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How To Fish for Largemouth Bass in Tidal Waters

Cody Rubner and the University of Maine Bass Fishing Team recently competed in the FLW Collegiate Bass Series tournament on the Potomac River in Maryland. A senior captain on the team and a member of Why Knot Fishing, Rubner shared his insight into the challenging fishery and how he fishes for bass in tidal waters. 

How to Catch Largemouth Bass in Tidal Waters

Cody Rubner and Brian Volkernick

Choose the right location

This may sound obvious, but choosing the right spot to fish is the biggest factor in having a successful day on the water. The Potomac has ample stretches of quality vegetation, hard structure, transition areas and deeper holes that provide great places for bass to feed. Spend a day at any of them and you'll likely have luck. But in tidal waters, the best spots are the ones that reset quickly following the tide changes and that see a constant flow of bass attempting to stage themselves at different parts of the tides throughout the day. 

When trying to track down a good place to set up for the day, look for:

1 – Good current flow. Bass use tidal queues to ignite their feeding cycles. Current breaks and eddies are great places to find fish lurking.

2 – Deep water access. At high tide, fish will relate to the first structure they can find in shallower water (docks, weed beds, etc.) going up as tight on the banks as they can, and as the tide goes out bass will rescind with the water to the deeper staging area (ex. channel edge, rock structure off the drop, etc.).

3 – The right vegetation. There can be expansive stretches of vegetation in a body of water but there are very specific spots on that stretch that will continually hold fish. Utilizing practice time to find these prime spots and marking them with your electronics will allow you to continually hit them from all angles throughout the day.

We utilize Lowerance’s Insight Genesis program and Fishidy’s online mapping service during the preparation process, and got involved with The Bass University so we knew exactly how to approach each situation, making sure we did not waste a second on the water.

Proper tide management is key

Chasing the tides can be boom or bust. It implies that you set up a schedule of optimal fishing times for certain tides at different spots, and you’re only fishing that specific time window before racing to your next spot’s peak time. Any mistakes in time management and you can fall behind, throwing off your efficiency for the whole day. If timed correctly though, you can hit the jackpot. It’s a huge gamble.

The safer, but still practical option, is setting up camp - picking a small area that you know holds fish and has a prevalent pattern. You can zone in on what’s available there and figure out ways to work it from all angles and on all sides of the tides. You’re basically building a hypothetical schedule for where bass should be throughout the day in that area. 

Awareness of tidal effects on spots is also crucial. There are tons of creeks on the Potomac that hold big, healthy fish. These creeks have tons of viable spots to produce tournament-winning bags, but we found that one half of the tide would cause turbulence in the muddy creeks, creating a brutally murky environment with a very difficult bass bite. This caused us to focus on water we could guarantee would be clearer, where the grass is acting like a filter.

Gear Selection:

I essentially fished two set ups on the Potomac.

Spinning Setup: Cheeky FLOTR 2500, St Croix 6’6” Premier Spinning Rod, 14lb Monofilament line

Baitcasting Setup: Lews Tournament 7:5:1, St Croix 7” Mojo Rod, 17lb P Line fluorocarbon line

There are certain situations where power fishing is the best approach. Burning baits over a grass flat as fast as possible normally triggers a bite in the first couple casts on a spot. From there, switch to a slow-rolling follow up lure and to catch a second fish off that same spot. 

Bait Selection:

Understanding what’s going on under the surface is important! On the Potomac River there are tons of prey options for hungry bass. In our three practice days alone we observed abundant minnow schools, bluegill, snakes, lizards, shad and frogs within reaching distances of fishy spots. The key to getting bites is figuring out which prey aligned with which parts of the bass’ daily schedules.

When early morning shad spawn occurs, key in on like-colored chatterbaits, spinners and buzzbaits. We found that as the sun rose and the afternoon heat set in, bass were switching their forage to yellow perch. A simple color switch on those same baits would double the amount of bites we were getting when shad patterns shut off. On tournament day, the sun didn’t burn through the clouds and the shad pattern stayed relevant for most of the day. Take your time and observe what’s around you – big bass are only going to be tricked by logical tactics!

More About Cody & Brian 

Cody Rubner and Brian Volkernick are FLW Collegiate Series competitors for the University of Maine. The duo represents XtraTuf Boots, Cheeky Fishing, The Bass University and Why Knot Fishing (amongst other great brands) on tour, as well as fishing tournaments throughout the state of Maine. As founders of their Club, they are hoping to establish and contribute to a new powerhouse program on the collegiate scene!