Understanding Vital Seagrass Beds and How They Support Inshore Fishing

Homosassa charters discuss what seagrass is and why it’s an invaluable part of a successful fishing trip

While they may look like underwater grasses, seagrass is in fact a type of flowering plant that evolved from land plants millions of years ago. According to estimates, Florida has over 2.2 million acres of seagrass throughout its inshore waters. The state’s Gulf Coast is home to two of the largest seagrass beds in all of North America.

Seagrass is often confused with seaweed, but they are in fact two distinct plants that are vastly different in terms of ecology, morphology and physiology.

Areas around Homosassa are particularly rich in seagrass because of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge and other protected areas along this stretch of Florida’s Guif coast.

As we’ll explain below, seagrasses play an invaluable part of supporting large gamefish like the Spotted Sea Trout, Redfish, Snook, Black Drum and others.

Seagrass beds provide habitat for bait and perform a variety of functions vital for maintaining a healthy ecosystem for Homosassa inshore fishing charters

Seagrasses can be found anywhere from ankle deep water in the Salt River or other areas around Homosassa to slightly deeper water along the Continental Shelf offshore. How deep seagrass grows largely depends on the water’s clarity. Seagrasses can survive in deeper waters provided the water is clear and sunlight can reach the plants. Without light, seagrass cannot grow since they rely on photosynthesis for nutrition.

Besides their obvious function of being an oasis for shrimp, crabs, minnows and small fish that larger gamefish rely on, seagrass beds perform a variety of vital functions, including:

  • Trap sediments and particles with their leaves and therefore maintain water clarity
  • Roots and rhizomes help keep the sea floor stable
  • Besides providing food for gamefish, many water birds like the Cormorant and Osprey feed on shrimp, crabs and small fish found in seagrass beds
  • Manatees, sea turtles and other underwater herbivores feed on the seagrass itself.
  • Seagrasses also provide shelter and protection to juvenile Red and Black Drums, Snappers and other fish.
  • Like land-based plants, seagrasses produce oxygen that helps support marine life. Areas where seagrasses have been badly damaged sometimes experience devastating fish kills since the water is so starved for oxygen.

Worldwide, there are over 50 distinct species of seagrass. However, only 3 of these are commonly found in Florida while an additional 4 are rather sparse around the Sunshine State. The common ones Homosassa inshore fishing charters will search for include:

Homosassa Inshore Fishing - Turtlegrass

  1. Turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) – This is the most important type of seagrass for fishing, and the most common. These beds form a literal buffet of bait for Redfish, Snook and other inshore species. Turtle grass is long and wavy and looks like green ribbon or eels. It can grow in ankle deep water and up to 20 feet deep depending on the water clarity. Many anglers report that fishing is best in water that’s slightly murky since it provides some cover for fish but still allows them to spot their prey.Homosassa Inshore Fishing - Turtle Grass photoHomosassa Inshore Fishing - Manateegrass

 

  1. Manatee grass (Syringodium filiformes) – This type of seagrass grows in very shallow water that often becomes dry during the lowest tides in the spring. You can recognize manatee grass since it looks more cylindrical rather than ribbon-like. Many anglers report that if you see a spot of manatee grass surrounded by turtle or shoal grass, it’s likely there are fish below. Isolated manatee grass spots are rather rare and often die off in the low tides.

Homosassa Inshore Fishing - Manatee Grass photo

Homosassa Inshore Fishing - Shoalgrass

  1. Shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) – This type of grass can grow in murkier water than turtle grass since it grows in very shallow waters. Shoal grass can also tolerate air exposure, so it can grow on outcroppings along the shore. When these areas go dry, fish will take up residence in surrounding channels.

Halodule wrightii

Through years of careful observation, anglers and inshore fishing charters in Homosassa have learned that the thickest part of the seagrass beds are not necessarily the best for fishing. Edges, open spots and thinner grassy areas seem to be the ideal places for finding prize gamefish.

Seagrass beds are fragile environments. Any slight damage can negatively impact the grass, which affects the bait, which in turn affects the fishing. When around a large patch of seagrass in shallow waters, responsible boaters and anglers take special care to ensure a spinning boat prop doesn’t touch the grass.

Southern Slam Outfitters offers guided fishing trips in the grass flats and inshore areas around Homosassa. To learn more, visit SouthernSlamOutfitters.com or contact us today with any questions or to schedule a trip.

All images courtesy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission

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