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Fishing Natural Reef Formations

How to Fish Natural Reef Formations and Rock Piles


Along the coast lines there are numerous naturally occurring reef formations. Along with these formations there are rock piles - either built specifically for fishing or simply dumped. Both of these formations stick up off the bottom, provide a home for marine life, and can be fantastic places to fish.

Locating a Natural Reef

  • Just like artificial reefs , natural reefs are usually designated on a NOAA marine chart. Local fishing charts will also locate reefs. Rock piles are the same way - they may or may not be designated on a chart.
  • The same locating methods we use for finding artificial reefs are used here. Use all the locating and marking tools so you know exactly what lies beneath you.

Anchor or Drift?

  • Anchoring

    Just like artificial reef fishing we need to be sure that we do not anchor right on top of the structure here. But, in this case it becomes more important. This is a natural reef formation, and an anchor can do irreparable damage when dropped right into the formation.

    Most natural reefs and all rock piles stick up off the bottom and are surrounded by comparatively flat, sandy bottom. What we need to do is position the boat to anchor in the sand either in front of the structure or alongside the structure. This does two things - it protects the reef from anchor damage and it allows us to fish without losing all our tackle to the reef.

  • Drifting

    When fishing over natural reef formations, drifting, instead of anchoring, offers a chance to cover the entire reef. After marking the structure and getting a feel for the edges and ends, it is possible to set a drift line that will send the boat alongside the reef structure and allow your bait to be presented to more fishable area.

    In my case, I prefer to drift rather than anchor if at all possible. It saves the reef from anchor damage and actually allows me to catch more fish.

How to Fish the Reef

  • If You Anchor
    • Plan to fish on the bottom as close to the structure as possible but not on top of it.
    • Use Cut or live bait. Live bait usually gets more bites and attracts bigger fish, but cut bait or dead bait can work well.
    • Use tackle heavy enough to keep a big fish from running to a hole. You have to be the judge here. If you are fishing with a big, live, bait, you can expect a big fish to bite. Put the bait on the right tackle!
    • Keep the drag set tight enough to stop a big fish from running to a hole. The closer you fish to the structure the more likely you are to draw a big fish off the structure to eat. The farther your bait is from the structure the less likely you are to draw suspicious fish away from their cover - they did not get to be big by being stupid!
    • And one last time - don't drop a bait right on top of the reef. You will lose your tackle to the reef or break off when a fish takes you to his hole. It simply does not work well.
  • If You Drift
    • Drifting offer a variety of options that anchoring ignores.
    • Drift Alongside the Reef

      Keep you bait close to the bottom and use your rod to move it as close to the reef as possible. Your drift should take you right down the side of the structure and cover a lot of territory.

    • Fish the Water Column

      Some fish on a reef or rock pile will suspend up in the water column. If your bait is close to the bottom, you pass under them. So vary the depth of your bait as you drift by the reef.

    • Free Line Live Bait

      As you drift, don't rule out free lining some live bait. In this case is OK to allow your bait to come over the top of the reef. It won't hang up on anything because it is up in the water column. This can be a deadly method to catch some large non-bottom fish - mackerel, barracuda, jacks, amberjack, cobia - the list goes on.

  • Chumming

    A special note has to be made about chumming. Chumming is done most often when anchored, and most often with a bag of mulched fish parts. I grind up my fish parts after I clean fish and freeze them. I use a red mesh onion bag for the frozen chum that works well and is disposable when I finish. I hang the bag off the stern of the boat and shake it to release these tidbits. You can see lots of chumming options here.

Whatever fishing method you use, fishing on a natural reef or rock pile can be exciting. Some of the biggest fish you may catch will be on and around these natural reefs. This is home for them. Use some of these tips to be more successful at catching them!
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