Tides and Tables or Fishermen’s Fables

Tides and Tables or Fishermen’s Fables
Magical keys for successful fishing just don't exist, but it's that quest for the unobtainable that draws us back. We'll never decode all of Mother Nature's secrets, but there are tools available that can help us get close. A good tide-solunar chart is one of these and, using it correctly can unlock some of those mystical doors and help us work the elements to our advantage.

There are basically four ways to approach fishing: blind luck, sliding in alongside bent poles, working obvious signs, and planning ahead. The first two are reserved for the blind and the bent, but we can combine the last two for a more rewarding shot at a productive day. A little pre-planning before we go combined with some good old-fashioned work after we get there can save us lots of dead time and help us experience more of what coastal fishing has to offer. Let's look at this tide and solunar rt thingie and see if it's worth messing with.

Tides: Volumes have been written about tides and their effect on fishing, but some confusion will always remain about how to use a tide chart to get real results. The chart that is included in our Tide and Solunar Table shows the predicted levels on the Galveston Channel, which is the baseline for all the Galveston area bays. A set of correction factors to apply to the far-flung corners of that vast bay system is also provided. Turn the page and you will find charts with information specific to Port O'Connor, Port Aransas, Corpus Christi, and Port Isabel. While some publishers will have you believe the Galveston Channel predictions can be "factored" and applied to the entire Texas coast, we believe otherwise. It is important to note that tide charts indicate predicted water levels and several factors can increase or decrease those levels in varying amount. Wind is perhaps the greatest factor affecting the water level that might be achieved on any given tide. Wind speed, duration, direction, and even the barometer can increase or decrease a prediction by a considerable margin. We need to remember one thing however, that while overall level can be important to predict where fish may have staged themselves, it is the horizontal movement of water (current) that has greatest potential effect on feeding activity.

Current: Moving water and its relationship to feeding activity is pretty much a no-brainer. Current flow is what makes things happen in many bodies of water, and it doesn't matter if it is created by moons, planets or wind. Among other things, it's simply a conveyor belt for food that stimulates feeding. It can also change the composition of the water for the better or worse. Inflow from the Gulf of Mexico might bring cooler, cleaner, more oxygenated water; or it might result in hot, grass-choked nastiness draining from a sun-drenched flat. Knowing what the conditions will likely be before we go can help steer us to a more favorable starting spot. We can certainly still catch fish in dead slack water, but I'd rather spend my time catching rather than grinding.

The spread between the predicted highs and lows, related to time, only tells us how much water should move in a day. It's a fallacy that four tides (semi-diurnal) are always best because two of those may be so slight as to be insignificant except in or near Gulf passes. On two tide days (diurnal), there can be a period of seven to ten hours of "slack" time, meaning little or no current in between. Current can also continue to flow for considerably longer or stop much earlier than the times of peak and/or minimum level shown on a tide chart. The trick is to position yourself where you know fish are likely to be when the current is moving. Some of the best times are right as it starts and then again just before it stops. However, the problem with a tide chart is that it really doesn't tell us when, and that's one of the main sources of frustration. Each area is different, and it's something you have to determine for your particular location. There are sources of current prediction for various locations, but here again they are really only predictions. Take the time to understand how the water in your area relates to the tidal predictions, and be paid well for your efforts.

The moon stuff: We've seen it happen numerous times. Out of nowhere the bait comes to the top, things get ugly for a while, and death is on the surface of the water. It can last for a couple of hours, or it can be over almost as quickly as it started. It's one of those biological mysteries nobody seems to have an answer for. This moon stuff is nothing new, and has nothing to do with voodoo, the paranormal, werewolves, or astrological love lines. There are major skeptics, but natural phenomena that occur within moon cycles are well documented. Previous cultures lived and worked closer to nature than we are required to, and they had to just to survive. We can talk about how ancient hunters, farmers, shepherds, fishermen, all learned cyclic patterns that helped them increase production. More recently, the old market hunters, men who made their living by taking large amounts of game for public sale, heavily relied on moon patterns to predict all game movements. They swore by it and were quite successful. I swear by it too. It's not a sure thing, but it is fun to play with and it can definitely make a difference barring other overriding factors.

