On The Hook: Success in fishing — the salt is managing the tide

Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Capt. Bill Walsh, right, heads out in the morning. Backwater fishing is a great way to get out into nature's beauty, and maybe bring home dinner.

Surprising title to this week’s article? Maybe…but not for those that have endured long hours coaxing results from a backwater fishing trip back amongst the sheltering mangroves.

Not so much from those newbies that face the daunting challenge of where to begin when facing these beautiful Southwest Florida waters laced with the endless array of fishing possibilities.

More:On The Hook: Keeping fishing simple

The tide and its endless movement of water in concert with nature’s factors is unique to the world’s oceans. You won’t find, nor have to deal with, the rhythm of water movement back home on Lake Wobegone...but here, understanding and adjusting to its timing is essential for success.

And, interestingly, the tidal factor holds as bedrock in any backwater or near-coastal environments. The impact feature diminishes the further you move into deeper water offshore, but it's still a factor, just slightly more diminished.

To bring a real life charter experience in play, as we do most weeks, we will take you back to an “over-the-top” example of working the tides.

Jake T. was a customer of mine in the early years here. He was an engineer by trade and an angler by passion. He lived in a world where a .0001 variance on a micrometer measurement made all the difference on a bearing tolerance, and he applied the very same exactness to his fishing.

Even his initial contact regarding a charter booking was uniquely different. Most times the opening question in that endeavor is something like, “Do you have any availability next Wednesday or Thursday?”

Not so for Jake. His first shot was: “Would like to fish next week…which weekday has the most favorable tide pattern? If you would check that out and get back to me soonest, would appreciate."

Once we set a date and time, Jake dissected the period’s water flow using sophisticated tide prediction software.

He was a disciple of those adhering to the obscure, esoteric Tidal Rule of 12, which divides any tidal period into six equal time segments: one segment for the incoming tide and one segment for the outgoing tide.

The water level changes 1/12th the first hour; 2/12th the second hour; 3/12th the third and fourth hours; then back to 2/12th the fifth hour; and the final 1/12th the sixth hour. In other words, to those adhering to the theory, it wasn't just one tide; it was six different tidal periods on each tide where fish do different things, and so does the bait they are chasing.

Far out stuff. So off we went; Jake as the pontificator and yours truly as the doubting Thomas.

First, we went to Capri Pass. Overall, the incoming tide was just starting, but the pass would be the quickest of the starting tide. We started a drift using tipped jigs along open water, and sure enough, there was action almost immediately. There was a ladyfish, a small shark and then a couple pompano.

Then according to schedule, we moved into the 2/12th period and headed inland to the Addison Bay environs and tried working some snapper beds as the water there just began to surge.

But we ran into a non-fishing problem; with the winds screened off and the humidity level up, we were greeted by invisible squadrons of the infamous no-see-ums, and we were both slapping at veiled targets like we were doing the Macarena. I yanked the anchor and we headed to a spot with more wind flow to continue the 2/12th period.

We moved to a point north of the island and set up again. This time we had a breeze to limit the pests and get into small snapper as the tide picked up speed. At Jake’s urging, we stayed the course and sure enough the tiny snapper turned into 11-12” take homes. Again, the change in size took place as bait surged into the area on the strengthening incoming tide.

And then, like somebody turning a switch, the bite stopped dead. Jake declared that we were in the 3/12th and 4/12th period, and the tide was pushing maximum water. Time to move off the points and to the coves and cuts where the water flow was well off the main current speed.

The action had definitely slowed, but we did manage to land a couple of small, releasable snapper as we pulled anchor and headed to spots where racing tides would take their turn.

We move on to Upper Addison and tried valiantly to get into action on these two periods where tide is at maximum strength. We were working parts of the backwater where the water was racing by. We added weight to our jigs and bounced the bottom with some live bait. We had action, but it was on fast water players like jack crevelle and ladyfish. We also snagged a long-fighting stingray that exercised Jake to no end before we cut it off.

As we entered the final period around 4 p.m., we moved back to where we had the good action on mangrove snapper, and on the first or second cast, Jake latched onto a tenacious redfish that battled him to exhaustion, and that was over-sized and gently released as we concluded our day of “12’s” and headed home.

Jake was demonstrably pleased with his outing...not so much in the catch, but in the movement as tidal flow moved action spots. He had proven to himself, and me, that it just isn’t a high tide and low tide; it’s a series of tidal segments, each with its distinctive fishing opportunity. Knowing where you are and in which segment of the tidal cycle can make a difference.

Next time out...study that tide chart and take your watch!