Oyster bars attract more cruisers than a sports pub on a Saturday night. In fact, these natural “watering holes” rank as top pickup spots for many inshore game-fish species from Maryland to Texas. Hang out at the right time, and you’re all but guaranteed to catch fish.
Baitfish and crustaceans are also bar regulars, prompting a variety of predators to take advantage of ambush spots in and around oyster reefs. Choose the right tide and properly present the right bait, and you’ll increase your odds.
“Tide is critical,” says Capt. Jordan Todd of Saltwater Obsessions in Port St. Joe, Florida, who fishes Apalachicola Bay in the state’s Panhandle. “We have oyster bars in different depths of water, so there are oyster bars that’ll be out of water on low tide and covered up on high tide. Then there are others in 5 to 6 feet of water that are covered up all the time.
“For redfish, you want a low tide that’s starting to rise. The first half of the incoming tide, those redfish will start swimming into it and start feeding around those exposed bars. I normally like to start fishing just as they start to get covered up.”
Todd anchors down-current of a bar and throws topwater plugs — chartreuse- or bone-colored Rapala Skitter Walks are his favorites — on top of or beyond the bar, working them back with a walk-the-dog retrieve. He also buzzes weedless, nonweighted soft-plastic paddletail lures across the top of a bar.
As the water deepens, Todd switches to a shrimp jig or a D.O.A. or Gulp! shrimp under a popping cork. “A good angler can use a quarter-ounce jig head or D.O.A. shrimp, and bounce it across the bar,” he says. “Hard twitchbaits, like a MirrOdine or Rapala Shad Rap, work very well.”
“We fish a lot of oyster bars whenever we’re fishing for snook, redfish and trout,” says Capt. Brian Barrera of South Padre Island, Texas, who likes to anchor his boat by barely exposed oyster bars on a rising tide in the Lower Laguna Madre bay.
“When the tide’s just high enough, big schools of mullet will feel safe right on top of the bars, and the snook, trout and redfish won’t have enough water on the bar to come in after them. They’ll be hanging right around it, waiting to get in there.”
Barrera’s go-to bait in that situation is a D.O.A. PT-7 topwater lure. “Since it’s weedless and floating, you can get right on top of the bar. As you retrieve it, the PT-7 looks like a mullet venturing off the bar, and the fish come up and explode on it,” he says. “I’ll also do that with a D.O.A. C.A.L. 5.5 jerkbait and rig it weedless with a 6/0 screw-lock hook. You can drop that over those oyster beds, and it looks like an injured mullet.”