< Inshore Fishing - Florida Go Fishing
Florida Go Fishing man holding snook fish

Inshore Fishing

by Capt Jim Klopfer, Sarasota Fishing Charters

What is Inshore Fishing?

girl and older man holding a bluefish on a boat

Inshore fishing refers to fishing waterways that are near land and require a boat to reach them. Shorelines, bays, estuaries, saltwater rivers with water depths that are generally shallow and within a mile or so from shore.

Inshore fishing will be inside "state" waters, so you must follow the State of Florida Fishing Regulations. Please stay safe and review the rules before dropping a line. And remember, Florida regulations change often, so review the regulations annually at the very least. And don't forget to review Florida Boating Regulations.

WHERE TO FISH INSHORE

The most important aspect of inshore saltwater fishing is finding the fish. That may sound obvious, but it can be overlooked. The proper lure, bait, and presentation means nothing if there are no fish there. Saltwater fish move a lot. They may move quite a distance and just one tide phase. Here are some of the locations that anglers can look for to find fish.long distance view of sea grass bed

Grass Flats

More fish are caught in the inshore waters of Florida by anglers fishing submerge grass beds than in any other location. Florida is flat. That means that most inshore saltwater areas are fairly shallow. As long as the bottom composition is good and the sunlight can penetrate, grass will grow.

closeup of sea grassThe best grass flats for numbers of fish along with variety are those waters that are between 4 to 10 feet deep. These “deep grass flats” will attract and hold many different species. The reason is simple; food. Small baitfish such as pin fish and grunts, along with crustaceans including shrimp and crabs, live in the submerge grass. Fish also feel a little more comfortable in this deeper water.

Shallow grass flats will hold fish too. Surprisingly, some of the largest fish are found in the shallowest of water. This may sound like a contradiction, but the larger fish are loners. They are often found cruising the shallow water grass flats. Fishing these flats is more difficult. Fish are easily spooked in water that is only a couple feet deep. It is also a bit more difficult to catch these fish in a water column that is so narrow.

Mangrove Shorelines

woman with bent rod fishing on a boat in the mangroves

Many anglers see a nice mangrove shoreline and think, “snook and reds!” While snook, redfish, and other species are found in the mangroves, they are a very small percentage of them. The key when fishing mangroves is to eliminate unproductive areas. Fish like environment changes. Changes in depth, changes in bottom vegetation, and irregular shorelines are all spots that will hold fish.

Cuts in the mangrove shorelines are prime spots. Current will run back and forth through these cuts. Game fish will stage in these areas, waiting for the current to bring forage to them. The same goes for holes or troughs along mangrove shoreline. These will concentrate fish, especially on the lower tide stages.

Channels

man fishing from a boat in the middle of a bay

Channels, inlets, and passes are underwater highways that fish use to migrate from one spot to the other. Inlets and passes connect the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to the inshore bays. Inshore channels are deeper than the surrounding shallow grass flats. Fish will often stage in the channels, especially on outgoing and low tides.

Boy standing on the bow of a boat inshore fishing with rod bent

Passes and inlets are great places to fish. Just about every species can be caught in these locations at one time or another. The key to fishing these passes and inlets is to choose times when the title flow is slack. It is very difficult fishing in the spots when the current is running really hard and fast. The same goes for high-traffic areas such as weekend afternoons. It can be unsafe to fish passes and inlets at this time.

Docks and Bridges

man on a boat in front of docks holding a redfish with fishing poles around him

Docks and bridges are fish magnets! In many instances, they provide the only structure around. This is especially true in areas of sand or muddy bottom with no grass. Docks and bridges provide shade, cover, a break from the current, and food.

Anglers fish docks and bridges either from a boat or from the structure itself. Signs will indicate if fishing from the bridge is allowed. Current is crucial when fishing bridges and docks. In most instances the best approach is to fish the up tied side of the bridge and allow the lure or bait to float under the bridge or dock naturally with the current.

Artificial and Natural Reefs

natural reef ledge with snapper fishThe bottom contour of the inland waters of Florida is flat.  That means that any irregularities will hold fish. Natural rock ledges in passes, inlets, and bays will almost always hold fish. Bottom fish such as grouper, snapper, sheepshead, and flounder will relate to the small ledges and drop-offs.  Live and frozen bait works best fished on the bottom.  The best approach is to anchor a bit up-tide of the ledge and let the bait work back.

Artificial reefs are fish magnets!  These are created out of old bridges and other construction materials.  Special "reef balls" are also used.  There reefs are larger structures than natural ledges and tend to attract more bait and gamefish.  Along with the normal bottom species, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and other species will hold over the structure, higher in the water column.

EQUIPMENT

Boats

captain jim klopfer on his inshore boat

Boat choices can run the gamut when it comes to inshore saltwater fishing in Florida. They run from small canoes and kayaks up to 30 foot long open fisherman. The most popular, and practical, boats for inshore fishing are “bay boats”. They are a compromise between shallow water flats skiffs and the deep center console boats.

