THEORY – Fishing the East Johor Straits Part 3
In Part 2, we learned that Spring Tides are the times when the greatest amount of fishy activity happen. Barramundi spawn, and other fish migrate further inshore with the spring tides. In this part, we study in greater detail, the effect Spring Tides have for a successful fishing trip.
This Orange spotted Grouper (Epinephelus coioides) couldn’t resist a Keitech Swing Impact rigged to be weedless. Taken on 15 December 2012, the 2-day old waxing crescent moon was on the rise, making for a big tide.
Effect of the Spring Tide
Without water, it is impossible for many marine lifeforms to live. When the tide come in to cover the shore, the area underwater now becomes the sea bed and many small forms of marine life emerge from their burrows. Fish know about this and follow the tide inshore to feed on these creatures. Bigger tides will bring more fish closer to shore to feed because the stronger currents would expose food from the sea bed. Higher tides also flood higher up beaches and rocks, dragging food items into the sea that previous tides had been unable to reach. This is also the moonphase that marine organisms would use for reproduction. By synchronising spawning and hatching during higher tides the spawn can be carried into the shallow reaches of the mangroves where it is a safer nursery for their young. The stronger current of a big tide is also better in scattering the spawn further to extend the species’ range from the parents. This effect results in larger numbers of molluscs, benthos, nekton and plankton in the water column.
Which date to fish?
The best fishing dates generally build up with the tides, 2 days before a full moon through the first day after a full moon. Then 3 days before the new moon through to the 2nd day after the new moon. I will cover more of this when I discuss Solunar Theory in an upcoming installment of this series on Fishing the East Johor Straits. But for now it is sufficient to note the two big buildups coincide with the spring tides. It is also noteworthy that after the orgy of feeding during the spring tides, the following day or two are usually poor fishing days before a small buildup lead to the neaps.
What time to Fish?
Even on the bestest fishing dates, fish will not be feeding all day nd night. Fish feeding activity occurs when the main flow of the flooding and ebbing tide is speeding past. Fish activity then drops away towards slack water. When the tide runs fast, bottom feeding and sight feeding fish are more eager to grab and eat food before it passes out of their reach. This turns them aggressive and reckless. When this timing coincide with dawn or dusk, you can expect an awesome feeding frenzy that will be reminisced with your fishing buddies for many years!
Daniel was surprised when this ruddy Mangrove Jack (Lutjanus argentimaculatus) aggressively grabbed his topwater lure at dawn of 24 Jan 2012 the day of a new crescent moon. Fish tend to be more reckless on spring tides!
Generally speaking, sight feeders react aggressively to something that looks and moves like prey and are unlikely to be attracted to odd-shaped lumps of bait. First light and last light are often the best periods of the day for success: especially if the tide is flowing, carrying along in the current, food for the smaller fish, who are in turn followed by the larger ones. The best times are usually about three hours before high water, and approximately three hours after it; though very often the first run of the ebb is also good.
The Washing Machine does not fail and rewarded Notti Boy with this Platycephalus indicus (Bartail Flathead) even on a cold and wet day.
Where to fish?
A stiff, onshore wind (wind that is blowing from sea to shore) with a rising tide makes for favourable fishing. The scouring action of the waves will dislodge marine organisms from their burrow in the seabed. This attracts fish like a dinner bell to come for a feast. There is a spot we nicknamed the Washing Machine. It only forms during the very low ebb waters of a spring tide, when winds are blowing from the Northeast. The waves crashing over this sandbar will dislodge crabs, worms, shrimps and fish fry, while it digs a hollow underneath for fish to lie in ambush. On one trip, we were soaked to the skin by incessant rain the whole day. We’ve all had our fun with barra and tarpons earlier in the day. All except Notti Boy who had none. So when I brought him over to the washing machine, he sniffed at it like it’ll be a waste of his time. But on his second cast with a YoZuri L Minnow, a snapper got hooked. Next cast, a flathead came up for a photo. Next cast, an octopus took the lure into a its lair and that’s the end of the lure. That day, Notti Boy learned to consider every factor before dismissing any place as fishless.
It is seldom worthwhile fishing over a sandy beach when the water is very clear, unless it have a dropoff or a deep water shelf, and if you want a really good sized fish, your chances will be greatly increased if you use a large bait. But where the prevailing wind and tide can create the perfect condition for you, be sure not to overlook such situations!
An incidental benefit of the extreme low water during a spring tide, is it exposes all the structure and underwater channels that would otherwise be covered at any other phase of the tide. People often ask me where is a good place to fish, and I answer: look for Transitions – places where there are abrupt changes to the general surrounding, e.g. a rocky outcrop amidst a sandy beach; a patch of seagrass; a depression where flotsam gather, a half exposed lorry tyre embedded in the mud; the shelf of a waterbreaker, the roots and branches of driftwood jutting out from the sand, an underwater gutter that carries the remaining tide into deeper waters; oyster beds; rock pools etc.
