What Is Reef Fishing?

April 24, 2020

Reef FishingCourtesy of WildOutdoor Media

The best way to describe how fish view reefs is to put it in terms of how people view something similar. Reefs are to fish what grocery stores are to people. They’re a good place to get groceries. And that’s why reef fishing is so popular and rewarding.

What Is A Reef?

In the case of fishing, reefs provide structure that support the entire fisheries food chain. And they not only provide food sources congregated in one spot, but they also supply shelter for a multitude of species. A healthy reef system provides nature’s best provisions for fish.

Reefs are basically underwater structures, mostly created naturally, but some man-made (known as artificial reefs). In today’s management era, even old oil rigs, boats, and other huge structures can be sunk and begin forming artificial reefs. Over the years, as nature adds layers of deposits, the structure transforms into similar habitats as fishermen find naturally.

Natural Coral reefs are built up over centuries by living organisms. Some are soft, living reefs while others are hard, formed by limestone that is formed around polyps on the reef. These continually build up and make the reefs larger over time. Ledges and outcroppings of rocks also lend themselves to reef formation. These hard surfaces provide protection and food sources.

Fishing On Reefs

Fishing on reefs is fun for several reasons, but mainly because you can almost always be assured of some type of action there. That’s why hiring a professional guide to go on a fishing trip is worth the money in many cases. They know the locations of the reefs, what’s there, and what they’ll bite. All you have to do is pack a lunch, enjoy the ride, and set the hook.

There are also several ways you can catch fish off of reefs, from trolling lures over and around the reefs to bottom fishing, where you generally  drop your bait directly down to the fish in the reef. Drift fishing can also produce good catches as you float your bait across the reef, covering more water than just plain bottom fishing.

One reef favorite is the Goliath Grouper. These fish get enormous, well over 100 pounds, and they put up quite a fight. They like to hang out around the reefs and sometimes give fishermen fits by stealing their catch before they can get it reeled up into the boat. One reason these fish are so popular is that they are almost everywhere large reefs exist, especially around man-made reefs and shipwrecks.

Because of the variety of fish being caught, captains will usually give fishermen some pretty heavy duty gear to fish with. It might not be necessary for a 10 pound snapper, but a huge grouper can run off with everything but your rod handle if you aren’t prepared.

While fish like barracuda, snapper, cobia, kingfish, sailfish, amberjack and the like often use reefs for feeding grounds, they can also be found hundreds of yards out away from the reefs. Summertime is an especially good time to fish the reefs, and areas near the reefs. Knowing the waters you are fishing really pays off when you can go up and down the openings in reefs to find some of the larger concentrations of fish.

If you are the adventuresome type and don’t need a fishing pole, you can also go spearfishing around the reefs in many states. Florida is a popular spot for that. Make sure that spearfishing is allowed in the area you go to and make sure you take proper precautions for your own safety, especially to alert boaters and fishermen that you are in the area.

Where to Reef Fish…

There are literally thousands of reef systems in the Atlantic Ocean, around the Florida Keys and even in the Gulf of Mexico. Numerous lists of popular fishing reefs are available on the internet and if you are interested in making a reef fishing trip, contact a charter captain in the area you are visiting. They can hook you up with the right gear, bait, and a trip to the hotspots.

Florida’s East Coast is home to a huge natural coral reef and it draws recreational fishermen and charter boats to it from mid-way down the coast all the way to the Keys. Some of the reef is shallow, but parts of it are extremely deep. If you aren’t familiar with the reef, you need to make sure you follow charts because you can damage your boat or the reef if you run over it in shallow locations.

In some areas, oyster beds form excellent fishing habitat. They are usually more shallow than the coral reefs and some, like those in the Chesapeake Bay, are even exposed at low tide.

Man-made reefs have been established by sinking everything from trolley cars to boats to huge piles or concrete or old oil rigs. It doesn’t take Mother Nature long to take over, as tiny free swimming larvae attach themselves and begin to grow the area into a reef.

Book A Reef Fishing Trip

Snapper, grouper, amberjack, ling, cobia, tuna, barracuda and halibut like to hang out around reefs. Fish often hang out in the reefs, but sometimes can be caught on the outer edges. If you’re interested in a really fun excursion, book a reef charter with a local captain; we guarantee you won’t regret it!

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