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September 21, 2007

Hot Rocks

Rock-hole casting can provide fast action with snook, tarpon, stripers and other nearshore gamefish.

Inshore fishermen have long known that jetties are prime places to catch almost everything that cruises the crevices looking for a fast meal, including flounder, tarpon, snook and striped bass.

The tips or ends of jetties are often sportfish haunts, mainly because tide and current creates cauldrons of swirling water that disorient bait, making it vulnerable to predator attack. But this same condition can also be found near less obvious spots on the rocks. Jetty holes or gaps are top bets for catching fish.

Holes in the Wall
Numerous jetties have built-in breaks where a cluster of rocks is purposely set apart from the rest of the structure. Between the two rock masses, current pushes through and gamefish prowl the scene. Other jetty holes are created when oversize rocks along a wall tumble out of place. This usually takes place during jetty construction. Years of tide flow and ocean storms wear at jetties, too, and holes or gaps in a rock wall can form, creating new fishing hot spots.

A more subtle jetty gap is a dip or depression in a rock wall that, during low tide, may be barely noticeable. However, during high tide, this spot fills with water, and current washes through with force, grabbing baitfish, shrimp, crabs and other forage, pushing it haplessly through the rocks. These dips may not have water flowing through them continuously during high tide, but a large wave or two periodically breaking through or over the depression is enough to get the attention of feeding predators.

For ease of lure and bait presentation and safety, jetty holes are best fished from a boat. Anchoring within casting distance of a rock gap is a good tactic, but controlled drifts or maneuvering along with an electric motor is usually the most productive. The best situation for working jetty gaps is when tide, wave and wind conditions allow a boat to be controlled with an electric motor. This silent approach not only prevents spooking fish, but makes for precise boat control.

In rough water, which sometimes produces the best fishing near rock gaps, one person should man the helm, occasionally bumping the motor in and out of gear to hold a boat in proper casting position to jetty gaps, and to keep a boat from running aground should a large sea swell roll in.

Because fish orient to the outflow side of rocks, where bait is pushed through jetty gaps, the down-tide or down-current sides of jetty holes are most productive. The ocean sides of inlet jetties will produce the best fishing during the late phase of falling tides. Conversely, during late flood tides, the inlet sides of rock walls should provide the best chances.

Closing the Gap
Although almost any preferred lure or bait can produce fish from jetty gaps, floating lures or countdown sinkers are preferred. Jigs can be used, but you've got to be on your cast-and-retrieve game to keep them free from rock snags. Soft-plastic jerkbaits such as Shad Assassins, Slug-Gos and the like, are made to order for jetty-hole fishing. Topwater plugs such as Heddon Super Spooks, MirrOlure Top Dogs and Rebel Jumpin' Minnows make distance casting easy, and are simple to work. No matter what you choose to cast, adding a length of extra-heavy leader will reduce line chafe and cutoffs in the rocks.

Often the best way to fish a rock dip is to cast directly into the opening, retrieving a lure or bait back as the water drains out. If there's a fish waiting in ambush, you'll know about it in short order.

Of course, natural baits have their place in jetty-gap fishing, especially when targeting species not known for taking lures, such as sheepshead, blackfish, even sharks. But that's the kick of rock-hole casting: It's fast action for fish that strike hard and want to leave in a hurry with all of your line, terminal tackle and adrenaline.

On the Rocks
High-tides and storms top anglers' charts.
When higher-than-usual tides occur, it's a good possibility that your favorite jetty will be awash and gamefish will be watching the gaps for bait. A quick check of a long-range tide chart can be helpful in predicting such a condition, which usually occurs during full and new moon phases. Storms also can create waves pouring through jetty holes that ordinarily are not breached.
- B.M.