Finding & Fishing Structure in Saltwater

Offshore Fishing Techniques

Few things are more import to an angler than structure. When an inshore fisherman thinks of what structure means to their fishing, they gravitate towards rock piles, sunken trees, and contour break lines. However, finding and fishing offshore saltwater structure is entirely different but every bit as vital to having a successful day fishing.

Reefs

Locating Reefs 

Off the coast of the Florida Keys, one of the most vital types of structure an angler can fish is reefs. Numerous different types of gamefish use reefs as feeding grounds. From sharks to sailfish, reefs provide an opportunity to pinpoint structure to fish offshore. 

Not only are there natural reefs an angler can fish, but too, the Florida Fish and Game has created artificial reefs to promote and support fish life. 

(Learn about fishing reefs in this segment of The SeaHunter)

To locate reefs an angler must rely on their electronics either from locating reefs themselves or by following GPS waypoints found online. Don’t be afraid to check with bait shops or locals either for help finding reefs.

As with all types of structure, some reefs are better than others and gamefish are constantly on the move following their food. Don’t be afraid to explore different reefs and even come back to reefs that did not produce much fish in the past.

Fishing Reefs 

To fish a reef, an angler can deploy a variety of tactics. Vertical jigging and casting out a live bait are go-to’s for any offshore angler, however, drifting a reef edge with the wind can be just as rewarding. 

Large sailfish are often caught on the edge of a reef at certain times of the year during their migration. To target these fish, a kite helps get lines away from the boat while running flatlines with live bait that is drifted behind the boat. The key is keeping your drift just right along the reef edge to entice a large sailfish into biting.

Another way to fish a reef edge is to find where the Gulfstream blows into a reef. Often you will find a current eddy that traps bait within it. These bait balls attract anything from bonitas, to tunas, to sharks and give an angler an excellent opportunity to catch fish. 

Casting lures on conventional tackle or streamers on a fly rod work well in this situation. Just be aware of boat position and keep far enough away so as not to spook the feeding tuna off but close enough to cast to.

Shipwrecks

Locating Wrecks 

Shipwrecks for offshore fishing, like reefs, can provide an incredible opportunity for anglers to catch fish. Baitfish use these shipwrecks as a haven and fish like cobia, amberjacks, African Pompano, and barracudas, aren’t far behind. 

Just as the case with reefs, to locate shipwrecks GPS coordinates of known wrecks are found online. For the more secretive wrecks, locating them is a matter of reading electronics and knowing what to look for. 

(Learn about fishing shipwrecks in this segment of The SeaHunter)

A wreck will read on down scan sonar as an uneven bottom with fish stacked above it. Often you are not looking for the full shape of a ship, but instead, parts that have broken and been worn over time. 

Fishing Wrecks 

To fish successfully around shipwrecks an angler must keep in mind how fish position themselves around a wreck. 

Many times, an angler won’t anchor in the right spot in relation to a shipwreck. The best thing to do is take a look at your electronics and take a minute to understand your drift. The key is to find out where the fish are hanging in relation to the shipwreck.

Larger predatory fish may hang off to the side of a wreck or roam a distance out. One of the many draws to shipwrecks is the large grouper and snapper that often congregate to on or just around shipwrecks. A prized catch, they are not only a great gamefish but too provide a phenomenal meal.  

A technique to use when wreck fishing, is to anchor above the shipwreck and start chumming heavily to draw fish off the wreck or in from surrounding areas where they may be roaming. 

The exciting part of fishing a shipwreck is you never know what is going to bite. In one day you could catch over ten different things and you have no idea what is going to hit next. 

The freedom in this is you can fish in a variety of ways.  You can freeline pilchards, you can drop bait down to the bottom, and you can Carolina rig on to the bottom. There is no wrong way to fish a wreck. 

A different presentation, however, will yield different bites. Often times too when reeling in a fish off a shipwreck other varieties that are living on the wreck will chase what you are reeling in. 

Casting out a live baitfish on a hook next to a shipwreck after throwing out chunk bait is a great technique to bring any fish up from the wreck. Vertical jigging large marabou and haired jigs around and over a wreck also tricks a variety of fish into eating.

Shallow Structure

Coral edges and banks in 20 to 35 feet of water, provide excellent shallow structure when deciding to switch it up from deeper water structures. 

Often times, it is shallow enough to sight fish to hungry predatory fish below in the clear water. So having a good precise cast is necessary.

(Learn about fishing shallow structure in this segment of The SeaHunter)

All types of groupers or barracudas use these areas to stalk baitfish that are blown up by the current. It can be especially productive, but if there is little to no current, an angler must make their own drift. Staying stationary and not making a drift usually ends with not catching anything so it is important to make your own drift to have a successful day on the water. 

Finding and fishing offshore structure is the key to catching fish. Whether it is reefs, sunken shipwrecks, or shallow water edges and banks off the coast, learning to fish these areas gives an angler the edge to offshore fishing.