Tips for Fishing Artificial Reefs

Tips for Fishing Artificial Reefs

Artificial reefs are breathing new life into fishing communities across the world. They have helped re-establish marine biodiversity by increasing and conserving native species. Thus, they offer anglers great offshore opportunities while also making scenic locations for recreational water activities. 

These man-made structures are designed to mimic nature’s natural formations. Made of different materials, they are deployed to the bottom of the sea to increase fish populations. There are thousands of artificial reefs dotting the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines. They abound in a variety of marine species from snappers to sandfish to angelfish. While many have been intentionally scuttled to the bottom of the ocean floor, there are unofficial ones too – abandoned and derelict ships and vessels perched on the seafloor.

Artificial reefs are often overlooked as profitable fishing sites by traditional hook and line anglers. Usually located within a safe distance from the shore, they are easy to access. Hence, rumor has it that these hard-bottom sites are overfished, reducing the chances of a good catch. On the contrary, artificial reefs fetch larger shoals. 

Some anglers manage to get their hands on a larger catch than others. Well, it boils down to technique when it comes to fishing artificial reefs. If this is your first time fishing artificial reefs, it will help to have a few tips handy. This guide is a starting point for newcomers interested in using artificial reefs as their next fishing destination. 

Reef Selection 

Starting involves selecting an artificial reef site. The great number can confuse an amateur, but knowing what to look for will keep you on track. Where should you start looking? Your state agency or coastal county. Most artificial reef programs are administered and managed by the respective state’s division of Marine Fisheries. They maintain a public record on every artificial reef site placed along their coastlines for use by anglers and recreational divers. Get the GPS coordinates for the most-frequented, artificial reefs closest to your shore. The data base may also list the fish species inhabiting a particular reef. This way, you know what to expect and can prepare with the right gear. 

As an offshore fishing opportunity, one needn’t go deep into the sea to get a good catch. There are ideal artificial reef fishing sites located within just a few miles off the shore. Sites within a range of 6 to 12 miles from the shore offer fish in plentiful and are relatively safe for boaters. Artificial reefs at a depth of 30’ to 60’ are hotspots for fisheries. 

How old is the Artificial Reef? 

The age of the reef is an important selection criterion too; it refers to the date when the artificial reef was stationed on the ocean floor. Over time, the artificial structures accumulate algae, corals, sponges and tunicates. The encrusted sea growth enables them to become suitable breeding and feeding grounds for smaller and larger predatory fish. The older the reef, the more abundant and diverse the marine life it houses. You are likely to get a better catch here. 

Size and Structure of the Reef 

Artificial reef fishing also includes factoring in the structure, size and type of vessel used to create the reef. Artificial reefs are modeled out of so many things – derelict ships, oil rigs, construction rubble and debris, trains, cars, battle tanks, and culverts. Those placed intentionally make use of specifically designed concrete modules. Artificial reefs offer several nooks, crannies and crevices that shelter thousands of species of baitfish, crustaceans, invertebrates and top-of-the shelf predators.Anglers also believe that the type of material of the wreck or reef module attract specific species of fish mainly for the food they provide. For instance, wooden structures have worms that fish feed on. 

The Best Time to Fish 

Near shore, artificial reef fishing picks up during the fall season and extends up to early spring. The waters begin to cool and create perfect breeding habitats for migrating groupers and snappers in these shallow haunts. The extreme temperatures during the summer and winter force the fish to move deeper and further away from the shore. Artificial reef fishing in winter is ideal at temperatures ranging between the mid-60s and the low 70s. 

Fishing Artificial Reefs: How to 

Settle for Light Tackle

Artificial reefs are heavy-pressured waters. It can be difficult to land a fish because reef residents tend to be very picky. Fishing artificial reefs closer to the shore requires one to forgo the heavy tackle. Using heavier gear will cause the fish to get suspicious. It may pick the bait, but on sensing the weight may drop it. An inshore tackle is your best option if you’re looking to hook some grouper or snapper. Use a light tackle with a conventional setup to increase fishing success. A 30 to 50lb braided line, medium-heavy action rods are ideal for a 3-5lb snapper and a normal size trouper. A lightweight tackle setup increases the bites you get; it also makes fishing a lot more fun and challenging. 

