarco, of Buras, Louisiana says he wants just enough wind to break up the surface and put the trout and redfish at ease. When the fish can look through a sheet of glass, you're not fooling anyone.
Storms: If you want wind, you'll get plenty when a summer storm bears down on you. Once you feel that sudden downdraft of cooler air, it's time to flee the forthcoming light show. However, as a storm cell approaches, the sudden drop in barometric pressure can stimulate a fierce feed in which fish will gobble anything they can catch. These bites will result in subsurface action and if you're luck a killer topwater bite will erupt right in front of you.
Always keep an eye on approaching thunderheads and remember that lightning can pull a sniper shot from up to 10 miles away. If you've ever heard graphite rods humming in the super-charged pre-storm air, you know that spine-tingling feeling of impending bad stuff. If you haven't already bolted from darkening skies, now would be a good time to head for the barn.
Cloud Cover: With or without storms, cloudy skies decrease visibility and ease the fish's wariness. Baitfish tend to roam a little more in dim conditions, so predators might be more likely to chase a moving lure. When the clouds roll in, trade those brighter, vivid color baits for darker, more subdued colors.
Like any pursuit, you could grab your rods, head to the water and hope for the best. But rather than entrusting your day to random happenstance, why not evaluate the key data points; identify your windows of opportunity, along with the related transitional periods and formulate an educated game plan.
We all get the same amount of time in every day. Spend yours wisely and watch your catch rate increase.