When you’re headed out for a day of casting and reeling, you know to check your gear first. You should make sure that you have your gear packed, and the rigging all set and double-checked. But, did you remember to check the tides?
For the best results when fishing, make sure you check the tide tables beforehand. It makes sense to exploit every advantage you have when fishing. This includes local tides and currents. It doesn’t take much time or effort to check these before heading out, but first, you need to know how the charts will help your angling.
For this reason, we have put together this article to help you better understand how to fish the tides and use the current to your advantage. With tide tables now available directly on your smartphone via apps, there’s no excuse.
So, keep reading, and we’ll explain everything you need to know about how to fish the tides…
Before we break down exactly how to fish the tides, we will explore how the current affects your angling. As we all know from school lessons, when we are too young to really care, the tide is affected by the moon. The gravitational force of the moon drives water up or down, drastically changing the sea level along the shore.
The current, on the other hand, refers to the movement of water in a specific direction. These can be driven by tide, wind, or by waters of different densities moving around each other. And the tides and currents move water in particular ways that affect your prey’s behavior.
Knowing this will help you better understand how the current might change a fishes routine, but first, you should remember one thing. Fish are just as lazy as we are. For the most part, fish will generally pursue the path of least resistance. This means swimming with, not against the current.
Don’t waste your time, effort, or gasoline. Fish with the current, not against it.
If you’re going to be walking all day every day, downhill is better than uphill. This is how you should understand the fish/current interaction. It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing offshore or inshore, you’ll have better luck if you note the current.
Eddies, pilings, or other safe spots from the current make for great ambush points, as do any other spots that offer relief from the current. These make for great fish hangout points. It allows them to take a break and rest, which means easier angling for you.
Yes, salmon swim upstream, but they still use the current to their advantage.
The Kenai River in Alaska during June and July makes for a perfect example. During this time, King Salmon enter the Cook Inlet on high tide. This is because it is considerably easier to swim through the river’s mouth at that time. These salmon flood upstream with the tidal flow, which helps them conserve energy. Being fully loaded with eggs, energy conservation is utterly vital to the salmon.
For salmon, neap high tides are better than spring high tides…
This makes a lot of sense when you consider all the factors. During the spring high tide, the inlet is rushing like a river. But that’s not all…
The Cook Inlet changes by an astounding 30 vertical foot in the six-hour spring tidal phase. That’s a strong force to fight, even for a King Salmon (chinook). The neap tides, on the other hand, provide access to the inlets with considerably less of a drawback to the ocean when the tides alter.
King Salmon (chinook) tend to run up the center of the main channel. They do this initially, but then the fatigue sets in. At that point, they can be found in the slower channels where they rest and recuperate for the next attempt.
For this reason, we would recommend targeting Kings in faster currents when their numbers are high. As the numbers drop off, you’ll need to adjust your target area. The calmer water in deep bellies of the channel then becomes the best spot for anglers to hook a fish.
Fish work with the current, and so should you if you hope to catch one (or many)!
The Silver Salmon (coho), on the other hand, favors shallow waters. They tend to run 10 to 20 feet from the bank in water less than five feet deep. They also tend towards weaker currents than the King.
Looking beyond salmon…
For most other fish, a knowledge of the tides is even more vital. Generally speaking, fish will flow with the tide. As the tide rises, the fish will move towards the shallow flats or shorelines to feed on the incoming tide. As the tide drops back out to sea, the fish move into deeper waters.
Knowing this, you’ll definitely want to start checking the tides before you head out. There’s no point in fishing the right spot, at the wrong time of day.
For shallow water angling, if there is a current, we would suggest casting up-current. This allows your bait to naturally flow towards the mouths of your prey. We would highly suggest this for saltwater inshore bays and estuaries.
It’s also worth noting that fish usually face towards the current to minimize their drag. This holds true for any salt water angling. Both prey and predatory fish adjust their behavior to the current tide.
For those looking to cast from the beach or saltwater shoreline, we would suggest using the incoming tide to your advantage. The rising water provides the fish access to crustaceans and other small prey that like to hide there. High tide along the shore can be a feeding frenzy, which is perfect for angling.
If you’re a sight angler, shallow water should be obvious. Here, we would suggest targeting shallow shoreline grass during a high or flood tide. It is during this time that redfish often chase shrimp and mullet into the grass. Often you can even see their backs or tails protruding from the water.
Once the tides begin to recede, you’ll want to adjust your target areas. This is the best time to aim for deeper channels, drop-offs, or passes, leading to open water.
If you want to nab a redfish, we would recommend dropping a live shrimp rigged below a bobber. Place it near the edge of an inshore pothole or drop-off for easy angling.
When you set out for a day of fishing in the deep big blue tides can become more complex. Here you will find a greater influence from weather and wind current. Tide is still a factor, but these other two factors can overpower tidal flow.
When the tide is slack, and the offshore currents are weak, bait fish can more easily avoid their predators. As the rush of the tide begins, these bait fish are swept along the strong current. This, in turn, makes it easier for predatory game fish to score a tasty lunch.
When you are fishing offshore, it matters less if the tide is low or high. Instead, it is best to be set up to take advantage of the change. Incoming and outgoing tides, especially those stronger ones just before a full moon, offer the best offshore fishing.
Use the increased gravitational pull to your advantage.
Sailfish, dolphinfish, and other pelagic game fish will swim along with the current. If you are looking to reel in one of these, you’ll need to think about the current. We suggest you position your boat to drift with the current. This allows you to reel your upside fishing rigs with the current.
If it’s a grouper that you’re after, a moving tide requires a bit more thought. For these, we would recommend trolling a jig on a downrigger. It’s best when the current or tide keeps you from positioning your baits as you’d like.
At low tide, it is best to locate a bait trap. These are spots where bait fish, and shrimp are forced down a specific path on an outgoing tide. It’s also where game fish like to wait in ambush for their lunch.
If you time things perfectly, you can catch multiple fish from a single spot. Eddies offer the best opportunity. These can only be found when the river bed structure and current are just right. But when you locate one, you’ll be astounded by the numbers and variety of fish found there.
This is true for both shallow and deep waters…
Consider the offshore eddies of the California Current, Loop Current, and Gulf Stream. Here you will find numerous game fish, just waiting. Occasionally baitfish get swept into the current, where the game fish can take full advantage.
There are times, especially in certain locations, that the tides offer a limited movement of water. In these places, you won’t want to focus on the above mentioned moving-tide angling spots. Instead, we would recommend aiming for a totally different location.
In some locations, the tide may change as little as a few inches during certain moon phases. For these times, focus on the space between islands. Alternatively, an underwater weed bed with potholes provides a great location to drop your line. Red drum will generally sit by the edges of deep holes waiting for a baitfish lunch.
There is less bait movement during light tides, so move on if you don’t see fish.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this and found it informative, you may also find some of our other articles interesting, for example, What is the best time to catch Catfish, How to throw a cast net, and How to hold a Catfish.
Hopefully, this has answered all of your questions on how to fish the tides. Just remember, the next time you’re out for a day on the boat. Let the water movement work for you. The fish don’t fight the current, and we are smarter than fish.
Well, hopefully, we all are. Just prove it to them by using the tides and currents to your advantage.