It’s a simple premise for inshore anglers: Food on flats equals predators. Those trout, redfish, snook, cobia and mackerel won’t stick around without the minnows, so you need to find the areas where abundant chow promises plenty of targets.
Spotting pinfish in the grass or strings of greenbacks and pilchards darting across sand holes is always a good sign, but if you’re having trouble finding the forage, look to the sky—sometimes the water—for guidance from those that do this for a living.
We’re talking birds; particularly, the ones that feed on fish. Common examples:
- Pelicans diving in the shallows.
- Gulls and terns dipping down to pick off wayward minnows.
- Black skimmers flying inches off the water to scoop up glass minnows.
- Ospreys tend to target larger fish like trout, but mullet are definitely on their list. Mullet should be on your list too, if you fish the flats from the Carolinas through the Gulf of Mexico. Gamefish often swim with mullet to pick off the crustaceans and finfish the schools displace.
- Also look for the “swimmers”—those fish-eating birds that make their living by scooting around subsurface and grabbing whatever they can catch. Common species include cormorants, anhingas, mergansers and loons.
If they’re actively working an area, you can bet there’s a healthy food supply—one that won’t go unnoticed by those top-tier gamefish.
Certainly, you’ll also want to mind the principles of good water quality, healthy sea grasses and proximity to deeper water. However, when it comes to narrowing down our areas by establishing a spot’s likelihood, the birds don’t lie.