People often think I’m trying to be funny when I tell them to look for these places, during low tide, and keep careful record of range observations for them (those who have completed NS will now appreciate the lesson in filling a range card); and when the tide is up, cast towards these spots! Their answer typically will be “Crazy! You want me to cast towards snags?”
Nat was such an example. He wanted me to show him how to egi for squid. So I brought him to the place during low water. When he arrived, he looked at the dry land and thought I was playing a prank on him. People passing by asked us what we hope to catch when there is no water! But we surveyed the likely spots where the seagrass patches are surrounded by sand. We took careful reference points on land that align these spots in the sea because we won’t be able to see them again once the tide is back up. Then that night, when the others with their dedicated egi gear were casting and casting blindly, Nat and TAR were pulling up ika after ika because they made targeted casts!
All creatures have a natural tendency to seek places where there is cover or company. If you look at cows in an open field, they tend to congregate where the lone tree or fencepost or rock is. Only when there is nothing but grass in the field do they congregate together. The same applies to fish. A fish out in the open tend to feel vulnerable and will seek out structure and transitions to take cover. Sometimes even the current line formed when muddy water from a storm drain discharge, mixes with the clear water of the sea is sufficient cover for fish to take and ambush their prey.
Alectis indica (Diamond Trevally) attacked this Midnight Banana coloured Jackall Mameta on 11 May 2013, the day of new crescent moon. Spring tides will bring more different species to feed close to the shore, than would a normal day.
Fish tend to forage when there is some movement in the tide. Many species use the tides to take them to their feeding grounds, while others let the tides bring their food to them. Trevallies, Snappers and Sicklefishes swim up beaches and into estuaries on the rising tide, retreating again with the ebbing tide. Gobies, Flatheads and Whitings prefer to cruise around gravelly or sandy bottoms where there is a good run of tide, feeding on whatever smaller fish, shrimps, crab and worms are swept their way. Groupers and Catfish seem to feed best when the tide is fairly slack, i.e. at high and low water, but these are only generalisations, because there could be other factors that can throw these generalisations out.
The tide carries along with it shoals of small fry, shrimps, crab, and plankton etc., and where large quantities of fry are concentrated by fast tidal streams the fish that prey on them will be found. Tides may set in one direction on the flood, and another on the ebb carrying fish over different ground on each tide. If you can discover the different routes taken on both tides you will enjoy successful fishing on both the ebb and flood.
Epinephelus coioides (Orange spotted Grouper) took a 70mm Duel Hardcore Heavy sinking minnow on 8 June, 2013 moon phase was waning crescent, making the tide swell.
When Not to fish?
Some microorganisms in the sea have this ability to chemically produce light in their bodies. A kind of microscopic jellyfish can produce a greenish light that look like green underwater sparks when disturbed. On the dark night of a new moon, these chemical glow may become very bright, especially when there is a bloom of these bioluminescent organisms. On such a night, the crashing waves light up with an eerie green glow. The wash behind a moving boat also glow with a green light. Baitfish swimming around produce a magical trail of stars like Tinker Bell in a Disney cartoon. In such situations, it becomes very hard to catch a fish on lure. The movement of the lure through water will cause a glow with a trail to form, exaggerating the size of the lure many fold. The lure suddenly becomes a gigantic predator. The high density of these microorganisms also will deplete the water of needed oxygen. Live baits don’t last long on the hook and they also quickly die if left in a bait bucket in the sea. All these factors combined, make the fish become lock-jawed.
Normally, when I get to the seaside, I’d give a few moments to get my eyes accustomed to seeing in the dark, although these moments are getting longer as my eyes age; but I digress. After getting my night vision, I then look out for signs such as this, as well as for schools of baitfish being crashed etc. I do this as a habit, instead of hurrying to cast a lure out ASAP. The information from observing will help me decide what lure to clip on, to target what fish and how to fish the lure. If I see the seas light up with bioluminescence, I’ll usually decide to not set up my gear at all, as it will be a long and weary night of luring with no results to show.
The daily and lunar cycles of the tides and their effect is most evident from the shore. Twice daily, the tides rise and ebb over the shore of the East Johor Straits and their range is greatest on the spring tides. It is then that the tides cover the greatest area of the shore on the flood tide and expose the greatest area on the ebb. Many species of fish which live in our inshore waters travel in over the sands and up the estuaries as the rising tide covers the shore and uncovers feeding grounds not available to them when the tide is out. Their movements will naturally tend to be more nomadic on springs than on neaps as a greater feeding area is available to them. So if you have limited opportunity to go fishing, you should plan your fishing days to coincide with the spring tides.
Stay tuned for Part 4 where we will look at how atmospheric effects such as barometer and temperature affects your fishing.
Thanks for reading!
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