Be Ready for Inshore Transitions When Fishing Salty Waters This Month
February is the start to inshore transitions. We are winding down a wintertime pattern and starting to move into a spring pattern. We will find cooler days when the fish are in deeper water and warmer days when they will be sneaking up on the flats.
Speckled trout do not have a calendar that tells them where they are supposed to be at certain times of the year. It’s up to you to understand the conditions of inshore transitions and signs as to where you will find them. In February, I mostly look for trout in tidal rivers adjacent to Mobile Bay and concentrate on the deeper waters of each river. This is where the bait congregates in the Mobile Bay system and the gamefish are always right behind them.
During inshore transitions, on days when mornings are cool, but temperatures will warm up in the afternoon, I like to start in deeper water and move up onto the flats as the day progresses. When the water temperature starts to get into the 60s, I think about fishing shallow water. Most folks believe that if it is cold, fish must be deep, but that is not always the case, especially during inshore transitions. I can think back to many days in February when we had a good warmup and the fish became very active in shallow water.
Using Electronics to Find Fish
When targeting fish in deep water during the past several years, I have started relying upon my Raymarine electronics more and more to help me locate fish. Sometimes this means that I find big schools of bait in the area. At other times, I see the actual trout marking up on my sonar.
When I’m fishing for speckled trout during inshore transitions, I always like to locate the bait first. Sonar technology has come a long way since I started fishing professionally. It all starts when you are headed to your first spot. I always keep a keen eye out for surface activity and also watch my bottom machine because you never know what you will see. I always seem to learn something new about an area every day by paying attention to the little things like where a drop off is or finding a new piece of structure in an area.
I have been using Raymarine products for several years now and I have become very attached to my electronic “eyes under the water.” I have built up a lot of confidence in my equipment over the years and it definitely has proven to be a key to success. “CHIRP,” an acronym for Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse, is a word that intimidated me at first, but now I embrace it. CHIRP technology is an advance in sonar that shoots a spectrum of frequencies through the water column to create a lifelike image of what’s under the keel.
When we are moving through the water and mark a hard return on the bottom machine, we can now look at the mark in a different manner. We can look closely to see the separation between fish and the bottom. I can also see whether I am looking at a big school of menhaden, mullet, speckled trout or redfish.
“After I finished catching a bunch of fish in an area, I would scan where I knew fish were. This helped me recognize what to look for on my scouting trips.”
With traditional sonar, if you run over a huge school of menhaden, it would just show up as a dark red blob. With CHIRP sonar, you can see individual separation between the baitfish. This is very important when fishing in water deeper than 12 feet. I feel like I can see exactly what is on the bottom with my Raymarine DownVision and SideVision sonar. I can tell when I run over structure verses a school of fish. Most of the time, I can tell you what is down there – a tree, brush pile, barge, piles, boats, rocks, etc. It still blows my mind how far technology has come in the great sport of fishing.
On days that I go out to scout schools of fish for my clients, I always like to make a guess on where I think they will be and go from there. As always, I like to read the water for signs of baitfish. I watch for menhaden flipping or schools of mullet jumping, but I am glued to my sonar.
I like to slow down to idle speed and start “scanning” the area with my electronics. I will run traditional digital sonar, CHIRP, DownVision and SideVision all at one time. With this view, I can see the area underneath the boat with DownVision as well as using SideVision to scan more than 600 feet to the port and starboard of the boat. As I mentioned earlier, you can get a photo-like image of what is on the bottom including the fish and bait.
Once I find something that looks “fishy” to me, I will start fishing. Something that helped me learn how to read my electronics was after I finished catching a bunch of fish in an area I would scan where I knew fish were. This helped me recognize what to look for on my scouting trips when scanning with electronics.
What I Fish
I usually fish a bait that closely associates with the bottom. I like soft plastics in a variety of colors matching the conditions. I usually fish a 3/8-ounce Hogie jighead (www.hogielures.com) on a 3- to 5-foot section of 15- to 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. I like using braided line in 20- to 30-pound-test. I join my leader to the braid with an improved Albright knot. Another note about my rigging is that any lure that I tie on my line is attached using a non-slip loop knot. This gives any lure a tremendous amount of action and performs more naturally in the water.
