February 08, 2023
Winter brings us “negative” low tides. This is when the low tide falls below the average for that area. The moon's gravitational pull, especially around the new and full phases, causes these negatives, which are seasonally compounded by forces resulting from the northern hemisphere's tilt away from the sun. Tack a hard winter wind on top of these already drastic tides, and you can see the water level a foot below average, depending on where you are in the state. The farther north you go, the bigger the tide swing is.
First and foremost, safe navigation is of the upmost importance during these tides. You'll see things you never knew were there, which is often good, as long as you don't find them with your lower unit. Pay attention to new bars, shoals, and any other obstructions and mark them on your GPS.
The best part about these tides is they concentrate fish in certain areas such as depressions and cuts on the flats, deep mangrove sloughs and dredged out boat docks. There are a few reasons why these concentrate here. For one, they don't have anywhere else to go! Often times, the flats where these fish hold most of the year, will be dried up, only to be enjoyed by the wading birds. I've even seen it where we have caught snook and redfish out of a depression on a flat that was completely dry. We parked the boat and jumped out on foot, fishing it like a neighborhood pond instead of a flat. This can be your best bet at times.
Another reason is that these deeper areas hold a more constant water temperature than nearby shallows. If fish get trapped in shallow areas on a negative tide, accompanied by a cold front, it can be a disaster. Windy, cold weather causes fast drops in water temperature which can shock or even kill inshore species such as snook.
When you do find the fish in a spot, slow things down, because chances are there are a bunch of them. Dissect the area with fan casts. I typically like to start up current (if there is any) and work my way with the flow of water. Try slow-moving baits, such as an artificial shrimp or bucktail jig hopped across the bottom. These fish can be lethargic, especially if the water is really cold, and don't want to exert too much energy chasing prey. Cold, clean, clear water means natural colored baits. Tan, olive, brown and even black are my go-to colors. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine December/January 2021