For Inshore Saltwater Action, Soak Bait And Catch Fish

The author grew up catching fish with low-tech methods of reading the water and what the bait is doing. It produces a wide variety of species.

Jaryd Hurst | May 2, 2020

I spent much of my youth putting around in a 1436 riveted jonboat with an 80s model 6 hp Johnson tiller handle on the transom.

In the spring and summer, most of my free time was spent on the water searching for whatever I could find to bend a rod and squeak the drag. During that time, I honed a skill that in today’s world with modern technology many anglers might overlook—and that’s simply reading the water and fishing natural bait that matches what the fish are feeding on.

On outgoing tides, the deeper creek channels can be great locations to find schooling trout, and the bridge pilings offer great structure—not to mention some comfortable shade for the anglers.

I didn’t have a depthfinder, much less a GPS mounted in the boat. I had a cell phone to keep the time, and on occasion help guide my way out of a twisting, winding feeder creek. But I was solely reliant upon my eyes, instincts and being able to key in on what bait was readily available that time of the year.

This style of back-to-basics fishing should be appealing to a wide audience. If you have kids, it’s super easy to get them rigged up and find immediate success. Or if you want to relax in the shade and sip a cold beverage, that’s doable, as well.

But what I enjoy most about reading the water and fishing natural bait is that I can target a wide range of species that are worthy of the table.

The author with a redfish caught from the inshore waters of the southern Georgia coastline.

Redfish, trout, flounder, sheepshead, black drum and others can all be targeted with one simple rig, a small cast net, and just a few bucks spent at a tackle store.

The Setup

You can use anything from a Zebco 33 to a Shimano Stella for a reel. However, a 3500 series spinning reel gives me enough power, drag and line capacity to deal with any large drum or jack that I may encounter throughout the day.

For line, I love braid in most fishing applications. The 20-lb. Diamond braid is my personal favorite, but whatever brand you chose should be just be fine. While pretty much any reel and line choice will work, I do strongly recommend splurging on fluorocarbon for leader material. I keep two spools of fluorocarbon in my tackle bag. One spool is 15-lb. and one spool is 25-lb. test. If I find myself sight fishing tailing redfish, I will downsize to the 15-lb.  flouro for my leader. If I stumble upon a school of jacks or bluefish, I will always upsize to the 25-lb. leader. Any fluorocarbon will suffice, however it’s tough to beat Seaguar.

Use an Albright knot to connect the leader to the braid. This is a very strong, yet streamline knot that can easily go through the guides. An FG knot is also an excellent choice, but it is more difficult to tie. I prefer a 3- to 4-foot leader length. If the water is very clean, I will increase the leader length to 5 or 6 feet.

Rod selection is of slight more importance than the reel. The ideal rod for me is a 6-foot, 6-inch spinning rod with a medium-fast action and single footed reel guides. This allows enough sensitivity to see and feel a bite, enough whip action to make long casts, and yet this rod is sturdy enough to handle larger fish.

The Terminal Tackle

You need the following items:

• Assortment of 1/4- to 1-oz. egg weights

• Barrel swivel of choice (I like Spro Swivels)

• Lazer Sharp 2/0 circle hook

The rig I use is commonly called a Carolina rig or a fish finder rig, and it’s very simple to make. Select an egg sinker appropriate for the depth and current you are fishing. Thread the sinker on the line, and tie a swivel on using your preferred knot of choice.

Next, cut off a piece of fluorocarbon about 3 feet in length, and tie it to the other side of the swivel. Complete the rig by connecting a hook to the end of the fluorocarbon leader. Your final product should have the egg sinker being stopped by the swivel from sliding down the line to the hook. This protects the knot to line connection, and the leader allows your bait to do its magic unhindered by the weight.

The Bait

Shrimp, mullet, mud minnows, crab and juvenile pogies—all make excellent bait choices. Some species of fish we’re after do prefer certain baits over others, so I always try to have several options on board.

My day typically starts with a stop at the bait shop. I am not leaving the ramp without 3- or 4-dozen live shrimp. If live shrimp are not an option, then I will settle for the absolute freshest dead shrimp I can find.

I avoid frozen “bait shrimp” at all costs. I have gone to great lengths in the past to procure fresh shrimp. You should, too. While at the bait shop, I am also going to pick up six live blue crab. Here’s a pro tip: when dealing with crabs, bust both claws off and throw them away. They serve no purpose other than grabbing ahold of your fingers when you’re not paying attention.

I keep an 8-foot cast net on the boat to catch the remaining bait I need for an inshore outing. Could you go fishing with what you’ve got from the bait shop? Most definitely! But I also know that it’s very easy to throw the cast net a couple times and really set my day up for success by having plenty of bait and several options.

Capt. Rush Maltz, a Key West guide and host of Local Knowledge, said it best. “Never put a time limit on catching bait.”

Take the necessary time to find and catch several dozen finger mullet and mud minnows in the cast net if they are available.

The Location

Old docks—the best have heavy barnacle build up on the pylons, rock piles and jetties, bridges, channels, deep creek corners and oyster beds are all great places to anchor up and soak bait for a while.

It’s important to know the tides beforehand to be able to plan your day accordingly. On a high tide I am looking to fish around oyster beds, rock piles or jetties and bridges. These are typically found in areas where clean water can flow through at high tide to bring bait and game fish into the area. I will anchor upcurrent of the structure if possible.

I like to fish a three-rod spread of baits on the bottom—a short bait, a medium and long bait. Live mullet, live shrimp and a 1/4-crab are good choices to start with at locations like these.

As the tide goes out, I begin looking for exposed shorelines that have bait pushed up against it. I’m trying to find deep holes on the outside turns of creek channels, dredged channels that have high relief, and any place fish can get trapped or corralled by the lack of water. Sometimes these will be areas of very shallow water. In such cases, I want to lighten up my tackle as much as possible. The fish that are in shallow water can easily be spooked, and once spooked they are very difficult to catch.

When in a situation with shallow water, replace the egg weight with a smaller split-shot, and scale down your bait choice. A small live shrimp or lively mud minnow are excellent options for shallow water fish.

On shallow flats my tactics change slightly. I may only fish one or two lines instead of three. Stealth becomes far more important to success.

On outgoing tides, the deeper creek channels and outside edges can be great locations to find schooling trout. Trout have very soft mouths. If you find yourself in the midst of a hot trout bite, it’s important to finesse them in. Hooks can easily rip the skin inside their mouths. Lighten the drag and take your time!

Drum, on the other hand, have very hardy mouths. Because of this, I rely on my tackle a lot when fighting larger drum. Typically they are in areas with lots of hazards that will cut you off in an instant. Tighten up the drag some, and put a little more heat on them to prevent them from breaking you off on any rocks, oysters or pylons in the area you’re fishing.

Flounder bites can be tricky to pick up on at times. Flatfish have a tendency to swim with the bait in their mouth and never bend the rod. When you pick a rod up out of the rod holder, pay very close attention to the “feel” of it. If you jerk the rod out of the holder, you are likely to rip the bait right from the mouth of a flounder without ever hooking the fish.

This spring and summer, set a goal for yourself to catch as many different species in a single day. Using these tactics, you can easily catch six or seven different species of fish, maybe more, that frequent Georgia coastal waters.

Enjoy your time on the water, and always have the right bait.

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