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big bend florida fishing stories

Tides and Currents: Their Effect on Fishing

By Capt. Ken Roy

Lots of folks use "Tide" and "Current" interchangeably but there is a difference. Tide is defined as "the vertical movement of water." This is caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and to a lesser extent, the sun. Currents may be defined as horizontal movement of water. Some currents (not all) are caused by this vertical movement of the tide.

When the tide increases in height, it moves inshore as a simple response to water seeking itís own level. Tidal water fills all of the low spots, so to speak. The shoreward movement of water creates a tidal current, the "incoming" tide. The "outgoing" tide is exactly the reverse of the process, water flows seaward as the tide falls.

There are other factors that create currents. Wind driven currents occur when the friction of wind movement forces water ahead of it. When wind and tide are in the same direction, much higher and much lower tides can result. With lots of wind, it is entirely possible to have a low tide higher than the preceding high tide. An additional factor that can create current flow is barometric pressure. A low barometric pressure can ! result in higher tides and a higher barometric pressure can result in lower tides. Perhaps some of the feeding frenzies that we have experienced as a front approaches can be somehow related to the additional current speed generated by falling barometric pressure.

Tides and currents created by tides are of utmost importance inshore. Fish feed into the current, simple as that. They face into the current to maintain position and to intercept food washed by the current. This is especially true on the falling tide.

Fish that feed on the flats are more affected by water depth (tide height) than by the current flow. If there isnít any water on the flat, the only fish ther! e will be dead ones. As the water level drops with a falling tide, the fish leave the flats and take up positions along channel edges to ambush critters that also have to leave the flat.

Fast tides work better for me offshore whereas slower tides are better (for me) inshore. Fast inshore tides can create a lot of turbidity. With reduced visibility, it may be advisable to switch to natural bait with smell or to a noisy lure.

Slow tide days offshore can be slow fishing days but there are a few techniques that work for me. On slow tide days, I fish the highest rocks and wrecks. The higher profile bottom sort of "compresses" the flow over it thus increasing the speed across it a little.

A change in the species targeted can produce much faster fishing also. Cobia, Mackerel, Kingfish, Trippletail, Spadefish, and Sheepshead bite fine on slow tide. Spadefish seem to bite best at absolute slack tide, unusual for most fish.

Chumming on very slow tide days will help your bottom fish catch. Grouper and Snapper will respond just fine whereas on fast tide days your chum may drift too far away from the boat to ever get to the level where they find it.

I use this little formula to determine the tidal speed during a tide. I found it in Chapmanís a long time ago. Simply put, the tidal current speed increases and decreases about 8% the first hour, 16% the second hour, 24% hours 3 and 4, decreasing to 16% the fifth hour and 8% the sixth hour. Easier to remember is 1-2-3-3-2-1 with 1 being minimum current speed. Feeding picks up as current speed picks up and begins to slow down with lower current velocity.

Take a look at the tide table for your area. The table on "Fishing Around the Bend" is as good as they come. The greater the height difference between high and low tides, the faster the tidal current. Just another point of trivia is outgoing tides flow faster than incoming tides. As the tide rises and moves shoreward, it "stacks up" or compresses against increasing land height, thus a resistance. When it begins to fall, the water is flowing "down hill" and you can get some mighty fast movement. When you have a fast outgoing tide moving against a strong wind from offshore you can have a nasty chop.

Get familiar with tide tables and you! will have much more predictable fishing