Be generous with the Fluorocarbon

Make sure you use a good length of leader line when you go out fishing. It sure makes a difference to your success when fishing artificial reefs. Around 6’ to 10’ of fluorocarbon leader (25lb to 30lb) is best suited when fishing in reefy territory. Attached to the main fishing line, fluorocarbon leaders are lightweight because they do not absorb too much water. They are also “invisible” underwater; so, all the fish sees is the lure. It’s the perfect way to trick fish and get them to bite. Like already mentioned, heavy leaders are no good in heavily pressured waters. You need to keep adjusting the length of the leader line, extending it, if bites are harder to come by. 

Switch to Ultralight Presentations

Should you use bigger, heavier lead sinkers? Ditch the heavy golf ball-sized sinkers for lighter presentations. The former slides past fish, quickly to the bottom of the reef but could drive away fish. Most anglers prefer using lightweight jigs, jig heads in the 3/0 –3/4 oz weight category, for artificial reef fishing. Being lighter in weight, you can drop the bait to any depth you want. These slow descending jigs are of great use to attract fish even from a distance. Subtle, ultralight presentations also make it easier to detect bites. 

Chum the Waters 

There is no better way to baitfish on an artificial reef than to use chum. Fish never mind a free meal.Chum sends the fish into a frenzy. You can lure reef residents closer to the surface by supplying a steady stream of chum while staying anchored over the structure. What works best? Fresh shrimp heads and fresh-cut baitfish. Cut baitfish and drop a few chunks into the water if you are trying to gather larger predators. We always advise cutting the fish while it is still frozen. Thawed baits can become a mess.  The decision to use the fish whole or as chunks depends on the size of the catch you are targeting. 

Frozen chum blocks are also quite effective for a wide range of species. Made of ground baitfish and a few other ingredients, they are cheap and convenient to use. You can simply hang it by the cleat in a mesh bag for smaller baitfish or drop it into the water if you want to tease the bigger snappers and groupers. The scent will lure the fish to come to test the chum line. Yet another tactic is to use a hooked bait. Drop it in minutes after chumming the water with a handful of chunks. 

Do not overfeed the fish. Space it out for every 5-10 minutes. It will keep the fish below your boat engaged for hours.Many anglers recommend using a combination of chumming techniques to increase reef action. Once you’ve managed to get the fish around your boat, deploy small jigs to target the hungry reef residents. 

There is yet another possibility when using bait. Chumming the waters with dead or frozen bait could attract a school of baitfish around your boat. As they feed on the chum you supply, they are further preyed upon by larger predators. If you want to get your hands on the bigger guys, flip a rigged bait a little away from the pod of baitfish. 

Fish Populations 

The fishing strategy and tackle selection are usually determined by the type of fish.   Pelagic species inhabit the middle depths of the water column, neither too close to the bottom nor to the surface. If pelagic species are your target, dropping heavy rigs will tip off the fish causing them to disperse. Lighter presentations using small baits are the best to lure suspicious pelagics. There are bottom fish too that hang around the bottom of the wreck. Black sea bass, squid, bluefish, flounders, striped bass, sharks, tuna, groupers, snappers, jacks, amberjacks, cobia, big yellowtails are just some the varieties that inhabit artificial reefs. You may also end up netting different fish in different seasons. 

Many anglers prefer anchoring right on top of the structure as jigging vertically leads to less snagging. Others prefer not to anchor and choose instead to move across the reef while fishing vertically. This enables them to cover larger areas. One need not anchor directly on top of the reef. You can get an abundance of fish even several hundred yards away from the reef. After all, there are several species that school over an artificial reef only for food. 


Reefs are the best place to go fishing because there’s something for everyone. Artificial reefs may take a while to pick up some action after they are sunk. Following that they provide a steady supply of fish. Artificial reefs promise a great day at sea. Using the right angling techniques will ensure you are covered. 

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