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When planning a saltwater fishing trip, check the tides

By Staff | Aug 13, 2020

The question most asked by any new angler, especially a new saltwater angler is, “When’s the best time to go fishing?”

Since saltwater fishing success is usually tide dependent, the first step in planning your trip is checking a tide chart. Day or night, moving water is productive water. Being at your favorite hot spot with your hot bait/lure during a slack water period means your best efforts probably won’t be rewarded. Return two hours later when the tide is moving and you’re suddenly catching fish.

Anglers only need look at the moon to give them an idea about the day’s tidal strength. A full or new (no) moon means strong incoming and outgoing tides.

Again, consult your tide chart to find the day’s tidal “sweet spot” to maximize your productivity but remember, predicted tides can be altered by local weather conditions.

Which is the best tide to fish, incoming or outgoing? That depends on your location. Typically, local anglers like an outgoing tide when fishing summer snook or tarpon stationed in and around the passes, and an incoming for snook and redfish when angling back country oyster bars and mangrove shorelines. For summer night tarpon and snook action around the Caloosahatchee River bridges, outgoing tides are usually more productive as well.

Looking closer you can break the moving water period into three parts to further increase your odds of success. Snook love current and the free food it brings along with it but don’t like using up all their energy fighting for it.

Quite often fishing the slower first and last stages of an outgoing tide being funneled through a pass or other restriction is more productive than fishing the strongest flowing part of the tide. That being said, each pass has its own particular best tide, times, seasonal and locational quirks and only local knowledge or time spent on the water will reveal them.

You’ve chosen your location and dialed in the right tide. What will you throw, live bait or lures? Live bait must either be bought pre-trip or collected by net or rod caught 5 or 6 at a time using pre-packaged Sabiki rigs.

Choosing your cast net will depend on the size baits you intended to collect. This will also dictate the mesh size of the net. One inch mesh or larger for big baits like mullet for tarpon and big snook down to 3/8 inch mesh for general duty, then further down to 1/4 inch for minnows and small shiners. The other consideration is diameter of the net. Sizes range from 4 feet to 12 feet. Small nets are easier to throw than large ones. A good all-round choice is 8-footer.

Good nets open well and sink fast, maximizing your time on the water. Cheap nets are as advertised and won’t last too long. Buy the best net that you can afford, take care of it and it will pay for itself.

Collecting live bait and keeping it healthy in hot summer conditions requires good aeration and water exchange. Overloading your baitwell in summer is a sure way to kill precious bait.

Besides shrimp and crabs, the fish baits most often used locally are members of the herring family like thread herring or scaled sardines. Hook them lightly through the nostrils or to make them swim deeper hook just in front of the dorsal or, just behind the anal fin to make them swim upwards.

Mullet are hooked through the lips for trolling or by the dorsal to make them swim downward.

Pinfish are best suspended over grass by a small float.

Use bridle hooks in all larger baits for better hook-ups.

For summer lures, a basic selection would include a few topwater plugs, some spoons and an assortment of jig-heads and soft plastic tails which will allow you to cover water quickly.

Fly choices would include Clouser Minnows and Deceivers. Weedless bugs for mangrove shorelines.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.