Here’s the scenario: You wake up on a Saturday morning to go fishing on a tidal fishery but realize in the chaos of getting ready you forgot to check the tide schedule. Frantically, you run to your computer to write down the schedule for the area you are taking off from and see that High Tide is at approximately 10:15am. You have a decision to make: A) Fish in your favorite location and wait for the tide to “get right,” or B) head up river to meet the tide at a different state in the daily cycle. In this week’s Blog, I am going to attempt to provide some personal understanding as to fishing tidal waters. I will say that I am quite new to fishing the front of the boat and my findings are by no means absolute, just like no one pattern works one-hundred percent of the time. As anglers, we must learn to let the fish speak for themselves, and mold to the given circumstance.
The tide schedule above happened to be the scenario for Sunday morning out of Osborne Landing on the James River. Believe me when I say that after Mike Iaconelli won the Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Delaware River, all I wanted to do was challenge myself to gain a better understanding of the tide. On the big stage, many competitors struggle to fish tidal waters, but on the flipside an understanding of tidal waters can set you way above the competition. Here are five points to get you started fishing tidal waters.
1) Just because the fish aren’t biting for you, doesn’t mean there are not fish in the area. In fact, I believe this to be quite the contrary. As the water fluctuates, so does the location of fish in the area you are fishing. Just as cloudy days seem to scatter the fish out, high tide does the same thing to the fish. Think about it, more water in the area means more space for the bass to roam. Likewise, just as the sun will position fish in specific locations, the same is true for bass. The shallower the water in your perspective area, the less space a fish has to work with. Much like a fluctuation of water due to a flood, the shallow cover the bass is interested in using slowly gets smaller and smaller as the river recovers.
2) Fishing tidal waters can be very visual fishing, and I’m not talking about seeing the fish. As the water level changes, you are given a gift from nature. What was once covered during high tide recesses into a visible cheat sheet of knowledge to the contour and structure of the area. You will see shoreline structure, changes in substrate like rocks and silt, or even a steeper change in elevation than you expected. These are all valuable pieces of information towards your success. Take pictures, scribble down important notes, and create a mental image that will stick with you in future visits. Use the sun to your advantage as well, for the location of the sun in its own cycle will change shade lines that largemouth especially desire. You begin to learn that bass fishing involves just as much hard work and education as many of your college courses; to succeed in this sport you definitely have to put in the time.
3) To broaden the previous topic, pay attention to your depth and the water conditions. Venturing onto tidal fisheries can mean many obstacles to overcome for not only yourself but your office as well. Often the current involved in river fishing can mean rougher, less forgiving water than say, your local lake. Floating debris is common and extreme caution should be used when making a run from one location to the next. Inform your fishing partner of the possibility of floating objects and to alert you of any upcoming, day-ending obstructions. Follow the channel to avoid running in too shallow water. It will vary slightly from creek arm to creek arm. When the trolling motor is down, practice more of the same. The lower the tide, the more critical it is to assess the area for logs, rocks, and other possible issues. Believe me, you learn real quickly after a few ventures into creeks!
4) Everyone is going to hit the most visible structure. Finding an area where competitors have not hit can be key to a successful day. Not only have the fish not been harassed to the same degree, but also will help you extend your education even further. In many cases, it may not be structure the fish are keying to at all. Maybe it is a hump where current hits at the perfect angle to position the fish nearby in the break or a current break caused by the current hitting the point of a creek entrance. Knowing how to read the water is huge for tidal fishing, and I have more than a few semesters worth of information to learn. It’s one of the most exciting aspects of fishing.
5) Bait selection is just as critical as finding the perfect bass holding locations. Water clarity can be just as large a role in your success. Although bass can be caught in all water colors, I would stick to the cleanest clearest water that you can find; however, this is not always a possibility, especially with fluctuating conditions. In any case, as the saying goes, always keep in mind “match the hatch,” especially in cleaner water. As the water color darkens, your lure color choice should follow the same pattern. The darker colored bait will provide better contrast in the water, and allow the fish to see your bait to a better degree. I believe this also allows you to increase the size of your bait. Longer appendages will provide greater undulations for the fish to pick up on. Do not hesitate to make consecutive casts to the same location if you believe an area should be holding fish regularly. Experiment with both power and finesse techniques to find the pattern for the given day, or better yet time of day.
The more variables you learn to take into account, the better you will become at piecing together the mood of the fish. I reiterate to you that I am preaching to myself as well, as I have had more “bad” days on the James River than I have “good” days on the James. There are no truly bad days on the water, but instead more learning experiences to add to your fishing cranial database. Knowledge is only engraved when put into practice, so make sure to spend as much time as you can afford on the water. Till next time, put in the time and believe in yourself. Through the successes, the failures, and everything in-between, never stop learning.