A Beginner’s Guide to Inshore Fishing

Nov 15, 2021 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

For someone looking on from the sidelines, fishing might appear to be a daunting hobby. With so many possibilities, it can seem intimidating for a complete beginner to find their way around. The goal of this guide to inshore fishing is to walk you through one of the most accessible ways to start your angling adventure.

Two anglers in shallow water holding a Tarpon they just caught.

In fact, stick around for a bit and you’ll grow to appreciate the sheer number of options to enjoy fishing inshore. Want to clear your head outdoors and catch something for the freezer? Go bottom fishing and get yourself a nice dinner. Looking for a fun activity to share with your kids? Take them shark fishing – a lot of charter captains specialize in family trips. Need to blow off some steam with a couple of coworkers? Grab a bow and shoot some fish in the dark. There’s something here for everyone.

What is inshore fishing?

Two anglers from Florida holding a Redfish they recently caught.

Before we dive in further, let’s go over what exactly we mean when we say inshore fishing. In most cases, it involves fishing within a mile or two from shore, in waters that can range from a few inches to 15–20 feet deep. Keep in mind it’s all saltwater, so we won’t be talking about freshwater fishing in this particular guide.

The fact you’ll be staying close to shore unlike with nearshore or offshore fishing has its advantages. To begin with, it doesn’t take as long to reach the fishing grounds when you’re fishing inshore, so you can get a lot of fishing done even on a shorter trip. It’s also worth mentioning that waters closer to the shore are calmer than the deep blue ocean. This makes it a better choice for families with younger kids, as well as people prone to motion sickness.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk fish!

What are some popular inshore fish species?

A young man holds a Spotted Seatrout he just caught near Palm Coast.

While inshore fish species aren’t as big or flashy as the coveted Marlin or the Tunas of the deep blue, there’s a lot of variety here that keeps anglers coming back for more day in and day out. From hard fighters keeping you on your toes to delicious bottom fish, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Here are some of our top picks for inshore fishing:

  • Redfish. By far the most popular inshore fish in the US, Redfish are a staple of any good fishery in the Gulf and Atlantic waters. They’re also known as Red Drum because of the particular sounds they make when spawning. You can target them year-round, and, since they run in large schools, you could have a real frenzy on your hands.
  • Flounder. The South’s favorite inshore bottom feeders, Flounder will become your go-to when it comes to good table-fare thanks to their mild flavor and smooth texture. There’s even a special fishing technique often used for Flounder fishing, but more on that a bit later. Their Pacific cousins, the California Halibut are a great alternative if you’ll be fishing on the West Coast. You can find Flounder year-round, but winter fishing won’t be as good compared to the rest of the year.
  • Spotted Seatrout. Also called Speckled Trout (or Specks), these fish are a common target for beginners and seasoned anglers alike. If you’re looking to start your inshore fishing adventure somewhere on the Gulf Coast, one of your first catches is bound to be a Speck. The best time to go after these bad boys is spring through fall when they congregate in more shallow waters.
  • Tarpon. Look sharp, you’re in the presence of royalty! Commonly known as “Silver Kings,” Tarpon have become bona fide inshore superstars thanks to their long leaps and cheeky acrobatics. Anglers all over the US drive to Florida in droves every year to test their skills against these dogged fighters. Admittedly not the best choice for your first ever fishing trip, but keep them in mind for when you’ve got a couple of trips under your belt.
  • Sharks. A surefire way to get kids interested in the wonderful world of fishing is to take them Shark fishing. Species like Bonnethead or Blacktip Sharks are commonly found inshore and are lots of fun for fresh anglers to go after. They’re not very picky eaters either, and will go after pretty much whatever you throw at them. Try and find a charter captain who specializes in family trips for the best possible experience.

Types of Inshore Fishing

Another important question to consider is whether you want to fish from a boat or from shore. Both have their pros and cons, and in the long run, you’ll want to try both so you know what approach suits you best.

From a Boat

Two center console boats in the inshore waters of the Gulf Coast

There’s no doubt about it, hiring a charter boat is definitely the most hassle-free way to organize your inshore fishing trip. Not only do you get a boat, but it comes with a captain who knows where the fish are and how to get them. For a beginner, this is an invaluable way to learn since nothing beats having a pro show you how it’s done. To top it off, keep in mind the fishing gear and necessary licenses are usually provided by the captain and included in the price of your trip.

