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Snag a guide for inshore Florida angling

You own a canoe or kayak. You're planning a trip to Florida during the next couple of months. If you're driving, why not put the boat on the car, toss a couple of rods and reels and a basic tackle box in the trunk and enjoy some excellent inshore angling that any reasonably experienced fisherman can figure out?

"All you have to do is find a place where you can pull over, park the car and launch a kayak," said Jason Stock, a 21-year-old guide who runs J.M. Snooky Kayak Charters in the Tampa Bay area.

"The advantage of having a guide is that he knows where the fish are from day to day and a few hotspots that not many other people know about," Stock said. "But you can catch a lot of nice fish just by going out by yourself and exploring in the kayak until you find them."

Most inshore fishing in Florida takes place in backcountry bays and inlets over grass flats in water 1-4 feet deep. Other good spots are deeper channels along the edges of the flats, inlets when the tide is moving in or out, and even oceanfront beaches when snook and mackerel are migrating or pompano are feeding in swash channels that parallel the beach.

Tide is crucial in coastal angling. My preference is to fish all of the incoming and the first half of the outgoing tide, but sometimes tailing redfish can be found along the edges of the flats at the end of a falling tide.

What nearly all saltwater anglers agree on is that the least productive times are slack water at high and low tide, although these periods usually last only a few minutes to an hour, depending on the winds.

"We're just starting the best time of year for snook, from now through May. They cruise the (deeper) flats at low tide and move up into the mangroves as the tide comes in," Stock said. "If you have a kayak, you can get into bays that other boats can't get into and pitch jigs up under the mangroves.

"Redfish like to get up into those places, too, and you can use a kayak to work up onto the flats as the tide moves in. A lot of times you can see the redfish tailing in shallow water on the edge of an oyster bar or sand flat, feeding on crabs. A kayak gives you the stealth factor. You can move up to the fish so quietly that you can get a lot closer than you can in most other boats."

One of the most effective and easiest ways to fish the flats is with live shrimp under a float. Prime spots for snook, redfish, ladyfish and jacks are deeper channels through or along the edges of flats and the mouths of inlets and mangrove creeks where the tide runs through.

Another good tactic is to cast a shrimp out while the wind moves the kayak across a grassflat. When a fish takes the bait, drop the anchor and work that area, because where there's one seatrout or redfish there usually are more.

Stock also likes to fish for snook at night around docks, where big fish are drawn to feed on baitfish attracted by the dock lights.

"That's some exciting fishing," he said. "When a big snook smashes a bait at night and then starts jumping all over the place, it really gets your heart pumping."