On the Hook: Divide the tide and conquer

Bill Walsh
The tidal factor and its effect on fishing hold as bedrock in any coastal fishing arena.

If all of you were ordered to forget all you know about salt water fishing except for one thing, what would it be?

Some would tout their skill in outfoxing snook and others might pridefully boast of their skill in cast netting for bait fish. 

But if I had a choice I would choose one that I think precedes all the rest and that’s understanding and using the tide during your time on the water.

The tidal factor and its effect on fishing hold as bedrock in any coastal fishing arena. Still has some impact offshore but has less impact the further you move into the deeper water areas.

Let me illustrate the issue by using a true story about one of my customers a few years back; I’ll discretely identify him as John D.

John is a professional engineer to ultimate degree and a fisherman by passion. He lives in a world where a variance of an eighth of an inch is a tragedy and that carries through to his logic and practice of sport fishing. He is retired and lives in Southwest Florida and lives to sport fish. He releases everything he catches. To him it’s “beating the challenge” not killing the creature.

John will call me and ask not what day in the next week is available but what day in the next several has the most favorable tide. He’s focused on water movement with the belief that the best fishing action will be when the water is moving; not racing, mind you, but moving along the bottom to drive bait and entice the bite.

If the best tide is on a late Tuesday afternoon at some weird hours like an 3:30 p.m., that’s when we go.

He’s an engineer by trade and computer proficient; so, once we book a trip he goes to work. He will segment the tidal predictions and segment them into specific time periods. He carries a little notebook that has our four hour trip religiously timed. We will start our day only when the water begins to move, either way. 

Many times, our alignment of times doesn’t match up with the weather. There have been numerous times we’ve both been soaked to the skin in tumultuous rain that unfortunately was right on a tidal “time.” But on times like that John is always smiling. Loves the challenge and enduring effort.

So, let’s go to one of John’s trips. It’s a weekday morning and John has picked a start time at 11:45 AM on Tuesday morning. His computer has shown that the incoming tide will start slowly at noon; so, he knows the incoming water will “trickle” for the first half hour, so we head nearshore just off the beaches to see what the mid-day pompano bite might look like. 

Working tipped jigs in the first water movement, he gets action; not from pompano but ladyfish. That’s OK, it’s fish and John’s agenda doesn’t include killing anything. We stay the course and some small pompano, and a few small bonnet-head sharks show up. John eats up the action as his predictions of timing have worked out. Everything is carefully released.

It’s now an hour later and the tide has begun to “roar”; time to move. So, we head north up along the ICW waterway to Rookery Bay and move gently back along shallows to see how the redfish and snook are reacting to the water movement acceleration. They do just fine as we hook onto a beautiful redfish that works John for 15 minutes and then relishes the kind release. 

John now is pouring over his notes and makes the decision that the incoming tide has begun to wane and it’s time to move back into the main channels as the tide slows. So, we pick up the anchor and head back to Addison Bay and head north to the top of the Bay itself; the tide is now almost full, and it should be a time that the redfish population that likes the slower water flow comes out to feed.

We tie on some big shrimp with no weight and let them swim along the shallow mangrove edges. Sure enough, John does it again. It’s a massive redfish that heads for the bushes and I must race to get the boat underway and out to open water for John. He does a masterful job of bringing this big “un” to the net and measure him out at 22.” John takes a picture of this one and then a careful release.

The tide is now slack, and John knows that it’s time to head back to the barn. We make the 20 minute trip back to marina and wash down some rods and reels and say goodbye. 

Think of John a lot. Great fisherman. Respectful of the wildlife and a technician that has taught me a lot about the issue of tidal flow. It’s what makes the saltwater fishing great; if you use it properly.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.