I check the tide charts every time I plan a trip. I always try to be in the water fishing during the greatest movement. Along with the weather report for the day, knowing the tides is the most important aspect of planning trips.
Tidal movement, caused by gravitational forces as the earth and moon rotate and orbit the sun, has a significant effect on planning fishing trips. Put simply, tidal forces move water, moving water means moving bait, and bait movement means active, feeding fish!
Bottom Line Right Up Front
Before we talk about what tides are and how to read and understand tide charts, let's try to bottom line this thing. So what kind of tides should you look for? Incoming, Outgoing, What's the Deal?
If you're fishing further back in the bay system, wade fishing, or from your kayak or flats boat in shallow water, you'll want to be in the water during high tide and during the outgoing tide.
Here is a quote by Rudy Grigar from Plugger, “But at high tide, both bait and game fish are in the flats, and that's where the action begins. Then, when the tide starts to fall, game fish increase their pressure on the baitfish. That's when you'll see and hear more and more schools of baitfish breaking the surface. They know the water is dropping, and they're forced to head back toward deeper water and leave the flats.”
The incoming tide is important if you're fishing in an area where baitfish will be coming in. Examples of these areas are bay entrances close to major passes and other cuts from deeper water like the Intracoastal waterway. Low tide is generally the worst time to fish, as the fish will be the hardest to find.
Bottom Line Conclusion - All the information presented here will prepare you to be more observant and learn more when you're fishing your favorite spots. You'll learn what happens during tidal movement, and begin to see patterns. It only works when you get on the water and put it into practice.
Here are the major aspects to understanding Tide Charts and how to use them to your advantage and pursuit of saltwater fishing success.
Location Determines Strength
The tidal movement will be the strongest near the major passes. Further, into the bay system, the effects of the tide will be much less. Chester Moore explains it like this in his Flounder Fever book, “A tide is a large, slow-moving wave that starts off in the ocean, moves through a pass, and ends up in the back of a bay or upland into a river system.”
So one thing to remember here is that in the tide charts you'll find, most will be broken down into locations. You might find the exact location you'll be fishing, but you might only find one that is relatively close. So you'll have to make adjustments based on your location.
If you get a High Tide reading for a major pass and will be fishing an adjacent bay, you'll know that high tide will come later back in the bay because that "slow-moving wave" will take time to travel back to where you'll be fishing.
A lot of Tide Charts will give you adjustment times based on popular areas to fish. These come in handy, but you might also have to make a judgment call. And if you fish the area enough you'll learn what adjustments to make.
Tides Not the Only Thing Moving Water
Tides do not occur in a vacuum, meaning they aren't the only force moving water. Wind plays a major role in moving water as well and can strengthen or weaken a tide depending on how it's been blowing. That's why it's a good idea to look at the weather report for the day you'll be fishing along with the tide charts.
Highs and Lows are Just the Beginning of the Story
High and Low Tide readings from the paper or from another source only tell the beginning of the story. You can't base your trip on this information alone. This is what you need to know: For the location, you'll be fishing, how much movement will there be between the high and low and when will the greatest velocity occur?
There are lots of places to find this information. Tide Charts are provided by all of the Saltwater Fishing Magazines. They are similar in that their “best days” recommendations are mostly alike. Most give charts and show you when the greatest movement will occur. I recommend subscribing to at least one, for the Tide Charts and for all the other information they provide.
Speaking of these "best days", the greatest tidal movement occurs around the new moon and full moon. These days will have the stars by them.
I like the Tide Charts provided by Texas Fish & Game and Gulf Coast Connections this best. TFG comes to you when you join CCA and enter the STAR Tournament. They both offer lots of great articles on Saltwater Fishing.
You can also find charts by following the link to the
Rod and Reel Tides for Texas. (opens separate window)
Reading tide charts is an important skill to learn so you can be sure when the greatest movement and feeding activity will occur. Make sure you (and your lure!) are in the water during the greatest movement. You'll learn the effects of tide on your favorite spots, and your chances of success will rise!
Return from Tide Charts to the Planning Trips page.