First and foremost, most of us struggle on the incoming tide, just like our ancient, quote worthy angler from above. Secondly, this is what the dock talk and scuttlebutt on the current bite tells us ta do, “fish the outgoing”. I mean, every fishing report on the WesternBass.COM Delta reports page says “we smacked em on the outgo!” Anglers are too frequently influenced to follow "hear say" in an effort to, "find" the bite. Nevertheless, there is a good reason behind all this hearsay of the falling tide. Quite frankly, we ALL love to catch bass, a falling tide is the easiest tide for everyone to catch fish on a tidal river. It may not be the “best tide” to be fishing if you want to win a tournament or catch a trophy of a lifetime on the River. However, the falling tide, can be the best time to catch fish in general and here's why.....
The Nature of the Beast
Bass love the comfort and security of cover. It also provides them with an abundance of effective ambush points when feeding. But keep in mind, the largemouth bass, is basically a land locked body of water type of fish. We’ve been very fortunate that somewhere along the line, they were introduced into our river systems, in particular the tidal system we have here on the California Delta. The unfortunate thing about this is, that this creature has had to adapt to an entirely new type of surrounding, that Mother Nature truly did not create it’s physical make up for. Yet, through out the country, it would seem that the bass have adapted, quite well actually, to this tidal river environment. Especially the Florida strain hybrids. They seem to absolutely thrive, and are capable of taking advantage of the conditions presented to them, allowing them to grow to enormous sizes.
So, what is it about this tidal thing that makes catching these tidal river bass easy for some and tougher for others? The simple answer is in understanding “current.” Current, when presented to a bass’ environment, stimulates feeding or movement activity. This holds true for any species of bass, whether it be in a pond, lake, or river system. As a general rule, a largemouth bass does not ‘live’ in the direct current, their body mass can not support such a lifestyle. Yet for Small mouth, Spotted bass, Suwannee bass, Guadalupe bass, their body types, are, better designed, and developed to survive in current laddened river systems. All bass, in fact will use that current, due to his canny and opportunistic nature, to improve his ability to feed and survive. A largemouth bass though, is a little more handicapped than his more effectively suited cousins.
Much like that of a power plant on a lake or damn, streams and creaks with running water that enter a lake or the wind blowing up and down the surface, the incoming and outgoing flows of the tide do indeed afford the same type of current stimulation a bass will find in other habitats. These largemouth have adapted well at taking great advantage of this situation, more so the Florida hybrids than the pure northern strains. Understanding the effects of the current, open the doors to those who are paying close attention to detail.
The Outgoing advantage
On the high tide, the most available cover, through out the river system, is now at the bass’ disposal. As the water begins to fall out, the entire eco system in the river is on the move. All aquatic life in the river is in a state of repositioning themselves to secure survival. Their very life depends on them remaining submerged, under water. As the tide begins to fall, there is a mass exodus from the bank that is now beginning to dry up. Far more creatures are moving out deeper to remain submerged as the tide falls. Hence, the various forage now becomes open prey for the bass as they are repositioning themselves. In addition, this activity is very relative to the amount of time it takes the tide to swing from high to low. The shorter the time period, the more activity you’re going to experience. The longer this swing takes to occur, the same amount of activity takes place, it’s just spread out over a longer period of time.
Yet, just the opposite is true on the rising tide. The fish and forage tend to be a bit sluggish when moving back into areas that are inundated with water. Their migrations back to these areas are not as rapid as their exodus from them. In some cases, they may have only made it halfway back to the point where they were on the morning high tide. It’s a cyclic thing, and explains why sometimes the fish are stacked in the troughs in the morning, but maybe not so abundant in the afternoon. Some times of the year it’s just the opposite, they may not be so abundant up shallow early, but more so in the evening portion of the higher tide. A lot of this movement is dependant upon the length of the incoming tide. The longer it takes for the tide to git high, the more time the aquatic life has to move up shallower. Either way, once that tide turns back around, they gotta leave no matter what, and the whole falling tide process repeats itself.
