The Zen of When

I was once in a conversation with a group of fly fishers as they discussed what they called “the BS Index”.  According to this group of fellow fly fishers, the “BS Index” is the number of fish claimed divided by the number actually boated.  Say a guy claims he caught ten but actually only caught five, his BSI would be two.   Ideally one’s index is always one, but you may know a guy that’s a 1.5, and maybe somebody whose BS Index may even be a two. Or at least you suspect it.  By the way, I am pretty sure the “BS” stands for “Blue Sky”.

Well I have an index, a more serious index and I call it the Puddler’s Redfish Index.  I started out calling it just “Puddler’s Index”, but since I use it for red fish, I thought it should be named appropriately.

My PRI index came about from the angst I developed from not understanding why some trips were good and some weren’t.  I am talking about sight casting in the marsh here, sometimes known as “puddling”.  A bait fisherman’s index and a skinny water sight caster’s index are not the same.  A fishing index on a popular tide site here in the Gulf region is from one to ten, ten being the best,  and the number seems to always be higher the closer to noon the high tide occurs.   I guess that’s great for bait fishermen, it means moving water, fish on the flats, plenty of water to soak your bait in.  Mid-day high tides are not rewarded with good numbers in my Puddler’s Redfish Index.  Having fish on the flats that can’t be seen isn’t much help to the sight caster.  I want to see the fish and hunt him.  Its more cat and mouse. It’s more exciting and it CAN be more productive too.

First, I am looking for a falling tide because water leaving the marsh is typically clearer than the Gulf water coming in and because the high tide provides fish plenty of water to get in the marsh and on the grassy flats where the food is.  That is assuming there is no significant wind and wave action stirring up the water, no fresh runoff or other factors.  Grass flats, which red fish love, filter the sediment out of the water:

Clear water over widgeon grass

What I am looking for in a diurnal tide system is a high tide early in the morning to get fish in the marsh, in the creeks and out on the flats.  An optimum high tide would be at 3:00 AM which would provide 7 hours for water to leave the flats nice and shallow but with water still moving and all at prime sight casting time, 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.  I am also looking for water movement in the range of about 1.4 feet.  The reason for the 1.4 is just based upon experience.  Higher tides mean faster flows toward the end of the falling tide which can produce muddy water as it runs right over the top of the mud.  Lower tides mean less water movement and everyone knows that fish are more comfortable and feed better when there is moving water.  So, 1.4 is my optimum number.  Recently I was talking to a guide that fishes in nearby Louisiana and I asked him what his optimum tide range was and he said, not to my surprise, 1.4.  Of course we were talking about the Gulf region where we both fish, so it makes sense.  Of course, you never get exactly what you want, that’s why there is an index.  Oh, and yes, my PRI is primarily based on anecdotal experience and yes, if you don’t fish the Gulf region, the numbers won’t work, but that doesn’t mean the premises are incorrect.

GCC 2015 puddler index

Eventually I came up with my own personal formula to produce an index from 1 to ten, just like many indexes you may see on different tide tables.  The formula itself is eye-glazing, including salinity, turbidity, wind direction etc.  It was a fun thought process to work it out and it organized my thoughts about what conditions can produce a good trip, but the index itself is cumbersome and depends on some metrics that can only be measured hours before.  So, although I do analyze the metrics, for advance planning purposes I settled on a search for optimum tides to help me identify the weekends that fit my criteria.  This excel spreadsheet is an example.  NOAA tide tables can be downloaded from the web into an excel spreadsheet. I simply pulled in the tables for the area I liked to fish and then I put filters on the columns to give me tides that approximate the optimum values in my index.  As you can see below, out of one year of tides, only a few weekends provide tides in my optimum range.  Of course, you can see that these early morning high tides begin in August and go into the Fall (High/Low column, H highlighted in green).  This is just one of the reasons that the best time to go sight fishing for red fish is in the Fall. Spawning in October, fish warming themselves in the shallows, more comfortable temperature ranges for the fisherman, all of those come together in the Fall.   Also note that weekend warriors don’t have many weekends to choose from. Hence the need to plan for success.  There is more to the PRI, but that’s it for now…


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