I don’t know about you but more and more I have found that when I layout a game plan for a day of fishing, it doesn’t always go the way I planned.
For example, just last week I had my whole day mapped out. At low tide I was going to go to this spot and as the tide began to rise, I would go to another spot and so on.
The problem with this way of fishing is that so often, you get to your first spot and there sits another boat. With more and more boats fishing these waters, this frustrating start to the day has been happening to me more and more and every year it just gets worse.
Quite honestly, I try my best to hide fish from other anglers that might be riding past me as I am hooked up. Two of my favorite ways of doing this is to either put my reel in free spool and let the fish swim around until the other boat is out of sight or secondly, to ease the fish in the boat over the side farthest away from the prying eyes of anglers on the passing boat. These old tricks aren’t working like they used to – so what now?
I don’t do it all the time but more and more I have gone to exploring new areas. All you have to do is look at a nautical chart of the area and you will instantly realize there are large and small estuaries absolutely everywhere. Even after living here for so long, I’ll bet I haven’t explored 80% of these tributaries and – in my mind at least – there just have to be fish in most all of them.
They might not be there at low tide nor mid tide, but if you put the time in, chances are the fish will be there at some time during the tide cycle. All it takes is patience and a logbook, where you record what time in the tide the fish show up in that particular place.
I think about exploring new areas more than I actually do it, but lately I have noticed that the majority of boats that I see out there regularly are almost always at a handful of spots, and these spots are hit hard day after day. And because there always seems to be a boat at this handful of places, newcomers to our waters figure if that boat is always at that spot then there must be something there.
Before long it becomes a battle of who can get up the earliest or get their bait in first, and camp out on the spot. Then they tell a friend, and that friend tells another friend and before you know it, it’s like winning the Mega Millions Jackpot when you get there first.
Sadly though, after a while these productive spots are fished out and the whole process starts over in another place.
It does take skill to read our waters and narrow down the places where fish might be, but if you fish enough, the searching becomes easier.
Just like largemouth bass fishing in fresh-water ponds, reading salt water is no different. Bass fishermen look for old trees that have fallen in the water, little coves, points that jut out, and structure, because they know that their chances of hooking into a big largemouth are greater in these places.
Saltwater fishing, especially around here, is no different. The best time to go looking is low tide when you can see live oyster mounds, eddies, points with old trees that have fallen in the water and any other types of structure.
I make notes in my journal or make a waypoint on my GPS. I pinpoint these places because as you know, once the tide comes in and covers up these jewels, it is nearly impossible to locate the exact spot you saw that structure because everything now looks totally different.
If I had to give you one piece of advice when looking for new honey holes, it would be start looking at low tide and fish the incoming tide. It’s not that I have anything against falling tides but thinking back, I have caught way more fish on rising tides than I have ever caught on falling tides.
If I had to guess why the rising tide is better, it would probably have to do with water clarity. On a rising tide, clear water is pushed in as the tide rises while on falling tides, more mud and silt is washed out from the creeks, making it harder for fish to locate your bait – whether it is a live shrimp or artificial. If I do fish the outgoing tide, I prefer lighter color baits that stand out in the dirty water.
Lastly, I will tell you this about exploring and finding a new spot. Unlike anchoring at a place where you saw another boat fishing, when you find a new spot and start catching fish there is a sense of accomplishment and pride that will make that day even more special.
But for God’s sake, don’t go telling your friends where that place is no matter how excited you are about this new discovery. It took me years to learn that lesson. I don’t care how great a friend they might be, because most all fishermen are the same. They will swear up and down they’ll never go there unless you are with them, but from experience, they will be there the first chance they get. In the world of angling there is simply no honor among thieves.
With that said, I doubt you’ll see me out there on my boat, the Marsh Monkey, anytime soon since the sinking of my faithful fishmobile Ol’ Red. Don’t ask me how it happened – unless you want to hear a grown man cry.
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. email@example.com