Tides are well understood, but their affects on fish can be intimidating and make for inconsistent success on the water. It's easy to get frustrated when fishing areas literally change every six hours, especially when great fishing conditions don't coincide with tournament or recreational schedules. Adapting to tidal waters can lead to a more enjoyable time on the water and fill the livewell with much larger fish.
To ensure clarity, tides are the periodic rise and fall of the surface of oceans, bays, rivers, etc., due principally to the gravitational interactions between the Moon, Sun, and Earth. Tidal currents are the horizontal movement of water and change direction every 6 hours and 12.5 minutes. Incoming waters, or flood currents, generally set toward the shore. Ebb currents are associated with the falling tide and generally set seaward. A slack tide is the short period of time between floods and ebbs.
Inland waters certainly experience numerous changes throughout the seasons and weather plays a major role in daily conditions. Tidal waters change up to four times a day, regardless of weather, and time of year and moon position contribute to how drastic tidal differences will be. Not only does the water change (flow, speed, etc.), but the actual fishing area changes due to aspects such as shoreline shape and waterway width and depth. Great fishing areas at high noon may not even be able to by boat at dinner.
An eddy is an excellent example to demonstrate the uniqueness of tidal fishing. Eddies are circular water movements counter to the main current, often seen as whirlpools. Depth, size, and speed of water all contribute to the effects of an eddy, but they are generally areas very conducive to holding all types of fish. In non-tidal waters, the locations of eddies are mostly non-changing and are usually on the down current side of an obstruction. However, revolving ebb and flood currents cause eddies to appear and disappear in tidal waters, and eddies change location altogether depending on the flow of the tide.
Consider the following deer hunting comparison. Stand and blind locations are generally placed in relation to blowing wind to minimize scent being carried to an approaching deer. Hunters take considerable effort during the placement of and approach to a stand. Many folks won't even hunt an area if the wind blows across a trail, field, or other hunt area. Now imagine hunting that stand in wind that consistently changes direction 180 degrees every six hours... the preparation and ability to adapt would be, and in tidal waters are, key to success.
Here are five lessons learned to help become more consistent catching tidal water fish. In one way or another, they are derived from a great starting point concept: fish high in high tide, fish deep in low tide.
1) Incoming tide is cooler and more oxygenated, perking up fish activity. Bait and forage foods are 'pushed' into areas where big fish will concentrate. Weed lines turn into protected areas where predator fish can swim and ambush prey.
2) Outgoing tide generally creates clearer water near shore, and pulls fish food out of the shallows. Big fish will find a location that both conserves their energy and allows them to quickly feed on passing bait.
3) Game fish generally face towards the flow of water. Big fish will find and hold on slow current locations next to fast current.
4) Drop-offs, ledges, and holes hold big fish and bait fish during strong tides.
5) Wind direction and tide directly don't always match. Read the water, not the waves.
Tidal fish can actually become very predictable because their lives revolve so much around predictable currents. Learning tides increases a fisherman's knowledge and provides for great chance to catch monster fish. Have you learned any great lessons fishing on tidal waters? Let us know in the comments!