When and Where to Fish

Little Things Mean a Lot

When you fish is just as important as where you fish.

One early truth we all learn as anglers is that nearly every aspect of our fishing approach can be improved. I’ve been at this over five decades now, and I still learn something different or come up with a new idea to try on most trips. In the long run, that’s the true allure of the sport, I think, the opportunity not only to catch big fish or fill the cooler but to figure out the quarry daily, to connect with your target more efficiently, more smoothly, or in an increasingly enjoyable fashion. All of this, of course, is heightened even more when shared with friends and family.

Still, no matter how many stripes you earn in piscatorial pursuit, both overall success and ultimate fun tend to flow from realizing little things mean a lot. From that point of view, every angler from novice to expert can improve their game by focusing on a few select but vital details that are the building blocks of all that matters when it comes to putting the point to your quarry. Count among these the need for sharp hooks, good line, strong knots, fresh bait, and a properly set drag.

Understanding the interrelationship between time and tides is another such stepping stone, for when you fish is just as important as where you fish. Consider the time of day you tend to hit the water, for example. Most anglers have heard early morning and evening hours are generally the peak periods for connecting with game fish species, especially the wary ones, yet I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen anglers arrive late to the early bite or head home an hour or two before dusk. Departing just before the sun goes down or arriving on the scene at the crack of noon are surefire ways to miss the blitz.

Tidal stages matter too. In hot weather, fish tend to favor the flood, especially in bay areas, as it ushers in a cool, refreshing flow of ocean, sound, or gulf water that seems to perk up the bite. The opposite is also true. In cool weather, ebbing tides tend to be more productive as warmer water is pulled from the shallows and flats, often accompanied by baitfish caught in the current around inlets, passes, outflows, or pinch points like bridge crossings. In these instances, not only does the warmer water put predators in a feisty mood, but the helpless baitfish also serve as a natural chum slick to spark the action.

The key, then, is to figure out when the appropriate tide, either rising or falling, matches up with early morning or evening hours. Plan ahead to fish these occurrences and you’ll maximize your odds of success. It’s not rocket science, but it does take more effort to stay on schedule than you might think.   

Digging a little deeper into the tide equation, many anglers believe the first two and last two hours of any tidal movement to be the most productive, and with good reason. Slack tide, that hour or so between tidal changes, usually sees lackluster action and is the best time to grab a sandwich. Mid-tide stages, by comparison, see the hardest-running currents, requiring predator fish to exert extra effort to catch their prey while anglers need heavier weights and lures to hold bottom or get their offerings to run deep.

Ah, but the start and end of each tide is the “Goldilocks” factor, being just right to overpower baitfish and make their escape unlikely from strong-swimming predators ranging from tarpon, snook, sea trout, and redfish in southern waters to stripers, weakfish, false albacore, fluke, and blues farther north. There is a delicate balance at play here requiring a little effort to time correctly but take this basic equation to heart and it quickly becomes ingrained in the psyche—resulting in better scores and more fun on the water. 

More Fishing Articles coming soon from Southern Boating

-by Tom Schlichter

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