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Mayhem In The Marsh

Florida is comprised of some of the largest and most dense mangrove wetlands in the entire world, creating essential nursery habitat for a variety of critical species. As you exit tropically impaired South Florida the landscape changes dramatically with urban jungles and mangrove shorelines giving way to wide open spaces. First Coast anglers in the northern latitudes of the state are more familiar with low country saltwater marsh habitat, which extends beyond state boundaries and covers a majority of the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard.

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With miles of unspoiled habitat to forage, redfish often feed uninterrupted. Photo: Tosh Brown

Salt marsh coastal wetlands are abundant in northern Florida and from Fernandina Beach to St. Augustine there’s approximately 100 miles of unspoiled marsh creating an incredibly dynamic ecosystem. It’s here where a labyrinth of meandering creeks flood and dry on every tide and create an ever changing habitat that can be challenging to navigate and fish effectively. These interwoven creeks are lined with spartina grass and salinity levels vary greatly depending on rainfall and tidal fluctuations. Marsh fishing can be incredible, but this area experiences dramatic tidal swings that can change things in minutes and anglers have to deal with major day-to-day inconsistencies. Marsh fishing can be tough and frustrating due to the large area and numerous complexities of the terrain and tide, with salinity and water levels additional factors that determine where anglers will likely encounter foraging drum.

Success in this venue isn’t dependent on the specific spot, rather the combination of several components that produce quality action no matter the actual creek mouth or location.

When looking for a promising marsh to fish you’ll likely be overwhelmed with the labyrinth of creeks, cuts and runouts. Start your search on the web by studying Google Maps in satellite view. With the ability to zoom in to shallow marshes in great detail you will be able to uncover new areas that would have otherwise taken years to discover and fish effectively. Depending on the tidal stage when the satellite took the photo you might even be able to pinpoint individual oyster bars. Understand that narrow winding creeks with deeper water are typically more productive than wide creeks that enable fish to spread out. In addition, narrow creeks enable anglers to present baits and lures along both shorelines to more effectively cover the territory.

Once you’ve located an area you think will hold fish it’s time to head out. Remember that marsh fish are always on the move and you’ll need to put in your time searching, because not every creek holds fish and in this venue conditions change by the hour. At low tide many creeks run dry and during these periods fish generally hold near deeper pockets and grassy shorelines along creek mouths and intersections. Because the tides are so large and drain so fast, it is wise to scout unfamiliar areas during the lowest tides. With incoming water you’ll have no risk of getting stuck high and dry. You’ll also be able to distinguish deeper runouts, oyster bars, points, underwater creek bends and navigational hazards.

During incoming tides water floods back into the creeks and batifish and redfish scatter over recently dry areas of the marsh. It can be difficult to find fish during high tide, with many anglers preferring mid-to-high falling phases. This is the time to position along a point, mouth or intersection of channels. Some of the best action occurs along intersecting points that vary greatly in makeup, whether it’s depth or width. When waters converge the marsh is stirred up and currents bring food to redfish ready to ambush. Falling tides pull a variety of forage out of the marsh and redfish stack along ambush points around creek intersections until they have to retreat to deeper water closer to the mouth of the creek. Position your skiff or kayak down-current of a marsh point adjacent to a mud flat and you’ll be in line to intercept baitfish and redfish as they are pulled from the draining creek. Shallow water anchoring devices make this sort of stage-fishing easier than ever.

While points and pockets are great areas to target no matter the venue, muddy creek points often feature a deeper trough that’s been created by the eroding mud and deflection of water as it drains from the marsh. During the beginning of an incoming tide redfish will move to these deeper holes until they can gradually move up the creek.

It’s important to note that not all creeks will be accessible by anglers in skiffs, with paddle anglers having some key advantages. However if you choose to paddle fish you’ll really have to base your outings on the tides because there’s no way you can fight the massive movement of water.

As summer approaches and waters start to warm, larger than normal spring tides completely flood the marsh. Combined with fiddler crabs coming out of winter hibernation, flooding spring tides enable redfish to work their way to areas that are only accessible a few times each month. During this period of high water, sight fishing the flooded spartina grass can be an experience like no other.

Fishing the backwater marsh along Florida’s First Coast is a challenging endeavor and if you’re new to the area you will greatly benefit by hiring a local guide who knows the ropes. If you’re scouting on your own and find some fish, carefully observe the surroundings and make mental notes of the prevalent conditions. Success in this venue isn’t dependent on the specific spot, rather the combination of several components that produce quality action no matter the actual creek mouth or location.

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