Riding The Inshore Tides: Part 1 (Outgoing)
The tide cycle as it applies to inshore fishing seems like a simple concept to grasp. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. Water levels rise and fall. Baitfish and other forage species are swept in and out of bays, bayous and marshes and into the mouths of opportunistic gamefish.
Sounds like pretty basic stuff, right? It is, until Mother Nature throws you a curveball and floods the marsh with an extra foot of water or leaves your favorite reef bone-dry.
The tide cycle and the sweeping currents and water-level fluctuations it creates are fickle elements that are influenced by wind, barometric pressure, moon phase and other factors. Understanding how inshore gamefish such as speckled trout, redfish, flounder and snook react to these ever-changing variables can be the difference between landing a limit and going home with an empty livewell.
One man who has an intricate understanding of the tide cycle and its influence on gamefish is Captain Charlie Thomason. Thomason owns and operates Bayou Charters out of Hopedale, La., and has fished virtually every mile of the Gulf Coast and a portion of the Eastern Seaboard in his days as a tournament redfish pro. More than 20 years of on-the-water experience as a charter captain and tournament angler have honed Thomason's ability to locate fish in even the most extreme high- and low-water events.
In part 1 of this 3-part series on coastal tides and how they influence gamefish, Thomason breaks down his basic approach for targeting fish on the outgoing tide.
Follow The Interstate
Anglers often make the mistake of finding fish in a certain area at a certain point of the tide cycle and assuming those fish will be there anytime the tide moves. Thomason says that's a big mistake.
"One basic rule I always tell my customers is to think of incoming and outgoing tides like driving on the interstate," he explains. "Fish 'drive' one way on the incoming tide, and the opposite way on the outgoing. No matter what, they're always going to drive the same way. They won't all the sudden change lanes and go the other direction."
He notes that fish will relate to the "outgoing side" of a given structure element - like a marsh pond, grass point or shell reef - on the outgoing tide. Likewise, they orient themselves on the "incoming side" of these structures on the incoming tide.
"There could be a 1,000 redfish holed up on the outgoing side of a marsh pond ready to eat, but if you're fishing the wrong side you won't get a bite. You always want to make it a point to fish the areas the tide is moving into, not away from."
In the below photo, the red dots highlight the outgoing sides of the marsh lakes. Notice that all the lakes funnel out into nearby deeper bayous and eventually into the larger lake at the bottom of the image.
Ebb Tide Essentials
Sometimes catching fish on the outgoing tide is as simple as finding a drain with moving water and casting into the current. But remember that fish are opportunistic predators and are always looking for the easiest meal they can catch. If the current's moving too swiftly, fish will move to specific locations where they can still feed without burning too much energy.
"The ideal spot to find fish on a strong outgoing tide is along a current-swept bank that leads to a deep-water spot," Thomason says. "That 'deep' spot doesn't have to be a big hole – it just has to be deeper than the water around it. I see guys all the time fishing right in the current and not catching a thing because those fish don't want to sit there and swim constantly. Fish are lazy. They'll go to an area where they can sit and have the food come to them.
"The other thing you want to look for on those current-swept banks is a piece of structure," he adds. "If you find a bank on the outgoing side of a pond and it's got some little shell clumps or a point that sticks out, that's where you need to be. Fish hide behind those little breaks to stay out of the current, and when a baitfish swims by they slam it."
Don't make the mistake of fishing directly in a strong current, like the dark bayou in the middle of the map below. You'll find more fish on the current-swept shorelines adjacent to deeper water on the outgoing tide.
When trying to make sense of tide cycles, currents, water levels, wind speeds, pressure changes and all the other variables that influence where fish move and when they feed, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and confused. Thomason warns against overthinking things.
"When I have a customer on the boat and I can see he's getting confused about why the fish are relating to a certain area on a certain tide, I tell them this: 'Fish points and shell clumps on the outgoing. Fish the coves and indentions on the incoming.' That's a really simple way to look at it, but if you're still learning how to pattern fish you can't try to process ten different things at once. If you follow those two simple rules, you'll put yourself in the right places to catch more fish."
Thomason also recommends limiting the number of baits you throw when you're devoting yourself to learning the subtleties of patterning fish in your area.
"You don't need ten different baits rigged on different rods," he says. "I take clients out all the time and we'll fish for 15 minutes and they'll change baits five or six times. You're better off if you stick with just a couple different baits you have confidence in."
For Thomason, his confidence baits include paddletail swimbaits like the TTF Killer Flats Minnow rigged on a jighead as well as under a popping cork. "I like a clear bait with a chartreuse tail in clean water and a black bait with a chartreuse tail in dirty water. I definitely like having that chartreuse tail on my plastics. I think it helps get a few more bites."
In part 2 of this story Thomason will share his tips for finding fish on the incoming tide. In part 3 he'll discuss how he approaches extreme high-tide events.
SEEKER RODS NEEDS YOU! JOIN FISHHOUND AND TEST SEEKER RODS! GET THE DETAILS HERE.
about the author
Texan Jason Bryant has written about fresh and saltwater fishing for more than a decade. When he's not chasing redfish in his poling skiff, you'll find him dodging pirates and looking for mean Mexico largemouths at Lake Falcon.