Anglers purchasing a boat should choose one that fits the area that they are going to fish. Considerations would include the depth of the water, boat traffic, size of the body of water, and number and types of anglers. The same boat that would be perfect for to experienced anglers fishing shallow water would not do well for a family of four with small children.

fishing and dive sites memory card with GPS waypoints of reefsGPS Numbers

Purchasing accurate GPS numbers for reefs around Florida can save you a lot of time! Many counties around Florida have put down artificial reefs close enough to shore so they are reachable by small boats (17 feet and up) on calm days. America Go Fishing's online store, our parent company, sells GPS coordinates for Florida reefs by county, so you only need to purchase what you need for the area(s) you will be fishing.

Rods, Reels, and Line

woman fishing on a boat with rod bent

The vast majority of anglers fishing the inshore waters of Florida do so with spinning tackle. Spinning tackle is affordable and very effective. Purchasing a spinning outfit can be overwhelming so I will try to simplify it here for you.

Rods come in many lengths and actions. The best all round rod for inshore saltwater fishing in Florida would be a 7 foot medium action rod. This rod will be light enough to cast small lures and baits yet heavy enough to tame a large fish when hooked.

That rod should be matched with a 3000 series spinning reel. Most reels are fairly uniform and sized. In other words, most 3000 series reels will be of a similar size. The reel can then be spooled with line. Monofilament fishing line is easiest for the novice angler. 12 pound test monofilament fishing line is a good all-around size. Some anglers prefer braided line. It is a bit more difficult to tie knots with and does tangle easily, however it has no stretch. 20 pound braided fishing line is another good choice.

Hooks and Lures

many lures, a live shrimp and fishing float lay in the sand

Everyday anglers fishing the inshore waters of Florida have to make a choice; lures or live bait. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Terminal tackle for anglers using live or cut bait is simple. They only require a 2 foot leader; 30 pound test is a good all-around selection. Then, a hook is tied onto the end. Anglers should match the hook size to the size of the bait being used. A #1 live bait hook will fit most angling situations. The angler can then add weight as needed.

Lures

fishing lures hooked into a cork fishing rod handle

An entire book can be written about saltwater fishing lures, and many have been. The most popular lures for inshore saltwater fishing are jigs, spoons, and plugs. All three are effective when used properly. All three also have their advantages and disadvantages.

The lead head jig and grub combo is the most popular and versatile lure used by inshore Florida anglers. They come in a myriad of colors, shapes, and sizes. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch to 4 inch grub body will catch fish just about anywhere in Florida. Grub tales come in Shad tail and paddle tail versions. Both are effective. A good rule of thumb is to use clear grubs and clear water and darker grubs in stained are darker water.

Plugs come in many shapes and sizes as well. They are built to imitate bait fish. They flash and move in an erratic manner which mimics an injured bait fish. Plugs work very well when cast towards shoreline structure as well is when trolled. Two negatives of plugs are the initial cost and the multiple treble hooks. Treble hooks can be more dangerous and can make releasing fish a bit more challenging.

Spoons are very simple lore that have been catching fish for a long time. They are just a piece of metal bent into a specific shape. They also mimic wounded bait fish. Spoons are relatively inexpensive and cast the mile. Most have a single treble hook in the back. A silver 1/2 ounce spoon is a good all-around lure. A swivel of some sort must be used when fishing with a spoon, or line twist will result.

Live Bait

live shrimp for bait is on a hook hanging from fishing line

The number one live bait for anglers fishing inshore is without a doubt a live shrimp. Live shrimp are available at just about every bait shop in Florida. They are available year-round, modestly priced, and catch every species of fish that swims in saltwater. Shrimp can be fished under a float for trout, free lined near a mangrove shoreline for snook, or fished on the bottom for sheepshead and snapper.

Many anglers prefer to use live bait fish. Some bait shops sell these. Pinfish and grunts are the most popular bait fish that are available at shops. Most anglers using live bait fish will have to catch them themselves. Pinfish and grunts can be caught with a small hook or sibiki line. Scaled sardines, threadfin herring, menhaden, and finger mullet are some of the popular baits that anglers catch with a cast net.

cast net over water at a navigational tower inshoreA quality cast net is a good investment for a serious inshore angler. I prefer smaller mesh sizes, with the 1/4 inch being my favorite. The reason for this is that small mesh nets will catch all baitfish. Larger matches will allow the smaller bait to escape and will “gill” a lot of bait, catching them in the mesh and killing them. A 6 foot or 8 foot cast net is a good place to start.

Live bait fish can be netted or caught on shallow grass flats and points, especially those near the passes and inlets. Often times, the bait will be seen dimpling on the surface. Anglers can also anchor the boat and use canned mackerel or tropical fish food to lore the bait fish up behind the boat. The angler then throws the net over top of the bait, securing it.

While live bait is generally preferred, frozen bait can be productive as well. Frozen shrimp will catch sheepshead, snapper, and other bottom species. Frozen squid, sardines, and mullet are used successfully by anglers fishing bridge pilings and other inshore structures. Surf fisherman will also use frozen chunks of bait as it tends to stay on the hook better.

