One of the questions most asked of me by readers is which tide do I prefer to fish.
That is a reasonable question from anyone, but most often it comes from new arrivals to the local fishing scene. Folks who have spent a lot of time fishing the fresh water are immediately intrigued by the back and forth movement of our salt and brackish waters. The tide changes very predictably every six to six and a half hours. Reliable tide charts are published for both the Atlantic and the inshore. Many newcomers make the mistake of confusing the two.
The published ocean tide will be faster than the tide change in the rivers. For instance, high tide on the beach may be six hours before high tide up at Tomoka Basin or down at Haulover Canal. That would cause those two areas to experience a tidal change almost completely opposite of the ocean. I realize that can be difficult to get a handle on, but just know ocean tide and river tide times are not the same.
Now getting back to the original question, for most applications a low or falling tide will present easier fishing opportunities in the inshore. Not easier boating, but easier fishing. Most of our inshore consists of shallow flats. When the tide recedes most of the fish will retreat into deeper water in order to conceal themselves from predators.
If you are able to locate those spots, you will find fishing them is something like shooting fish in a barrel. Look for those deep holes just off sandbars or oyster reefs. Another good place to find deeper water is where a channel turns or narrows. One thing that is a constant with good fishing spots is current. Feeding fish will lie just off a swift current to wait for bait to be washed past. In places where the tide moves very slowly, a current increase may be hard to spot. Hard for you, but not the fish.
So low tide presents easier fishing, but what about high tide? If you are like me, you can't let the tide dictate when you fish.
If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that sometimes I begin a trip complaining I have caught the tide wrong. I complain, but I don't cancel the trip. I begin thinking about how I will change my plans to fish the tide that is presented. On a high tide you must still pay attention to the current. No matter which way the water is moving, current will usually help you find fish. Pay special attention to your presentation. Remember feeding fish always wait for bait looking into the current. Sure you can sometimes catch fish by casting with the flow, but understand your bait will be coming up behind your target. Whenever possible cast your bait (natural or artificial) into the tide and allow it to wash back toward you. When the inland bay is full of water, fish will move high up the banks to forage in places they can't normally access. High tide also sends big fish over the tops of the oysters to eat the crabs and shrimp they find there. Often you will be able to see them pushing water on top of a shallow, submerged oyster bar.
Slack tide usually means the fishing will stop unless you are targeting something like sheep's head or black drum. When the water stops moving, that is a great time to enjoy that sandwich you brought along.
If you like to surf fish, the tides will be very helpful to you also. I like to walk the beach at extreme low tides to look for depressions in the sand so I can come back and fish them at high tide. Knowing where the deeper spots are along the shore is a big help. You need to keep a close watch on this for the bottom of the surf changes often.
As I said, you should never let the tide tell you when to fish, but it helps to be prepared to fish any type of situation. I hope that helps and please keep the questions coming.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.