There is little doubt that I pretty much love most forms of fishing. However, there is one form of fishing that may be the most exciting and happens along some of the magical areas of Florida: fishing mangrove shorelines. For those not familiar with mangroves, they are a native species of plant/tree that grow in salt marshes in tropical and subtropical areas. Mangroves are different than a lot of other plants, in the fact they thrive in saltwater and along saltwater shorelines. There are three types of mangroves: black, red and white. While my area has all three, black and red are the most common and they are of the most interest to anglers. Why? Well, black and red mangroves are located along the shorelines and in the water. Here, the mangroves attract small fish, crustaceans, worms, and other forms of prey. This, along with protection they offer from birds and anglers, attracts predators. If you take the time to look deep into a mangrove forest or shoreline, you will find a very intricate lair of roots that fish love to hide in and use as an ambush area. Most people think of snook in the mangroves and there is no doubt snook do love them. But, so do redfish, seatrout, snapper, grouper, tarpon, sheepshead, and more. Mangroves attract finger mullet, several types of crabs, shrimp, baby fish, oysters, barnacles, and so much more, it is like having a buffet line for all types of predatory fish. This is the very reason I love fishing them; you never know what you are going to come across.
Fishing mangroves can be challenging. The target casting zones are very small and they can be extremely difficult to hit. More times than not, new anglers will spend more time removing their lures and flies from the overhanging branches of the mangroves than they will actually fishing. These limbs seem to be perfect at grabbing a hook and entangling them among the stems and leaves. A lot of the time, you don't actually hook the branch, but your hook wraps around the branch or branches, and becomes tangled in a mess. Trying to snatch you plug or fly out will usually result in breaking it off or worse yet, breaking a rod. So, you go over, brave the mosquitoes in the shadows, and remove them by hand. A word of caution to pay attention to where you are placing your hand: birds love to nest in mangroves, and snakes love to crawl through the limbs and hunt down the nests. In addition, paper wasps also love to build nests in mangroves and honey bees abound when they are flowering. So pay attention and look before charging your hand and arm inside the foliage.
There are ways to practice casting to mangroves that everyone can do, before their trip, even if they are located in snow. Get some five gallon buckets and place them on their sides. Vary their height, distance and even angle. Then, practice dropping your lure or fly into the bucket; the actual lure or fly should be what enters the bucket, not the loop of line. This will give you an idea of what casting into the small openings of mangroves is like. If you have some shrubs, you can place the buckets under them, or even in the sides of them, toward the bottom, and practice this way; it's even more realistic. Either way will help improve your casting and you will spend less time sticking your arms in to retrieve your plug or fly.
When fishing mangroves, you want to fish as deep under them as you can. Predators will be located so far under them, enjoying the shade and the protection, that there are a lot of times you won't see them. Get your offering way up under the mangroves and work it out. Jerk baits, rigged weedless, and flies with weed guards can make this much easier than trying to throw something with treble hooks. Learn to skip these under the branches and you will be even more successful. Work every inch of these shorelines you can. This is one area where fly anglers have an advantage, if they are efficient at casting, as they can re-cast without reeling all the way back in. Fish in the mangroves may or may not move much to intercept prey. So, you want to work as much of it as possible. There have been plenty of times when we have witnessed a fish refuse to move six inches to eat, but when the fly was put with two inches, it inhaled it. I will typically work my fly or plug out from the mangroves to about five or ten feet and then recast. This gives the fish plenty of opportunity to strike and will insure that you cover any fish that are laid up on the outside of the mangroves.
Once you have your offering in the mangroves, work it as slowly as you can, while still enticing the fish. You may have to experiment with the retrieve to find out exactly what they want. Still, I want the offering to remain the area as long as I can. I have fairly decent results with twitch style retrieves, making the offering look injured. Be prepared, as a lot of fish will strike during your pause, as the offering flutters. Every single second of reaction time is important and you do not want to be caught off guard.
When the fish is hooked, the real fun begins. Mangrove roots are a nightmare of everything that can be bad for anglers. The roots themselves are a puzzle of twisted, gnarled, springy, wood that appear impossible to get through. Then, they are covered with razor sharp oysters and barnacles, both of which can make short work of fishing lines. Now, add in the power of a fish, the gill plates or teeth, the hard, sandpaper mouths, and you can start to see why paying attention is so important. Every fish that lives in the mangroves and hunts in them, knows them intimately and is quite capable of gliding through the roots at incredible speeds, like a fighter jet cutting through air. There is no finesse fishing here. When a fish eats, it is time to put the hammer down and pull with everything you can. Anglers must use the leverage the rod provides and understand the angle game to apply maximum pressure immediately after hook-up. If you get fortunate, the fish will make a mistake and come out of the mangroves; juvenile fish do this quite often. However, the big ones rarely make this mistake and they will make you fight as hard as you can to get them out. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This is just part of this type of angling.
Once you get the fish out of the mangroves, the fight isn't over. You must keep them from going back. This can be even harder than initially getting them out. An angler that is quick on the fight, can surprise the fish and get them out. Then, when they think they are winning and relax, the fish decides otherwise and goes right back in. If they make it back in, the battle is often over. You can try various methods to not lose and there isn't a guaranteed way, but some anglers give the fish slack line, hoping the fish will come out and not go further in. Other anglers will simply try to chase the fish in. I've done everything imaginable to get fish back out. Again, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. To keep that from happening, I just try to do everything I can to stop them from going back in, even if it means breaking the fish off or pulling a hook.
This type of fishing is not for the faint of heart or those that do not possess the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. For those adventure seeking, adrenaline junkies that really enjoy a challenge, this type of fishing is everything you can ask for. Success is one good cast and one hard fight away; failure is everything else that can happen. I will say this: the fish you catch and the smiles on your face, will be worth every agonizing moment.
All of the fish in this slideshow were pulled from the mangroves. It's always worth the effort!
Mangrove fishing is available all year round, but I really love it during the summer. That's when every species of fish looks to them for relief from the sun and also as a guaranteed area to find prey. I still have a few days left for the summer, but they are filling up fast. So book your trip now by calling or emailing me! If you wait until the last minute, you may be disappointed.
As always, I hope you enjoy the report and I look forward to hearing from you. Be sure to check out the YouTube Channel for more videos, the Instagram Page for photos and short videos and the Facebook Page for short updates and special events! If you have any questions or there is something you would like to see added to our social media outlets, please email me: email@example.com
Until next time, Tight Lines and Screaming Drags,
Captain John Tarr