Winter Negative Tides, SW Florida
Les and Kim Beery
Winter is known here in SWFL as a season of big tides. A lot of water moves through our passes as it leaves and returns to our bays. The negative low tides will result in water levels significantly below normal with the shallow flats becoming nearly dry. This makes access challenging for boaters and the wading anglers who may sink up to their knees in the soft bottom. Kayakers and SUP anglers are in a unique position to capitalize on these low tides using their shallow draft fishing platforms. These same low tides that make access difficult for most anglers tend to concentrate gamefish in the deeper sand holes scattered across most flats. The fish you find there will be skittish and require you to cast from a good distance away. Accuracy counts here and casting to the far edge of the sand hole will allow you to hop a jig across this open area. You can usually see the fish with good light and polarized sunglasses, but even if none are visible, cast anyway. Trout and snook will commonly hide in the surrounding grass and ambush baitfish foolish enough to expose themselves while crossing this open area.
For boaters, the same tides that make these flats inaccessible can benefit them too. Fish that don’t get comfortable in a sand hole will wait out this low tide in the deeper water just off the flat. As baitfish and other menu items are forced to leave the safety of their grassy home they get ambushed. Get out there before dead low and find the small drainages that carry water off the flat towards the channel. Stay a cast away from the nearly dry flat and work the edge as you ease along. Casting up onto the flat with a weedless rigged plastic and retrieving with the flow from the shallows can be a perfect presentation. A long cast ahead of the boat paralleling the edge of the flat over the deeper water nearby can also be effective.
As the water returns with the rising tide, fish that have left the flat will return with enthusiasm to find baitfish, shrimp and crabs that have been stressed during the previous low tide. The lack of water stresses bait as the temperature changes quickly [either up or down]. This same lack of water creates an environment low in oxygen for flats residents unable to retreat to the deeper water in sand holes or nearby channels. These factors combine to create a feeding opportunity for returning gamefish that will push up onto the flat and out of the sand holes as soon as the water is deep enough to cover their dorsal fins. Our favorite lure in this situation is a weedless rigged plastic shad tail. Rigged with a small bullet weight ahead of a 2/0 wide gap worm hook, they imitate what gamefish are looking for and with a bullet weight, they can be cast far enough to prevent spooking these feeding fish. Lead these fish, let the lure sink into the grass, hop it as your target arrives and hang on!
So, check your tide charts, pick your time and take advantage of these negative tides. You might see us out there.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida-Sarasota Bay to Pine Island contributed this expanded excerpt from their book to focus attention on the fantastic paddle craft fishing available to anglers in Southwest Florida. See more at www.anglerpocketguides.com Ed
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