TURNING THE TIDES…part 2
Tides raise and lower, changing targeted terrain bass anglers must digest and evaluate. The key is moving water…a faster pace forces baitfish to move stimulating bass into feeding. So much for “when”. “Where” involves seasonal patterns. Sub aquatic grasses add an additional challenge, but for most situations, lower tides pull bait and bass to deeper edges while flooded tides allow bait to move around to shoreline cover.
Time on the water reveals subtle keys to unlock tidal techniques. One of the best tidal technicians is FLW Ranger/Yamaha pro Dave Lefebre. Winning top-level events across the country, when he sees the Potomac River, California Delta, Hudson River, Mobile Delta, James River, or any tidal fishery on his schedule, he seeks to add another trophy to his well-stocked case.
Lefebre searches for vegetation and treats tidal waters like river systems, finding moving water locations creating eddies or ambush spots. Lefebre prefers milfoil, a vertically growing bush-like plant, allowing access and relative ease to get fish out. Hydrilla, however, creates vast thick horizontal mats, fishing for a needle in a haystack! Getting to these fish and getting them out is difficult. Hydrilla beds provide great habitat but force Lefebre to slow down, occupying valuable tournament time. The Erie, PA pro narrows down two tidal fishery approaches. “Either follow movement of tides or the fish. Make up your mind which way to go before you approach it.” Follow fish around a “spot” as they move to cover or depth changes. Picking the best targets, Lefebre rotates through them, keeping up with fish, knowing fish ensure they have enough water to cover their backs. Sub aquatic vegetation houses fish no matter time of year.
Bottom line for terrified tidal anglers, target confidence areas and stick it out, remembering water movement makes tidal fish bite!...somewhere! “If I’m not getting bites fast, I’m on the move, fishing key stuff (cover & structure). If I don’t get a bite in the most obvious spots, then I’m going to eliminate the whole area.” In practice he reverses this strategy, finding third or fourth choice cover or structure…building confidence in these sub-prime locations.
In 2008’s Stren Series Potomac tournament, Lefebre stuck with his strategy. The first two days, he targeted a limit and a kicker. “It keeps you in contention, but today you need 2 kickers or a 3 pound average.” Making adjustments, on day 3 to have a shot to get a check, he decided to stay where he got his big fish. Lefebre followed the fish, caught his keepers and stayed where the big ones were, constantly rotating baits: chatterbait, frog, buzzbait, crankbait, spinnerbait. “When you know you are going to catch fish during a good period, it gives you a chance to experiment and figure out what’s special about that spot.” Lefebre had been going to key spots at low tide, but found a higher tide was better. Sticking to his big fish location, on the third day when weights dropped off, Lefebre weighed in 17 pounds 3 ounces, moving him from 23rd finishing 13th.
Making major location moves to take advantage of productive tides requires anglers to get more involved with depthfinder data. Modern units make it easier to follow tides at different locations. “My Garmin has charts on it…right in front of me. I spend a lot of time putting GPS high and low tide markers throughout the body of water for each spot.” In practice or on tournament day, “When it’s tough, I note what time I need to move!” Laid out in front of him visually he warns, “…It’s not always the same as far as what happens on each tide.” It’s still about fishing, it’s not an exact science, but having a discipline to follow guidelines eliminates some guesswork. Lefebre says traditional sonar units lose the bottom in less than 3 feet. Using an “old school” Vexilar flasher unit, the fine-tuned color readout lets him identify hard cover and subtle drops or humps, tidal sweet spots.
Matching the hatch isn’t just for fly anglers, it goes for luring tidal bass too. Once Lefebre netted a crab, creating a jig pattern. “I knew I had something others didn’t. I matched shades of blue and orange to give me a bit more confidence.” Otherwise, he constantly rotates baits, keeping on the move to make something happen. Once fish are located, he’ll slow down with jigs. Lefebre has designed “in-between” sized TABU jigs in unique skirt patterns. As search tools to pick cover apart or cover water, with Yamamoto 4-inch double tail grubs, jigs can be fished fast or with a slow swimming presentation.
Tidal fisheries can be very difficult to unravel when wind blows tides in, creating all-day high tides, not generating much movement. Without current fish don’t position in any particular way or use cover much. “I punt…I know it’s coming, go to my highest confidence area and try to figure out what’s going on. Put your head down and try to grind one out at a time.” Lefebre’s decision-making process begins with awareness of changes, in particular how tides are affected. A light wind or changing moon phase can produce higher or lower tides or current flow. “You need to figure tides out every day and your eyes need to be wide open. You can’t have blinders on. Don’t think about yesterday.” Instead, Lefebre examines tide stages and weather, attempting to duplicate elsewhere.
Lefebre power fishes as tidal systems are considerably shallower than reservoirs. He doesn’t have a spinning rod in hand, except when fishing the worst times…”I’ll try to get finessey with them and grind one out.” He knows he’s not going to catch a fish half the day and any catch is just a bonus. “It’s nerve racking…to know you won’t be able to get a bite…once I do, it gets my confidence skyrocketing even more.”
Unlike reservoirs and lakes where patterns are based on a feature or lure or depth, tidal patterns are predicated more on timing. “Bait selection isn’t as important. Not in the right place at the right time, you won’t catch fish.” He adds, if you’re patient you can sit in one general location but you have to move with fish at tides. “Guys can get worn out staying in one spot, but I have confidence when I move into a spot that I’m in the right place at the right time.” Often tidal fisheries “fish smaller”, meaning there are big groups of fish in a few small locations. These “community spots” still produce at specific times and if you’re in specific locations at the right time, you’ll end up doing well.
“I’m a thinker and there are a lot of things that constantly change…I need to find out how to catch fish with the tides that are there…I do more homework.” Lefebre also changes classrooms adding that time on the water is the key to learning; but fishing a variety of tidal fisheries provides a deeper understanding of turning the tides.
Steve Chaconas is a Potomac bass fishing guide and BoatUS “Ask the Expert” (www.my.boatus.com/askexperts/) To book a trip or purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.
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