After years of watching fishing shows where the host would catch tons of big fish with some local guide, I was forced to believe that having consistently good success was only possible for anglers that were out on the water all the time and could personally check out every inch of water in their areas for good fish.
Since I’ve always been into fishing (and all my friends and work associates know that it’s a favorite hobby of mine), I remember feeling embarrassed when I had to report that my weekend trip was a bust.
In fact, I still remember how terrible I felt one day at work when I was asked by a colleague in a Monday morning team meeting how my day on the water went… and shortly after informing him of the “slow bite” with others listening, another person was showing pictures to the team of some huge redfish they caught that very same day.
Given my very competitive and studious nature, I then started buying maps that showed fishing tips for the regions I like to fish (including guidance on specific areas to catch particular types of fish), and I’d intently study them prior to going out on the water to select the spots I’d visit.
The problem I found with this strategy was that the listed areas for catching fish were often very large, and it would take forever to effectively fish it with the live bait that I was accustomed to using.
I’d often spend an entire morning trying to assess a single area that was marked as productive, and often would end up with nothing to show for my time except a lousy catfish or a just some tiny trout.
Worst of all, I’d get back to the docks and see others cleaning really nice fish that I had previously told myself simply weren’t biting that day.
Next, I started analyzing aerial maps on the Internet (free on Google and Mapquest) to get a bird’s eye view of the fishing grounds that the other maps highlighted as being productive.
My theory was that it sure would be nice to see exactly what the bottom contours looked like without having to take my boat or kayak over every square inch of water. This way, I could more efficiently find the actual spots that held fish inside the big areas that the maps highlighted.
After just a few months of using the aerial images, my results steadily improved.
Best of all, I felt that I was finally in control of my results.
I even started making myself plan out a series of at least 3 spots that I’d fish based on the wind, tide, and target species for the next day as I was analyzing online satellite maps the night before trips.
This eventually allowed me to start finding trends on the exact types of spots that hold fish on given tides and weather conditions throughout the year. Best of all, these trends have proven to be consistent over time on both coasts of Florida (I have lived in Melbourne Beach and Tampa over the past 8 years, not to mention I have fished countless regions from up in the panhandle to Islamorada).
Currently, I use free online aerial maps exclusively for scouting out new areas (no need buy any of the others), and I’m catching more and bigger fish than ever before. (click here to read “What’s the best satellite map for inshore fishing?”)
Best of all, I am now fully confident that I’ll catch my target fish on any given day out on the water as long as I have 20 minutes of internet time the night before… even if it’s in an area I’ve never fished and I’m only taking my three favorite lures with me.
For example, I moved to Tampa a couple of years ago and had never fished the upper Bay (closest to downtown).
But after referencing free Google and Mapquest maps for ideas on where to go, my very first day on the water consisted of me catching 4 redfish (1 in the slot, 1 over-slot, and 2 rats) and 3 trout (a 23-incher and 2 small ones)… all on artificial baits… and I was back at the boat ramp before 1:00 in the afternoon.
Needless to say, these results in a new area with only artificial baits is something I would never have dreamed happening to me just few years earlier.
So let’s dig into the types of things I look for in the online maps… here are some detailed examples:
Unique Bottom Cover/Structure – Grassy Point
This is an image from an island that caught my eye when scouting out new areas to fish prior to entering an inshore tournament series in Sebastian, FL.
The thick grass at the tip of the island with streaks made from current seemed like an ideal place for redfish and trout to feed… and we ended up bringing in the biggest fish (7.61lb trout) of our first 40+ boat tournament from this spot… and placed many others in the following tournaments, too.
Things to look for when fishing a flat like this:
- Birds – always good to see wading birds along the edges of the flat and/or diving birds diving on the flat
- Bait – back to “know thy target fish” rule… the next meal is what’s on their mind, and their main focus is on being near bait, so a flat without bait is likely one without your predator fish (I personally like to see schools of big mullet on a flat… redfish and big trout often hang out in those schools)
- Mud Boils – when fishing shallow flats, I always look for fish to make sure that I’m in a productive area because typically, when a flat has one good fish, there are many others nearby. A key sign of good predator fish is a big plume of dirt on the bottom because predator fish most always are on the bottom in search of food and will leave that dust cloud when spooked… unlike big mullet, which cause a lot of commotion on the surface without disturbing the bottom.
Protected Deep Water Trough for Winter Hideouts
During winter, the drastic cold snaps (yes, even in FL) from fronts can be hazardous for snook, trout, and redfish, so they often seek shelter from the cold in deeper pools that are protected from wind/waves (the calmer and deeper pools hold on to their warmer temperature much longer than shallow or wind-prone area).
Also, an important element for winter fishing after cold fronts is the fact that areas with darker bottoms (or darker water color) warm up faster than clear water and/or light color bottoms… and a mud flat will maintain heat longer than sand.
As you’ll see in the picture above, this particular spot is a textbook winter time fishery because it is a deep trough (5ft marked by the arrow) surrounded by islands and/or a shallow grass flat (0 ft to 1.5 ft depending on tide)… and the area to the right of the trough is a dark muddy bottom with patches of grass.
Another important winter tip… the coldest snaps in FL most often contain a strong/cold wind coming from the north, so the fact that the north (top) section in this location is protected by a mangrove line is a huge bonus.
Knowing that redfish, snook, and trout seek protected and deeper water with dark bottom after cold snaps makes an area like this an ideal place to catch fish on the ugliest of days… and this spot has proven it for me over the years.
In fact, my best day back there was right after a nasty cold front on a cold and dreary day with 15+ mph winds from the north.
Hidden Saltwater Lakes
My absolute favorite use of aerial maps is to find spots that require some creative exploration to get to (click here to read “3 Reasons Your Fishing Lure Should Take a Backseat To This”).
I’m referring to the types of spots that require a kayak or paddleboard to access… and having to carry across land or follow narrow mangrove tunnels is an added bonus to the thrill of finding fish that are completely wild and have likely never seen a lure.
The pool shown above is an image of a spot that I was particularly proud of finding. It was shortly after my move to Tampa and I wanted to take my paddleboard out for some exercise and to scout out some new fishing grounds.
So I went online to check out the areas surrounding a park that I planned to launch from and noticed a lake that was tucked away back in the mangroves. It appeared to be deep given the water color, but it didn’t have any large openings… just one very small channel to the left that is too overgrown even for a kayak to get through.
So I noted the part of that thin shot of land along the northern part of it and simply found a small opening in the mangroves and hiked back until I saw the lake. Best of all, it’s fairly easy to carry a paddleboard/kayak into and it’s full of snook along with some redfish… and I’ve never seen anyone else back there.
Luke – http://www.saltstrong.com/