reef fising in the spread red snapper
Jul 7, 2021

Reef Fishing | Beast or Feast

In practice, reef fishing is as diverse an endeavor as just about any form of fishing. There are shallow water reefs, deep water reefs, ledges, atolls and more. You can drop baits down, drift, power drift, troll, kite fish, chum, jig, cast lures, anchor, fish on the bottom, suspended in the water column or on the surface. Reefs come in all sorts of sizes, shapes and configurations. When you think about how broad the subject of reef fishing really is, your mind will swim in contemplation. Reef fishing can be for beast or for feast or a combination of the two. How many different species can you target reef fishing? The opportunities are endless.


Learn more with our reef fishing videos and deep dropping videos.


The ocean floor is much like a desert, with little in the way of structure and habitat over great expanses. Where wrecks, pronounced bottom topography and man-made structure exist, they act as beacons, attracting fish from vast distances and providing prime structure to concentrate various species. Additionally, migratory pelagic predators such as amberjack, mackerels, cobia, dolphinfish, tunas and billfish commonly make an appearance over or near wrecks and good bottom topography for food, safety and orientation.


What constitutes reef fishing? It is structure fishing pure and simple. Now, the form of that structure is where things get interesting. To qualify as a reef, there has to be a permanence to the structure, imho. You can have natural topography or artificial man-made objects that constitute the structure.


Natural bottom topography or reefs are built up over centuries by living organisms. These formations continually build up and make the reefs larger over time. Ledges, outcroppings of rocks, mid-ocean sea mounts and atolls also lend themselves to reef formation, providing amazing reef fishing. These hard surfaces provide protection and food sources that lay the foundation for the food chain that sustain structure oriented fish.


An artificial reef is a man-made, underwater structure, typically built for the purpose of promoting marine life in areas of generally featureless bottom. This can be done by sinking oil rigs, scuttling ships, or by deploying rubble, tires, or construction debris. These would be purpose built reefs. Historic or modern shipwrecks become unintended artificial reefs when preserved on the sea floor.


Regardless of construction method, artificial reefs are generally designed to provide hard surfaces to which algae and invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, and oysters attach. The accumulation of attached marine life in turn provides intricate structure and food for a wide variety of fish.


One thing is for sure, if an object is in the water for any length of time, it will be assimilated. Everything becomes reef. Over the years, as nature adds layers of deposits, the structure transforms into something that supports natural growth. Structure is the great aggregator, building life, supporting a distinct ecosystem.


The reef is home to many wonderful species. They are all there for two main reasons, food and shelter. The larger and more vibrant the life on a reef, the larger and more prolific the fish that make the reef home. Algae and tiny creatures provide the basis of the food chain on the reef. Small fish are attracted to feed on this food chain. The cracks, crevices, wholes and ledges of a reef provide protection from the larger predators that come to eat the small fish.


There are inshore and offshore reefs. Inshore reefs are typically found in calmer, shallower, more protected waters, where fish spawn and juvenile fish grow with less fear of predators. Offshore reefs are found in deeper waters and tend to attract bigger more predatory species.


Reef fishing is something that is usually undertaken for two main reasons, beast or feast. Some reef beasts are edible and some are not. It all depends on your motivation. Are you motivated to fill your cooler with delicious snapper, grouper, grunts, wahoo, etc. or are you after arm stretching species like giant trevally (GT's), amberjack (AJ's) and dogtooth tuna.


There are all sort of reefs and all sorts of species to catch. Wahoo, grouper, barracuda, snapper, grunts, cobia, mackerel, sailfish, amberjack, GT's, trevally, dogtooth tuna, coral trout, sharks and tuna are just a few of the many fish that can be caught reef fishing.


Small to big, reef donkey to dink, depending on where in the world you are fishing, there will be reefs up and down the coast line and out at sea. The number of ways you can fish a reef is only limited by your imagination. Light tackle or heavier, the key is having the right tackle setup. Since most fish use the reef for some type of protection, their first inkling when hooked is to run for the rocks. This requires that your terminal setup be able to handle whatever amount of heat is applied during battle. Stopping reef fish is the name of the game. Once you have stopped them from rocking you, most of the work is complete. How you decide to attack the reef depends on what you are targeting and whatever unexpected beast might take your presentation.


Tactics and reef fishing presentations are unlimited. The most frequent questions we get at In The Spread deal with fishing rigs. No matter the size of the tackle you are using, your rigs need to be sound. There are just an endless list of rigs and I am not going to assume to tell you which to fish. Our videos always present a few of the better rigs, based on proven results of expert fishermen. The one piece of advice I can offer is to learn a couple of good rigs. Be able to make them on your boat, if needed. Don't complicate the process.


There are so many ways to target reef species. The depth of the water, wind and current all play critical rolls in how you go about presenting baits. Fish can also suspend at various depths, from the bottom all the way to the top. Will you be anchored, drifting or holding your position under power? Each of these options allows for a multitude of fishing techniques to be employed. Your reef fishing presentations can range from bottom fishing, jigging, casting, trolling, kite fishing, sight fishing, planer fishing or deep dropping. Each of these styles of fishing utilizes different rigs. Learning what rigs to use and better ways to make them will pay huge dividends. Take some time to just assemble your rigs over and over, before heading out.


Know the structure you are fishing and the species you are interested in targeting. The more knowledge you possess, the more equipped you will be for eventualities. In The Spread can offer you deep insights and lessons on better practices for reef fishing, so you can hit the water with more confidence. That is the key to achieving greater levels of success. The more confident you feel, the more easily you will handle the uncertainties of fishing. There are a lot of unknowns in fishing. Being sure of your tactics and techniques will help you reach your goal.


One area that you should pay close attention to is how you approach the structure you want to fish and how you intend to fish it. Are you drifting, anchoring or spot locking? Don't make the mistake of getting too close to or driving over the spot you want to fish.


Discover tactics for Reef Fishing and Deep Dropping with our powerful educational fishing videos.


Seth Horne

CCO

In The Spread

The Latest from the Blog

  • hogfish fishing in Florida

    Hogfish - Fishing Basics

    Fishing for hogfish is typically done using a combination of bottom fishing and trolling. Bottom fishing involves using a weighted line to reach the bottom of the ocean and jigging the bait to attract the fish. Trolling involves dragging a line behind a moving boat and using the motion of the boat to attract the fish. Hogfish can also be caught by hand, using a spear or other device.
    Read more
  • pompano fishing william toney in the spread

    Pompano Fishing with Captain William Toney | Homosassa Florida

    My favorite pompano bait is a 3" live shrimp with it's tail pinched off threaded onto a 1/8 oz. Chartreuse jig head. Make a long cast and let the bait sink, then give it a slow twitching retrieve.
    Read more
  • winter fishing florida gulf coast william toney in the spread

    Dead of Winter Fishing on Florida's Gulf Coast

    Those spots have one thing in common and its access to deep water, whether it be a hole, canal or dark water channel, it's where fish will ride out the cold nights until the sun warms the shallow edges.
    Read more
View All