There are two basic moon patterns fishermen need to be aware of; monthly and daily. The approach of a new or full moon traditionally brings increased activity. There's something more to it than simply the increase or decrease of night light however, because we even see things happen in household aquariums. (As a side note, contrary to popular belief, trout do not feed all night under a full moon...trust me.) However, starting about 3-4 days before a full or new moon we begin to see weird stuff happen, like big trout floating dead because they attempted to swallow a mullet half their own size. Things tend to happen more aggressively, but usually only in small windows. Something tends to make them come out and become more vulnerable, like that big buck finally stepping out of thick brush in broad daylight. The week following a full moon is usually suppressed, whereas exceptional activity seems to continue for as many as three or four days following a new moon. Currents are quite often stronger during and following new moon periods as well.

Feeding Periods: There are four daily moon positions that influence feeding behavior; moon-rise, moon-set, moon directly overhead, and moon underfoot. These daily periods are more than just a relation to tides because we can also see increased activity in lakes and fields. Minor periods on the TSFMag chart are depicted in vertical green stripes and occur from the beginning of the moon rise, lasting about 1 to 1-1/2 hrs, and again beginning about 1 to 1-1/2 hrs before moon-set. (Ever heard the old-timers say that fish bite best when the moon is on the horizon?) Major periods occur when the moon is straight over your head or directly under your feet. Major feeding periods last a little longer than minors, hence their name. They are depicted on the chart as vertical red stripes, corresponding to one hour each side of the transit peak. Local weather can have overriding effects but in stable conditions these predicted feeding periods can be phenomenally accurate. Given that the "lunar day" is approximately fifty minutes shorter than the "solar day," you will note that moon rise occurs fifty minutes later each successive day. So, all things being equal, if the fish went nuts yesterday between 1:00 and 3:00, expect the same to happen today between 2:00 and 4:00. We stand a better chance of finding willing fish during one or more of these periods, and they are more pronounced with multipliers like good current flow and in concert with sun-up/sun-down, which also occurs near big moons. They will often feed hard on at least one of them, and whichever it might be, the pattern will usually hold for a few days. Of course if you do not plant yourself where the fish are, this whole dissertation is useless.

Putting it altogether: Most of us do not enjoy the ability to cherry-pick prime times, we go when we can. Yet it can still pay dividends to pay attention and plan to be in the best spot at the most productive time. Let's look at a couple examples.

March 04, 2011. We got lucky here with three prime feeding periods predicted to occur during daylight hours (daylight being depicted by a yellow panel on the grid and darkness in light blue.) We have a new moon, and we have decent current flow. The moon-rise minor can be excellent as it coincides with sun-up, and depending on where you are, you may also see relatively strong outgoing flow. The moon-over major includes a rather weak incoming flow, but maybe still enough to boost feeding activity. The next feed period, moon-set minor, does not include significant water movement, but it does include the sunset which is another multiplier, if you will. For the reasons stated, March 04 rates four stars.

March 21, 2011. Here's a potential stinker for you. We have a three tide day, two highs and one low predicted, and only two feeding periods occurring during daylight. This is not to say that fishing will be a total waste of time, it never is, but the major factors are not aligned for greatest potential success. We begin our day with the moon-set minor occurring during a potentially slack current period between 7:00 and 8:30 am. The moon-under major occurs during the last hours of a weak incoming flow. Looking over all the data, March 21 rates no stars. My prediction is lots of casting practice. This is where planning helps. Unless you absolutely have to go, you might be better off working on your boat and tackle or sprucing up the yard.

We've just barely touched on the subject of working tides and moon. Position yourself to take advantage of good current (either from tide or wind) during prime times and keep a carefully notated log of conditions and activity. Record the hours of greatest and least catching and see if they don't line up with the solunar majors and minorsweather permitting, of course. The solunar theory is by means exact, but if you're serious about fishing, my bet is that you will soon start to depend on it. Either way, go when you can and be happy you did.