TIDES AND HABITATS
READ THIS VERY USEFUL INFORMATION
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, its 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? Its the gravitational pull between the sun and moon on the earths 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? Heres the bottom line fish are easier to catch when they are feeding and its 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. Its what I use to plan each and every fishing day.
Lets 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.
Im 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
Lets 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. Thats 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 its 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 areas is to look at them at low tide
These come in many shapes and sizes and normally how the current, wave action relate to the bar is the key ingredient to understand where the fish will be holding.
If you see a point off a beach it will normally continue out under the surface. Combine a current on the dropping or incoming tide moving across it and you will very likely have a rip. Look for most fish to be feeding on the down tide side.
If a sand bar were 50 feet off the shore running parallel to it with waves crashing over it then I would look for the fish to be holding between the beach and the bar. They will feed on the bait as it's picked up by the wave and tossed over the bar. Casting into the wave as its ready to break and allowing the wave to crash on your fly, then imparting a darting action will often result in a strike.
There will be times where you will be able to stand on these bars and cast your fly perpendicular to the wave / current direction and allow your fly to flow over the bar and into the deeper water. Imparting action to your fly or simply letting it dead drift will often result in a strike.
Channels from a Bay or Estuary
These areas are a magnet for fish. All Bays and estuaries hold bait fish. At sometime these baitfish will leave these areas or be sucked out by the tidal current. These channels are prime feeding lies for cruising, migrating, resident bass and blues. On a dropping tide the current through these channels is often extremely fast, providing a predator an easy meal. They may set up like a trout on a seam, behind a bar (rip) or maybe in a multitude of different sand holes on the bottom created by this incredibly fast concentrated current. Often sight fishing to these fish is almost comical as you can pick out the fish you want to catch. Its just like swinging a streamer for trout. With this increased flow of water they do not have the time to study or inspect your fly for realism and are often much more opportunistic feeders, which we always like.
These are good fish holding locations due to the depth of water they hold, making the fish feel comfortable within this habitat. One of the easiest ways to find an Ocean hole is to put on a pair of polarized sunglasses and look down the beach. Look for the darkest water along the beach and you've just found a spot to fish.
A wave is made when it comes in contact with shallows. Often by simply reading the swells and where the wave is breaking will help you to decide where to fish. If a wave breaks on the shoreline then I know I have deep water in front of me and would be a good fishing location. If the waves start to build 200 feet out, crest and break far from shore then I probably have a point of sand or shallow water bar. If I have waves breaking out to my right and left, but breaking at my feet in front of me, then I probably have an ocean hole. This is where I would fish. Even if you cannot visually see sub-surface structure, by reading the swells and breaks it will help you understand what you cannot see.
Holes, bars, dips, pockets normally indicate fast moving water. A prime location to fish when the current is at its optimum. Soft sand equals shifting sand and in this area expect Sand Lances (called sand eels in the UK ) to be present. They normally seek out this type of sand to hide in. Throwing a Sand Lance pattern would be my first choice. Or the real thing!
Bays are comprised of everything. Flats, bars, channels, rips, marsh, beach, and rocks. Look for birds, darker deeper water, structure, current and all of the above. Read the water right and this is the result, a beautiful striped bass. photo John Halnon
The best way to study these different habitats is to first start out at low tide. Go for a walk on your favourite beach. Notice the points, bars, holes and rocks. These are the areas to concentrate on and could be loaded with fish later in the tide. A careful eye and an understanding of these areas are all that is needed to become a proficient angler.
Lets try to put it all together. As an angler, your goal is to search out and study all the above mentioned habitats and their relationship with moving water. Fish them, find out when each piece of structure fishes at its optimum. (Remember my equation?) Some will fish best at high, mid, low, incoming, outgoing, half in or half out. Others on a half or full moon, while sometimes your spots will fish best on opposite phases. Compile an assortment of spots, so you can do what I do each day before heading out. Fish each spot when it is at its optimum. Thus guaranteeing you the best chances for hooking up! You will find with time the more spots you acquire, the odds of fishing 24 -7 all summer long increase. Also, you will then be able to take wind into consideration. Casting on your back cast is easy as spreading soft butter on a warm muffin when youre experienced. But for the new angler its an acquired skill. So being able to fish, casting on your forward cast can sometimes be a more pleasurable experience.
When I go fishing, I take all this and more into consideration when deciding where to go. In my opinion, fly-fishing is one of the most challenging and rewarding types of fishing you will ever experience. But to achieve proficiency you need to have a clear understanding of tides, currents and habitat you fish. Then you'll soon be realising the best part of fly fishing