As a captain, I am often asked the question, “How do you know where fish are day after day?” First, we are not magicians. We just apply some common sense and fishing knowledge. This doesn’t mean we can’t have a bad day, but our chances of catching fish are better than the average angler.
The two things we stress in our fishing school is learning the “when and where” of catching fish. I will try to explain each one as it relates to Tampa Bay. In order to know When, we must understand solunar tables, moon phases and currents.
Solunar tables are what I call nature’s clock. During a 24-hour period, we have two major and two minor feeding periods. This doesn’t mean that fish feed only during these times, but the chances of catching more fish exist.
Major periods are the best time to fish. These periods begin at the times the moon is above or below where you are fishing and lasts approximately two hours. Minor periods are good, but do not last as long. These periods begin when the moon is rising or setting.
Tides are the result of centrifugal forces caused by the gravitational attractions between the moon, sun and Earth, in combination with the Earth spinning on its axis and the moon circling the Earth in the opposite direction of the Earth’s spin. The moon rotates on its axis in exactly the length of time that it circles around the earth. The moon takes approximately 2.3 days to circle the earth.
A tide is the vertical motion or rise and fall of water. Tide tables give the daily predictions of the times and heights of high and low waters. There are many explanations and descriptions of tidal movements, as well as, reasons and suppositions as to why tides occur. Actually, much of the terminology refers to the same three tidal phenomena of spring tide, neap tide, and vanishing tide.
Spring tide, the best fishing tide, is an extra high tide occurring semi-monthly at the time of the full moon and new moon. It brings an extra high high-water and lower low-water. The sun, moon and the Earth are in a straight line over a given point on Earth. Waters 200 miles away will experience a different tidal occurrence, because the moon will not be directly over that geographical position.
Neap tide, the least desirable time to fish, is a smaller tide, occurring monthly at the same time of the Moon’s first quarter and last quarter. There is not much difference between high and low water. The celestial bodies are not in phase with each other, creating less gravitational pull on the water even though the centrifugal force from the spinning Earth remains the same.
Vanishing tides are when the highs and lows are indistinguishable in a mixed tide.
When the tides are in full swing, the flood current will flow from the sea into harbors, rivers and bay waters (rising tide).
When the tides are lowering, the ebb current from the bay, rivers, and harbors will flow in down-stream direction toward and out to the sea (falling tide).
Currents are horizontal movements of water. The average current flow of a tide in a confined area is approximately 6 1/4 hours and then it stops, reverses direction and flows for approximately the same length of time.
Slack water is the condition where there is no current in the water. The water is in a stationary condition just before and after a tidal change; such as an Ebb or Flood current.
Where to fish will be different according to season. During the winter, look for rocks that are close to the surface during low tides and seawalls. They act as a heater radiating the sun’s heat into the water. Ever wondered why fish swim along the outer edges of a seawall or circle rock piles? Creeks and rivers generate heat from decaying matter, and the muddy bottom also tends to retains heat longer. Docks not only generate heat, but also create a safe haven for many species of fish. The bigger the boat dock, the better the spot to fish, as larger boats tend to leave deeper holes from prop wash in the water. Power plants are another good source of heat, especially in extreme low temperatures. Always fish the west side of the bay in the morning, as the sun’s rays will heat this area first. Fish the east side in the afternoon. Winter provides us the best view of the areas we can fish due to extreme low tides, which expose cuts along the mangroves, oyster beds and potholes that are hidden during the summer months.
During the summer, look for points of ambush or cuts in the mangroves where water drains with the outgoing tide. Structures are great for holding fish. I have one spot where someone threw an old truck tire–you can count on snook and redfish to be around it during high tide. Redfish tend to hang out around schooling mullet, as they tend to stir up the bottom, bringing up small crabs and shrimp, making a feast for following redfish. Artificial reefs are also great this time of year for mackerel, snook and grouper.Moon Phases