From the beach inland, wherever salt water may flow, including inlets and river mouths and intracoastal waterways and bays, all the saltwater canals and backcountry marshes, right up to dry land or where the water runs fresh—that’s the inshore zone. Even in Florida, let alone throughout the rest of the country, inshore waters vary wildly in terrain and character. There’s quite a transformation from Northeast Florida’s labyrinthine marshlands to the subtropical flats and keys off Miami on the east coast, and on the Gulf side, an equally dramatic transformation takes place from the Everglades’ expanses of seagrass flats up through the Big Bend’s rocky shallows to the Panhandle’s big, salty bays.
In all locations, however, inshore terrain is characterized by its mix of shallow terrain—whether seagrass, sandy flats, marsh or limestone rock—with larger bodies like bays and deeper channels and the residential and industrial development, or the absence of it. The quality of the fishing is governed by the health of the waters, including the profundity of forage species for predators, the tides and the salinity level, which is often in flux in inshore zones.
One prominent feature of much of Florida’s inshore zone, and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as well, is the Intracoastal Waterway, which runs for 3,000 miles up the East Coast and across the Gulf Coast and in southwest Florida. Bays—some of which, like Tampa Bay, are large enough to be considered fisheries in their own right—are another significant feature of inshore waters, as are inlets and river mouths. The docks, both residential and industrial, the bridges, seawalls, canals and all other manner of development are an equally important facet of the structure of inshore fisheries.
The most popular and commonly sought-after species from inshore waters in Florida are redfish, flounder and seatrout. Other popular inshore catches include pompano, Spanish mackerel and grouper. Though these—and other—species are more commonly associated with nearshore or offshore waters, they are commonly caught inshore. In the bigger bays and sometimes even in intracoastal waterways near inlets, coastal migratory fish like cobia, permit, kingfish and tripletail are caught.
Inshore waters are also richly valuable as nursery grounds for many inshore and offshore species. The health of these waters and their species is interlinked to the nature of the entire coastal system.