Best Bets for Bar Hopping

Oyster accumulations abound with angling action

Oyster accumulations abound with angling action

If you think the "bar scene" is all about overpriced drinks and lame pickup lines, you're looking at the wrong bar. Seriously, if you need a change of pace with a far more rewarding outcome than the bar-hopping routine, just trade the cramped dance floors and loud music for the open spaces and pleasant tranquility of hopping from one oyster bar to the next.

It takes many years of bivalve accumulation for oyster colonies to amass into the actual bars that generally occur in coastal waters near creek and river mouths, as well as spillways and drainage canals. Often covered with a slippery, muddy film, these jagged structures harbor a briny buffet of baitfish, crustaceans and invertebrates that make dandy meals for redfish, trout, snook, black drum and sheepshead.

Click the image for the bar scene photo gallery

Varying in size, shape and proximity, oyster bars may occur as lone structures running parallel to a shoreline cut, while others cluster like salty sentries protecting shallow backwaters. In any scenario, daily tidal washing builds up one side of the bar, while carving a steep slope on the opposite border. Larger predators use the drop-offs to ambush smaller forage species like pinfish and crustaceans.

Smaller bars typically experience a daily cycle of submergence and emergence, while larger formations often catch enough nutrient-rich mud and sand on their exposed crowns for grass, small shrubs and even mangrove shoots to set their anchors. Bars fringed with marsh grass, provide additional structure to hold baitfish during high tide. (Patches of grass appearing in open water often indicate bars hidden below.)

Various sport fish will feed differently around an oyster bar, so keep your technique dynamic and diverse. First position a live shrimp or indigenous baitfish like a pinfish, sardine, menhaden or bull minnow over the bar (if submerged) with an adjustable popping cork. Sliding the cork up and down allows you to place a live bait just above the shells where feeding predators will surely spot the vulnerable prey.

Next, position another natural bait on the bottom at the bar's perimeter. Use a light Carolina rig or a fish finder rig in the deeper water leading to the oyster bar where it will attract any predator heading for the feast. Set both your float bait and bottom bait rods in the gunwale rod holders and use circle hooks for efficient connections with minimal chance of deep hooking.

With natural baits set, probe the surrounding waters with a weedless gold spoon. Don't hesitate to bump the shells, as this sound often triggers strikes from redfish, drum and others looking for crabs that scamper across the shells. Topwaters also produce, especially with aggressive trout patrolling a bar. If a fish boils behind your plug, but misses, follow up with a subsurface offering such as a soft plastic jerkbait and you'll usually close the sale.

Jigs work wonders on many oyster bars inhabitants, but they often grab more shells than fish. Try using oversized tails (4- to 5-inchers) on 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig heads for slower sink rates, or control your bait's depth by fishing it under a popping cork, or a premade float rig like a DOA Deadly Combo. The latter consists of a stiff wire stem with a sliding cork, along beads and a weight, positioned between swivels at each end and a leader suspending a DOA Shrimp below.

Similar to chugging a popping cork, a good tug on the DOA rig creates a surface commotion that imitates a feeding fish, while the beads click and rattle for additional auditory attraction. The whole idea is to draw the attention of predators to the area in hopes of directing their focus toward your artificial bait hopping beneath the surface.

On any given bar, you might find that the fish seem to favor a particular depth for feeding. Once you determine the popular level, adjust natural baits and cast artificials into this strike zone. The fish will move along the bar's contour with the rising tide so plan on repositioning as needed to stay with the bite.

Falling tides see the process reverse with fish moving from the bar's upper parts to its lower areas so they remain in the comfortable depth. This is a good time to deploy another deep bait or float another livie and work the perimeter depths with spoons, crankbaits or jigs.

For most oyster missions, medium spinning or baitcasting gear with 8- to 12-pound line will handle the duty. Braided lines in the 20- to 30-pound range offer an attractive blend of greater strength, smaller diameters and optimal sensitivity. Add 12-18 inches of 30- to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader and you're good to go.

Note that subtle combinations of wind, tide and bait abundance can make a significant difference in a bar's productivity. If the fish are home, it won't take long to draw a strike, so give each bar no more than 20 minutes to produce and then move to another. Choose your spots wisely, and your bar-hopping adventure will yield some serious bragging rights.

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