Hi Mr. Ketterer,
When I hear the words “Reefs” in your question I assume you’re talking about one of the many artificial reefs you will find around our state. A lot of them – especially around populated areas like we live in here in the Saint Petersburg/Tampa area are fished a lot. But there are lots of places to fish, so do not be discouraged.
There are plenty of natural reef structures too, especially in the Florida Keys, but let’s talk for a minute about fishing an artificial reef. They can be made from purposely-sunken ships, man-made reef cones, or from a combination of debris.
A Grid Search
Before we go any further, know that any “number” you have – any GPS coordinate – should only be considered a general location. This is true for artificial reefs, or just some numbers a friend gave you or you found on an outstanding web site like ours (hint: check out our fishy spot maps).
Look at this grid. It’s for an area on the East Coast of the state called the Diamondhead Radnor Reef. It’s a sunken vessel a half of a mile off of West Palm’s South Ocean Blvd. You can see the pin, which shows you the GPS coordinates, and the pin is positioning inside a grid. The grid shows you starting in the NE corner of the rectangle, and zig-zagging down to the SW corner. Then we repeat and fill the entire rectangle with a thorough digital search while drifting live or dead baits or bouncing jigs on the bottom.
I move in a pattern, scanning to see not only the structure you’re looking for, but any other new pieces of structure, hard bottom, ledges, or any “shows” of fish (usually butterfly-like patterns on your fish finders). Another reason for structured grid searches like this are that fish change positions on structure based on tide and current flow, and are often in different positions in the water column, too; sometimes they’re close to the bottom and other times they will come up twenty feet in a hundred foot of water to grab a bait on its way down or its way up.
This will let you know where the fish are sitting or where they are suspended in the water column so that you don’t set up on the coordinate and have it be the wrong side, where there are no fish. Also Sounders are all different and will show bottom reads and fish differently with each machine, so if you ever get a picture or photograph of some structure from someone, it is a good idea to find the same piece and review it on your machine by covering it at different angles.
To quickly mark a good reef area you should employee a marker buoy with a flag attached. Cherry Bomb and Suremarker are two buoy companies that make them.
Once dropping the marker you can then set up on the spot. The marker will let you anchor up correctly by showing you which way the tide is moving (current moving around the buoy ball) and give you the direction of the wind (flag direction). Once you set the anchor, take a heading and mark down the bearing number. Now you can use the bearing number to anchor up on other reef structures, ledges and pieces you want to fish in that area.
What Works on One Structure Works on Them All
I used the Diamond Radnor Reef in Palm Beach County. However you can use the same method at the reefs and wrecks you fish in the Southwest Gulf region. Every reef has so many great places with marked coordinates within it. The search grid in the diagram will quickly help you locate what you are looking for.
Captain David M Rieumont
The Online Fisherman Inc.