Finding and Evaluating Prime Fishing Areas

Finding and Evaluating Prime Fishing Areas
This 7 3/4 pound trout was caught in a small, shallow sweet spot strongly influenced by wind and other weather conditions. It’s a fickle spot, but when it’s right, it offers a real shot at monster fish.
Most inshore saltwater anglers rely on a self-made catalogue of prime fishing areas, or spots. In fact, anglers in search of many species of fish, both fresh and saltwater, learn and return to revered fishing holes time and again. When fishing is done in tiny ponds, there is no need for knowledge of spots, but in larger lakes and bays, even on the open ocean, some areas will produce better than others.

Successful fishermen recognize the need for learning as many spots as possible on the body or bodies of water they frequent. The wisest are constantly searching for new, productive places in which to catch their favorite fish. In areas like the vast coastal estuaries in which I work, there are more fishy looking spots than anyone could possibly learn in a lifetime of shaking a sensitive graphite stick.

Still, not all likely looking spots are created equal. Some are consistently more productive than others. In fact, all fish-holding spots are different, though most possess some common characteristics. Defining a good spot starts with the recognition of several different things, two of which share prominence--the angler's preference for style of fishing and species of fish.

In my ongoing search for more spots in which to wade and catch trout approaching and exceeding thirty inches, I have come to some conclusions with regard to how to locate and judge them. For years, I started by studying bay maps, picking areas to screen for sweet spots. Scrutinizing topographical images with accurate contour lines and depth readings is still a good way to begin the search for premium places.

Utilizing satellite images like those found on Google Earth has taken in-home research to a whole new level. It's often hard to determine the depth of water from the pictures though, so cross-referencing with a dependable map is helpful. Printing satellite images and carrying them and the maps on scouting excursions is an effective way to learn the details of new areas.

Hiring a local fishing guide and asking for help in documenting spots is another fine way to improve one's knowledge of an area. A pointed conversation with the guide about such a trip must be had before booking; some guides have no interest in helping their customers in this way, while others do it regularly.

Of course, actually fishing a prospective spot is the last phase of evaluation required before adding it to the regular rotation of sites to be visited on subsequent trips. For me, this means wading around and learning things about the bottom contours with my feet, as well as carefully studying the area with my eyes. While analyzing the promise held by any newly found spot, I consider how it might potentially be affected by seasonal weather patterns, tide levels, water temperatures and wind speeds.

Adding a spot to one's catalogue by placing an anchor and/or fish icon on the GPS is smart. I place these in the exact locations where I want to leave the boat and where I think the fish will most often be found. That way, I can return to the area more efficiently and precisely in darkness and/or fog, knowing right where I am and where I need to go in order to contact the best fish-holding sweet spots and structures.

Structure and cover are the key features that define fish-holding spots. These elements include reefs, rocks, sand bars, grass beds and/or mats, pothole systems, drop offs and guts. The most dependable fishing spots are those which have two or more of these things in close proximity to each other. All consistently productive spots have some kind of structure or cover in them.

I fish some spots which are "specialty spots" for me. Many produce exceptional trout occasionally, but are virtually void of fish much of the time. These are usually diminutive in size and highly dependent on certain variables in order to be productive. The variables are normally water level/temperature and wind direction/velocity.

I have other spots which are much more reliable and productive throughout the seasons in diverse conditions. Those cherished holes are the bread and butter of my daily routine. An optimal few of them are relied on regularly throughout the fishing year whenever I find a need for a fresh perspective in my search for monster trout.

The sweetest of these honey holes is what I think of as a "fall-back" or "go-to" spot. For me, such a spot is the place toward which I'd point the bow of my Haynie if I were told I had to catch a fish in order to save my life. It's not where I've caught my biggest trout, or even where I've caught the highest number of big trout, but it's where I have supreme confidence that I can catch a trout or redfish most any time of day or year in most conditions. I also know there is a real chance I'll catch big trout too.

All of the best anglers I know keep just such a spot in their data banks. I return to mine mostly when the catching is slow in other areas which offer potentially greater success on a single large trout. Wherever I've fished in my life, I've placed a high priority on finding such an old reliable spot just for times like those.

The sweetness of such a honey hole will be imparted by the ingredients which define it. It will be comprised of at least three of the following: an extensive reef or rock formation, sand bars, grass beds and potholes, guts and/or a channel and a prominent main bay point. It will also have shallow areas near deep water and be relatively impervious to the effects of the fickle winds that regularly sweep across the Texas coast.

Some will undoubtedly notice that I have not here disclosed the exact location of any of my best spots which meet this description. I certainly wouldn't want to rob the readers of any satisfaction or feeling of ownership they might derive from locating and defining a honey hole to call their own! All kidding aside, I do hope this discussion of how to define, locate and evaluate sweet spots will help others find places where they can catch whatever kind of fish they like to catch a little more consistently.