Inshore Canals & Flats for Saltwater Fishing Fun

  • Snook, Redfish & Tarpon Highlight Spring Action
  • New LiveTarget Swimbait Lures are Killer Baits
  • Use Light Line, Strong Leader
  • Incoming Tide = Angler Advantage
The new Swim Bait that has caught fire with guides and everyday anglers that fish saltwater for snook, redfish and other species, is the LiveTarget Scaled Sardine, shown here. Just throw it in and reel it back, it sinks about one foot per second until you start the retrieve.

By Forrest Fisher

Winter has not been the same this year anywhere in the country.  Minnesota lost much of their ice by early March, Tennessee and Kentucky bass and crappie fishing turned on early, and in Florida, the steady rise in water temperatures on both the Gulf and the Ocean has led to non-stop action for many anglers.  Fun fishing!

Fishing with a fishing mentor and local veteran of the Florida saltwater fishing, Jim Hudson, I have learned so much about the nature of fish habits, baitfish preferences, lures that feeding fish prefer, line color, lure color, hook size and little things that make the difference between fish on the line or no fish at all.

The short spring snook season started on March 1 and runs through April, with the size limit in Florida waters regulated by location.  In southwest Florida, the slot limits for snook is not less than 28 inches and not more than 33 inches, with a one-fish daily bag. 

Jim Hudson says, “Slot limits for speckled trout have allowed a resurgence in Florida trout numbers and even the smaller fish will slam a swim bait, making for fast and fun fishing action.”

Hudson took the time to teach me about lines, leaders and lures, using little, lightweight jigs for speckled trout, surface baits for redfish and swim-tail lures for snook.   On my first mid-morning cast toward a dock on the canal system near Ponce de Leon State Park, my LiveTarget lure hit the water and I didn’t even move the lure one-inch when a gutsy snook slammed the bait.  He thrashed all around the dock and I had trouble keeping him out of the pilings there, but the 7-foot St. Croix rod and Daiwa reel held up their end and I was able to bring the fish to the boat where Jim carefully slipped his rubber-coated (no harm) under the spirited fish.  We released the slick fighter to grow a bit bigger for next year.

The hot lure was a LiveTarget scaled-sardine swimbait, new last year, it swims just like a real live fish bait.  It’s soft and lively, is the right color, and offers a snag-free design with an above-body hook point location.  The heavy, strong, Gamakatsu EWG (Extra-Wide Gap) hook makes it perfect for big saltwater fish, but as most saltwater flat anglers know, even smaller saltwater fish will slam a big bait.  I use this rule though, big fish like big baits – they hate to waste energy.   See this video on how a bass fishing pro describes the many features of this exciting new lure:

I picked up the two sizes that come in this color pattern, a 3-1/2 inch model (½ ounce) and the bigger 4-1/2 inch model (1-ounce) that casts into the wind with no problem.  With a unique “oscillator-design” tail, they both swim like the real thing.  I tie the lure direct with a Uni-Knot from a 4-5 foot long length of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader that is fastened to very thin 10-pound test braid with a Double Uni-Knot.

For more about this hot bait, there are two videos and more technical info about product description from our friends at Tackle Warehouse:  My basic descriptions end with, “They work.”

For more about how to tie the Uni-Knot, visit our knowledgeable fishing friends at Salt Strong in this well-done video:  Salt Strong offers many excellent fishing tip videos and a “How-To-Fish” training course that is among the best I have ever viewed.

Some of the “smart-angler” folks use the FG-Knot to tie their braid to the fluorocarbon leader, but I have always used the Uni-Knot because it is easier to tie, though the FG Knot is smaller in physical size.  This might be important if you fish with a Reaper fishing rod, which offers a high-performance rod guide that enables truly long casts and you want to keep the knot friction to an absolute minimum.

Jim Hudson has used the same LiveTarget swimbait lure for fast action along the saltwater front and hooked into other species.   Hudson adds, “Don’t be afraid to add a little red color from a magic marker near the throat section of any lure when action is slow and the water is super-clear, this can make a difference.  Then just rub a little fish-scent over it to hide any offensive odor.”

Local anglers and many guides use a cast net to capture live pilchards and pinfish, then tail-hook the live bait with a circle hook and toss into the incoming tide current with the same line-rod-reel rig.  This set-up will usually fool even the most finicky fish and the circle hook prevents gut hooking so the fish can be released unharmed.

Using the LiveTarget swimbait lures also allows the fish to be released unharmed, since the EWG hook is set around the jawbone of the fish.  Kayak anglers, boat anglers or wading anglers can effectively and successfully throw this bait.  In the salt, you could get a new arm-stretch and rod-bend very soon.

The mullet color in the LiveTarget swimbait lure is especially made as an easy-to-catch forage species for several larger predator species such as Redfish, Snook and Tarpon.

Right now, the redfish are schooling, the snook are moving into shore-fishing canal zones and under the piers at night, and the sheepshead have been schooled and active for about 6-7 weeks now.

Releasing the little ones….fishery conservation measures have allowed the Snook fishery across Florida saltwater zones to regain their predator prominence with slot limit and bag limit regulations. Jim Hudson Photo

The sheepshead prefer live bait shrimp pieces fished off a 2-hook chicken rig or a simple red-head jig hook.

For redfish, switch your swimbait to the new LiveTarget mullet color and hang on.  This is a species-focused bait color that can tear up a tight fish school.  Fish on the feed will race to get the bait first.  On the right day, action like that is in the memory book for all time.

Local tackle shops carry the bait if you need it right now, but sometimes they might not have the favorite colors you want.  When fishing the Gulf of Mexico southwest Florida, I always stop in to Fishing Frank’s Bait & Tackle on Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte, Florida.  The staff submits copy to four different periodicals each week! They also sponsor a radio show and are in the swing on where to go and what to fish each day. 

If you can’t find your “right color”, then hop on-line and head for our friends at Tackle Warehouse: 

“Big swim baits catch big fish, big fish will not waste energy feeding 20 times when they can feed once and be done,“ says Jim Hudson.  He ought to know, this Georgia native, now Florida resident, catches more fish from the salt than anyone I know.  Anglers in the know, share with others that want to learn.  Hats off to Hudson, since I always want to learn.

Tight lines.