Playing the Tides

Playing the tides

There are no absolutes in fishing but there are a few things that you can count on most of the time  – and one is the affect of the tides on your fishing success. Here on Cape Cod we have a wide range of tidal variation, both in height and force. By using a good tide chart or link you can predict when and where you should fish.

One of the most basic questions that anglers have debated forever is: outgoing or incoming – which is better? The answer is, that depends!

Generally speaking, most would agree that an outgoing tide is best in most places. A dropping tide out of an inlet or estuary delivers bait to waiting gamefish. In some cases the difference in success can be quite dramatic. Waters that seemed to be devoid of life can absolutely turn on after the tide turns from incoming to outgoing. It’s likely that fish that were inside those places are making their way back out to deeper water as the tide drops, and the rush of water into the open ocean, bay or sound attracts predators that were lurking nearby on the outside. In the fall as water temperatures drop outside a surge of warmer water from estuaries can be another signal to bass and bluefish looking to bulk up for their southern migration.

However, depending on the outgoing tide to ramp up the action may be a mistake in some places. For example, in the summer when the water is warmer in the open water, stripers may enter estuaries with a strong incoming tide under the cover of darkness. This is especially true along the Cape Cod Bay side where there is a huge variation in tide levels. Big, experienced stripers know that the best place to find food in the summer may be inside estuaries but they are reluctant to enter those places in the light of day due to a lack of cover and boat activity. If you know that low tide will occur at midnight, a good strategy is to arrive inside an estuary at 3 a.m. and fish until daybreak as the tide rises. Many very large bass are caught every year by anglers are willing to lose some sleep and fish just inside estuaries and harbors while the tide is pouring in.

Boaters who plan to fish the Elizabeth Islands do well by targeting rips that set up as the tide begins to run strongly. Some of those rips only set up during a tide running in one direction, which is why learning to fish the Elizabeths effectively is an ongoing learning experience.  The rocky edges of the Holes on the down-tide sides are always good bets.

It’s commonly known that action diminishes and often stops altogether when the tide is completely slack – with one exception. In the Cape Cod Canal, anglers often fish the hour or so on either side of slack and right through it. This is because the incredibly strong flow through that waterway makes most stripers stay deep at the height of the tide but they will rise toward the surface when they don’t have to work as hard. If slack occurs at dawn you can be sure the bite will be very good in the Canal at that time, especially in the spring and fall. Shallow running large soft plastics and traditional pencil poppers are excellent choices during slack tide at daybreak in the Cape Cod Canal.