Along the Atlantic Coast of North America, tidal rivers are popular destinations for fishing and other activities. These rivers often begin life hundreds of miles from the ocean as small mountain streams or minor drainages from swampy areas. At their upper reaches they are entirely freshwater and flow in a single direction.
As these rivers flow towards the Atlantic, eventually they begin to experience tidal flows. Understanding tides and knowing their cycles is essential when fishing for fish in tidal environments. In most areas, fish respond to tidal flow, moving in or out of currents to feed.
Often a river or creek may spread out and form exaggerated curves until eventually the bends touch each other and the river breaks thru. These occurrences form 2 very important structures. First, a new narrow channel emerges where water flows in a straight path. This section acts like a funnel, causing tidal water to rush thru considerably stronger than in other parts of the river.
The other structure that results from a break thru is the abandoned curve, which now takes on a horse shoe shape. In between the new channel and the old path is an island. These areas often become a maze of fallen trees, living cypress trees, stumps, areas of marsh, lily pad colonies and shallow open areas. While these structures area a nightmare for propellers and treble hooks, they usually become important nurseries and feeding areas for freshwater fish.
Fishing the edges of lily pads is productive in most tidal rivers. Species such as largemouth bass, crappie and chain pickerel often hide among the pads, waiting to attack prey that swims near. Buzz baits, frogs and other surface lures often work well, especially models that employ a weedless design.
Cypress trees, stumps and downed logs are excellent structures to fish around in tidal rivers. Largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish and pickerel are all known to orient to these structures, especially during moving tides.
Channel edges and other drop offs can be productive areas to fish. Often fish can be detected with fish finders along these areas, giving anglers clues to which types of techniques are mostly likely to be productive.
Overhanging brush and tree limbs are often productive areas to fish. In tidal waters, species such as largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, black crappie, chain pickerel and others will lurk below limbs waiting to ambush prey that falls into the water below.
Sharp bends in creeks are important areas to investigate. In these areas, currents and depths vary dramatically. During periods of tidal flow, currents race around the curves, creating rips and other areas where water mixes or collides. On the extreme outside of these hair pin curves, steep edges may rise abruptly to shallow areas where little or no tidal movement occurs. These areas offer protection for baitfish and other food sources.
Eddies in tidal rivers can be excellent places to fish. In some rivers, large eddies form in certain areas, carrying baitfish, debris and even kayaks in complete circles. Casting or jigging along the opposing currents can be effective for catching bass, crappie or other fish that prey on hapless smaller fish.
Flats and grass beds can be good spots to fish. These areas offer spawning habitat as well as nursery environments for young fish. Adult fish move in and out of these areas in spring to spawn and may also lurk nearby waiting for young fish or crabs to stray out of protected areas.
Kayak fishermen have a few more options available than power boaters in rivers. Most rivers have small coves, swampy sections or other areas that are shallow and full of obstructions. Although these areas are often shallow and present some challenges to reach, they sometimes hold incredible numbers of fish.