Techniques to capitalize on low-tide situations that can shut down an inshore bite.
The pothole in the sea grass was the size of a city bus and too deep to walk across. But along its sandy edges and in its deepest quarters, snook was trapped like rats. We hopped out of the boat, trudged across a barren grass flat, and cast our twitch baits into the oasis. Almost immediately, I hooked up to the first linesider of the day.
This particular flat was close to a nearby pass. Periods between falling and incoming tides were shortened because of that proximity. With the outgoing tide moving at full force, we knew the deep hole would be worthwhile to wade-fish.
But it surprised us to find snook, seatrout, and redfish all trapped together in the deeper-water refuge. We had no idea what was going to strike next. Nearby, a fellow angler hooked a flounder, while someone else pulled tight on a Pompano. Those catches made the total five different species. When the tide completely slowed, the bite finally shut down.
A falling or low tide doesn’t have to ruin a day’s fishing, but it might require a change in plans. Captains every day have to deal with low-water conditions, and they’ve mastered strategies to locate fish when winds, tides or currents push water out of their usual (or accustomed) spots.
Low tides are inevitable and something anglers need to learn to contend with, Captain Jack stated: “Many anglers see lower tides as a detriment to their day on the water,” he says. “In reality, low tides can concentrate both baitfish and game fish. The less water we have to search, the less area for fish to hide in.”
A lack of water can displace game fish from their preferred feeding grounds, so a solution calls for finding secondary areas that allow the predator’s ambush and feeding opportunities. Fish adjacent areas of deeper water with similar bottom structure because fish seldom venture too far from the structure or predictable food sources.
When you find your favorite flat void of water, seek out the “guts” that drain the flat. Guts, in Texas lingo, are smaller underwater highways, formed by moving water, which make excellent areas to target during low-water situations. Drop-offs along channels can be effective too, given ample bottom structure along the elevation change to create ambush points.
“In Texas, especially the middle to the lower coast where I fish, we usually have wind of some kind to help us,” says Watkins. “On days with slack tides, the wind provides our water movement. I prefer the smaller guts that cut into the flats off main-channel drop-offs.”
Fishermen can utilize a sustained wind to act as a current, which can result in a wide-open bite.
Set up your drift pattern or anchor so you’re fishing with the wind direction, not against it. Watkins targets windward drop-offs during low tides. The wind stacks bait along the drop-off, making for excellent conditions for both fishermen and predators. Soft Plastics and suspending baits are go-to lures under these conditions.
“Winds cause mud and sand to mix in the water, helping to disguise our lures,” says Watkins. “I believe the results are more-instinctive strikes, due to fish not actually seeing the lure clearly but reacting to its movement.”
“Low water proves a problem for me since it limits the number of locations where fish will hold,” says Newsome. “I like to form a game plan prior to leaving the dock based on the day’s conditions. Most of my decisions on where and when to fish are dictated by tidal height and current flow.”
Smaller tides on the Chesapeake actually allow the wind to play a vital role in tidal height.
“The bay’s western shore sees extreme lows during strong southwest winds,” says Newsome. “Realizing that wind influences not only tidal height but also current flow is a key to success.”
In general, water is always moving somewhere, and that’s especially evident on the Chesapeake. The key is to learn where to look for moving water at any given moment based on tide and wind. For example, the lee side of a shoreline might be a weak option, while the exposed side offers a higher probability of wind-generated water movement and higher water levels.
“Moving a small distance offshore or around a river bend can result in varied current flow, which will influence your success, particularly during low tide,” says Newsome.
When locating fish in deeper water, Newsome live-chums an area with peanut bunker.
“It’s an easy way to keep an eye out for game fish exploding on an easy meal,” he says. “Lone juvenile menhaden scurrying across the water’s surface is a surefire way to bring game fish up from the deeps This can be particularly valuable during low tide when fish are holding in deeper water.”
Added bonus, this technique allows for fishing topwater lures during times when you would otherwise have to bounce the bottom with jigs.