Angling Where You Can Catch Freshwater & Saltwater Fish

Tidal Brackish Water Offers Diverse Opportunities

Linda caught this 15 pound tripletail while fishing with Captain Mike Evans
Linda caught this 15 pound tripletail while fishing with Captain Mike Evans. 2007 Ronnie Garrison licensed to

In many coastal areas there are places where freshwater mixes with saltwater, creating a brackish environment and opportunities to catch both saltwater and freshwater species of fish.

I got my first taste of brackish water fishing on a creek off Virginia's James River when my uncle took me and my wife fishing for catfish. We used spinners and cast near the marsh grass around cuts and points as the tide started out. We caught lots of channel catfish, largemouth bass, and bluegill during the early part of the falling tide. It was fast fishing for a couple of hours and then they just stopped hitting.

Tide movement is something you have to get used to in most brackish areas. I had never fished tidal water before and was surprised how it affects the feeding of fish. You might as well stay at home if you don't plan your trip around the changing tides.

I have made several trips to the Georgia coast around the Altamaha River. We caught catfish near where we saw tarpon, the real reason for our trip. A little ways upstream, bass are caught regularly and big bream are common. You have to choose your bait to control what you catch. Alligators swimming around at high and low tide make that area even more interesting. I haven't been back since the time I almost got my bass boat hung up on an oyster bar on a dropping tide. We thought we would have to spend the night there with the alligators!

Several years ago I fished a bass tournament in Washington, North Carolina, on Pamlico Sound. It was interesting to catch flounder on pumpkinseed color soft-plastic lizards. I had my best luck running way up the river, above where the tide affected it, and fishing small cuts with plastic worms. I heard the tournament was won by a local fisherman casting plastic worms under docks on the lower river and "leading" the bass out before setting the hook. If hooked under the dock, they cut his line on barnacles. That is a problem you don't have on freshwater lakes.

If you fish brackish water, remember to wash your tackle carefully afterward. A reel that lasts for years without cleaning in freshwater will rust up beyond repair after one trip to saltwater if it gets inside. Even brackish water has enough salinity that you have to clean your gear after fishing. Don't just wash off the outside with a hose. That may actually wash salt into the reel. Clean it inside and out, and clean off your rod guides and hooks, as well as any lures or other gear that may have been exposed to that water.

Brackish water is usually very fertile and the fish are often healthy and fat. Some primarily saltwater species, like redfish (red drum) and striped bass, are able to exist in freshwater, and may venture into brackish areas as well as freshwater portions of waterways, so it is possible to catch them in the same places that you might catch largemouth bass or other fish that are in the freshwater regions.

Some other saltwater species, like flounder and speckled trout, will not venture into purely freshwater areas, but will tolerate low-salinity brackish areas, and can be caught in such places not far from where freshwater species are caught. Rain, and the introduction of freshwater, can change the boundaries of freshwater and saltwater, and expand the brackish area. In any case, there are often opportunities to catch different species on the same outing.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz.