- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
How good is your knowledge of the tides? Try this simple test to find out: Do you think "apogee" means saying you're sorry, "perigee" means an ancestral line of purebred animal, and "amplitude" means how high a plane flies? Do you think "flood" only happens when it rains too much, and "slack" only happens when you lose a fish? Can you explain "ebb," "neap," and "mean low water"? Do you know how many minutes the high tide advances each day or how "tide" and "current" differ?
All these things influence your fishing, and if you're unsure about the answers you should read on.
"Tides," says world-renowned angler and fishing author, Ed Migdalski, "make all the difference between a highly productive trip and a bust. You must understand tide movement, its impact on local species, and how to plan accordingly. Otherwise, you'll miss the best bite."
How Tides Work
Jetties and breakwaters draw crowds of fishermen where currents course around them.
Strictly speaking, tide is defined as the vertical rise and fall of water, and current is the horizontal flow of water. Amplitude is the distance between high and low tide marks. In most saltwater fishing, a strong correlation exists between the stages of the tide and fish feeding activity.
Currents are easier to see in smaller areas, such as bays and estuaries, and they're usually swifter than at sea. This is because the water volume is forced through a narrower area, and to do that it must speed up. The wind can also affect tides and currents by its push against the surface. But the moon ultimately determines how hard and when the tide moves.
Tides are caused by the moon's gravitational pull as it orbits the earth, combined with the earth's rotation along its axis. The pull forces the water to surge on both sides of the earth, raising and lowering the water level twice daily. The tide becomes high approximately every 12 hours and 25 minutes, and each day the high tide occurs about 50 minutes later than it did the previous day. Spring tides happen when the sun and moon are in line with earth on the new and full moon. Neap tides occur when the sun and moon pull at right angles on the first and last quarter of the moon. Spring tides are extreme, and neap tides are moderate.
Because the moon revolves around the earth in an elliptical pattern, it pulls against the oceans with varying intensity. When the moon passes at its nearest point it creates "perigee" or extra high and low tides. When it passes at its farthest point it creates "apogee" or unusually light tides. Fishing improves on certain moon phases. Keep a notepad to record fish activity at the various stages and velocities of the tide in your area. Usually, the best fishing occurs within two hours on either side of high or low tide.
Tides "flood" when they come in and "ebb" when they go out. A tide flooding into an estuary increases fish feeding activity because it carries new forage from the ocean. As tides surge over flats they provide more water for fish to move in and feed where they couldn't at low water. Conversely, the ebb draws fish from the shallows as the water thins, but it stimulates feeding at estuary mouths because it sweeps baitfish down to waiting predators.
Where To Look
Three of the most productive tidal areas are rips, obstructions and estuaries. Rips are created when deep water is forced up and over shallow spots caused by a reef, ledge or shoal. Fish such as striped bass and bluefish congregate in rips because they offer food and shelter. As the tide rushes over high spots, the rising water creates an upwelling. Baitfish live along the reefs to feed on microscopic organic matter that's stirred from the ocean floor and swept over the rocks. This faster water is usually visible on the surface in the form of a "rip line."
Predators cruise near the bottom in the calmer water ahead of and behind reefs where their energy expenditure is less. From the sheltered water a big fish will dart up to grab a tide-tumbled baitfish or lure. The best spot to drop your bait or jig is in the "sweet spot" just in front of the rip line. The tide is slowest near the bottom, so the deeper you can fish the better.
Islands, reefs, rockpiles or any other structures are excellent places to find foraging predators.
Obstructions like wrecks, rocks, ledges, and bridge and dock pilings create turbulence, too. But they also offer a "dead spot" where the current is weaker. A dead spot, of course, occurs behind any object that blocks the flow; however, it also happens immediately in front of the obstacle because water piles up against the structure and counters the current. Fish hold here to conserve energy and wait for baitfish to flutter past.
Be wary of obstructions as the tide drops. While structure attracts forage and predators, it also poses a threat to your motor and hull, especially when the hazards aren’t visible at first. Many a craft has grounded on a rock, shoal or sandbar on a falling tide. Navigational charts list "mean low water" in feet, which tells you the average minimum depth to expect. During a moon tide or windy conditions, however, the water level might be several feet lower than indicated.
Seawalls, breakwaters, jetties and canal banks offer terrific fishing as the tide courses along or around them. Breakwaters and banks hinder baitfish escape routes from marauding game fish, yet forage is attracted by structure and accumulates there. Cast along the ends of breakwaters and jetties where the tide sweeps past the points. Also try cuts, pockets, and bulges in the structure.
Schoolie striped bass love to hold near pilings and wait for forage in the current of a falling tide.
Estuaries, including tidal creeks, rivers, and bays, offer a mix of fresh and salt water. An enormous amount and variety of forage, such as baitfish, seaworms, shrimp, eels, and crabs, make their home in estuaries. And on the ebb tide many of these morsels are swept to the coast to meet waiting predators. Snook, sea trout, bluefish and striped bass all cruise river and creek mouths waiting for the falling tide to carry nervous bait from their rapidly diminishing upstream sanctuary.
Fish always face into the current so they can easily maintain stability and inhale water. It's also the best position to smell, see and intercept forage moving down tide. Therefore, the best way to present your bait or lure is down or across the current. Baitfish seldom swim up-tide, and game fish may ignore an offering being dragged against the current by your line.
Because scent attracts fish, and because currents carry scent, chumming in moving water is an effective method of increasing action. When chumming from a boat, it's important to position your craft so you're located directly upstream of the chum flow. In deep, fast water, such as a rip, chum may be ineffective because it drifts away too fast. But in shallower water with a moderate current, chum can be deadly effective. Experiment with fishing line and anchor rope lengths to place your baits in the best proximity of tide-swept structure for bottomfish like tautog, sheepshead, and porgies.
"Study and record the tides and their results on your fishing," Migdalski says. "You'll quickly learn how to get more action in less time."