Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tides are important, but not the panacea of saltwater fishing

A tailing redfish searches for food a low tide.
Good tide, bad tide. High tide, low tide.

The only really bad tide around these parts is one that’s preceded by a rosey color.

Last time we had a hint of that rojo demon in these here parts was back in 2006 when the infamous bloom lasted 13 months and virtually wiped out the trout population in Sarasota Bay. But that was then, and the trout have rebounded quite well, thank you.

While our daily tides are important when it comes to fishing, they’re not the end-all some might think.

I was talking with Capt. Jack Hartman of Sarasota Fishing Charters and he said he doesn’t really care what the tide is doing when he heads out to fish.

“All I care is that it’s moving,” said Hartman.

And that is the crux of the matter. A moving tide is a good tide.

I’m not saying tides aren’t importantl. However, I do think many anglers put too much emphasis on the tide. In fact, first thing most clients want to know when we head out on a kayak-fishing trip is what the tide is doing?

And when I talk to various groups around the state, the No. 1 question without a doubt is about the tide.

“What’s your favorite tide?”

I think an understanding of the tide is important. In this area, we usually have four tides each day: two high and two low. They’re called “semi-diurnal” tides.

Tides are caused by the gravitational interaction between the sun and moon. We have the biggest tides around the new moon and the full moon.

That’s really all you need to know.

Think of the tide as a large conveyor belt that moves food. When the tide is moving, food is flowing with it. And fish are feeding.

Conversely, when the tide is slack, there’s no or little moving food. For the most part, fishing slows.

Additionally, when the tide is strong, fishing often is better.

The bane of fishing is the one week a month when we have only two tides a day. They are lengthy and seemingly take forever to ebb and flood. The flow is slow and not much food is moved. Fishing action usually slows down accordingly.

Of course the tide is important when you head out to fish. What the tide is doing has a bearing on where you’ll fish and for what species you’ll target.

If I want to try my luck on tailing redfish, I’m not going to do it unless we get a negative low tide. There can be redfish all over a particular flat, but you won’t see any tails piercing the water’s surface if the tide is high.

I try to avoid super high tides. It’s my feeling that those big tides allow the fish to swim most anywhere. The fish spread out and are much more difficult – in my opinion – to find. Fish such as redfish and snook likely will be 20 feet back in the mangroves, making them extremely tough to coax out (without the use of live chum).

On a perfect day, I like to fish the last couple of hours of an outgoing tide and first couple of hours of the incoming. And I wouldn’t mind at all if that low tide was negative. If I showed up at my favorite flat to find parts on it high and dry, I’d smile.

I think reds, snook and trout stage in deeper water at the edge of a flat and wait for the tide to flood. When it does, they’ll swim onto the flat and begin the feed. They remain on that flat until the tide begins to ebb. That’s when the fish will work their way off the flat and back to deep water.

So, I try to start fishing along the edge of the flat when the tide’s going out or beginning to trickle in. As the tide rises, I’ll move up on the flat.

This works for me and others.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is the tide doesn’t read the tide chart. Just because it’s supposed to be high at 10:31 a.m. doesn’t mean it will.

A few years ago, I was the guest speaker at a fishing club in Bradenton. Just before my talk, the club conducted its business. One of the items on the agenda was to set a date for the club’s monthly tournament.

Naturally, one of the members pulled out a tide chart and began searching for the best tides.

“March 20 looks pretty good,” he said.

Club members unanimously voted to hold their tournament on that date.

I asked why?

“Because there will be a strong incoming tide that day,” I was told.

I looked out the window at a great view of Sarasota Bay and asked what the tide was supposed to be at the moment?


I said, “Look out the window. It’s dead low.”

So much for tide charts.

A strong, northeast wind had pushed the tide out and kept it out.

How many times have you been on the water and the tide was supposed to be flowing one way but was going the opposite?

I’m going fishing regardless of the tide. Makes no sense to me to plan a trip, ready the equipment, relish in the anticipation and then get up that morning, look at the tide chart and decide to stay home because of a bad tide.

And more times than I can remember, I’ve had some really exciting days when I wasn’t supposed to.

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