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October 26, 2001

Inside Tips to Inshore Success

Seven tips that will increase your chances in the grass flats.

If practice makes perfect, Mark Nichols' skills at fishing seagrass flats must be honed close to flawlessness. The manufacturer of DOA soft lures spends almost as much time fishing the inshore waters from northern Florida to the Keys as many guides do - except he doesn't just guide; he fishes as well.
The result: Nichols knows how to find and consistently catch popular inshore species such as redfish, seatrout, snook and tarpon. During a recent day on the water with Nichols, I took a few notes, coming away with seven tips that can help make a difference in any inshore angler's catch rate.

1. Use a sea anchor
"I don't know why more guys [who fish inshore] don't use these, particularly in open areas," Nichols says. Such drift anchors, as some call them, have been popular in Texas waters, but not in the east. Nichols uses a small, collapsible sea anchor. It's quick and easy to deploy and helps greatly to slow a drift over a productive flat, offering more time to cast and work it effectively.

2. Try a lure
Don't be afraid to try a lure rather than give up when the fish are there but not hitting bait, Nichols suggests. He admits this sounds like biased advice, coming from a manufacturer of lures, but says lures can and occasionally do outfish even live bait. "The truth is that I wouldn't have forced myself to fish lures over live bait so often if I didn't make lures, but now I'm convinced.... I've seen times when fish such as cobia pass up a live bait to grab a lure."

3. Try super-braided line
Nichols has recently begun using the stuff in very light (6- or 12-pound) test when he wants light lures to stay at the bottom as he works them slowly over oyster bars and rocks. He also needs the increased sensitivity these lines offer in order to feel obstructions and work the jig-head just over them, rather than into them as too often happens with monofilament. Indeed, Nichols kept catching snook on his light spinning rig in about 10 feet of water as we drifted down-current, while I kept catching the bottom. We switched rods and I stopped hanging up and started hooking up. The super-braid made the difference. Don't forget 3 or so feet of clear mono leader.

4. Lighten up
I watched Nichols pull in snook after snook while drifting with lures, yet another boat anchored nearby couldn't generate a strike on live baits. Part of the difference, Nichols says: the 6-pound line he used. The other boat's big spinners looked to be loaded with 15- or 20-pound test, making it much harder to put bait in the current and keep it where the anglers wanted. Also, the heavy mono made it tough to feel anything going on with the bait.

5. Be a drifter
Anchoring's fine - when you find the fish. Some anglers pick a spot, drop the anchor and sit. If nothing's doing, Nichols says, drift until you find fish. Sometimes you may stumble into them where you least expect them.

6. Tie a loop
Tie a basic loop knot to connect main line or leader to your lures. Although some lures with a split ring on the lure's eye don't need this step, most will benefit. "They'll wiggle better," Nichols says.

7. Don't get discouraged
"Keep casting," he advises. Nichols points out that one thing successful inshore fishermen all do is cast and cast and cast some more. Often that's the key to locating fish, so be slow to give up and you'll catch more fish.
- Doug Olander