When talking about tidal influence on saltwater angling, the subject often boils down to just fish when the water is moving.
For a lot of species in the brine that works just fine. Fish like speckled trout or snook often go dormant when the high or low tide arrives, making for a simple equation regarding when to fish.
On the other hand, redfish are a different story altogether. At times you hear anglers talk about reds being “eating machines.” That’s because these fish don’t measure their mealtimes based on tides.
They keep right on feeding by simply moving to new areas as the water levels dictate. Redfish can be found feeding on low, high or in-between tides. Understanding this cycle is a sure way to improve your catch rates for these red drum.
Starting At The Bottom
By bottom, we mean when the plug has been pulled and the tide is at its lowest. Capt. Scott Dykes on the Georgia Coast really likes this tide phase, particularly during colder months, but it works virtually year-round. That’s when he heads to the very shallow flats in the back of the estuaries to look for the redfish.
Drifting or poling across the skinny water, it is possible to sight cast to reds even when the water is murky. If it’s clear you can see them; if not the wakes they produce as they swim give them away.
In fact, these low-water levels make finding reds easier, simply from the fact there is less water that has to be covered in the search. Down on the Florida eastern shore, Capt. Leon Dana is also a fan of low-tide redfishing. His approach, however, differs a bit. He likes the dead low time early in the morning, as he targets the edges of the Intracoastal Waterway. He looks for what he describes as “crawlers.” Those are reds in so little water they appear to be crawling along the bottom with their backs above the surface up on the shallow shelf along the channel.
Another way he spots them is watching for egrets and herons walking along the shore intently looking down for the minnows the reds are pushing up on the sandRegardless of the location in which you find the redfish, the low tide, shallow water calls for some stealth in approaching them. You don’t want to get too close. Also, avoid crashing your bait right down on top of their heads. Due to the skinny water, bait under popping corks ordinarily are a poor option for this fishing. Rather tossing live shrimp on a light-weight jig or jig-and-grub combos are better choices.
On The Rise
Capt. Sonny Schindler fishes the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts on the Gulf of Mexico. He concentrates his efforts on the rising tides, since his region has lots of shallow flats surrounded by marsh grass. Though relatively open water, they can’t be reached by boat except when the tide is coming in. And, you don’t want to dawdle in such places:when the water drops, you can find yourself marooned and waiting for next tide change.
Capt. Schindler looks for a sloping shoreline with some grass or shell beds on it. Another feature to locate is any change in the bottom of the flat. It can be a 5-foot drop, or as little as 1 foot. Redfish often travel along these changes in depth.
In these areas he’ll use both sinking and topwater offerings to catch the reds. Live shrimp with a popping cork is one option. He also will fish those baits without the float on a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce jighead or a 1/0 Kahle live-shrimp hook.
For artificials, he turns to spinnerbaits and weedless spoons. That latter lure is especially good over grass. Reliable topwater offerings are MirrOlure Top Dogs, She Dogs and Rapala Skitter Walks.
He likes a 7-foot rod for this fishing, since it allows for longer casts. The captain spools the reel with braided line, tipped with a leader of 12- to 17-pound fluorocarbon, depending on the water clarity. Of course, as the tide comes in you have to move with it. The reds will push as far into the shallows as possible in their search for forage.
“The first glimpse of a redfish tail in the grass is indescribable,” Capt. Greg Hildreth stated. “It’s a must see experience.” Capt. Hildreth is another Atlantic Coast guide, and his favorite time for targeting reds is on the extreme flood tide. This is strictly a sight-fishing option that takes place deep in the marsh grass flats.
As the tide rolls in to flood these grass beds, the redfish at first move up tiny creeks or ditches, but as the water deepens, they spread out into the grass in search of fiddler crabs and other forage. As they nose their way around, you often can see the grass shaking as they push through. Also, this is an area where the reds do a lot of tailing. You want to be alert to spot those tails waving in the air, but also look for their backs breaking the surface as they swim.
In this situation, the only way to reach the fish finds Hildreth up on the poling platform pushing the boat through the vegetation.
Down on the Florida Panhandle coast, Capt. Chris Robinson also favors targeting redfish on the high tide level, though in a different set up. The barrier islands here often are lined on the inshore side with grass beds, but the last couple of yards to the beach will have large patches of white sand that are flooded on the high tide.
He poles slowly along these, watching for the reds cruising across these patches. Those fish offer great options for sight-casting. In either of these set ups accurate casting is a must. You want to put the lure close enough to the redfish to attract their attention, but stealthy enough so as not to spook them. In the case of fishing in the grass flats, you also need to have heavy line spooled on the reel. The grass can be abrasive, and you often have to wrestle the fish loose from it.
Also in the grass, you need baits that can be worked in the vegetation. A DOA C.A.L. Shad Tail is a good choice, as are Egret Wedgetail Mullets or Bayou Chubs. All of these need to be rigged weedless.
Once the water starts to fall with the ebbing tide, redfish become quite predictable. That’s particularly true if you have already been fishing them on the high tide back in the grass beds.
As the water shallows, the reds have to head back out to deeper areas. That move can simply be heading to the nearest edge, or they may drop into ditches and creeks that drain the flat. Either way, once they reach the edge, expect them to stop there and ambush the minnows and shrimp that also are being swept out of the grass. In the case of creeks draining the shallows, the reds will congregate in any holes washed out where the flow enters a bigger river or bay.
This is an ideal set up for fishing live shrimp under a popping cork. Tossing the rig back up into the creek and letting it drift out of that mouth is a good method of targeting the ambushing reds.
Or you can fish the popping cork along the edges of the grass at any other point. Additionally, tossing spinnerbaits or a jig-and-trailer will do the trick, too.
When To Go
The bottom line is you can catch redfish anytime, regardless of the tide levels. You just have to follow the fish to the places they utilize as the water rises or falls.
Redfish Guide Contacts
Capt. Scott Dykes
Capt. Leon Dana
Capt. Sonny Schindler
Capt. Greg Hildreth
Capt. Chris Robinson