The red mangrove is identifiable by its many reddish prop roots that extend down into the water. This tangled mess is a nightmare for anglers but a haven for many species and provides nurseries where fingerlings have the greatest chance of survival against predators.

Good fishing depends on a lot of things, not the least of which is a healthy fish stock, which is only possible when there is habitat to provide hatchlings with protection from predators. Around these parts, that’s the mangroves.

The importance of mangroves to our fishery is hard to overstate, and not only for fingerlings. As nurseries, mangroves are restaurants of sorts for game fish like snook and tarpon, as well as redfish, snapper, sheepshead and black drum.

The red mangrove is the most common species growing along the Nature Coast, and it is the one found along the water’s edge, identifiable by its reddish tangle of prop roots, which make the plants appear to be walking on the water. The roots, looking like spider’s legs, earned the red mangrove the nickname “walking tree.”

We also have black mangroves, though they usually occupy higher ground. They are identifiable by pneumatophores, or thin finger roots projecting straight up out of the ground around the base of the tree.

All mangroves are protected by law, though in some cases permits to trim them can be obtained. Developers who have destroyed or removed mangrove on a large scale have been fined up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mangroves provide cover and are used for roosting by several species of water fowl. They also are home to the mangrove snake, a rarely seen serpent around these parts, and an experience worth bragging about if you should happen upon one. Also known as the salt marsh snake, they are not venomous and have a scarlet red phase and a normal, dark-skinned phase, so can be mistaken for different species.

Enough with the dendrology and herpetology, you say? What’s really important about mangroves is how to keep them from ruining your day when a hooked fish makes a bee line for them.

Praise be the creators of braided line.

Any angler worth their salt is spooled up with the strong, ultrathin, no-stretch super lines that took off a couple decades ago. Monofilament remains viable, but if you are fishing around the tangles of mangrove in the back country, you’ll want braided line, and because it is so thin, breaking tests up to 30 pounds can easily be spooled onto light and medium light spinning gear.

Coupled with a reasonably stout rod, this is tough medicine for fishing around mangroves. It allows anglers to use more drag to put pressure on fish making a run for the roots. Once turned, snook and reds often won’t make a second attempt, and the fight can be finished in open water.

That is if there is open water. Fishing in narrow creeks with lots of mangroves is not for the faint of heart, and you’re going to need more than strong tackle to win these battles. If the fish is big, the mangroves many and the drag is burning, it’s a “broken arrow” situation, and there’s nothing to lose by clamping the spinning spool with your hand and putting a big bend in the rod. If the line breaks so be it, because it’s a pretty sure bet if the fish makes it into the tangle of roots it’s going to break anyway.

If your fish does make it into the mangroves and breaks off, it’s always a good idea to check around the roots. It’s not impossible to find the fish still hooked and tethered to the roots by a short length of tangled line.