This article originally appeared in the Fall 1996 issue of Gulf Coast Fisherman magazine.
There's more to an enjoyable and productive fishing trip than the urge to go and picking a favorable tide. When I got into sport fishing many, many years go I used that simple equation. It rewarded me with some good catches. It also left me on the end of some very dismal waterhauls.
It took me many trips, some with experts and some with people who were as ignorant of influences on fishing as I was at the time, to learn the many facets that go into successful fishing.
Too many anglers place all their faith in picking the so called "right tide." Unless you know how other elements can affect fishing on that particular day, you're going to end up in the cheap bleacher seats out in right field.
Water currents, wind velocity and direction, clarity of the water, water as well as sky temperature, degree of overcast and sky clarity, wave or lack of right, season of the year and even your mood are important facts to consider if you expect to enjoy good success.
Let's take up these issues point by point.
MOOD: If you're in anything but a calm mood, you're going to react accordingly. Your casts will be less accurate and long. You'll hurry retrieves and make the big mistake of not fishing out every cast. As an example, speckled trout often follow a bait or lure until they see the shadow of the wader or the boat. Big ling will follow a bait right up to the side of the boat or pier before striking.
TIDES: You can get this information from many sources, but make certain you get the correction for the areas you plan to fish. Fishing spots many miles apart usually have a difference of several hours in tide stands.
CURRENTS: Without currents you can be as bad off as a motorist with an empty fuel tank. This is the most important predictable factor in fishing success or failure. Check the Wells Daily Fishing Forecast before every trip to understand the current patterns. Too many fishermen pay little attention to current information that is the basis for the Wells Daily Fishing Forecast. It makes little difference what time high or low tide is when determining the best fishing times.
WIND: Wind is extremely important because it can influence wave action, water clarity, how much a tide may rise above the predicted high or how low it may fall below the predicted low.
Gulf Coast Fisherman covers the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico from Texas through Florida and down into the Florida Keys. What's good for the goose is not always good for the gander, meaning winds that benefit Texas coast fishing may work adversely in other parts of the Gulf Coast. Easterly winds bring clear water to the entire Texas coast, Southerly winds are most favorable for the rest of the Gulf Coast through the Florida Panhandle, and westerly winds are best for the west coast of Florida.
WATER CLARITY: Whether the water is clear or sandy hinges on wind direction and velocity. Wherever there are breaking waves, the water depth will be less than the height of the waves. This means breaking waves will churn the bottom and make the water varying degrees of sandy. The fishing rule of thumb in this situation is to use natural baits instead of artificial lures.
When the water is sandy, fish locate their food more by scent than sight. Whether you wade or fish from a boat, fish facing into the direction of the sun so that shadows you cast will not be directly on the water being fished. This can severely handicap waders and boaters in shallow water.
SKY: Clouds and clarity of the sky can influence fishing in shallow water. Shadows cast by clouds can influence fishing for speckled trout and redfish. Clouds that cast heavy shadows on shallow water will usually cause these fish to spook and move to deeper water. A cloudless sky in the summer can cause surface water to heat considerably with the end result being that the fish move to deep areas.
WAVES: These are more important to fishing than many believe. The two primary functions of waves is they churn minute marine fodder loose from the bottom, and as they break and roll toward the shore, they oxygenate the water. This process of churning oxygen into the water is extremely important in hot summers when bay and Gulf of Mexico watersheds may suffer from drought conditions.
TIME OF DAY: Given favorable conditions, the best fishing from spring through early fall is shortly before daybreak until about 10 a.m. An equally prime time is at night, but the problem here is that really few people know how to properly fish at night. Fish can be caught throughout the day, but you must adjust your technique and location.
Proper lighting equipment is also important to night fishing and not all fishermen want to invest in the expensive systems necessary to attract bait and game fish. There is always the option of lighted pier fishing that can be very rewarding particularly in the fall of the year. Redfish, black drum and speckled trout regularly cross from one side of a pier to the other by swimming under it. If you want flounder and sheepshead, fish the bottom very close to the pier pilings.
TIME OF YEAR: Good fishing areas in the spring can become doldrums in the heat of summer. To say fish are like people only they are wetter might sound like a silly statement, but when you give thought to the statement you'll see the truth. A fish's body takes on the temperature of the water in which it swims. In the heat of summer the water is warmest in shallow areas with the result being gamefish move to deeper areas. The opposite occurs in the winter with the gamefish moving into deep water as the temperature drops.
RAIN: This plays a key role in bay fishing in that it aids in better
hatching conditions for small marine life in grass stands. There's always
a poor hatch in drought years. Rain showers that pelt open water areas help
to oxygenate the water and lower the salt content. Remember excess salinity
will drive most gamefish out of a bay.