Getting to bottom line

Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
The most successful anglers know that the bottom line on locating redfish lies below the water's surface.
"Understanding bottom composition is the key to finding fish," longtime Charlotte Harbor guide Capt. Larry Lazoen said. "There are a lot of different bottoms.
"Sometimes the fish are on hard bottoms and sometimes they're on soft bottoms. Sometimes they are relating to real hard spots like shells in a soft bottom or oyster bars. Other times, they will be relating to different types of rocks together on the bottom. Or it might be sand. That should be your starting point.
"Even if I'm fishing around wood or grass as my pattern, I want to know exactly what the bottom is like around it. That's how important I think bottom composition is."
Top redfish stalkers share a common trait - constantly trying to learn more about this aspect of fishing that the average fisherman rarely considers. The bottom is the center of all feeding, spawning and other life activities of redfish. And the most successful anglers want to learn as much about the floor of the area they are fishing as possible.
It's the same whether it involves the ankle-deep marauding grounds or deep offshore schooling spots.
Gainesville inshore specialist Joey Landreneau learned the importance of various hard-bottom areas years ago when he was first learning the intricacies of the Big Bend region. He then developed a novel and effective method of pinpointing the kind of spots that routinely harbor redfish.
Landreneau, an environmental engineer by training, obtained a series of aerial photos from the Florida Department of Transportation and used the black-and-white shots to point the way to isolated hard bottoms of various types.
"Bottom composition is a tremendous way to find redfish and I found these aerial photographs to be really helpful," he said. "They were taken at low tide so it's just a snapshot of all the structure and the shoreline.
"On those black-and-white photos, things like oyster bars show up like salt on a black page. It's fantastic. Now with electronic charts, you can map it over your aerial photograph and get GPS numbers for wherever you want to go. You'll find out which bars will hold most fish. A beautiful bar sometimes doesn't hold fish for whatever reason.
"I had never fished north of Keaton. And when I moved there I used aerial photographs to go north. One of the first spots I picked was an oyster bar that looked really good on a point. The first time I went there I caught five redfish. I had never been to that bar before. The only way I found the bar was because of the aerial photograph."
Using aerial photos also showed Landreneau that a patch of hard bottom doesn't have to be very large to attract reds. Some of his best shallow spots are slightly bigger than the size of a dinner table.
Landreneau and others have also learned that some of the most heavily utilized spots are transition areas - where different types of bottoms come together. It can be where oyster shells give way to a hard sand bar; hard-bottom holes on a grass flat; or where boulders meet the slope of an underwater bar.
The type of bottoms that redfish are drawn to varies depending on the part of red drum country being fished. And it doesn't always involve hard bottom. Landreneau is big on transition zones, especially spots where grass and sand meet.
"One of the best spots I know is a bar at low tide and it has a sloping hard bottom that's way out in front of it that's submerged," he said. "It's like a submerged sand bar in a lake that bass would relate to. It gradually turns into sand and then grass and sand mixed. So that even in low tide, they back off those big bars and they'll move onto this hard bottom with enough cover to feel concealed. But they're still on this hard bottom."
The bottom terrain in the Big Bend area is dominated by hard, flat lime rock. Sloping sand bars and oyster shell patches are far more attractive to redfish throughout the year.
"Some oyster bars are way better than others," Landreneau said. "I think the ones that are muddier, they're not as many crustaceans in there. It seems like the crustier, sandier, shelly bars hold more crustaceans than the ones with the mud. It holds the bait that they prefer better than the ones that have a lot more mud around it."
Farther south in Port Charlotte, Lazoen targets oyster-laden spots throughout the year and small potholes in the interior of the backcountry in the coldest months.
In the Jacksonville area, anglers focus on any shell patches adjacent to the mangrove shorelines, as well as oyster mounds located out away from abundant vegetation field in the backcountry areas.
Redfish can be found on a variety of bottom types - everything from soft mud to hard bottoms, from shell beds and oyster bars. That knowledge helps point the way to the kind of places they most often call home.
Tim Tucker is an award-winning outdoors writer who lives in Cross Creek.

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