Has this ever happened to you? The fish are biting, and more importantly you are catching! Things are going great until all of a sudden, the fish stop. It's as if someone turned off a water faucet. A lot of thoughts go through your mind at that time — did we catch them all?
I've been inshore and offshore, bottom fishing and drifting, and this has happened to me more than once. For a long time I thought it might be something I did wrong. But, there are good reasons for the fish to apparently quit biting. I say apparently, because in some cases, they didn't quit — you did!
Keeping On. Just because the fish have "stopped biting," doesn't mean the fishing is over.
On a trip a number of years ago, we were offshore fishing a set of numbers over an old shrimp boat in about 100 feet of water. When we arrived, we headed upwind, dropped the anchor and backed down on the wreck. Almost immediately, we began catching vermillion snapper (B-liners) and seabass.
As we continued fishing over the next 30 minutes, the bite stopped. It was as I said above — like someone simply turned off the faucet. Something was wrong.
Watch Your Location
A lot of anglers will sit and wonder with baits on the bottom, why the fish quit biting. In reality, the fish didn't quit biting; the boat drifted off the spot! Wind and tidal current can play tricks on an angler offshore. Your boat can imperceptibly move a hundred feet or more off the spot you are fishing, and you will not realize it.
The fish that are over and around a wreck will not venture far from that wreck, and if your baits have moved away, the chances are good that the fish won't follow them. To the uneducated angler, it seems as if the fish quit biting!
There are a couple of things a captain can do to keep the boat on the fish. One way is to use a marker buoy. There are several on the market along with the homemade, milk jug variety. A heavy weight, enough strong line to reach the bottom, and a jug or marker that can be seen from a distance are all that's needed.
When you come upon your GPS numbers and identify the wreck or good bottom with your fish finder, simply toss the marker over and let the weight go to the bottom. The jug will be your point of reference while you fish.
Some words of warning are warranted here: Never pitch your marker directly over the wreck. Many perfectly good weights have been lost after being tangled in the wreck 100 feet below. Move to one side of the wreck to drop the marker, and when it settles, circle it several times to set the relative reference in your mind.
Now, when you anchor, you can judge your position and know whether you are moving off the targeted bottom. Another word of warning: some markers, particularly the home-made variety, tend to drift and drag the bottom weight. A heavy sea or strong current will slowly take your marker away from its original position.
Catch the Drift
But, hark, there is a fix for that as well, and that fix is drift fishing. Rather than fight the current or wind, simply join it and use it to your advantage.
A good GPS will have a tracking screen — that is, it will draw your route for the entire trip. I like to zoom in to the lowest range and use my GPS to track whether I am moving or not.
Sometimes the current is so strong that anchoring or using a marker is tough as best. When that happens I revert to my GPS and drift over the wreck. First I make a judgment about my drift direction. Then I idle up current or up wind and let the boat drift back. If the drift is good, I set a waypoint marker on the unit and use it as a reference to which I will go on each successive drift. I can watch the boat's drift progress and adjust the position by backing or idling forward.
Mark It Down. When the current is so strong, revert to using a GPS and drift over the wreck to mark it.
Anglers simply make a bait drop, reel up a couple of cranks, and hold on. If the drift is right, the current will take us right over the productive area. Drifting with the current means that less sinker weight is required, and that means more bites can be felt. I always use the smallest weight that will get me to the bottom.
Another word of caution is needed here. Try to position the drift so that it moves to one side or the other of the wreck. Drifting directly over the wreck will cause many hang-ups and lots of lost terminal tackle. While it's true that big fish live in the wreck, the closer to the wreck your bait is when they hit, the more likely you are to lose the fish and your terminal tackle to the wreck. It's actually almost an art — getting the boat close enough to entice the big fish to come out and feed, yet staying far enough away that you have a chance at getting them to the surface before they take you into the wreck!
Riding the Tide
Inshore fishing presents another set of problems. With reference points all around you, it is very easy to see whether your boat has moved. So the drifting issue is not one we need to address here. The entire issue with inshore fishing surrounds the tide and tidal currents.
Some anglers feel very strongly one way or the other that fish always feed on an incoming tide or that fish always feed on an outgoing tide. The truth is that fish will feed on either tide or on both tides. The real key is moving water.
Fish are smarter than most people think. They want moving water because it's that moving water that brings their food. Baitfish school move in or out with tidal currents. Fish will position themselves to take advantage of the food coming their way, and the savvy angler will learn just where those places are located.
In general, if the inshore bite shuts down, it will be because the tide has stopped and/or turned the other direction. That necessarily means that the bait will be moving in a different direction, and that in turn will move the fish.
I have numerous fishing spots — some are good on an outgoing tide and some are only good on an incoming tide. It is a matter of where the bait is moving and what direction the current takes.
Can you use this information in your own circumstances? Actually you can use it successfully more quickly than you think. I developed my fishing locations over years of trial, error and learning. Learning always takes place immediately following trial and error! But, you can use some common sense, look for a couple of key ingredients and move along with the fish when the tide changes.
While you are catching fish, take note of the current. Is there an eddy in the current flow? Are you in a river or creek mouth on an incoming tide? Can you see baitfish moving?
Take note of all these indicators. Then, when the tide changes, look for similar indicators. You may need to move to the other side of a river because the eddy you were fishing moved when the tide changed. You may need to move to the outside of the river mouth where before, you were catching fish inside the river mouth.
The key here is twofold: look for the bait and look for the changes in current flow. Find the location to which the bait moved when the tide changed, and find similar current conditions — eddys, cuts, and the like — and you will likely find the fish.
Many anglers fish half the day because they learned to fish only an incoming or only an outgoing tide. Good anglers can fish both tides successfully. When the fish quit biting — they know the reasons. You can do the same with some of these tactics!