If you fish the backbays of the lower Florida peninsula for redfish, snook, snapper or sheepshead, you’ve likely found that the high percentage zones, fish-wise, are the cavities below the mangrove canopy.
You can lure some fish out of the mangroves with chum, rattles or flash, but in my experience, your strikes drop 50 to 70 percent when your bait is several feet out from the canopy. Don’t think of this as horseshoes or hand grenades; close doesn’t count.The best bet is to put your baits where the fish live.
Bait is a matter of convenience or peronal preference. I keep it simple: live or frozen shrimp, cutbait or pinfish. The key is to put those baits in the strike zone to optimize your time on the water.
One technique is what I’d call a “chip shot cast.” The chip shot cast is simply a very low trajectory sidearm, sweeping motion. In some ways, it’s modified golf swing. You can practice it at home using a lowered garage door or a plank across two trash cans. Lower the plank until you’re con dent you can skip your offering into an 18 to 24-inch space. The margin between the surface water and the mangrove understory varies with the seasonal tides and daily winds, but 18 to 24 inches is pretty darn good for under the bushes. This discipline is useful on other fronts as well, for instance fishing docks and under low bridges.
The chip shot stroke is a good wind beater approach, as well. Learn to feather your chip shot and develop line-stopping skills to avoid over shooting and ending up in the mangrove prop roots. This is much less demanding than it sounds. Your chip shot cast should be a soft, smooth, relatively close presentation; so feathering and cutting of the cast with your index finger can be easily learned. “Sky hook” casts won’t get you anywhere but in trouble in the bushes or at best a few feet of the canopy; leave your driver mentality home.
Set up a rod, preferably a medium light-action spinning outfit on a 7-foot or so fast taper rod, a very typical inshore rig. Load your reel with 15- or 20-pound braid; I don’t like 10-pound for this application because you’re going to be battling “who knows what” under the canopy. Leaders should be 24 to 36 inches of mono or fluorocarbon; remember you’re fishing only in maybe 18 to 36 inches inches of water typically. Fluorocarbon leaders are optional unless the water is super clear but again it’s your preference.
I like the old timey popping cork and jig setup with brightly colored jigheads. My people get a kick from watching the strike indicator and it keeps ’em from reeling in every 30 seconds, thinking they got a bite. Learn to observe your strike indicator, i.e. bobber!
If you’ve got the patience, set up slip bobbers. They’ll making casting easier everything at the fighting end for easily loading your rod, just like plugging. You can skip the whole rig in under the canopy, delivering your baited jig or livies into the strike zone.
1: Thread the leader through the channel in the green keeper stick.
2: Tie in a stopper knot above the keeper stick.
3: If you’re confident in the depth range you’ll be fishing, you can go sans keeper knot; the leader to line connection will suffice as a stopper knot.
4: Tie on your jighead or hook. Use your favorite knot; I like a Rapala Loop Knot.
5: Crimp the end of your green keeper sticks, with pliers, to make the end smaller, keeping the hook from jamming and encumbering the slipping action.
6: You may want to lengthen your lead- er to suit the varying depth under the canopy and adjust the stopper knot accordingly. This is useful when fishing feeder creeks and deeper docks near passes.
7: I use braid or yarn for my stopper knot. Both are small in diameter and tighten nicely on the leader, making a formation slight enough to pass through the guides without choking your chip shot cast. The stop can be moved and secured with a dab of super glue if desired.
Slip sinker setups are even easier and are useful when the tide is running a tad strong. It’s a sure shot rig when easily plunked side arm into that honey hole. Cutbait can be a mess of shrimp placed on a circle hook, your choice of pinfish or a brown back minnow “primo” placed in harm’s way. Another favorite, especially for redfish, is a cut chunk of ladyfish. FS
First published Florida Sportsman January 2016