Here are the tides you need to be aware of for all tidal river fishing. It has a lot to do in how you fish on a given day and in planning your tournament strategy. The other factors that will either exacerbate or counter the effects of these different tides are heavy rains, and wind direction and speed.
Spring tides: Both the sun and the moon affect the rising of the waters. When the sun and moon are lined up (during a new moon and full moon), their effect is cumulative, causing water to rise higher and fall lower than average. These are called spring tides and they have nothing to do with the season, as evidenced by the fact they occur every two weeks.
Neap tides are especially weak tides. When the sun and moon are at right angles (sometimes called "at the quarters") their total effect is less and the tidal range (the difference between high and low) is less. High tide is not as high and low tide is not as low. These are called neap tides.
Slack Tide: Period of time when the tide is changing from one direction to another. Actually there is no such thing as a Slack Tide but it easier to describe that condition using that term we all have come to understand. This is not to be confused with a slack water condition. A slack water condition is when the tidal flow loses energy and comes to a stop. For the subject / condition of a Slack Tide it’s important to understand it because it will affect your fishing.
In the next post I will cover a few different approaches to fishing each different tidal condition.
Fishing the Spring Tide:
“Spring tides: Both the sun and the moon affect the rising of the waters. When the sun and moon are lined up (during a new moon and full moon), their effect is cumulative, causing water to rise higher and fall lower than average. These are called spring tides and they have nothing to do with the season, as evidenced by the fact they occur every two weeks”.
During a spring tide period when it is high tide you will find me tight to the bank. I will be working the shore line, inside grass line, wood lay downs, and Docks. About half way through the tide cycle I start working out to the outside edge. I think the biggest mistake anglers make fishing this tide is not going shallow enough at high tide, and not moving out far enough at the extreme low tide. A lot of times you have large clumps of isolated eel and other types of grass growing between the outside edges of the grass line and the main creek channel; the bass will migrate to them and just stage there until the tide starts’ moving back in. Sometimes depending on the creek the bass will migrate to the edge of the channel itself. My approach to fishing pads is the same as it would be fishing a grass bed. The nice thing about an extreme low tide is it will expose those long grass points that you would not normally be able to see very well. When you find them mark it on your GPS. There are times when the big bass will flat load up on these points of grass after the spawn. One other thing to consider; spring floods constantly move old logs from one spot to another. If you discover one mark it on GPS. There are alot of cuts off of large creeks that you may not get out of at an extreme low tide, but; there are just as many that you can easily get into as well. Sometime those little cuts can really load up during a spring tide. One other important thing, some of these grass beds are located in front of low laying wet lands, and small feeder creeks. There is usually a ditch very close by created by the run off or flow out of both. Here is where a flasher will really shine because it will punch through the grass and show you those depth changes that are located in the grass beds. These ditches will load up too no matter what the tide. Its important to note that an extreme high tide will cause the bass to do one of two things; bass will have a tendency to move shallow and scatter or cause them to group up in the nearest cut or cove. I try to focus on areas where the bass do not have alot of options on where to go IE; In Mattawoman I'd fish around the two islands or isolated pads next to a shore line. I would avoid the acres and acres of pad flats as much as possiable unless I knew something the rest did'nt.
Fishing through a Neap Tide;
“Neap tides are especially weak tides. When the sun and moon are at right angles (sometimes called "at the quarters") their total effect is less and the tidal range (the difference between high and low) is less. High tide is not as high and low tide is not as low. These are called neap tides”.
I hear guys say all the time “The tide never went out today and it killed my pattern”. Guess what? It went out alright; it was just a “Neap Tide condition”. This is the hardest one to deal with. There are a lot of things to deal with here; weak current, high tide is not as high and low tide is not as low. Add in a high pressure system and you have a rough day coming. I wish I could tell you exactly what to do here but there is no hard and fast solution to this tide. I believe that the bass will do one of two things. They either hunker down or start roaming the inside or outside weed line or creek channels. I try to figure out a pattern for the day as fast as possible. I start with top water over the outside edge to try and gage the bite for that day. If that isn’t happening I go to flipping and start with the thickest clumps of grass I can find and then move a finesse presentation pitching to the holes in the grass on the outside edge. If all else fails I grab my KVD, rattle trap, or frog and start covering water / run and gun to try and salvage the day or I will set up on a grass point that extends out into the river and camp out there. Here is why. I have personally witnessed packs of bass (8 to 10) grouped by size (in this case it was 3 to 4 pounders) roaming the inside and or outside grass lines. We caught one and by the time we netted the fish the rest of em were already gone. It would not surprise if these migratory bass cover a couple of miles in a day’s time searching for food. Another good location to target bass during a Neap Tide is in front of a feeder creek or a similar location where the current get funneled through a narrow opening. This of course will enhance the flow or current and give the bass a better feeding opportunity. Regardless of the conditions or tide I am “ALWAYS” looking for some kind of bait activity in the surrounding area. If I see some kind of bait movement or activity; no matter how subtle my confidence level goes way up. When I don’t see it I still give it everything I got but in the back of my mind doubt will linger until I get something going. In my next post I will lay out all of my favorite lures and colors for the Potomac.
Looking at the Tide Chart for the Potomac River the difference in height between high and low tide during a Spring tide is max 1.6 feet. It will be a little more or less depending on the direction and velocity of the wind. The difference in height between high and low tide during a Neap tide is max 1. 0 feet and once again the wind will play a factor. Visually speaking you probably will not notice the different types of tides but you can bet the fish know and react appropriately.
Let’s talk a little about bass location and how the bite progress through the tide cycle. Keep in mind that when I hit the river I have made certain assumptions based on my theories and experience and always have a plan of attack but a wise man once told me that when you think you have it all nailed down the bass give ya a spanking that you will remember forever. He was right because even through it hasn’t happened in a long time I have been skunked on the Potomac. It may happen the next time I go out; who knows. Keep an open mind, be flexible and versatile and you will do well.
Bass love break lines, ledges, edges, current breaks and eddies, all types of cover (Wood, Docks, Grass, etc), and structure like point and rock piles, to name a few. Studies have also shown that resident bass that spend the majority of their life span in aquatic vegetation do not grow as fast or get as big as migratory bass. There is a tremendous amount of bait on the river and just as many places for the bait to hide in and that’s why I like the outside weed line and grass points more than any other type of cover and my second favorite is wood lay downs and docks on the inside edge. In some grass beds the tidal current makes a nice little highway right through it void of any grass and bass love it. The tidal current creates an edge for the lack of a better term. Bass will set up on the outside or inside edge and let the current bring em the food. These bass are also the first to get picked off because they are easy to catch and are the most aggressive. The key is to be the first one to get to em. I will give you an example in a bit. The way the bite usually progress one of two ways. The first is a no brainer. The bite is on, it’s going to be a 50 fish day, and the bass bite throughout the tide aggressively. No thinking here; just fish!
Typically what happens is this; when the tide turns you get a flurry of activity that lasts 30 min or so and sometimes possibly up to an hour or two and then it starts to get tough. This will happen each time the tide turns from high to low or low to high. Stay with it as long as you’re catching quality fish at least every 20 min or so. We don’t leave biting fish to find fish. The worst tide to fish in my opinion is the last 2 hours of an incoming tide. Can you say UGLY!
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