For coastal anglers, daily ebb and flow govern the when and where of fish movement. The fluctuations are predictable and, for the most part, fairly well balanced, except for the seasonal extremes known as a “negative low” — an outgoing tide that falls below mean (average) low. These tides occur during winter’s new and full moons, when the earth feels the strongest lunar gravitational pull. When a hard north wind hastens the tide’s departure, blows it out even farther and holds back the incoming cycle, we see the most severe negative lows completely draining flats and creating one of the most incredible fishing opportunities.
With seagrass laid flat against damp mud, vast acreage that once held sustainable depths becomes completely impassible. What remains is the random refuge of deeper lagoons; essentially, tide-worn trenches that hold sustainable depths through even the lowest of tides. Fish instinctively know to leave the shallow flats when lunar and meteorological forces signal a forthcoming negative low. The ones on flats close to boating channels will drop into these ample lanes, but those tucked in the backs of bays and coves funnel into those deeper lagoons.
Standard negative lows driven solely by winter tide schedules may hold fish captive for several hours, but when those big north winds enter the picture, the draining effect can last most of the day. The fish can generally survive where they settle, but it doesn’t take long for them to eat all the available forage. This means any negative low tide refuge you find will likely hold a bunch of hungry fish eager to pounce on practically any bait you throw.
Because even shallow draft skiffs eventually run out of water, wading offers an ideal option for reaching the most secluded and promising negative low tide holes. Even during a relatively mild winter, you’ll appreciate the warmth of neoprene waters; but choose your style wisely. While boot foot waders work well for rocky trout streams, stocking foot waders with external wading boots offer a better option in soft, silty areas. Stepping into this oatmeal-like bottom with boot foot waders puts you at risk for falling, as the mud grips your boot and pulls it off your foot as your step.
Make sure the boat is securely anchored, but consider your planned trek before overdoing it. Wading is a strenuous activity and however long your walk, you’ll face the same distance when it’s time to leave. That’s why some find it better to tie a bow line around their waist and pull the boat along as they fish.
One of your best options is to kayak into your wading areas, as the shallow drafting vessels can float in whisper-thin water and skim across mucky areas that would swallow an angler up to their waist. Fish from the kayak, or paddle to the edge, securely anchor your kayak, and then fish on foot.
The same tackle selection you’d use on the open flats and mangrove basins during normal tide levels will also work during negative lows. One of the most user-friendly options leverages an advanced soft plastic paddletail – the LIVETARGET Slow-Roll Mullet — rigged on a Mustad Inshore Darter jig head, so you can quickly vary bait size, shape and color. The Slow-Roll Mullet is engineered using LIVETARGET’s exclusive Injected Core Technology (ICT), which encases an incredibly detailed Inner Core – packed to the gills with incredible attention to the smallest anatomical details – within a clear Exo-Skin that protects the core and embodies the lure with irresistible action. Indeed the LIVETARGET Slow-Roll Mullet is perhaps saltwater angling’s most perfect soft paddletail.
For an easy sell, work the LIVETARGET Fleeing Shrimp along the bottom or fish the LIVETARGET Rigged Shrimp higher in the water column. The latter works well in a free-lined presentation, but for maximum fish-attracting commotion, fish it under a popping cork.
If you’re looking for a real daymaker, rig a LIVETARGET Mullet Swimbait or LIVETARGET Pinfish Swimbait on a stout rod with braided main line and a fluorocarbon leader, bomb cast it into the deepest low-tide lagoon and hang on tightly. The first giant snook or redfish to spot this meal will reward you with one of those strikes that justifies the tedious approach effort.
The first giant snook or redfish to spot this meal will reward you with one of those strikes that justifies the tedious approach effort.