Chum

diagram of how to fish chum from a boatAnglers fishing both structure and open grass flats can use chum to attract fish to the boat.  Most anglers opt for frozen blocks of chum.  These blocks are placed into mesh chum bags and are tied to the transom.  As the chum melts, it disperses back behind the boat.  This is very easy and can be quite effective.  The only drawback to frozen chum is that it can attract undesirable species such as catfish and skates.

Ambitious anglers use live bait as chum.  This is am extremely effective technique!  However, it is labor intensive as a LOT of bait fish are required.  Anglers use a cast net and fill the bait well with frisky baits.  They then use the live chum by throwing them into the water near the boat to attract the gamefish.  It is a lot of work, but is incredibly effective, particularly in the summer time.

 

star icon For more details on Fish Chum & Chumming, visit our Fish Chumming webpages.
star icon For more details on Live Bait, visit our Live Bait webpage.
star icon Another way to catch bait is using a seine net. Visit our Beach Seining page to learn how to catch bait from shore before you venture out on your boat.

SPECIES

One of the most enjoyable aspects of fishing the inshore saltwater's of Florida is the variety of fish that anglers may encounter. While the following list is not complete, it will give anglers an idea of what species are available. Not all Florida species are available in the entire state and many species are seasonal to the area.

Speckled trout

girl holding a large speckled trout

Speckled trout are very popular inshore species. They are available throughout the entire state. Most trout are caught by anglers drifting grass flats between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep. They also caught in some rivers in the winter, especially in the northern part of the state.

Snook

man and boy holding a huge snook that has it's mouth wide open

Snook are arguably the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are available to anglers on both coasts from around Orlando south. Snook are found in the rivers in the winter, the inshore bays in the spring and fall, and out on the beaches in the summer.

star icon For more information on Snook, visit our Snook webpage.

Redfish

woman holding a bull redfish with mangroves in background

Redfish are another very popular inshore species that is available throughout the entire state year-round. Anglers targeting redfish search them in shallow water on the flats. Redfish tend to school up, especially in late summer early fall. Shallow grass flats and areas with a lot of oyster bars are prime habitat.

Spanish mackerel

boy holding a Spanish mackerel by it's tail on a boat

Spanish mackerel are a migratory species that can be found along the entire coast of Florida at one time or another. They school up in large numbers and are very aggressive. They are caught in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, and just off the beaches.

Pompano

man holding a jack crevelle fish

Pompano are a small fish that resemble the permit. They are prized by Florida anglers for their incredible table fare. Pompano are caught by surf anglers along the lower part of the East Coast, especially in the winter. They travel in schools and will go into the inshore bays. Many anglers target them in the passes and inlets as well.

Bluefish

woman on a boat holding a bluefish with an orange soft lure bait in the fish's mouth

Bluefish are very aggressive fish that can be found throughout the state. They school up in decent numbers and are known for being vicious. They will attack just about any lore with reckless abandon. They have very sharp teeth, be careful when handling them. They are caught in the bays, passes, inlets, and out on the beaches.

Flounder

man holding a flounder from a fishing line

Flounder are a bottom dwelling species that are also prized for their incredible eating qualities. The northern part of the state offers better flounder fishing as they prefer slightly cooler water. Flounder are usually found near some type of structure or a drop off. Anglers can catch them fishing live and cut baits on the bottom as well as slowly bouncing a jig.

Mangrove snapper

woman in a baseball cap holding a mangrove snapper

Mangrove snapper are a staple of Florida inshore anglers. They can be found throughout the entire state, but the fishing improves the further south you go. The Florida Keys offers fantastic snapper fishing. While these fish will occasionally take a lure, anglers will have more success targeting them with live and cut baits.

Ladyfish

woman with red hair holding a huge ladyfish and fishing pole on a boat inshore

Ladyfish are found throughout the entire state. They put up a great fight on light tackle, often leaping several feet out of the water several times. However, they are not considered good to eat. They are oily and make good cut bait for sharks and other species.

Jack Crevelle

man on a boat in the mangroves holding a huge jack crevelle fish

Jacks are the bar room brawlers of the inshore flats. They have broadsides in a large powerful fork tail. They can grow to over 20 pounds in the inshore waters, especially on the East Coast. They are caught on both lures and live bait.

Sheepshead

Man holding a sheepshead with a smiling girl and mansion in the background

Sheepshead are a member of the porgy family and are found near structure throughout Florida.  They eat crustaceans, with shrimp, fiddler crabs, and sand fleas being the top baits.  These tasty saltwater panfish please anglers all year, but are much more numerous in the cooler months.

star icon For more information on fish species in Florida, visit our Saltwater Fish Species webpage.
star icon To learn which species are in-season around Florida, visit our Seasonal Calendar page.


About Captain Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim was born in Washington, D.C, and cut his teeth fishing the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.  He moved to Sarasota, Florida in 1986 and began guiding in 1991.  Capt Jim is very well rounded, having worked as a mate offshore and can accommodate just about any angler.  He has written many magazine articles and two books.  Capt Jim especially enjoys introducing young anglers to the sport of fishing!

(941) 371-1390
captklopfer@comcast.net
www.FishingLidoKey.com
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