Is there grass? This is an important factor to think about. Favorite prey items for gamefish use grass to hide, feed and reproduce almost year round, so make sure sea grasses are in the equation.
The ICW from Memorial Causeway north to Anclote Key has some of the nicest grass flats I've ever seen. The water is always clear and the grass is always thick and lush....but....I haven't had much luck in that area. There are a few spots that I've found that SHOULD hold fish, like a grassy 10 feet deep hole in the middle of a 3 feet deep grass flat that doesn't hold fish for some reason. But on the other hand, when looking at a few spots on Bing Maps near Old Tampa Bay, I noticed an absence of grass. I was assured that there WAS in fact grass there, only to find the area as bald as I am...and ended up going home empty handed.
Deep water nearby? Gamefish are preyed upon as juveniles by birds and bigger fish. This sticks with them as adults. Deeper water acts as security for these fish and it's always a good idea to look for some sort of depth variation close to where you'll be fishing. Deeper water also holds cooler temperatures in the summer.
One of my favorite spots to fish is at Sand Key. There is a grass flat that drops off into a deep channel. There are always trout holding at or close to this edge. I've also caught snook and tarpon there. Recently, I was wading in knee deep water at this edge, catching trout and I noticed that the water blowing from the channel on the incoming tide felt about 10 degrees cooler than the water I was standing in.
Other structures - Oyster bars, sand bars, docks, pilings, rocks and rip-rap? Just like bass fishing, you have to locate the structure. Baitfish use these features to hide from gamefish. Gamefish use these locations as a current break and to be able to ambush prey. I like to find docks that house sailboats because they need to be fairly deep to allow for the keel of the boat.
Another of my favorite spots features an oyster bar. It's located between two mangrove islands with deep edges. The front side of the bar drops into about 6 feet of water. The back edge sweeps into a shallow grassy area that is mostly exposed during low tide. I've often witnessed redfish following the incoming tide into the grass, but make a stop along the front of the oyster bar foraging for mud crabs that make the oyster bar their home.
In the next installment of "Scouting New Spots", we'll focus on when to go.