Wise anglers figure out how to let the water work for them.

Coastal ecosystems can span millions of acres and range from vast marsh to deep channels. Being able to read the water and weather well enough to know where fish will be moving is crucial in successful fishing.

That is why during the fall, the most successful anglers fish passes.

A pass is the sometimes-narrow link from one area, such as a marsh, to the main body of water. It also can link two of the same types of areas, such as a channel that connects two mashes. One of the main reasons fish like these “bottleneck” areas is that current is magnified, but seasonal migrations factor in as well.

Fall is a prime time to focus fishing effort on passes, whether they link the Gulf and bays or large marshes to ship channels or open bays. The most popular fish found in passes during fall are flounder, speckled trout and redfish.

The most well-known fall fishing phenomenon during this time of year is the flounder run. These flat fish normally relate to the bottom and rely on current to bring bait to them. They migrate out of inland areas through passes into the Gulf of Mexico from October into December.

During the first half of this migration, the best fishing normally occurs during an incoming tide. It’s common to believe the outgoing tide makes more sense, but until later in the fall run, incoming tides trigger more active feeding.

“Incoming tides stimulate flounder to bite in a magnificent way, and around the passes you tend to have less fishing pressure on the incoming tides,” said Chester Moore, founder of the conservation project Flounder Revolution. “Everyone wants to be there when the tide goes out, and there is a time for that, but incoming tides bring in warmer water from the Gulf and add nutrients to the system as waters rise around mud and sand flats. That kick-starts the food chain and gets flounder feeding.”

A soft-plastic curltail or paddletail like the Mud Minnow on a jighead is an effective lure for fall flounder. Many anglers tip the lure with a piece of shrimp and crawl it slowly across the bottom, focusing on the channel and the outer edges of the pass.

Around the second week of November, things change and the outgoing tides become crucial to fish. The migration accelerates and flounder use the outgoing tides to push them to distant Gulf spawning grounds. The plastic swimbait on a jighead remains a good tactic, but when fish get finicky, which is common late in the run, switching to a rig that allows for a slower retrieve can pay off with limits of big fish.

Rigging a Mud Minnow Paddle Tail on a Carolina rig and crawling it slowly across the bottom can help anglers score on bigger fish. A bigger, 6-inch bait is just the right size for saddle-blanket-sized flounder.

Redfish also inhabit these passes during fall, and the bulls, or spawning-sized specimens, gather here in large numbers to spawn. Whereas flounder spawn in upwards of 100-feet of water, bull reds spawn on the beachfront and around passes and jetties near shore. This allows anglers a unique opportunity to get in on world class big-fish action without running long distances.

Hard baits tend to work best for bull reds. The Super Pogy and Deep Long A from Bomber Saltwater Grade are two preferred lures for big reds as they move through passes.

The Super Pogy is weighted for making precision casts toward deeper holes at jetties or along deep cuts in the surf, as well as long casts paralleling pass channels or shorelines. The best technique is to let it sink to the bottom, then rip it hard with a quick upward movement of the rod. Let the bait sink again on a semi-taut line to detect the “thump” of a fish hitting. Don’t stay in an area long during fall because if bull reds are there they’ll let you know. If they’re not, move on and continue your search.

The A-Salt HD Minnow is effective in the deeper spots, especially where you have a ship channel intersecting the pass. Reds hold in these spots in large numbers and move from drop-off down into the deeper water. Work the lure with a twitch-twitch-pause retrieve or troll it to cover more water. While searching, return to areas that held promise but no fish. Bull reds tend to work through areas in shifts and their movements can be unpredictable.

Speckled trout often get overlooked at passes because of the phenomenal flounder and redfish action, but if you like to catch trout it’s a good idea to check any passes in your fishing areas.

Good numbers of trout hold in the passes before water temperatures drop into the lower 50s. Productive areas are drop-offs and around shell reefs. In this instance, a drop-shot rig with a nose-hooked Mud Minnow can produce, but this is a precise tactic that demands anglers know the fish are there. The deeper the water the tighter trout bunch up, and this can make finding or staying with them a difficult task. A school that would be spread out over 50 yards on the open bay might be in a 5-yard ball in 20-feet of water. Aim small, miss small with trout around the passes.

No matter what species you are pursuing, remember that a main factor is water movement. Since these are bottlenecks, tidal movements will be more pronounced than in open water. Even the smallest water flow can turn fish on and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the tide. Ships moving through a channel can suck out water on slack tides and give you a few minutes of action. Do your best to book your trips around the tide charts and adjust for locally impactful trends such as double tides, early falling tides, etc.

And keep in mind that since you are fishing an area that is a conduit for fish from one area to another, it pays to know the bottom intimately. Mark productive spots on your GPS and create a milk run. Work the hotspots first and then venture out to others.