As the tide begins to fall, the cover is now beginning to diminish, yet it too is now becoming more visible from the surface and is in view for the angler to see. It now becomes much easier for the angler to pinpoint those once covered ambush points a bass has been using since the tide first started to drop. Casting and targeting these ambush points becomes more precise and the angler is much more efficient in keeping his bait in the strike zone. All the while, the various forage throughout the system, are now being congregated into these smaller openings that are exposed to the ambush points and the ever so hungry bass. A dining room table so to speak has been created. Or some could look at this as the refrigerator or cupboards of a bass’ kitchen. The feeding zone has been exposed. The angler’s percentage of catching the bass at this point has risen greatly.
The Young and the Restless
Being the opportunistic creature that it is, the bass understands this whole process. Typically, over time, the larger and older species of bass grow with wisdom and efficiency. They realize they do not have to leave the pantry or kitchen area in search of food, they hang close to the source at all times. They are not so influenced by which point the tide is flowing or the amount of current that is present. At any point during the falling or rising tide, this fish can be stimulated to feed. The less movement a large bass makes, the less energy it expends, and the need to feed diminishes having to replenish wasted energy. The larger bass become more effective in that they can feed on a worthwhile meal and not have to go down the street to eat out. Hence, their feeding periods are more spread out than the juvenile fish.
Yet for the young bass, those that for the most part, our fisheries are made up of, in particular those fish in that under 4 pound class range, they are full of stamina, energy and have the body make up to move about more frequently. They as a rule will feed more often, the reason being, they burn more energy as they move about through out the day. They are constantly burning energy and running out to the fast food joints when the tide hit’s it’s peak. It is this abundant group of fish, that the majority of us are catching as the tide is falling. They are the most active fish. And because the vast majority of us love ta catch fish, we’re quite content as long as our line is getting yanked.
Is one better than the other?
No, absolutely not. Which portion of the tide is best, will vary from day to day, season-by-season and angler-by-angler. Everyone has their own confidence level and confidence bait. Under various conditions, certain things work for some of us better than others. For example, in the spring, the sight fisherman LOVE the low tide, they can see the bedding fish. In some areas, where the water is REAL clear, I like the high tide in the spring, these bedding fish tend to be less weary and more likely to hit a bait with more water over their head.
In the summer, for the guys who find the fish in the trough, that area between the bank and the first weed line, you need a high tide. For the guys who like to find the deeper fish on the breaks and ledges, we like the lowest part of the tide so we can see the outside weed line allowing us to pinpoint our target zones. The guys tossing top water in the openings, like current movement, this is best suited either as the tide is already moving in or out.
In the late summer and early fall, the froggers love the low tide, especially those who find fish under the mats next to tulle islands or in the backs of the long drained out dead end sloughs. Yet, the guys who are tossing frogs to the levee banks need the high tide creating the small pocket openings between the cheese, weed lines and the tulles or rocks. Those who are fishing current points, do best on the outgoing tide this time of year.
In the winter, us deep jig fisherman don't care what tide is taking place, those fish below 12 feet are not affected one way or the other. Yet the guy who is crankin the rocks, wants that rising tide in the afternoon as the water creeps up on the rocks and warms, the fish move up and feed. The spinnerbait fishermen and lipless crankers, want the low end of the tide to fish over the outside grass beds, yet there are some who want the rising tide to fish along the tulles edges as the fish move back up or they need water over those deep weed lines to draw the suspending fish here out to their baits.
Which tide is best, simply depends on the pattern you develop, on a given day, at a given location, under specific tidal movements, with a particular bait that work for you. If you simply want to catch the most amount of fish possible, the majority rules, fish the outgoing tide for the most fun! And just keep this in mind, it is always easier to move something as it is falling down, versus the difficulties of pushing it up! Your correlation with catching bass on a tidal system will work much in the same way. Yet, there is no rule of thumb, hence why God gave us two! HAR!
Keep A Tight Line!