Light-Tackle Inshore Fishing In August

Here's how to get the most from your light-tackle inshore fishing this summer. (August 2007)

Inlets are tailor-made for light spinning gear and for producing habitat that is attractive to red drum and flounder.
Photo by Charlie Coates.

Light-tackle fishing is a relative and personal term, meaning different things to different people. For record seekers who travel the world searching for big fish to catch on little line, it can involve carrying myriad specialized tackle, from custom-made rods and two-speed reels to a dozen or more spools of line to cover various situations. For the casual inshore angler on a budget, light-tackle fishing might mean using what he already has, or buying what's on sale at the local sporting goods store.

Raleigh Werking, who holds dozens of International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world line-class records, is clearly a member of the first group. Armed with an arsenal of pricey equipment, he goes wherever his IGFA record book indicates an opportunity exists to break another record, catching triple-digit fish on 2- and 4-pound-test line.

Few of us have the means or the will to practice such extreme light-tackle fishing. Most of us are satisfied with the simple pleasures of the sport. However, there are lessons to be learned from these globetrotting record chasers.

Personally, I have no burning desire to catch a 103-pound sailfish or a 66-pound black drum on 2-pound-test line, as Werking has done. But the fact that it can be accomplished speaks volumes about the capacity of today's fishing lines when used by anglers who understand their capabilities and limits.

"When I watch my line on the line-testing machine, it never ceases to amaze me how much it stretches before it breaks," said Werking, who has all his line pre-tested by IGFA before setting out in quest of a new record. "It's amazing how much slow, steady pressure you can put on a fish."

High-quality line is an integral component of any type of fishing, but it becomes even more critical when using lower pound-test lines. Few anglers need to change their line after every fish as Werking does, but fresh line will ensure that you don't lose a nice fish because of wear or nicks. Line that has been on a reel for some time will also have considerably more "memory," which can lead to line twist and lost trophies.

Other fundamentals that are obsessions with record-book regulars are also of consequence to everyday light-tackle anglers. Proper drag settings, regular reel maintenance and accurate bait presentation are all vital for those seeking fishing success at any level. Rods and reels should be capable of performing their assigned tasks, and knowing how to find the fish you seek is a prerequisite of a successful outing, whether it's a far-away exotic destination or your local inshore fishing hole.

Fortunately, light-tackle fishing can be enjoyable and productive without great expense. In the end, mental preparation will account for more fish than the most expensive gear.

"Too many people spend a lot of money on fancy boats and gear, but leave their common sense in the truck," said Captain Richie Gaines, an inshore guide who specializes in light-tackle fishing. "When you fish, you need to do it with a plan."

A former freshwater bass and striper guide, Gaines kept his fishing gear simple and practical when he made the switch to salt water.

"I couldn't afford to buy all new equipment, so I just used the same spinning gear that I had used for freshwater bass and stripers," he said. "You don't need anything fancy. You do want a fast-action rod that bends near the tip. It helps to detect bites, and makes hook-setting easier."

Gaines' "simpler is better" mantra extends to reels as well, feeling most modern spinning reels will do just fine if they're not abused. The mistake he sees most often is anglers using the handle to crank in fish, a practice that is hard on the reel and creates loops in the line.

"Your reel is a line-storage device, not a fish-fighting tool," Gaines said. "Let the rod do the work. And you don't need a lot of line, so you don't need a big reel. A 40-pound striper won't run more than 40 yards."

Yes, he does catch fish that size and bigger on his light- and medium-action tackle. His biggest so far was a 59-pound striped bass hooked in 4 feet of water.

Gaines spools his reels with 12-pound-test monofilament, adding 40 inches of 20-pound-test for a shock leader. Because he's using lightweight lures, he has no trouble feeling a bite, and sees no need for braided line.

Gaines doesn't spend much time with lure selection either. He usually relies on a soft-plastic shad imitation impaled on a 1/4- to 3/4-ounce jighead, a versatile and effective bait for anything from striped bass to weakfish.

"I use it 85 to 90 percent of the time," Gaines said. "It works at any depth, and you can cast it or jig it. Albino is my favorite color, but if the water is dirty, I'll use chartreuse."

If Gaines spots a school of fish on his depthfinder, he might switch over to a metal jig that's just heavy enough to allow vertical jigging on a taut line. And when he's having trouble finding fish, he'll employ a rattling lipless crankbait to cover more territory. However, he doesn't waste time with aimless casts.

"Too many anglers pull up on a piece of structure and cast over and over to the same spot, using the same retrieve," Gaines said. "Never do that unless you're getting bit. Move your casts around with varied retrieves to get different actions and reach different depths until you find out where the fish are and what they want. Don't just cast randomly. You need to follow a plan."

Gaines begins formulating his plan before he ever hits the water. The first step is deciding where to fish, a more critical task in summer when clean water and oxygen are often at a premium.

"The three things you need to attract and hold game fish in hot weather are food, structure and water quality," Gaines said. "During July and August, water quality is the really big deal because there is less inhabitable water. You don't need a whole lot of structure if you have water with enough oxygen. That's where the bait and the predators are going to be."

Whenever water quality is a problem in summer, Gaines immediately rules out flats and other stagnant or shallow water that will be warmer and hold less oxygen.

"Current is the key in summer because it creat

es oxygen," said Gaines, who usually finds the strongest currents around the mouths of tributaries, which also provide structure. "Take a chart and check just inside and outside the mouth of any tributary, looking for channel edges and other structure, such as wrecks, oyster bars, rockpiles and humps."

Gaines recommends fishing around channel markers just inside the mouth of a river or creek.

"They are usually placed right along the edge of a channel, or they mark the edge of an underwater point. That's exactly where you want your lure," he said. "They should be called 'fish here' signs."

Gaines also relies on his depthfinder to show him where in the water column there is some form of life. When he finds it, he knows he's found good water, and makes sure that his lures are working in that depth range.

While Gaines primarily fishes bays and rivers, his fundamentals for finding and catching fish during the summer are applicable to other inshore environments as well.

The mouths of ocean inlets are especially productive places to fish in summer, offering strong currents, cooler water and plenty of fish-holding structure. Sharp channel jetties and dropoffs near the entrance to the inlet will hold baitfish, which in turn will command the attention of a number of game fish species. When water is discolored inside the inlet, these outer areas are especially productive for sight-feeding species, such as flounder that will move to clearer water in order to find their prey.

Channels inside an inlet will provide the current and structure sought by game fish, and action can be particularly good around the rips formed where one channel meets another. These protected channels afford light-tackle anglers the opportunity to fish for flounder and other bottom fish without being weighted down by heavy sinkers.

Farther back in the inlets, red drum and speckled trout will feed in the marshes along the edges of grass lines. Fishing around the tides, light-tackle anglers casting small jigs and grubs can enjoy some of the finest laid-back fishing of the summer.

Light-tackle fishing can be as complex or as simple as you want to make it. But even if you don't hook up with a world-record fish, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend your time this summer.

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