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On the Water: Know your tides when fishing local waters

By Capt. Bill Russell - | Nov 24, 2020

Redfish are prowling the shallow flats on low water days. Joe Aurand of Pine Island caught and released this big red off the edge of an oyster bar while fishing with Capt. Bill Russell in Matlacha Pass. PHOTO PROVIDED

It’s that time of year in Southwest Florida that we progress into our cooler or winter months. While our weather change is not as dramatic as what our northern friends are accustomed to, it has an impact on how and where we fish.

Tides and water depth play a key role for coastal anglers and dictate where and when we find fish throughout the year. If you study a yearly tide chart, you will notice a slight role reversal for the high and low tides. Over the warm months of late spring, summer and early fall the lowest tides are generally late in the evening and at night and the highest occur during the day. Study the same chart for late fall, winter and early spring and you will find just the opposite — the lowest tides are generally in the early morning and during the day and the highest are during the night hours.

No big deal, we still have days with good strong tides to fish, right? If you have spent any time fishing the inshore waters of Southwest Florida, you quickly learned just how important tides are and not just that there is good water movement, but more importantly how high or low the water will rise or drop. We have vast areas of very shallow inshore waters where a foot of depth makes a huge difference. In my opinion, one of the best things you can do to improve your inshore fishing success is learn how the tides work and how weather affects the tide. Many newcomers to our area do not realize just how much shallow water we have for large bodies of water.

With less water to work with during the day, it will affect where we fish and might also play a role in running or moving from one spot to another. There are many areas that I fish for snook, redfish, trout and others over the high tides during the warm months that just don’t have enough water depth through the cooler months. And likewise, many of my favorite winter holes that I like to fish when the tides are super low, I wouldn’t think about fishing over the summer or warmer months.    During our warm months, I prefer fishing an incoming tide and the higher the better but beginning this month some of our best days fishing occur on the lowest stages of falling tides.

If you fish the falling tides, make sure you do a little homework and have an exit plan. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, especially when you are catching fish and before you realize it the plug has been pulled and you are looking at real estate or dry land 360 degrees around the boat. Believe me, not a good sight. With an exit plan you should always have an out; an egress path that you know will provide enough water to float the boat out to deeper water. This is where it’s imperative to learn your boat’s draft and limitations and the water depths in areas you fish at all stages of the tide.

If you are not very familiar with an area or body of water, take it slow and careful and I recommend learning an area over the incoming tide. This way if you mess up and end up grounded (we all have) while taking it slow, the incoming water well have you floating again soon. The ability to sit at the computer and study the areas you intend to fish on Google Earth is a huge advantage from the old days. It takes a few hours to study a satellite image or chart of an area and learn what it took myself and others years and years to learn growing up in Southwest Florida without that advantage. But still, there is no substitute for time on the water.

If you want to become a consistently successful angler, put in the time to learn our local tides and how weather and seasons affect the tides, then apply that knowledge to areas you want to fish. In my opinion, this is one of if not the most important aspects of consistently catching fish. It will take some effort, including trial and error, but over time you will become a more complete angler and will see your catch rate increase.

Finally, last week we had a drop in temperature. It was windy on most days that assisted to push the water out for some very low tides. The drop in water temperature should help to get our annual sheepshead bite going and just give a boost to fishing in general.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving Holiday and hope you make time to get on the water. 

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, contact Gulf Coast Guide Service at 239-410-8576 (call or text); on the web at www.fish pineisland.com; or via email at gcl2fish@live.com.

Have a safe week and good fishin’.

As a lifetime resident of Matlacha and Pine Island, Capt. Bill Russell has spent his life fishing and learning the waters around Pine Island and Southwest Florida, and as a professional fishing guide for the past 23 years.