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Friday, Aug 29, 2014
Outdoors

Big tides could very well mean big fish

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:31 PM

The unusually strong tides this weekend will be among the most dramatic of the year as the moon and the sun align just right for maximum flow.

According to NOAA tide tables, the high tide at Egmont today will be plus-2.7 feet at 10:40 a.m., followed by a low of minus-0.5 at 5:37 p.m. On Monday, the high is a plus-2.8 at 11:25 a.m. with a low of minus-0.6 at 6:27 p.m., and on Tuesday there's another plus-2.8 at 12:11 p.m., followed by a minus-0.5 at 7:16 p.m.

With more than three feet of water flowing in and out, currents will be as strong as you'll see them on the west coast of Florida. And where there's strong tidal flow anywhere inshore, there's a big push of feeding gamefish.

The strategy breaks down into the two parts of the tide. Some of the highest high tides of the year will put species such as redfish and snook smack up against the mangrove edges because the baitfish and crabs they eat actually move far inside the tangle of roots on these tides. When the tide just begins to start out, the fish line up along the tree line to eat the critters forced out by the falling water. A good strategy at this stage is to put a chunk of ladyfish or mullet on bottom and let the fish find it through scent.

At about mid-tide, as the water gets moving, the best bites may be on mangrove points and creek channels. At this stage, most of the bait that was up in the trees has been forced out and is moving toward the outside flats. Topwater lures, jerkbaits and, of course, live sardines become highly effective.

And in the last couple hours of the fall, the most active bite will be on the outside edge of the flats. Around most of Tampa Bay, there's a sandbar separating the grass flats from the deeper water beyond, but there are numerous tidal cuts through this bar. These cuts are the highways where snook, trout and reds wait to feed as the tide pours out. Again, topwaters, jerkbaits, MirrOdines and live bait are the ticket.

Even at dead low tide, there's still action to be found; the low water will force any remaining fish on the inside into the few deep holes. In many areas, there's a slightly deeper channel just on the inside of the sandbar, and this is a favorite low-tide hang out for reds and snook at times, too.

And if you're very lucky, you might even spot tailing reds on the bottom of the low. Sometimes they make it very obvious, waving their bluish tails well above the surface. At other times, all you see is the tip of a fin briefly exposed. Scented baits such as the Gulp crab are a good offering, fished slowly so the fish can follow the scent trail, as is the DOA 4-inch shrimp.

Snook sometimes prowl into tailing territory, too, and you might hear them popping in emergent grass that looks far too thick to hide a fish. Rip a swimbait such as the three-inch Tsunami through this grass and you'll often connect with some surprisingly large fish.

The low tide action on the outside is best reached by wading or by kayak. Even the shallowest draft flats boat makes too big a "footprint" – fish will sense it and shy away.

Everything said above about the major tide of the day goes as well for the minor tide, but it so happens at this tide phase that the minor high is after dark. The early morning low, however, can be well worth fishing.

And one other factor always has to be considered: Strong, sustained winds can totally change tidal flows. This happens most often in winter, but a big summer thunderstorm can also do the job briefly. A big blow out of the west, typical in early summer, can push plenty of added water if it comes on a rising tide.

Find a shoreline or point that sits across the tide flow and fish it with topwaters and plastic shrimp, or with the real thing, and you'll often enjoy some remarkable action for the brief time the wind lasts. Of course, rough water, rain and lightning can dampen the enthusiasm in this situation, but if you're stuck out there anyway, the fast fishing can take your mind off your misery.

Last but not least, remember tides inside Tampa Bay will be several hours behind the listed times for Egmont. Check the tide tables for the area you like and be there to greet the fish.

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