Ebb and flow = stay or go
Last updated 7/18/2023 at 6:06pm
Hands down, without a doubt, one of the top 3 most asked questions I get from local and out of town anglers alike is “how do you read the tide chart for this area?”Most any fisherman who spends time on our local waters has a theory about how the tides work and where they need to be to catch fish during those tides.Surprisingly enough there are plenty of people who don’t understand how important the tides really are, or for that matter what a tide is. According to Webster’s dictionary, tide is the periodic variation in the surface level of the oceans, bays, gulfs, inlets, and estuaries caused by gravitational attraction of the moon and sun. The influence the moon has over the tides is extreme to say the least. During the first and third quarters of the moon phase the tides are the weakest and have the smallest differences between the highs and the lows. These small tide changes are called “neap tides”. On the other end of the spectrum are the “spring tides”, these occur when the moon is new or full. During the spring tides the differences between the high and low tides are the greatest. By thinking about these patterns you can understand why so many people plan fishing trips around the moon phases. The full or new moon phases mean more moving water because the tides are more extreme, this translates into more active fish.
Now that we have established what the tides are and how they get their energy we need to know what effect they have on the fish. During certain periods of the year the tides mean different things. For example, in the spring most fishermen like strong incoming tides because they tend to bring in good saltwater from the gulf. During the fall it is opposite, outgoing tides help bring the
bait into the lake as they empty the marshes. Either tide will help you catch fish; the main thing is to at least have some tidal movement. The periods between the tides are referred to as “slack”, during these times the fishing tends to be much slower. The tides trigger most fish into becoming more active, it is almost like ringing the dinner bell so to speak.
A few years ago I watched a documentary on The Discovery channel that chronicled the effect that the tides have on fish and other sea dwellers. The most interesting portion of the show for me was watching one experiment that illustrated the so called “body clock” that all creatures possess. The scientists went to a far remote island and gathered up multiple different species of fish and crustaceans from a small tide pool and transported them back to their lab thousands of miles away where they were put into a huge aquarium for observation. The scientists left a time lapse camera on the small pool where the fish and other life forms came from so they could see the water levels
rise and fall in real time. The scientists noted that during periods of no water movement in the tide pool that the fish in the aquarium were very calm and really didn’t move too much. The amazing thing happened when the water in the tide pool began to rise or drop due to the tide the fish in the aquarium began to move around like they were in fast forward mode. It was amazing to see how as soon as the tide began to move how quickly the fish thousands of miles away responded. It’s almost the same thing we talk about when we travel far away from home and say we have “jet lag”, our body is still in the mode of being on that schedule from our own time zone. Fish are no different; the rhythmic movement of the tides plays a huge part in our own fishing success.
Now the tide schedules you see in the newspapers and magazines will give you an idea when the tides will occur. These schedules do not take into account what kind of weather or wind conditions may be present so you need to use a little common sense. For example, if the schedule calls for a weak outgoing tide and the wind is blowing strong from the south you may not see any change in the water level. The big south wind will essentially hold the water up from leaving. The exact opposite happens in the winter months when you have an out going tide and a strong north wind, the water levels fall dramatically. There are different factors to take into account, just be aware of the conditions.
One other important piece of the tide puzzle deals with correction factors for the tides. Your evening news may call for tides at Sabine Pass to take place at 1 am, that time will be different if you fish in another part of the Sabine area. What you most need to know is what the correction factor for your area is. The time difference between Sabine Pass and Sydney Island is just over an hour depending on the conditions. So if the tide is supposed to change at 1 a.m. at Mesquite Point it should start to change at Sydney Island around 2:00 a.m. under normal conditions. Now the visible movement may not be evident but the influence is there. The marshes on the other hand are tougher to gauge when it comes to tides, things like wind and runoff can make it almost impossible to calculate the tides correctly. All you can do is keep good records and watch the conditions in order to get a better feel for how the water will react to certain conditions.
The tides are not difficult to understand as long as you find some reliable information. For years my own personal choices for tide information came from the Gulf Coast Fisherman magazine, sometimes called the Harold Wells report. The tides, moon phases, feeding times, and other information in there elevated my early learning curve as a younger fisherman. The correction factors and tide schedules are listed for the entire Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Florida. It was a very valuable piece of literature at the time. As far as my recommendation for accurate and informative tide charts today I don’t think you could ask for more than the one printed in Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine. The information is incredibly accurate and easy to translate no matter what body of water you fish. I have the utmost confidence that any angler can gain an advantage and improve their time on the water by studying those charts and implementing them on their next trip.