TURNING THE TIDES
Even pros get nervous when they see tidal fisheries on the schedule! They start second-guessing even before they launch. The guessing game is also part of a recreational angler’s day on the water. Some put a lot of thought into location and techniques, others keep guessing.
When tides rise, there are more places bait can go and bass follow them. With higher water, grass beds have more water under them, exposing crawfish in the grass. This makes it easier for bass to hunt them down and for anglers to get baits to bass. As tides come in, move toward the shore with moving baits, like crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Intentionally catch grass, snap free…mimicking crawfish leaving one stalk of grass for another. Try adding red belly hooks. Keep on the move with topwaters. When water isn’t all that clear or grass interferes with bass seeing lures, try louder and bigger baits. Grass frogs are great weedless choices for topped-out grass. Since fish are conditioned to eat when tides are moving, they really don’t do much when there is a slack tide. Time to eat lunch or check voicemail.
High or slack tides during a rapidly changing pressure system can make fishing tough. Solutions vary on season. In summer, use moving lures that get down to grass. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits retrieved fast, trigger reaction strikes. Put the trolling motor on high, covering water searching for aggressive fish. In cold muddy water, bigger jigs, slow rolling spinnerbaits, and Carolina rigs with shorter leaders work.
Lower tides take some guesswork out of tidal fishing. Imagine a bathtub. It drains, leaving less water and fewer locations. As tides fall, baitfish leave high-water shoreline cover for deeper cover. In areas with heavy grass, fish must vacate, as grass compresses leaving no room below. Outside edges are falling tide targets, with fish concentrating there or in adjacent channel drops!
Be aware of what tides bring, cooler or warmer, clear or stained water, and when they change. Adapt or move to find the best conditions for your situation. For example a slight 2-4 degree warm-up could trigger aggressive fish as their metabolism becomes more active. Clearer water might allow faster lures. If tides carry stained water, fish in this area are easier to catch, as they aren’t holding as tight to cover, but fish slower.
Type of cover or structure is a seasonal decision. In spring through fall, bass are in the grass! In spring emerging grass attracts fish staging for spawn, moving shallow from nearby deeper winter haunts. Lipless crankbaits, in red patterns tossed over emerging grass and ripped free, trigger reaction strikes, primarily on drops. A steady diet of shallow, one foot or less, crankbaits in craw and baitfish patterns work through summer into fall! A tidal angler mainstay, in FLW or B.A.S.S. tournaments every pro has one tied on! These baits are effective in grass or around wood, fished at various speeds, water clarity and just about any weather situation. Carolina rigs also cover staging areas.
By summer, immense grass beds are full of forage and easy fishing opportunities. Lilly pad type growth and fallen trees accompany grass. In tidal fisheries with sub aquatic vegetation, there are three edges…the first two are obvious…inside and outside, but the other; the top edge is often overlooked. Tides force baitfish to move or be eaten or swept away…so, they become visible targets for bass. Stronger water movement, more bait movement…more bass feeding. Unless you only fish during low tide, learning to follow fish on all edges, incoming and outgoing, is essential.
In absence of grass, target hard cover like old wooden barges, bridge pilings, and docks as well as out of the current areas. Creek channels and excavation ditches in sand and gravel quarries are also prime targets. Try various soft plastics and techniques, including dropshot, split shot, and Texas rigs.
Topwaters are successful summer thru fall. In fall when it turns cold and cloudy after grass has receded or died, fish swarm to prime hard cover before making the final trip to deeper areas for winter. These staging areas load up and replenish continually, producing big bass on crankbaits and spinnerbaits! Low light conditions, go to shallower water. Fish don’t hold tight to cover, but chase the season’s last major offering of plentiful bait.
Crankbait color choices include firetiger patterns in stained water. In areas with yellow perch populations, use orange bellies or paint a fluorescent orange belly on every crankbait. For soft plastics, match the predominant craw color; green pumpkin is a good cross-country choice. After that, choose patterns fish can see rather than matching a particular forage pattern. In darker bottoms, use black and junebug, otherwise, it’s green pumpkin or watermelon.
Tidal fisheries are bounded by salt water. In drought conditions, this intrusion penetrates further upstream. Signs of salt water are catching or spotting saltwater species or seeing the tops of grass turning black as the salt kills it from the tips first. Bass vacate overly salty water.
In colder water, look for deep water close to the bank creating steep drops and edges. These spots are best when out of the current too! Winter tidal fish appear to migrate toward urban areas. Development tends to keep these areas warmer. In addition, the abundance of warm water discharge facilities keep water several degrees warmer and provide a longer forage and bass growing season. In spring, fish begin migrating to the rest of the river. In many cases, this migration is aided by tournament anglers who release their fish at launch sites.
Current is common across tidal fisheries, keeping baitfish moving and moving prey are easier for bass to find! Falling tides create feeding opportunities throughout the day, shrinking the playing field. Bringing fish to limited cover, is like musical chairs…fish scramble to find cover as water lowers, positioning on outside edges of massive grass beds and on down current sides of all other cover. This provides better, more visible targets for all anglers. Moving baits, like topwater, spinnerbaits and small crankbaits are easily located and readily attacked by tidal bass.
Thinking like baitfish leads to locations where bass will move! Before making a move on tidal fisheries, learn the water! Changing water levels might create fishing challenges but always possible danger! Take a Coast Guard approved safe boating course, free at http://www.boatus.org/onlinecourse/default.htm?WT.mc_id=400082
Get a map and note navigational aids. Study tide charts before choosing fishing destinations to ensure when to get to a spot and more importantly, when to leave! Carry a push pole if going up shallow creeks. Consider hiring a guide to learn how to navigate unfamiliar waters. Leave a float plan with someone who cares about you!
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