The Matrix Shad (matrixshad.com) has been a “go to” soft plastic for me the past couple of years. In particular, I like the Vortex Shad in the shrimp cocktail and kamikaze patterns and the Matrix Shad in the lemon heads, midnight mullet and the new “holy joely” color.
I like hopping these baits off the bottom while keeping my rod tip high and line tight while the bait falls back to the bottom. The fish are almost always going to strike as the lure falls so it is very important to stay in contact with the bottom. I lose confidence in getting a bite when I cannot feel the bottom. I really have to slow my retrieve down quite a bit while fishing this technique.
Another lure that I use to target trout in deep water is a Rat-L-Trap. This is a lure that I grew up using for bass with little success until I revisited it in salt water many years later. I like to almost work it like a jig near the bottom by jigging it towards the surface and let it flutter down. I will vary my retrieve until I figure out how they want it presented.
Reading the Water
Anytime I am around a body of water, especially during inshore transitions, it is a natural instinct to start reading the water. This is what I do when I am fishing in shallow water trying to figure out where the fish may be holding. What I mean by this is to scan the water and look for signs of what is below the surface. I look for bait flipping, shrimp skipping across the water, pushes from mullet or gamefish. I also look for places where the current may stack up on a point or bar. Paying attention to all the little things around you can make the difference of catching a fish of a lifetime or not catching fish at all.
Once I find an area that I want to fish during inshore transitions, I will tie a hard or soft bait on that will somewhat suspend in the water column. I think it’s very important to get the lure as far from the boat as possible with every cast. I feel like there is a 25- to 30-foot halo around the boat where fish will not bite. I also am very particular about keeping the boat as quiet as possible. Make sure to get upwind or upstream from the current to drift into an area you deem to be fishy and use your trolling motor as a means to steer the boat, not propel it. I usually only use my Minn Kota trolling motor to make small adjustments to my drift.
Another important tool that I use when approaching shallow water is a Power Pole. The company revolutionized boat control by developing a system that can anchor the boat silently at the touch of a button. Before Power Poles came out, I used to have my anchor out and ready to quietly slip into the water to setup on a school of fish.
For fishing in shallow water, one of my “go to” lures the past year has been The Slick Lure (pureflats.com), a soft-plastic jerkbait rigged with a single weighted or unweighted swimbait hook. My favorite colors are the pink and chartreuse, chartreuse crush, copper crush, pearl and chartreuse and halo. I really like the colors they offer, but most of all I like its natural action with its twitch and glide presentation. My most favorite part of using The Slick Lure is getting a bite where it feels like a jolt of electricity shoots through the rod every time! It’s almost addictive to the point where I forget that fish might hit other lures.
My other “go to” lures in shallow water are the MirrOlure MirrOdine and the Glad Shad. I tend to stick more to the more natural colors like black with a green back and silver sides. The Glad Shad sinks and the MirrOdine suspends so you will want to fish them accordingly.
With all these shallow water lures, work them slow with short twitches. Think about how an injured baitfish would act and mimic that with little twitches and pauses. Again, vary your retrieve until you find a pattern and start to put the pieces together. One more product that I use on a daily basis is Pro-Cure Bait Scents (www.pro-cure.com). The company offers many different flavors and the main ones that I use are mullet, menhaden and shrimp. Every lure that touches the water off my boat has some type of scent on it.
Courtesy and Conservation
I want to leave you with a few other things to ponder during these inshore transitions. Conservation is something near and dear to my heart. I have a policy on my boat where we release all specks longer than 20 inches and all redfish. I try to consider the future with these personal policies so that generations to come may enjoy what we have enjoyed for many years. I hope to think that I am trying to leave our fishery in better shape than I found it.
Another topic I want to touch on is etiquette on the water. We all need to be more mindful on the water when it comes to respecting each other. I like to use the 2-cast rule, which means if you are closer than two cast lengths you are too close to someone. If you are under power, you need to be at idle speed. Everyone goes through much preparation to get out on the water and be successful so if we all respect each other’s space we will all go home happier.
Contact Richard Rutland, a guide for Cold Blooded Fishing in Mobile, by calling 251-459-5077. On line, see coldbloodedfishing.com.