Solving the Riddle of the Tides

Solving the Riddle of the Tides
Getting it right! Combining tide and solunar predictions produced this remarkable redfish for the author.

Most any fisherman who spends their fair share of time on their local waters has a theory about how the tides work and where they need to be to catch fish during those times. Surprisingly enough though, there are still plenty of people who don’t understand how important the tides really are, or for that matter, what a tide even is.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a 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, so named for their “springy” nature, and these occur when the moon is new or full. During the spring tides the differences between the highs and lows 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, which often translates into greater fish feeding activity.  

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 springtime most fishermen like strong incoming tides because they tend to bring in good, clean saltwater from the gulf. During the fall it is opposite; outgoing tides help bring the bait into the bays as they empty the marshes. Either tide can 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 which the fishing
generally 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.

Now the tide schedules you see in the newspapers and magazines will
give you an idea when the tides will occur. However, 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 at all in the water level. That big south wind will essentially hold the water up from leaving.

Now then, we see the exact opposite occurring in the winter months when you have an outgoing tide and a strong north wind. The water levels can fall dramatically. There are different factors to take into account, just be aware of them.

One other important piece of the tide puzzle deals with correction factors. Your evening news may call for a high or low tide to occur at Sabine Pass at 1:00 AM. However, that time will be quite different the farther you fish away from the Pass in another part of the Sabine Lake and marsh system. What you need to know is what are the correction factors for your area. The time difference between Sabine Pass and Sydney Island is just over an hour, depending on local weather conditions. So if the tide is supposed to change at 1:00 AM at Mesquite Point it should start to change at Sydney Island around 2:00 AM.

The visible movement of the water may not always be evident, but the influence is still there. “Influence” is the feeling produced by the tides that kickstarts increased activity and feeding behavior in fish.

The marshes, on the other hand, are tougher to gauge when it comes to tide movements as 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.

If you want to go one step deeper into the tide puzzle, you can delve into what some call the tide within the tide. Let’s say the tide is predicted to start moving at 2:00 pm and will end at 6:00 pm. At 2:00 pm the water will begin to move and it will get progressively stronger until it reaches the maximum speed or influence. So, we’ll say the tide begins to move at 2:00 and by 3:00 pm it is flowing as strong as it’s going to flow until it begins to weaken at around 4:00 pm, and then is almost comes to a complete stop by 5:00 pm. So now our time line says the strongest tidal influence occurred between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm which would be considered the best time to be fishing – hence, the tide within the tide reference.

I’m sure we have all been out on the water catching fish and all of a sudden it seems someone threw a switch and the bite suddenly died. If you note the time this happens and compare it to the tide chart, it will generally coincide with the tidal flow declining below the max speed, which in turn lessens the influence felt by the fish.

I can assure you that once you gain a greater understanding of the tides and feeding periods, along with the factors that influence them, you will become a better fisherman. Concentrating your efforts during these particular times instead of just going fishing and hoping for he best will put more odds in your favor and that translates to success.

You are much better off fishing for a couple of hours during tide changes and feeding periods than if you are fishing all day and hoping for the best. I’m not saying you can’t catch fish during slack periods because that’s just not true, it happens every day. What I am saying is that if you truly want to maximize your time on the water you will be sure to fish when you have factors such as tides in your favor.

The tides are not difficult to understand so long as you can find some reliable information. The tide charts presented in this magazine are a good place to start and there are also tons of tide and current predictions available on the internet.

Along with the tide charts you might also want to reference the Solunar Tables in this magazine. Solunar theory and the associated predictions on feeding activity are equally applicable to all forms of wildlife – fish, waterfowl, small game, and big game. Which means they can be as useful to hunters as they are for fishermen. Planning your fishing trips for days and time periods when the tide charts and solunar predictions coincide would be wise indeed.

Gaining confidence in applying your newfound knowledge may take some time, but it is time well spent. I promise if you use this information correctly you will see very clear and definite patterns that will make your time on the water much more productive. So, take a few minutes to consult the tide and feeding tables before you head out on the water, and be sure to take a youngster or two along every chance so they can also learn to enjoy our fine sport.