How to Find Fish Offshore

Offshore Fishing

Salt water fishing: HOW TO FIND FISH OFFSHORE

The purpose of this article is to consider a few things to hopefully make us more successful as we pursue our goal. The focus will be fishing for pelagic species such as wahoo, dolphin, tuna, and billfish, but the principles apply in many other salt water fishing scenarios. Lastly, the takeaway should be to answer the question of what can I do to increase the odds that my ballyhoo will get in front of the fish I’m after.  I would always encourage you to never head offshore without a plan.

Saltwater Trolling

Why is an offshore fishing plan important?

The further offshore you are going, the more important the plan becomes. The open ocean is vast with 90% of the fish occupying about 1% of the water. That sounds a little like looking for a needle in a haystack, but if you are consistently fishing in the right 1%, your odds are significantly improved.  To be successful you need to find the pockets of water where fish are congregating. 

Fish are relatively simple creatures and care about two major things: 

1. Food source – Bait is the most important factor when determining where fish will congregate.  

2. Living Conditions – Pelagic fish are very particular when it comes to where they will and will not travel. Pelagic fish tend to prefer specific temperatures, salinity levels, and clarity. Ideal conditions will vary slightly by specific species.

It helps to think of the areas we fish as two distinct bodies of water: inshore and offshore. The inshore water is characterized by: 

  • Nutrient Rich  

  • Lower salinity

  • Lower water clarity

  • Green in color

  • Generally less current

The offshore water will be almost just the opposite: blue, clear, stronger current, less nutrients, and a higher salinity. 

Generally baitfish will tend to be in the inshore water. The conditions offered by the offshore waters tend to make pelagic species more comfortable. Consequently, regions where these two bodies of water converge greatly improve the opportunities to troll your lures in front of that trophy fish. The interface between these two bodies serves as a fence keeping baitfish from venturing further offshore and the gamefish don’t have to travel far out of their comfort zone because they are able to locate food. 

As we start formulating a game plan, begin by considering how characteristics differ between inshore and offshore waters, namely temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, current, and color. Without question, the best way to look for these characteristics is using satellite imagery. 

SST Charts

using sst fishing charts

Sea surface temperature (SST) is just that: the water temperature at the water's surface. SST by far gets the most attention when discussing satellite imagery and a sharp 1-2 deg temperature break can definitely concentrate fish. 

Finding a good temperature break is always a big positive. The challenge is that temperature data is dependent on cloud-free conditions. Imagery can’t "see" through clouds and optimal cloud conditions are often few and far between. To combat this, satellite imagery services use very sophisticated algorithms to compensate for cloud cover, but accuracy will be the sacrifice. .

Chlorophyll fishing charts

Chlorophyll is another characteristic easily identified using satellite imagery. The chlorophyll satellite images help to spot where water conditions (primarily nutrients) are such that algae (phytoplankton) can bloom.  Unfortunately, like temperature images, chlorophyll images are hindered by cloud cover. 

cloud-free salinity charts

Typically inshore waters are influenced by rain and freshwater input from rivers, which results in a lower salinity.  The salinity satellite image illustrates some of the interesting features often available. It illustrates the subtlety of salinity differences inshore versus offshore waters. One particularly attractive feature of salinity satellite images is that they are not dependent on having cloud free conditions. You can always count on having salinity information regardless of the cloud conditions.

 The downside, particularly when differentiating inshore from offshore water, is that the gradient is often gradual. This subtle gradient translates into a wider uncertainty of exactly where the inshore/offshore interface exists. 


finding fish with offshore currents

Current is another characteristic that differentiates coastal inshore waters from offshore water. Again it is easily distinguished using satellite imagery and it is also independent of cloud conditions.  Current is a water characteristic, which is independent of cloud conditions and can be used to differentiate inshore from offshore waters. 

Don’t necessarily consider the  characteristics we've considered independently, but look for areas of convergence, areas where multiple water characteristics intersect and with the steepest gradients. Remember the idea is to utilize as much information as possible to focus our efforts on what is likely the most productive water and tilt the odds of locating gamefish in our favor.

SST fishing chart

Structure = offshore fish

Another piece of information available to us before we leave the docks is structure. There are a myriad of sources available to identify structure in your fishing area.  If you have been fishing long, it is likely you have already used these sources to identify those areas of structure. 

Structure provides cover for baitfish and they tend to congregate around structure for the protection it offers. 

Structure can come in many forms including rocks, ledges, wrecks as well as swells and humps in the ocean floor. 

Wahoo fishing

A good topographical map can be very useful in this effort. The closer the bottom contour lines on a navigational chart, the more severe the drop-off and, usually, the better the area for attracting bait and gamefish. Additionally, offshore currents can cause eddies of offshore water to push inshore. These eddies are often visible with satellite imagery. Watch for these because often these small pockets of water can be very productive areas. 

Once you’ve focused on the areas of water that make the target species comfortable, consider structure. Ask yourself where is there structure located in the area where favorable water characteristics converge? Don't look for structure first. Many people don't do their homework and they just go to the structure they always go to. 

fishing using birds

use your eyes to find fishing spots

At some point though, it comes time to head out and fish! Even though we have done everything possible to identify the most productive water, there is still a lot of water left. We can be confident conditions are favorable for our quarry to be comfortable and that baitfish can't be far. However without bait, gamefish will probably not be abundant in an area and even if you find some, they won't stay long if baitfish do not come on the scene. Without baitfish, you are usually better off continuing to explore other areas with favorable conditions rather than trying to wait out the arrival of fish.

Seeing baitfish is obviously the best visual cue that bait is in the area. Seeing baitfish might be seeing them on a chart recorder. It might be seeing schools of flying fish. It might be seeing pods of bait on the surface. It might include seeing gamefish breaking the surface chasing bait. Whatever the form, seeing bait in the area is great!  

The limitation of being able to see bait and know you are in the right area is your ability to visually see the bait. On a good day, you potentially could spot bait up to a hundred yards away. The good thing is that gamefish are not the only creatures feeding on baitfish. Marine mammals, particularly porpoise, are also good visual cues you are in the right area. Birds, however are the best opportunity to use visual cues to locate baitfish in a promising area. Using binoculars or even radar, you use birds to lead you to the baitfish. 

Hopefully the information presented has been helpful. Feel free to reach out with any feedback. TrollTrue Lures are a unique line of trolling lures designed to present natural baits in the most realistic manner possible. Finding fish is step one and the next step is getting them on the line.