This article is intended to help newcomers to saltwater fishing get started on fishing for the Big 3 — flounder, redfish and trout — and is designed to provide some of the basic techniques to follow, along with tips on where to go and what baits to use.
While we address just the basics, practice and patience are the keys to becoming a successful saltwater fisherman. But if you asked about the most important skill needed, the answer would be accuracy in casting. Learning to cast your bait a good distance and with accuracy is at the top of list.
Most fishing guides will tell you that the one deficiency they notice that handicaps their guests the most is poor casting ability.
In saltwater, popping corks are a popular way of fishing for trout and reds. The technique for using a popping cork differs quite a bit from its freshwater counterpart. For those not familiar with this device, I recommend using a ready-made popping cork with leader, weight and snap swivel attached. The only thing needed is a hook, and the most common sizes for popping corks are Nos. 6 and 8 treble hooks.
Baited with either live shrimp or small finfish, attached so as to keep the bait alive, the popping cork should be cast into the water as far as can be easily controlled by the fisherman. When the cork lands, take up slack in the line, wait a few seconds and give the line a fast jerk. The jerk should cause the cork to splash or pop against the water, resembling the sound of a trout feeding.
Repeat this process every couple of minutes, checking the bait periodically to ensure that it is still on the line. When the cork goes under, jerk the line (called setting the hook) and reel in your fish. Only practice will improve your skills here, and once you have the hang of it, you are in business.
For those new to bay fishing, I want to pass on a discussion of the use of artificials and focus on natural baits.
Bottom bumping and free-lining
Two other popular and productive methods for taking the Big 3 are techniques known as bottom bumping and free-lining live bait. Here, the objective is to get the bait farther down in the water.
Bottom bumping, a popular method in the warmer summer months, involves use of a monofilament leader of 20- to 30-pound strength, a barrel swivel and a slip weight.
The leader is usually about 18-inches long with a number eight treble hook attached. The slip weight is of a size just heavy enough to keep the bait close to the bottom. Depending on current strength, a one-eighth to three-eighths ounce weight is usually sufficient.
After casting your bait, let it sit for a minute or so then begin retrieving it in small jerks. The idea is to pull the bait off the bottom to attract fish swimming by.
Free-lining uses the same setup and techniques, with little or no weight. Less numerous jerks are needed when free-lining since the bait is swimming with little resistance and not held on the bottom. Again, practice is the key to perfection.
Where to fish
Where are the best places to fish? The obvious answer is where the fish are. In saltwater, reefs, mud and sand flats, jetties, rock groins and along with the surf are all places fish tend to convene when the dinner bell strikes.
What rings the dinner bell? Tidal movement. When the tide moves, it flushes small crustaceans and finfish from hiding and moves them with the current to where fish are waiting with big appetites.
In fresh water, early morning and late evening tend to be the best times to fish. In saltwater, tidal movement is the key and that can be any time of day or night.
The best bait
The most popular and productive bait for bay, jetty and surf fishing is live shrimp. Small finfish such as croakers and mullet are very popular and productive as well.
We could write a lengthy book on this subject; however, we hope that these tidbits help you get started and most of all catch fish. Just remember that patience and practice are the keys to success.