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Tidal River Curious? Focus On These Four Habitats

By Alex McCrickard/DWR

Are you tidal river curious? Maybe you’re interested in learning how to fish big tidal water but perhaps intimidated by its size? Early winter can be a peaceful time to explore Virginia’s tidal tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. With the changing seasons, crowds can dissipate, but the determined angler will find that it is absolutely worth the continued effort.

Opportunities are plentiful along the western shore of the Chesapeake from the Potomac in Northern Virginia down to the James River and everything in between. These large tidal tributaries follow a salinity gradient where freshwater at the fall line turns brackish, with higher salinity concentrations the closer one travels down river to the confluence with the bay. Because of this, a wide variety of species can be targeted on these tidal rivers from largemouth and smallmouth bass near the fall lines to blue catfish, white perch, yellow perch, striped bass, and even speckled trout and puppy drum the further one travels downstream.

The amount of water you could cover on these tidal rivers can be daunting and it is often hard to know where to start. However, I have found that by focusing time and energy fishing these four distinct habitats, I will more often than not be catching fish no matter what tidal river I am in.

  • Points

Fishing is all about being able to read the water. This holds true for ponds, lakes, creeks, and flowing rivers. Tidal rivers are no exception and, more often than not, points, where a narrow piece of land just out into the water, can be a great place to locate fish on these large systems. Points are often on the inside of a river bend or at the confluence of a smaller tributary. Points tend to act almost like a funnel, concentrating fish that are moving up and down with the tides. If fish are near the shore, they have to swim out and around a point to continue up or downriver. Setting yourself up on a point can allow you to intersect fish at an area where they tend to concentrate.


I like to fish a point methodically while drifting with the tide. I will often cast toward the point and retrieve the lure or fly back to the boat. Often, there will be a current seam where the tide is pushing flow around a point and a back eddy forms. Casting into the back eddy of the point and retrieving your presentation through the slower water and back into the current seam can often produce a strike.

On the opposite side from the point, there will many times be a bend in the river. Depending on the depth and flow, fish will tend to stack up in the deepest section of the river across from the point. Utilizing your electronics and mapping capabilities can be extremely useful in these situations if you are fishing from a boat.


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