Fishing with the Tide

Getting with the tide tables can help you catch fish!

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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 you will not be catching anything. Water level, water movement, and movement direction all play a vital role in where the fish will be located.

The influence of tidal changes on a fish's feeding and migrating habits can not be understated.

They move with the tide and feed at locations that provide them either access to food or the ambush ability at that food.

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 reach the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. These estuaries and marshes are the very 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.

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

High tide in the coastal marsh finds large schools of small redfish on a shallow flat, roaming in search of forage.

Individual large reds can be seen tailing as they root 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 deeper water are where fishing can be great.

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

Now that we know the fish will be there, let's see how to go about catching 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 be knowledgeable of numerous creek “holes”, places on the outside bend of a creek where the water is deeper, in many, many creeks. They hold fish most any time of the year, different species at different seasons. Winter finds seatrout in these deep holes. Summer finds the redfish and flounder in the same holes.

Start far upstream at slack high tide and begin to fish your way back downstream. Sometimes I will be throwing a bucktail, most often tipped with a shrimp or mud minnow. Other times, I will throw just a jig head with the same tipped bait.

I cast and work the bait so that it moves with the current, making sure that it moves through and past the tidal outflow. And more than one cast is in order at each location. Remember, the fish are moving out with the tide, and while a fish may not be there on the first cast, he just may have arrived by the fifth cast.

As the tide moves lower, I move a little further with the current. I cast to every little pool and outflow that I come by.

Some hold more than one fish. Some don’t hold fish. Generally, I find that the outflows, which are close to an oyster bar, will produce better. Plain sand or mud bottom outflows are not usually productive. You need some "bottom" or an oyster bar.

As the tide drops lower the fish begin to look for a deeper hole in the creek. And I do just the same. On a horseshoe bend in a creek, I will tie up or anchor on the upstream, inside edge of the horseshoe. The water will only be a foot or two deep under the boat. But the outside edge of this horseshoe, opposite the boat, will often be over 20 feet deep, sometimes deeper than the creek is wide!

The same lures and will work here, but this is where I like to break out the float rigs and live shrimp. I use a float and about a half ounce sinker above an 18 inch leader. I learned to fish this way with floats that were as narrow as one-inch in diameter and as long 12 to 14 inches.

I will set the depth of the float to allow the bait to be about a foot off the bottom. I often wondered why these floats were so narrow and so long. The answer is simple when you think about it. The long narrow float presents less resistance to the water when a fish bites. It moves under the water easier and 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, suspending in the current. You may have to vary the depth of the bait under the float to find the depth at which the fish are suspending.

If one hole plays out, move downstream to another hole. Remember, the fish are moving too, and they usually will move before you do! Just get set up and try again further 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. You can easily get caught “high and dry” on an outgoing tide. If you do, you will have the pleasure of waiting up to six hours for the incoming tide to float your boat. So pay attention and be ready to move out 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.