Basic information and principles for bass fishing in tidal rivers
Virginia Outdoors - A Resource for Virginia Anglers and Hunters
Tidal River Largemouth Bass Fishing
by Eddie Griggs of Virginia Elite Outdoors Guide Service

It is the most popular line of questions from professionals and weekend
anglers alike when faced with tidal rivers. What are tides… how do they
affect the fish… and how do I fish them?

First, I’ll put on a teacher’s hat and explain what tide is, what causes
tidal movement, and some other definitions…. So bear with me

Terms and Definitions
Tide = the rise and fall of water
Tidal range = the difference between high and low tide
Spring Tide = when the sun and moon align causing a higher high tide
and lower low tide.
Neap Tide = lowest tidal range, lower high and higher low
Slack tide = when there is no movement of the water

What causes tide?
The tide is caused by the gravitational pull from the sun and moon

What can impact the tide?
Moon phases – a full or new moon will have a “Spring Tide” affect
Wind direction and velocity – pending the direction and velocity it may
cause a higher or lower tide, or even keep the tide from moving much
at all.

Normal Conditions
Here in the mid-atlantic, we normally have a 6 hour flow of water.
Six hours of flood or incoming tide and 6 hours of ebb or outgoing
water.. with about 20 minutes of Slack in between.
The tidal range is normally around 3 to 3 ½ feet….. meaning the
difference between high and low tide.

Tide Predictions
You can obtain the predictions for the tides through several means. My
favorites are:
2)        your local paper
3)        tidal charts from your local tackle store

Okay…. Enough of the science lesson and let’s talk fishing and how we
approach tidal water.

There are two approaches to fishing tidal water:
A) Stay in an area throughout the tidal movement or
B) Run the tide.

I will go in depth of each philosophy… but first; in either approach,
there are 3 critical concepts.

1)        Timing: there will be an undeniable best period of tide when the
fish are most aggressive. This time frame may be different for different
areas, but you need to be at your best spot(s) when this “magic time”
2)        Boat Positioning: place your boat down current of the area you
are fishing… for better boat control and lure presentation
3)        Lure Presentation: cast upcurrent of the object or area, work
your lure with the tide, in the direction the tide is moving

The Sit and Wait Approach
This approach should be taken in 1 of 2 circumstances.
1) you have only found fish in one particular area and do not have
confidence anywhere else or…
2) you have found the mother load of biggun’s and are willing to wait
them out until they bite.
In either case, the object of this approach is to milk every bite you can
out of the area until the tide gets right for the fish to become active and
feed aggressively. This approach will also prevent you from leaving
your fish early and someone else coming in and whacking them after
you are gone.
WORD of CAUTION: with this approach you are living and dying in this
area, keep very attune to the situations you have had success there
and be aware of any changes that may have or will occur that may alter
the “magic time”… i.e.. wind, weather, and water conditions.
I have found that due to fishing pressure on the rivers and gas prices
being higher, that more and more anglers are taking this approach.

Run the Tide Approach
For those of you like myself, that have the patience of a 2 year old, this
approach is for you. However; I must say this is probably the more risky
of the two approaches…. Timing is everything…. I repeat… your timing
is EVERYTHING!!!! If you are off on your timing, meaning if you get
ahead or behind the tide you want to fish, you can be in BIG TROUBLE.
But, if you nail your timing down to your spots up and down the river it
is ohhh so sweet and you can catch fish all day long without the
dreaded waiting on the fish time.

So here’s the skinny on how to prepare to run:
-you must have several small areas or spots up and down the river,
areas you can fish for 20 – 30 minutes.  Generally you start “the run”
down river….. hit the first spot, then move several miles up the river, hit
the second spot for 20 minutes or so, then move several more miles
upriver, hit spot number 3…. and keep repeating. I hope you get the
picture….. you are not in one particular area for a long period of time,
and then you follow that same tide all the way up the river.

The key to fishing this approach is to figure out what tide the fish are
most aggressive and have selected spots in each area of the river that
you have the utmost confidence in…… and then run them all with the
best tide.

So there you have the two approaches. Personally, I have done both
and have seen both success and failure from each. A side note on the
run and gun…. If you stumble upon the mother load while running, you
can switch to the sit and wait mode….. Normally the other way doesn’t
work…. Meaning if you sit and wait and then try to run and gun your
timing tends to be a little off.

Bait Selection
Keep it simple……. The main forage of these tidal bass are:  crayfish,
bream, and perch.  

My top 5 baits of choice for tidal water bassin’.
1)        Jig(BOOYAH Baby Boo) – ¼ oz – mimics both crawfish &
bream/perch. Color: depends on water clarity  
2)        YUM Dinger – either the 4 or 5 inch… works in grass & wood all
year long. Color: cant go wrong with Green Pumpkin
3)        Downsized BOOYHA Spinnerbait 1/4oz double willow. Color:
char/wht or Firetiger
4)        Rattletrap – ¼ & ½ oz. Color: Gold, Firetiger
5)        Finesse worm or 4 inch ringworm texas rigged. Color: Junebug,
Green Pumpkin, Blue Fleck

Hope you learned a little and contact me if you have any questions or
would like to tangle with some of these tidal water bass.

Eddie Griggs
(Licensed USCG Captain)
Copyright © 2009 Virginia Outdoors, LLC
Ruckersville, VA
Virginia's tidal rivers hold plenty of quality
largemouth.  Eddie Griggs caught this lunker
in the Potomac River.