In my many fishing instruction classes I have often said that it’s important for fisherman to not only learn about the many marine electronics for reading the water and finding fish, but they also must take time to look around. There are lots of noticeable signs on the water that will lead to fish, especially bird activity.
My favorite of our many sea and shore birds are the snowy egrets. They are medium-sized white birds often seen along the edges of mangrove shorelines. They are about two feet tall with all white feathers, a patch of yellow at the base of the bill and bright yellow feet. The youngsters will have greenish legs that turn black when they have reached adulthood. They eat mostly aquatic animals such as small fish, crustaceans, worms and insects, but most importantly to anglers they like to perch on the lower branches of mangrove that overhang the water to hunt for small baitfish. This is where the observation part of fishing begins.
If you’re fishing and you see quite a few snowy egrets lined up along a shoreline it would be a very good idea to stop and make a cast near those mangroves. The birds are hunting for dinner. Their dinner choice is pretty much the same thing the fish are hunting for. It’s somewhat of a symbiotic relationship between the two species. As the birds strike at the baitfish it forces them to swim down toward the bottom where the big fish lie in wait. As the fish strike at the baitfish it drives them up and they become an easier target for the birds. As I like to say, “This isn’t rocket science.”
There are two other wading birds that will join the snowy egrets from time to time. The little blue heron and tricolored heron feed in much the same way. If all three are seen in the same area the opportunity for hooking up with a fish is greatly increased and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Ospreys have made an amazing comeback in the skies of Southwest Florida. The pesticide DDT almost wiped them out after its use post World War II. Fortunately the problem was recognized and not only were the ospreys saved, but so were many other bird species.
Ospreys are often mistaken for eagles at a distance, but on a closer look it becomes obvious that they are nowhere near as large and the coloration is different. The osprey is a sea hawk that has a white head, brownish black feathers and a white underbelly. They love to eat fish. Favorites are catfish, seatrout, mullet and puffers. They are often seen flying over the back bays in tight circles looking from on high for prey. You guessed it. They will lead an angler to more than just their favorite dinner fish. When an osprey is working a flat there will almost always be a mix of fish from sharks to redfish, along with jacks, ladyfish and pompano. I personally would never pass up a flat that had several osprey circling overhead.
If you are here in the spring when the tarpon run begins there’s no better bird to see in the sky over the Gulf waters than the magnificent frigatebird. They are large dark colored birds with forked tails and wings that are much longer than their bodies. They soar over schools of large fish looking for the small pieces of bait fish left behind after an attack by the larger prey. They most often hover over schools of tarpon and large sharks.
Don’t just rely on your electronics the next time you venture out on a fishing trip. Take the time to look around and mother nature will most likely point the way.
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman and retired spin & fly fishing guide. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association.
- Snowy Egret.
- Photos courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife.