Some thoughts on fishing during negative low tides
Winter time low tides are my favorite time to fly fish the Tampa Bay flats. This is the time to get my clients out of the skiff and slowly walk the exposed sand bars and ankle deep water. These low water periods up your chances to sight fish both actively feeding and laid up fish. Below are some of my thoughts and strategies for hooking up on Snook and Redfish
First the tackle-
Most of the time I will choose either a #6 or #8 fly rod. Many times I will carry both and often have my anglers alternate between rods. Most days the #8 will be set up with a baitfish imitation while the #6 has a shrimp or some other redfish type of creation attached. My go to fly is an EP Style baitfish. I have one of these on the line about 80% of the time.
I have these tied with a non absorbent synthetic material. This material allows the fly to have a steady sink rate that does not vary over time. This material allows you to fish water from the surface to about 4' down with a floating line. This fly would fit into the class of flies that move erratically, twitch and tumble on the retrieve. When stripped sharply they really convey the vulnerability message to the predator. Below is a photo of these flies in the Baxter House Fly Shops bins. You can get more information on this fly pattern and purchase them at
Tampa Bay is a huge estuary with very diverse habitat. With so many options on where to fish it is no wonder that picking the right spot is difficult for many anglers.
In winter when we have regular low tides there is great opportunity for those of us who choose to chase our targets with the fly rod. The simple fact that there is less water makes it easier to find fish. In many areas fish have no choice but to congregate in the limited deeper water. For us anglers seeing the structure and bottom contours is far easier than at other water stages. Many times mature fish can be spotted from a good distance away.
During the low tides of winter there are 2 things to consider. The first is to identify areas that have water deep enough to protect the fish until the next tide change. The second is to consider areas that will offer protection but also allow or even spur feeding activity.
One example of a good holding area would be a small bay perhaps the size of a football field that is close to some expansive flats. During a low tide it may hold several feet of water while the adjacent areas might be ankle deep or dry. An area like this would likely hold a bunch of fish but it will have little water movement as the adjacent areas go low. These spots will sometimes offer a great bite on the outgoing tide but turn stone dead during the slack. Many times when the flood begins the fish will move on to better feeding areas.
A much better choice is to locate areas where deeper water cuts were created adjacent to the areas natural smaller channels. In these areas the water runs the fastest for the longest period of time. These spots are characterized by scalloped sandbars with quick drop-offs on either one or both sides. These areas offer just enough depth for protection while also offering a prime ambush location. During winter both Snook and Redfish will lay up in these cuts enjoying the warmer water draining from the back country while blasting the baitfish that wash out with it. Many of these spots will fish well on the incoming tide as well, they will just shift locations to be in or near a soft spot in the current.
These areas fish exactly like a small river within the bay. Once you learn the hydrology of several of these areas you will consistently take both more and larger fish.
The video below shows one of my favorite spots for low water conditions.
The Technique and Strategy
When approaching low water areas stealth is the most important factor. You can't catch a fish that just blew across the sandbar and is leaving a wake across the shallows. In this situation the longer you can cast the better. It is important however to land the fly and line softly so everyone needs to find their sweet spot. In most instances about 50 feet would be the minimum to execute a successful presentation. If you are proficient longer take advantage of those skills.
I always approach the cuts from the up current side and with the sun in my face if possible. I always look carefully in both directions for any movement. The fish you are after may enter your area while you are standing there.
I always start with a 4" to 5" bait-fish imitation. I cast across the currents and let the fly come tight but not swing fast in the current. I normally use short but very sharp strips which make the fly roll, and tumble in the current. I normally string together 2 or 3 strips and then pause. I vary the pause and the number of strips. Never develop a steady rhythm. I slowly work my way down along the cuts searching for fish both with the fly and with my eyes. It is important to pay attention to the pauses in your retrieve. It is also important to let your fly sit a few seconds before casting again. In most instances the bigger fish take on the dead pause.
In periods where the water gets cold and the fish become lethargic this same approach will still produce with some minor adjustments. In these conditions I will switch to a weighted shrimp or crab type of pattern. The technique is the same for covering the water but i will switch to strips that are sharp but only 3 to 4 inches in length. My pauses are normally long enough to let the fly settle to the bottom for a few seconds. The short strips and long pauses leave the fly in the strike zone and allow the sluggish fish time to make his mind up. During cold water spells the game fish want the sure thing and a slow moving bait is what seals the deal.
Below are a few shots of recent fish taken on foot during low tides.
If you would like to book a day of fly fishing in Tampa Bay please give us a call at 607-290-4022 for more information you can visit our Tampa Bay page at - https://www.baxterhouse.net/florida-flats-fishing