Reel Time: The ups and downs of tides

Reel Time: The ups and downs of tides
On low tide, birds can provide intel on where to find fish on the rising tide. - Rusty Chinnis | Sun

The only thing I know for sure after almost four decades of fishing area waters is that I’ll never figure it out.

That’s in the context of finding fish and divining the conditions that make them want to eat my flies. That’s a good thing because contrary to what we might think, that would diminish the allure of the sport.

Actually, there are at least two things I know for sure. The other one? Having at least a good working knowledge of the incomprehensible conditions that affect the feeding patterns of fish will definitely up your game.

Paying attention to tides and the movement of water where you fish and wherever you travel will greatly increase your angling odds. Locally you can do that by experience and paying attention. When you travel that’s the advantage of having a professional guide
who’s been there done that. Actually, depending on how much time you have on the water, the same applies locally.

While I always like to follow the axiom, “The best time to go fishing is whenever you can,” understanding and being able to track tidal fluctuations is invaluable. Let’s start with a quick primer.

While there are myriad factors that influence the tides, basically it’s the gravitational pull of the moon on the earth and its oceans that’s the prime driver. This means that the oceans on opposite sides of the earth experience high tides as the water is pulled away from the earth. The other object in the solar system that influences the tide is the sun, which has approximately one half the influence of the moon.

When the sun and the moon line up at the full and new moon, their combined influence
create the greatest pull, creating what is known as spring tides. When the sun and moon are at right angles to each other, during the moon’s first and last quarter, they interfere with each other and we experience weak or neap tides. In addition, the tidal ranges are greater when the moon and sun are at perigee, or closest to the earth.

Wind is another factor that affects tides. In our area a strong east wind can push tides
lower and later, holding up a rising tide. A hard-west wind can do the opposite, pushing
in a rising tide and holding up a falling one.

Experience will teach the angler how to benefit from the myriad tidal dynamics that affect fish and their feeding patterns.

I learned a valuable lesson about tides on trips to the Bahamas in search of bonefish.
My first several trips were planned to coincide with a full or new moon in order to take advantage of the increased feeding activity that generally takes place during these times. Instead, I found that the bonefish I was stalking would disappear into the mangroves as the tide rose, giving me a shorter window to pursue them along the mangrove fringes. Based on that information I planned subsequent trips when neap tides slowed the progress and size of the tide providing many more opportunities for sight fishing.

Just the opposite is often true when I explore local waters. While I still fish whenever I have the opportunity, I target days of extreme high and low tides because I know they stimulate feeding and concentrate fish. Depending on the time of year and the temperature, you can use the tide to take advantage of the season. In the winter when the
waters chill down, I like to seek out locations where a late afternoon falling tide brings warm water off the flats. The holes, slues and channels the water drains into attract gamefish and can provide some excellent action.

When fishing the flats, working from the deep water to shallow on the falling tide and in reverse on the rising tide is a very effective way to target fish. Very low tides (during spring tides) provide an excellent opportunity to scan the flats for channels, slues and holes on the flats where fish congregate. Armed with this knowledge anglers can return when the flats are covered with water and benefit from that awareness.

Tide charts and apps are valuable because the tide can be varying heights depending on whether you’re fishing in the Gulf or far up a bay. Planning your day to take advantage of
these variations can make a real difference in action. No matter what species you target,
you’ll have a better chance at success if you understand and track the tides. They can tell
you where to concentrate your effort and help you avoid other less productive areas.

Pick up a tide chart at your local tackle shop or download one of a number of excellent apps on your smartphone. That way hopefully you’ll have more ups than downs.