Fishing With the Tide

It can put you in the right place at the right time for good results

Two people fishing
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Being in the right place at the right time is perhaps the most important part of a successful fishing foray. If you aren't where the fish are, you can be assured of not catching anything. Water level, water movement, and movement direction all play vital roles in where the fish will be.

The influence of tidal changes on a fish's feeding and migrating habits cannot be understated. They move with the tide and feed at locations that provide them access to food or the ambush ability at that food.

Start of the Food Chain

The saltwater coastline of the southern and southeastern United States is veined with rivers and creeks coming through saltwater estuaries, oyster beds, and marshes to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. These estuaries and marshes are the beginning of the marine food chain for all species of fish. Learning the basics of this food chain can lead to some fine fishing experiences.

At high tide, water will flood the marshes, covering acres and acres two feet or deeper. Crabs and small baitfish will follow that rising tide to feed in the shallows. Larger fish, such as redfish, flounder, drum, and trout, will also follow that rising tide to feed on these baitfish.

Where the Fish Are

High tide in the coastal marsh finds large schools of small redfish on a shallow flat, roaming in search of forage. Large reds can be seen tailing, rooting for crabs and other crustaceans in the mud.

As the tide begins to fall, the water coming off these flats begins to funnel into small channels, leading into larger channels and eventually into the creeks and rivers. Fish sense the dropping water and will move out with the tide to deeper water. These tidal outflows to more water are where fishing can be great.

As the water drops, oyster bars become visible, and juvenile crabs can be seen scurrying about the shells. Note the life that abounds on the oyster bars. It tends to be a nearly self-contained ecosystem, with each resident depending on the other for survival. The larger fish in the area will definitely take note.

How to Catch Them

When it comes to backcountry and estuary fishing, a high outgoing tide means fish will be concentrating in the tidal outflow areas and moving to deeper holes in the creeks and rivers.

It is wise to know of numerous “holes” in many, many creeks. These are places on the outside bend of a creek where the water is deeper. They hold fish most any time of the year, different species at different seasons. Winter finds sea trout in these deep holes; summer finds redfish and flounder in the same places.

Start far upstream at slack high tide and begin to fish your way downstream. You can throw a bucktail tipped with a shrimp or mud minnow or a jig head with the same tipped bait.

Let the Bait Follow the Current

Cast and work the bait so that it moves with the current, through and past the tidal outflow. More than one cast is in order at each location. The fish are moving out with the tide, and while no fish may be there on the first cast, he may have arrived by the fifth cast.

As the tide gets lower, move a little farther with the current. Cast to every little pool and outflow that you pass. Some hold more than one fish; others hold none. Generally, the outflows close to an oyster bar will produce better. Plain sand or mud bottom outflows are not usually productive.

Follow the Fish

As the tide drops lower, the fish begin to look for deeper holes in the creek, and so should you. On a horseshoe bend, tie up or anchor on the upstream, inside edge of the horseshoe. The water here will be only a foot or two deep under the boat, but at the outside edge of this horseshoe, opposite the boat, the water often will be over 20 feet deep, sometimes deeper than the creek is wide.

The same lures will work here, but it could be time to break out the float rigs and live shrimp. Try a float and a half-ounce sinker above an 18-inch leader. The floats can be as narrow as an inch in diameter and as long 12 to 14 inches. Set the depth of the float to allow the bait to be about a foot off the bottom. These floats are narrow and long because they present less resistance to the water when a fish bites. The lack of resistance lets the fish take the bait without being spooked.

Cast the rig to the upstream side of the hole and let the bait drift through with the current. If fish are there, they will be on your hook in short order. Sometimes they may be off the bottom, suspended in the current. You might have to vary the depth of the bait under the float to find the depth at which the fish are suspended.

Keep Moving

If one hole plays out, move downstream to another hole. Remember, the fish are moving, too, and they usually will move before you do. Set up and try again farther downstream. Some people set up early in a particular hole and wait for the fish to show up rather than moving with them.

Take care when fishing these creeks on an outgoing tide or you could get caught high and dry. If you do, you will have to wait up to six hours for the incoming tide to float your boat. So be ready to move quickly.

Tidal fishing can be great if you find a creek the fish are moving in and move with them. Try it the next time you are fishing inland estuaries.