Fishing Salt Marsh Wetlands
Marsh systems are relatively flat, low-lying portions of the coastline that are tucked behind beaches and form along estuaries, and primarily consist of mud bottom and nutrient rich vegetation such as rushes, sedges, and grasses. Gulf coast salt marshes occur along low energy shorelines most often at the mouth of rivers, in bays, bayous, and sounds. The Panhandle region consists mainly of estuaries with few salt marshes, but from Apalachicola Bay south to Cedar Key (Big Bend area), salt marshes make up the main form of coastal vegetation . South of Cedar Key salt marshes begin to be replaced by mangroves as the predominant landscape, and often you'll find a mix of mangroves and marshes as you venture southward into Tampa bay. On the Atlantic coast, salt marshes occur from Daytona Beach northward.
Marshes are laid-back and quiet, and fish know the average sounds that are present here, which means any foreign sound will quite easily spook the fish. To take it a step further, fish are even aware of the natural shadows that are cast across the water throughout the day from the environment, and a foreign shadow, such as an angler standing tall in his boat can and will spook fish the majority of time. There are rarely any trees in most systems until you reach woodland forest, which means overhead shadows that stick out from the normal grass line becomes new, and as such, becomes quickly noticeable to the fish, which is why fishing marshes is best done in a kayak.
Much of what I have written in the river section regarding feeder creeks, creek mouths, points, cuts, and so forth applies here equally, so within this section you may get a bit of redundancy, but I am going to approach this section in a different way as if we were actually out on the water fishing together.
As an inshore angler, Google Earth should certainly be a tool that you use often before ever hitting the water regardless of where you are fishing. I've used it for wide open areas such as the flats, as looking down from high above shows details that you never knew existed. You can easily see the deeper cuts, edges, holes, etc. Use this to your advantage. You can even get the coordinates from Google earth and build a nice map from that. Fishing in the marsh is one area that you'll get the most from by using Google Earth.
Water Depths -
When looking down from Google Earth you'll see dark green or black areas highlighting the deepest water such as main channels, and in some areas you'll see blue for the deepest water. As it gets shallower, you'll see a lighter shade of green or blue, followed by brownish tan indicating mud bottom, and a light tan to white for sandy bottom.
Bottom Structure -
Now that you know the depth changes by looking at colors, you'll need to learn to distinguish bottom structure. One area of interest is always shell bottom, which will appear as tiny dots either light or dark in color, but usually lighter in shade. You'll have to look carefully for shell, as it often resembles small grass patches or other spotted bottom debris. Zoom in and scan the creeks, and as detailed throughout this book, look for areas of irregularity and map them.
Bank Structure -
You'll want banks that change rapidly in topography. By this I mean you'll be looking for jagged edges where the water meets the land. Uneven water lines indicate depth changes, whether it be a subtle small indention, or a more pronounced point. Some banks will be mud all the way to the vegetation, while others will be a shell mix. In addition to the shape, look for changes in the substrate material such as shells, patches of grass, debris, etc. Finding irregularities is the key to finding fish in the marsh. In my opinion, irregularities within a marsh system are more critical than in mangroves or other environments. I say this because of the limited overhead cover found here. The mangroves offer overhanging trees and root systems along every inch of bank, in addition to the variable substrate materials and waterlines, whereas marshes generally are vacant of overhanging branches and roots, thus offering just the bank waterline and grasses for ambush points and protection. Having limited changes in the marsh means that most changes will hold fish.
Fishing within most marsh systems means kayaking through seemingly endless narrow waterways that cut through a landscape of harsh heavy sedges and rushes, and tons of bugs! During low tide you'll see a lot of mud banks with various grasses growing right to the edge with not much structure along the banks, and on high tide, you'll find lots of grasses sprouting from the water with even less structure to be seen. For this reason it is best to know where the shell beds, points, and depressions are located, as these will be prime locations at flood tide.
As with all other scenarios the tides will dictate the movement of fish and bait, which is when the depressions, points, and structure become most important to the predator fish, as they use these as ambush points to catch bait being washed from the grasses. During low tide when baitfish have very limited to no access to much of the higher ground as it becomes high and dry, baitfish are more apt to accommodate their predators ambush points for safety, and the predator fish tend to move into pockets near the edges, or into the deeper cuts, thus vacating their ambush points until the tide puts enough water over the vegetation so they can then get back into the grass in search of food.
So let's take a trip together into the salt marsh. Where going to fish this day through all three phases of the tide. In this scenario we are launching our kayaks in the estuary water within the low marsh zone and paddling back into the marsh moving about with the tide. We are fishing under ideal climate conditions when we know the fish are most abundant in the salt marsh. We will also be fishing with live bait in this scenario, keeping it as natural as possible. For those of you that will be fishing with artificial crank baits where you need to retrieve the bait for proper action, it becomes a bit more difficult and you'll need to fish across current or into the current, as floating a crank bait just isn't going to do the trick. I highly recommend using live bait, or at minimum a slow sinking jerk bait or top water poppers for optimal action and keeping your bait in front of the target.
Sorry all, this chartered trip is reserved for the book, but by all means, buy the book and take the trip, as it's well worth it! I go into a full day of fishing the incoming, slack, and outgoing tides. I cover all the key aspects of where the fish will be, how they will be moving around, and how to stay on them through the entire day. You'll know what to look for and be well prepared when you take the exciting kayak trip through the marsh lands in search of action. Kayaking through the salt marsh and catching fish in the serenity of the land is one of the best rips you'll ever take.