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April 21, 2014

How to Read Inshore Tides

Learn how to understand tides and their impact on marine life to increase your catch rate.

How many times have you tested your favorite seatrout, striped bass, redfish or tarpon spot only to find the ­action slow? Then seemingly without reason, the place becomes alive with rolling silver backs, or the water turns a sullen gray as pods of fish move into the area.

Tide — or current influence on fish and bait — results in such happenings hundreds of times daily throughout the world’s inshore waters.

Tide Basics

Veteran inshore anglers know from experience that moving water flips on the feeding switch in virtually all game fish. Falling tides or rising ones produce, depending on location, species of fish, time of year and other factors. But moving water remains the key factor.

In general, fish move to shallow water during flood tides, and follow the water out as tides ebb. This basic ­concept ­provides a good starting point for anglers to find fish, especially when learning unfamiliar water. For ­example, if you decide to fish a back bay off a coastal sound during a strong flood tide, investigate shoreline or flats areas as the fish move into shallower water to forage. 

Conversely, when a tide begins to ebb, fish drop back with the flow toward deeper water.

These generalities about tide also hold true for bait: shrimp, crabs, small fish and a host of other marine life. Without much choice, bait gets swept along for the ride in tidal flow, and predatory fish follow in hot pursuit or await their arrival at specific spots. This explains why some inshore locations consistently produce during both incoming and outgoing tides.

For instance, a rising tide pushing hard against a bay mouth point with clear, open-ocean water often brings with it an abundance of baitfish and sport fish. When the tide turns and falls, bait gets pushed back out against the same point, where game fish gorge on food transported by current and pinned against the point. Thus the point has good fishing during flooding and falling tides.

Structure Strategy

Inshore underwater humps or high spots on the bottom attract fish as the tide falls and/or rises for similar reasons, as the point just described offers good fishing. In some cases, game fish alter their location around a hump according to tide direction, choosing one side of a hump during a falling tide, while preferring the opposite side during a rising tide. Such a hump also may yield fish only during rising clear water, with falling dark water not productive. Or its fish-harboring traits could very well be the complete opposite. 

Bridge abutments prove another attractive target in running flood and ebb tides, with fish often concentrating in eddies behind structure and sometimes station themselves in current “seams” between abutments. Down-current areas usually yield the best results, but not always. Some species feed at the head of structures with the current pushing hard. Flounder often lie in wait for food on the up-tide side of pilings in deep water — they lie flat on the bottom as the current easily slips over them.

Temperature Tricks

Sometimes tidal flow during particular seasons produces banner fishing. John Eggers guides out of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and prefers cool temperatures during winter to target redfish along the Intracoastal Waterway. Bright sunny days that expose black-mud bottoms during dead low tides offer the key to his fast redfish action. When a tide turns and floods, incoming water is warmed by the mud, which has absorbed heat from bright sunshine.

“The warm flood tide turns on baitfish and crabs, and that brings schools of feeding redfish, and we tear them up,” he said. “If it’s overcast with no sunshine, the mud doesn’t heat up, and the flood tide washing over the ­exposed areas doesn’t wake up the bait, so reds don’t show. This tide-flow setup is only a cool-weather pattern, and is completely dependent on sunlight heating exposed black-mud bars at low water.”