When working a puzzle most people start by locating the easiest pieces. These pieces are generally ones which can be spotted with out much effort; most of time form the outer edge, and give us some idea or a direction to work in completing the puzzle. Inshore fishing is much like a puzzle, but with one big exception. The puzzle is ever changing, so let's find a few pieces of the puzzle which are a given, call them the outer edge and work from there.
Define the area you want to fish. Purchase a good chart of the area you want to learn and study it. Don't try to educate yourself on a large area at one time. Remember this is a puzzle, one piece at a time.
The environment in which saltwater fish live is in a perpetual motion of sorts. The waters of the Gulf are constantly changing, by the day, minute, hour and its inhabitants have no choice but to roll with the flow. It is easier to notice subtle changes in a few square miles than a whole bay or sound.
During the hot months look for deep channels or cuts which hold fish and allow fish to congregate in times of lower water and concentrate on fishing the edges as the tides rise and fall. Inshore species such as sea trout will move up onto the flats to feed as the tide floods in and stage on the edge of the channel as the tide falls to feed on various bait retreating with the tide.
Plan your trips at different times of the day. Early morning, late evening, and night are some of the best times to fish when the water temperature in your area reaches the hot stage. Pay attention to what tides produce the best bite at these low light periods.
Teach yourself how to understand how tides affect the water depths, currents, turbidity and fish activity in the area you are fishing. Different tides produce different conditions. The intensity of a tide and the flood level of a tide are determined by the position of the earth in relation to the moon. Days just before the full and new moon will produce the greatest tidal changes. Study the moon phases and tide charts, understand them. Learn which moon phases produce the best tides and fish activity.
Learn to fish in different depths with different tactics. Slow drift bouncing a jig, bucktail, or deep running crank bait, then notate where and when you catch fish. Fish for the most part are structure oriented. Deep grass flats broken by patches of sand and rock mean structure and hold fish, especially during hot weather midday periods when fish become less active in shallow areas.
Baitfish buffets! During the hot months schools of baitfish can be plentiful. Pilchards, menhaden, glass minnows, etc. are game fish candy. Look for diving birds or try checking a channel edge on a hard falling tide and you shouldn't have any trouble finding them. Fishing around schools of bait can produce some great opportunities. Trout, redfish, tarpon, cobia, mackerel, ladyfish, sharks, and many other species all show up at one time or another when an easy meal is involved. Pay close attention to the bait and the conditions. If you can learn to pattern bait you can catch fish.
Last but not least record your observations. Keep a log of your time on the water so when history repeats itself by producing similar fishing conditions you will have a starting point. If you do not own a "global positioning system" (GPS) try to acquire one so you can accurately record where you have been fishing and have had success. Spend as much time on the water as possible. Go fishing on days and at times when you feel conditions aren't optimum; this will make you think even harder. Never be afraid to try a new tactic, bait or idea, you just might stumble on to something like another valuable piece to an ever changing puzzle.