During the warmest part of the day, most of us avoid sitting in the sun. The same goes for many species of inshore fish.
When the water is shallow, it gets hot just like the air does, and direct sun can be uncomfortable. So these fish often move to deeper water, or if possible they seek the shade.
Shade for marine fish comes from several places. Snook and redfish often move deep beneath overhanging mangrove limbs when the tide allows it. They know which mangroves have the deepest holes and the ones that allow them to move the farthest from open water.
Most anglers would be amazed at the rich life that gathers deep in the roots of the mangroves. Flats fishermen can benefit by putting on a mask, fins and snorkel and swimming along the edge of the mangroves at high tide. This is not only a nice way to break up the midday heat, it will give a whole new perspective into the travel routes, hidden holes and oyster bars that run the length of a shoreline.
Another place fish gather for shade is under docks and the vessels tied to them. Snook, tarpon, redfish, mullet, trout, snapper and many other fish are attracted to the lower light and cover provided by all kinds of man-made objects.
In some cases you can see the fish holding close to the surface in the shadows. Other times the fish may be deep and you will have to fish them, or snorkel, to figure out that they are there.
Bridges are another spot where fish go to avoid direct sunlight. Tarpon are famous for hanging out in the shadows of bridges all over the state. The Sunshine Skyway has become one of the most well known in the Tampa Bay area, but tarpon of all sizes may be found under just about any bridge, large or small, in a variety of locations.
Even small bridges that span brackish rivers and creeks may hold the coveted silver kings. Watch for them facing into the current just inside the shadow of the structure.
Twenty years ago my friends and I used to ride our rod holder-equipped bicycles onto the Skyway Bridge, long before it was a public pier. It was a mile-and-a half-ride to the spot where the roadway began to rise, and that is where the tarpon would sit.
We would usually peer off the side into the shadows of the bridge and see big tarpon shoulder-to-shoulder between nearly every set of pilings, and we were the only ones out there.
Needless to say, the fishing was amazing. Today that part of the bridge has been removed and most of the tarpon are caught from boats fishing the shadows of the new bridge.
Fishing the dark side
Landing fish that are holding in the shade is no easy task. The same structures that cast the shadows provide the fish with prime line-breaking cover. Snook in particular are experts at dashing into barnacle-encrusted branches or pilings at the slightest hint of trouble. Bridge tarpon are also quite good at it, as are mangrove snapper.
Using the heaviest tackle that you can get the fish to strike is important. For dock or mangrove fishing this can mean 25- or 30-pound braided line and 40-pound leader. Even with this gear many of the larger fish will still cut you off.
Applying maximum pressure the moment the fish strikes helps turn the fish's head away from the snags and will give you at least a chance of pulling it out. Once a big snook gets its head going in the direction of the dock, your chances of catching it decrease dramatically.
Stout hooks are needed to hold up to the pressure of fighting a fish with the drag locked down. Landing nets can also be helpful for controlling fish that have had little chance to expend their energy against the drag.
Baits vary depending upon the species but there is one thing that does not: your cast must land in or near the shadow. The fish there usually do not like to venture far from their chosen spot so you must send the bait to them.
Next time you are on the water and the midday summer doldrums set in, try taking a peek into the dark side.