How to Fish Seawalls
Florida's coastal shoreline is riddled with many prime fishing habitats in the form of seawalls, whether bolstering a bridge, harboring a marina, or holding back the earth from the cityscape, they attract many species of fish such as snook, redfish, trout, jacks, bluefish, pompano, permit, flounder, seabass, mackerel, sheepshead, and mangrove snapper to name but a few. Virtually every inshore species can be found around seawalls at some point within the season, and within the right conditions. Since a lot of seawall fishing is primarily targeted at catching snook here on the Gulf Coast, the following applies to snook, but will also work for other species.
There are basically two types of seawalls; bare naked seawalls that act as a barrier between earth and sea and usually have no other above water structure associated with them. These are usually found around city parks, city waterfronts, large waterfront condos and apartment complexes, open land, etc. The other type is a seawall containing structure that serves additional purposes such where waterfront docks exist, bridge passages, marinas, etc. Each are productive, and each has their own usage by the fish that visit them.
A great portion of seawalls were cut into existing mangrove fringes and are located near adjacent mangrove forests and flats, and others give passage to nearby marinas, thus creating a haven for inshore species to travel safely to and from feeding grounds nearby. Learning how fish travel and how they use these walls is the most important aspect to catching fish around seawalls.
A seawall presents a structural simplicity that certain fish absolutely are drawn too, and the one species that comes to mind first and foremost is the almighty snook. Snook are often found corralling baitfish up against the seawalls, perhaps learning their methods from the master of corralling; the dolphin. If you've been around the water enough, I'm sure you have seen the schools of jacks that come in and make themselves well know as they run the seawall hammering anything that moves. One reason for being attracted to seawalls, other than the fact that there's usually bait along the walls, is the same reason other species use it, to simply corral their food. Many times they have strategically driven this bait from the deeper channel.
Not all seawalls are great fishing spots at first. When seawalls are naked, they are primarily more of a structure for traveling and corralling. Most likely predator fish will be coming from a nearby flat, channel, dock, or other structure that they hunt frequently and use the seawall, as mentioned above, for safety and possibly a meal along the way. This holds particularly true for inland seawalls where the current is slower and doesn't offer as many benefits.
Plenty of baitfish call the naked seawalls home, but they have their fortresses locked in and ready to retreat when threatened. They generally don't get swept out with the tide, and only leave their protection when they outgrow it. Predator fish hunt these areas along the way and nab a few snacks, but what they are really looking for are the schools of bait moving over the flats, wondering along aimlessly, or getting pushed into the seawalls. With that in mind, I'll share one of my favorite areas to fish and tell you how I fish it.
The first thing to note is this spot is an interior seawall well inside the bay, so some aspects will be different than fishing an open water Gulf or Atlantic seawall, in which we'll get into later. Here in Saint Petersburg, we have the Vinoy basin and Northshore Park flats among our many fine areas to fish bayside. As you can see in the image, the tip of the flats are to the upper right corner, adjacent to a long naked seawall leading into the Vinoy basin where you see several finger docks. The entrance to this basin cuts through the deeper end of the nearby flats, and the entire basin, as well as the entrance which is surrounded by a continuous seawall. Between the flats and the seawalls is a fairly deep 12 to 20 foot dredged channel running about 3/4 of a mile north, just shy of connecting to the next cut. Take note that this location has four distinct features consisting of a grass flat, deep channel, naked seawall, and finger docks with boats. Within this area, there are many changes in depth, various types of bottom makeup, above and below water structures, and a very good current flow, of which make for some great fishing if you know what to do with it all.
As mentioned earlier, there will always be local bait living along these walls, and if you're looking to take advantage of that, fish here with limited tide flow when the bait comes out of their local hiding holes to play. However, if you want to optimize your entire trip, plan on spending a little time around these walls at carefully selected times.
Looking at the image, it's obvious that the best fishing area is out on the flats, which is where most anglers go after launching their boat. We know that the predators, the fish we like to catch, also have predators, and as such, will not spend the night or entire day on the flats. In addition to fearing other predators, they need time to energizer after fighting the current and chasing food. There is a changing of the guard, so there will always be fish on the flats under suitable conditions, but fish do indeed go home at some point. That home could be in the deep channel, along the seawall, under the boats, or with some fish such as reds and trout, they could snuggle up in a pot hole on the flats, but again, they eventually move off them, especially snook.
I'm not going to get into seasonal water temperatures and how that changes this game, as you can find that in the book section on flats fishing, so let's assume ideal conditions exist. Fish move on and off the flats regularly with the changing of the tides, the rise and set of the sun and moon, all of which are conditional to water temperature. There I go, drifting over to the many key elements that can change the game! This is like the golf swing where one missing element turns your whole game upside down! Ok, let's try again. At some point during tide changes, fish are moving to their resting zones, or coming from them. When the water is of an ideal temperature it is hard to determine if they are coming or going, so we need to use tides and other factors as a measure, whereas if it were winter and the water was cold, we'd know they were coming out at noon from their night time harborage where it's comfortable, such as under a bridge, boat, or a deep hole with a muddy bottom, and returning when the sun drops. Catching them in route along the seawall as the heat source goes away is a sure bet hook up. I like to anchor up just on the outside northern point, toss on a live pinfish and float it along the seawall on the point, while deploying another rod rigged with a lure to work more area. By anchoring on the tip and floating your live bait on the tip, you can work the inner and outer sides of the wall with a lure, thus effectively covering a large area.
Now, things change a bit when the water gets hot. They vacate the flats by noon and run the seawalls looking for shade and current, whether it be a rock pile, drain pipe, the hull of a boat, deeper hole, the seawall, or some mangroves. They also return back to the flats as the sun drops, but usually stay to the deeper outside channels. Ok, so it looks like I got into seasonal water temperatures again! Hard habit to break, especially when it is such a key element in every aspect of fishing.
Sorry folks, but if you liked this section to this point and wish to continue reading this very detailed section of the book, you'll have to buy a copy. This section continues on with much more information on the various types of structural seawalls, how the locations (inside or outside) change the tactics, temperatures, seasons, currents, etc.