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Fishing the Tide
written by Ron Brooks

If you're in the right place at the right tide, you can catch fish, regardless of the time of day.
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Flounder can be caught in falling water, coming off a marsh or flat.

Fifty years ago I fished with a then well-known captain and guide, Walter Mann. He fished out of Flamingo in the Everglades National Park, and his fishing knowledge was legendary in those parts. It was said that he fished alone every day for two full years, keeping logs on weather, tide and wind conditions. Only after gathering this knowledge did he begin to take paying customers. Unlike others, he did his homework -- two years of it.

Most anglers are up at dawn. Something inside us says we have to get on the water at daybreak. It does not matter where we fish or what fish we pursue — we all have that early morning drive.

But, while it's true that fishing can be better early and late in the day, many great catches are made in the middle of the day. So, there must be something else at work in addition to the early and late idea.

I remember several trips with Captain Mann that had us arriving earlier than he expected at the location he planned to fish. His big, wide charter boat was considered slow even back then. At 10 knots, we were never in a hurry. He would tie the boat to an overhanging mangrove branch or anchor it along a cut and tell us to sit back and eat a sandwich.

Not wanting to miss a minute of what we thought was expensive fishing — we paid him $75 to take the four of us out — I grabbed a rod and started fishing. Needless to say, I did not get even a nibble.

"The fish won't start biting for a while," he would say.

Almost an hour later, he would take a rod, bait it with whatever bait we were using and instruct us to "pitch it over there," pointing to an eddy in the current. Bang — the bait had barely gotten down in the water when it was picked up by a nice spotted seatrout. For the next hour we caught more trout than I could count. And then as quickly as it began, it stopped.

"We won't catch any more here," he would say. And we would move to another location.

Patience is Key

What he knew, and what more and more anglers are learning, is that fish move with the tide. If you are in the right place at the right tide, you can catch fish, regardless of what time of day. On those early morning expeditions that you may make that produce no fish, a look at the tide situation might explain a lot.

Up and down both coasts of the country and in the Gulf of Mexico, tidal movement and current play an important role in fish habits. Anglers who know and follow the tides will be more successful.

Take any creek or tidal marsh in almost any state and the story will be much the same. Fish will move up into a creek or river or onto a marsh with an incoming tide. They are looking for food, and the myriad organisms and crustaceans in those creeks and marshes provide that food. When the tide changes and begins moving out, the fish will move right out with it. They will move off the flats and marshes and drop into deeper water adjacent to those areas. When the tide starts moving in, they simply repeat that procedure.

Look for oyster bars to show as the tide moves out.Creek mouths that have an abundance of oyster and mud bars will channel the fish to you, if you wait for them in the right place.

Guides and savvy anglers have learned this. More and more, you will see people launching later in the morning or even in the afternoon. They simply want to fish one particular tide stage.

Sometimes it is hard to convince a paying party that they need to wait until noon to begin fishing. But, in the inland waters, that may be exactly the case. Trust the captain to put you on the fish. He knows the area and knows when he can catch fish.

Pay Attention

Like old Captain Mann, who went to his final reward many years ago, anglers today are studying more and consequently catching more fish than ever before. Paying attention to the tides and the subsequent fish movement can help you put more fish in the boat as well.

We have it a lot easier than Captain Mann did. Some of the high-end marine GPS units can instantly provide you the tide stage wherever you are located. You don't have to guess how long it will be until the tide changes. Captain Mann spent two years documenting his database. Now you can have tidal information at the touch of a button!

Find those tidal creeks that feed salt marshes. Specifically target any that have obvious baitfish activity in them. Look for deeper holes in the creek or adjacent deeper water. Then plan to be there on a falling tide. If there are fish on those marshes and up in those creeks, they have no choice but to come right by you and your bait as the water drops. When they do, the rest of the story will be up to you! If you get there a bit early, sit back and have a sandwich — "the fish won't be biting for a while."

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