A Guide to Tides and Habitats
The purpose of this article is to give you an idea of where to find game fish in the relative vastness of the ocean and its surrounding waters and to explain the importance of tides to any saltwater fishing. The ocean is a huge area with much of the water devoid of fish. Where are the fish and why? Read on.
What is tide and current? Tide is the vertical movement of water. Current is the horizontal movement of water. In a 24-hour period there are 2 high and 2 low tides. When the tide is rising, it’s known as flooding. When the tide is falling, it’s known as ebbing. When there is no horizontal or vertical movement of the water, the tide is slack.
What creates or causes them? It’s the gravitational pull between the sun and moon on the earth’s atmosphere. This creates tides and currents. Because the moon is closer than the sun, it has more of an effect on our tides. Therefore, we have to pay special attention to the different phases of the moon.
Full / New moons create spring tides that mean higher high tides, lower low tides and faster currents. Opposite moon phases mean lower high tides, higher low tides and slower currents. The exaggerated full and new moons normally create better fishing conditions.
Why are tides and currents so important to understand? Here’s the bottom line — fish are easier to catch when they are feeding and it’s the tide and currents that dictate this. This means the tide and current will concentrate the bait and the movement of water will initiate and stimulate feeding activity. As the water begins to move, smaller baitfish are at the mercy of the current and get confused in the turbulent water. Larger game fish have an advantage because they are equipped to feed in this turbulent water. As such, moving water is often best for fishing.
I highly recommend a tide log book (known as tide tables in the United Kingdom ) for anyone interested in understanding tides and currents more thoroughly for your area. This book is my bible. It’s what I use to plan each and every fishing day.
Let’s take tides and currents a step further. The fastest part of either tide is normally 2 hours before the high and 2 hours before the low. Most areas fish the best during this time period, but not all. The fastest of either is the falling tide; normally this is the better of the two. As water begins to push in or out, it starts out moving slowly, then gradually increases in speed until reaching a crescendo. During this peak the fish normally feed voraciously. Taking very little time to inspect their next meal for scent and realism. This is similar to trout feeding in the fast water. These tides can almost be too easy.
I’m not embarrassed to say that after fly guiding in Vermont for trout for 12 years I was intimidated by the saltwater environment at first. Where are the fish and why? How? After reading Striper Moon by Kenny Abriems and Inshore Saltwater Fly-Fishing by Lou Tabory, I realized the similarities between the two and found my doubts less warranted. With fly-fishing the main ingredients are basically the same. Presentation.
Same as freshwater, but throw in the double haul for good measure and easier casting! Mostly we are stripping streamers through the water.
Instead of entomology it’s baitology: Much easier to understand than 1000 types of caddis, stones, mayflies, etc. Matching the hatch? Try 3 profiles in thin, medium and wide. A few specialty flies (surface flies, squid, crabs and shrimp). Use brighter colours in the spring and more natural colours in the later part of the summer. Simple.
Several basic types — beaches, flats, marshes, estuaries, rock structures, jetties, bays and rips. Once you’ve learned the basic ingredients, its as simple as saying “Fish On”
Let’s discuss tides, currents and their relationship to structure, so we can all catch more fish. When water is moving and coming into contact with rocks, points of land, holes, islands, jetties, rises in the bottom, channels etc there is a natural tendency for the water to speed up. It has to compress or concentrate its flow (speed up) to get over, around or into a piece of structure, just like in a trout stream. This increased water flow or speed draws the attention of predators. We all know if a predator has to expel more energy to get food than it takes in, it will surely die. That’s why predators normally use this structure to hide behind (like trout ) and allow the currents to bring their food to them. Baitfish are at a disadvantage as they are unable to swim away or navigate easily with these faster currents, sometimes being tumbled. These areas are one of the easiest places to catch.
BIG bass are easiest to catch when they are feeding actively. What initiates this? Most of the time it’s the speed of the current moving the bait over, around or into structure. The faster the current the more aggressively they will feed and the easier they are to catch! During the course of a day most flats will have fish on them, but I try to only fish the ones that have moving water.
This equation works ninety percent of the time.
Moving water + structure = a compressed water flow.
Compressed water flow + baitfish = predators.
Take some time and study current movement. Seek out moving water and you will be rewarded. The only time this equation will not work is if there has been a strong wind for several days that will blow the bait out. Water temps. are too cold or warm. (55 — 65 deg. best — like trout) Too much noise created by anglers or boats. The following areas are all ideal locations to find your quarry. The best way (for the most part) to learn and understand these area’s is to look at them at low tide.