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The 4 TS (Part 1)

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Fishing guide Tim O’Reilly shares some pro insights.

The time, tide, water temperature and transition of fish are what I like to think of as the ‘4 Ts’. In every single fishing scenario, one of these four factors will come into play. As a fishing guide, these are the principles which dictate a course of action for the day. You’ll notice that wind and weather are not among them. This is because as a fishing guide, you rarely get to choose.

Always Learning

The depiction of fishing has changed in recent years. The take up of soft plastics and recent revolution and utilisation of fish-finding technology have changed the sport dramatically. Modern fishos will usually plan their angling adventures to the tiniest detail. In many instances that attention to detail, equipment, terminal tackle and sources of information will set successful anglers apart from the pack.

However, when the wind and weather turn against you, it will be those who spent the most time on the water reading signs within the 4 Ts that get results – those old-man-and-the-sea types who understand why the fish aren’t doing what they expected and can form a plan to counteract the situation on the spot.

Having fished alongside a few who do it for a living, it still amazes me how much of a role enthusiasm, confidence and anticipation play in fishing success. Even when others are having a tough time fishing nearby with the same equipment and the same plan of action, those blokes can still catch fish. Some of them could catch fish in a bathtub…or in that last little out-of-the-way place nobody else thought to look.

It’s for these reasons fishing media is so successful, and that even experienced anglers keep trying to learn from others. Things change. Techniques evolve. Fish wise up. Seasons fluctuate, and almost every day, anglers discover something they never previously understood.

In this dual feature spread over two issues, we’ll focus individually on the four elements and how each can help put a feed on the table. To start with we’ll look at time and tide.

Stay in Touch

Fishing is something which can be done every day and in all conditions. Unfortunately, the fishing media decides for many what is a worthwhile pursuit. Anglers become biased about what is a good catch, a good capture, a worthy technique and even the right tackle to use. But when it’s time to return home to family and friends at the end of the day, they are rarely impressed unless you have something to chew on.

‘Fish gotta eat!’ is a saying often bandied around. Feeding is based on learned behaviour as well as conditions as they present themselves. A day and night might be broken up into multiple feeding times and various locations. We anglers need to have an idea of when time, tide, temperature and transitioning fish provide us the best likelihood of success.

Time Of Day

The early bird catches the worm, right?

Well, when all the other birds are out searching, it does pay to be among the first looking.

Spend time on a trawler or a commercial fishing operation and you’ll quickly understand what early morning means to the bottom dollar, the bottom of the net or the bottom of the sea. All come alive just as those first rays of light sparkle across the horizon. That natural life-force which gains energy from that big, golden ball travelling across our sky triggers many marine and terrestrial organisms into action. At that very same time the night brigade will be slinking off to hide from the vicious characters who come out to play in the day.

The migration of deep-ocean critters back down to the depths during the day is mirrored in both shallow freshwater and saltwater environments. It pays to be hidden or on your way to hiding during first light. The crustaceans, molluscs and tiny echinoderms which form the basis of many a fish’s diet will be busily burrowing themselves or hiding in whatever their chosen substrate is. It becomes the job of predators to find them, and it becomes the angler’s job to discover where the predators might be looking.

After Dark

We have come to divide our fishing activities into areas fished and species sought. Loosely that translates into chasing certain fish in impoundments, streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, estuaries, inshore, offshore and deep water.

Fishing at night can be hugely productive in each of these environments. Night fishing usually depends on the other three elements of our equation – temperature, tide and transition – aligning for short bite periods.

With nearly all forms of fishing, dawn and dusk are particularly good times to be on the water, those first few hours following dawn and the few hours preceding dusk being equally productive at times. Bite times depend on much more than just this loose equation, however throughout the course of an entire day, concentrating efforts in these time bands will give you the best chance.

Some notable exceptions seem to be the increased chance big-game anglers have of hooking a monster marlin around mid-afternoon. Spawning fish will also feed at times not usually expected. Anyone who loves to scuba, snorkel or spearfish will also enjoy the middle hours of the day with plentiful sunlight penetrating the water and corals at their best.


In the tropics we often hide in the shade from around midday until 4.00pm, emerging refreshed and well fed for a second crack at them. Regardless of your fishing scenario, the breeze and conditions are often best from dawn until lunchtime. We’ve all been caught in an afternoon blow or storm or heavy wind chop.

Time of day interacts heavily with temperature in that fishing warmer parts of the day can appeal more in winter and cooler parts of the day in summer. Up in the tropical north, many prefer to be on the water as the sun first peeps over the horizon. Being home by 11.00am also holds huge appeal to many in the heat.


No other variable effects fishing in the way solar and lunar cycles generate the movement of water around the globe. Concentrating as we are on the tropics, northern Australia receives a wildly varied tidal range as you move from east to west above the 18th parallel (basically Townsville across to Broome).

Have a look at the map showing tidal range around the country. Take particular notice of the smaller tidal ranges around eastern Cape York Peninsula, the Gulf Of Carpentaria, far east and west Arnhem Land and a small part of the far northern Kimberley Coast. I would certainly never say that the fishing is always best in areas of smaller tidal range, but it certainly makes life easier. And the locations I mentioned do fish extremely well.

Larger tidal ranges take more time to adjust one’s brain to when fishing shallow areas. A spot which held fish a few hours ago may be hundreds of metres from the water’s edge as the tide recedes a mere seven or eight metres. Anglers not used to these enormous forces which shape river, coastline and reef can find it very painful to fish in the dark-red areas. But adjust your thinking and imagine the whole marine world changing every six hours and you will become more prepared to travel in anticipation of a hot bite. And this is a tip in itself: bite times tend to be more intense and location-specific during larger tides.

One Side or The Other

If I had a dollar every time the phrase ‘no run, no fun’ was bandied around…

Sometimes this is an excuse for a poor session, but what really puts it into context is the intensity of the bite when the tide begins to make or recede after the high- or low-tide mark.

Especially in the estuary, it pays to have a line in the water for that first hour or so of the making tide, beginning around the mouth and moving upstream as the tide pushes in. Why? Predators require tide movement to funnel or bunch prey and secure themselves an easy feed. At the other end of the spectrum, these same predators will ambush prey as it tries to escape with the receding tide.


When the tide combines with other forces such as wind and run-off, anglers are presented with never ending scenarios in which to predict fish movement. Be prepared to move until you find the right parameters and then concentrate your efforts when you see it all come together.

Working as a guide, one comes to realise that when the fishing is slow, the day can be saved by being in the right place at exactly the perfect stage of the tide to catch a target species. This is not a recommendation to burn the world’s fossil fuels in an endeavour to chase fish all around the park. But be prepared to change locations and tactics as tidal influences alter the fishing scenario in front of you.

Nowhere does this become more evident than when reef fishing, particularly in the shallow country. In most locations, the tide will run against the reef or structure in one direction and then in the opposite direction on the opposing tide. Almost without exception, the fish will be concentrated and feeding on the reef edge with current pushing upon it, particularly on the leading edge. If the fishing slows it should be lines in, anchor in, motor on and off searching for where the fusilier of damsel-fish schools are shimmering on the surface in the current.

That leads us into our next ‘T’ which is the transition of fish. Next issue we’ll focus on the movement of fish and the correlation with the other factors, including water temperature. In the meantime, to get some usefulness from this subject, begin with a mental exercise of imagining a single fish living its life amid the 4 Ts for a day.

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