Of course, that’s not to say you can just waltz on the boat without a care in the world and expect a great time. Knowing how to dress and what to pack on a trip is essential if you want to have a memorable time on the water. That’s why you should make sure to read our article on packing for a charter trip if you plan on one any time soon.

From Shore

A man standing on pier with his fishing rod.

One of the advantages of inshore fishing is that you can reach the fishing grounds from the shore as well! There are several different ways to do it too, like wading in grassy flats, fishing from piers and bridges, or simply casting from the beach. The best one for you really depends on where you’ll be fishing, so make sure to do your homework ahead of time.

Speaking of which, you’ll also need to prepare an appropriate rod, reel, and tackle setup for your trip. It’s impossible to have a foolproof one-size-fits-all set of gear since inshore fishing is such a general term, but here’s an example of a reliable inshore setup to steer you in the right direction:

  • 6–7′ medium heavy rod
  • 25–30 size reel
  • 20 lb monofilament line
  • Live bait from your local tackle shop

This should be enough to get you started until you can tell what works best in your chosen fishery.

Popular Inshore Fishing Techniques

Now that you know what you can expect to find inshore, let’s talk a little bit about the different ways you can catch these fish.

Drift Fishing

A center console boat drifting in the inshore waters somewhere in Florida.

Drift fishing is what most people think about when it comes to inshore fishing from a boat. You let the current steer the boat while you drag your bait along and wait for a bite. Let’s be clear, though, it’s not as simple as turning off the engine and sitting around until the fish come. For example, a common practice is to use drift sock systems to keep the boat properly aligned and moving in the right direction. Having a skilled captain at your side still counts for a lot.

This is a common way to go after species like Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Sharks. The laid-back nature of this technique makes it a good choice for families and more casual trips. Even so, you’re still in for an exciting fight if you get a bite from a Tarpon or a big “bull” Red.

Bottom Fishing

An angler on boat reels in a fish he caught inshore.

If you’re in the market for some delicious fish to have for lunch or dinner after the trip, then bottom fishing is for you. Essentially, you’ll head out to where bottom feeders gather in numbers, anchor the boat, and get to work. Fish like Flounder, Seabass, and Grouper are all potential targets to fill up your freezer with.

If you want to bottom fish from shore, your best bet is to settle down at a pier. There you can lower your bait without worrying about long casting. Try to find a spot close to any kind of underwater structure since you’re more likely to encounter fish there.

Bowfishing

A man stands on a boat preparing to use his bowfishing equipment

We all know fishing is cool, but catching fish with a bow and arrow is a whole other ball game. It’s usually done from a boat, whether it’s an airboat or a more classic flat-bottomed vessel. There’s a special reel that connects the arrow to the bow itself, so don’t worry about losing it if you miss your fish.

Since you can’t hit something you don’t see, you’ll be sticking to shallow waters during your bowfishing trip. Your shooting targets will include Redfish, Gar, Flounder, and more. To make the whole experience even more memorable, these trips usually run in the evening, with boats packing strong lights to help you see your prey.

Flounder Gigging

A family of four standing next to the Flounder they caught on their gigging trip.

Earlier on we mentioned there’s a whole special way to go after Flounder. As you can see, it’s in the name! But what is gigging? Simply put, it involves using a special spear (a gig) to stab a Flounder that you spotted from your boat. It’s simple, enjoyable, and rather exciting to boot. It’s very popular in Texas, but you’ll encounter Flounder gigging throughout the Gulf Coast.

Like bowfishing, it’s usually done at night on a boat packing some good LED lights. While you can find Flounder all year round, gigging is primarily a summer and fall activity. If you find yourself in Galveston or Rockport around that time, make sure to check it out!

Inshore Fishing – Because You Don’t Have to Go Far for Good Fish

Five anglers hold a big Redfish together while sitting on a boat.

The best way to approach something new is to ease into it step by step. That’s why inshore fishing is the perfect way to get started and develop your angler credentials. And if you just want to have a plain good time with friends and family, there’s plenty of that too. See what type of fishing is on offer in your area and we’ll see you on the water!

What does your favorite inshore trip involve? Anything you wanted to try but never got around to yet? Let us know in the comments below!

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