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Tidal Bassin': Find cover, and fish the top half of the tide, for best results.

Moving water in a tidal river often frustrates bass fishermen. After casting a variety of plugs and also soaking live baits, too often the angler comes up empty-handed.

I've spent numerous hours trying to figure out a solid fishing pattern for tidal bass. What seems to happen is one pattern works one day, then produces minimal strikes the next. The key, I think, is establishing several patterns. That's when days on coastal rivers can become extremely rewarding.

Throughout Florida, the water depth may change from one to five feet in a bassy tidal stream. In my home waters of Northeast Florida, with big river systems such as the St. Johns and St. Marys, the tide change is more dramatic where freshwater and saltwater meet. Navigate farther up, however, and you find minor tidal variation. One of my favorite tidal bass rivers is Lofton Creek, which may have a flood tide five miles upstream at the same time that a high falling tide is occurring some five miles downstream.

When is the best tide?

If I had several days to pick one particular day and tide, I would go to my local tide chart and find which day a flood tide arrives during mid morning. Without a doubt, the best bass fishing comes during the last few hours of a flooding tide and the first few hours of a falling tide. A high, flooding tide floods shoreline cover including cypress trees, deadfalls, feeder creeks and aquatic vegetation. Bass move from nearby depths into the flooding shoreline cover where they'll ambush prey.

Water clarity is also better during a high incoming tide and first of the falling tides. Typically, tidal rivers drain marshes where sediment discolors the water during the last of the falling and the first of the incoming tides.

Once the tide floods and begins to fall, you'll enjoy an hour of excellent fishing as river bass continue to use shoreline cover to ambush prey. If you are new to tidal river bassin, start at Google Maps and look for deep bends in your selected tidal rivers. See if you can identify a shallow slough, especially one with a nearby feeder creek, dead falls, weedbeds or other structure. Sandbars also offer an excellent ambush point for river bass. Simply said, a deep turn in a tidal river without structure may send you back to the boat ramp with minimal bass fishing success.

Electronics can be a day-saver. I use my Humminbird Helix 10 in the mapping mode to locate key areas of my targeted tidal river-again, looking for numerous feeders and shoreline cover. Down-scan sonar is a huge asset, helpful for locating tidal river largemouth when they decide to school in deep sloughs.

Once the tide has fallen enough where the river is lower than shoreline cover, it's time to work the deeper waters. In most cases bass that feed tight to shoreline cover during a high tide will simply drop back into a nearby slough until Mother Nature rings the dinner bell with a high flooding tide.

During the cooler, pre-spawn months, I've found that the last few hours of a falling tide and the first few hours of an incoming tide can also offer excellent tidal river bass action. Some of my best winter river fishing has come while casting a deep diving minnow type plug in chartreuse, in deep river pockets.

Caption: On high water, angler at left works a shallow slough off the main river stem. Right: Open-water fish located with down-scan sonar.
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Title Annotation:FRESH WATER: EXPERT HOT-TO AND GEAR
Author:Lacoss, Terry
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Oct 1, 2018
Words:587
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