by A. C. Becker,Jr.
There's more to good fishing than just picking a high or low tide. The starter naturally has to be the base point for the prediction of the tide. Next is where you plan to fish in relation to the base point. The next two points are the wind and time of the year. Then there is the movement of the water and time span between each tide stand or slack water.
I've been fishing and writing about fishing for five decades, and in that time I've read and studied the tide charts in many, many magazines. The best information by far are the tide tables and associated charts in the Gulf Coast Fisherman. These tables covers the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico from the southern tip of Texas around through the entire west coast of Florida. In addition to coastal waters, the quarterly magazine includes offshore forecasts. And best of all the information is in a single publication.
There's just one problem...
A great number of saltwater anglers are not utilizing this information to the fullest extent. This was made evident to me when I was in the hospital early in 1995. The word got around fast that I was an outdoor writer, and in the 10 day I was in the hospital I had a steady stream of hospital personnel, male and female, dropping in with fishing questions. I was surprised to learn how few knew more about the tides than there are highs and lows.
There are various base points along the Gulf Coast. Tide stands at locations other than the base point for a general area are determined by tide table adjustments. These adjustments may range from a matter of a few minutes to as much as 6 hours or more. The tide adjustment won't mean much if you fish an area with an adjustments of only minutes, but when you get into differentials of an hour or so, your fishing trip can be blown out the window. Thus after you note the tide for the base point be sure to note the tide stands for the specific area you plan to fish. It could mean going an hour earlier or perhaps getting an extra hour or so of sleep before going out.
Wind plays a key role in tide stands. Incoming tides pushed by winds blowing from offshore will be higher at the base point as well as the adjustment points. As a matter of fact a sustained wind of 6 hours or more blowing 15 to 18 mile per hour wind from offshore can cause a high tide to rise as much as a foot above the predicted stand. Think how that can boom fishing along a saltgrass marsh in a bay.
What goes up must also come down. Thus, a sustained wind of similar velocity can cause a high tide to reach less than its predicted high and cause a low tide to fall abnormally low. An excellent example of this is during the winter when blustery northers cause water levels within bay systems to drop two to three feet below the predicted low. Texans call it "blowing the tides out of the bay." When this occurs the only places to fish are in the deep holes regardless of tide predictions.
Other than it's cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the time of year plays a very important role in fishing tides. Fishing inshore waters during the winter is normally confined to deep holes. There are, however, mild winters with long stretches of mild temperatures. Link this kind of weather with a rising tide and you can get extremely good fishing, especially for redfish, on bay flats.
Over the span of the year daily tide changes range from none per day to as many as four (two high and two lows). Fortunately there are only two or three days in any year when there isn't some kind of a stand, either high or low.
The best prospect for fishing is when there is moving water. It can be either on an incoming rising tide or an outgoing low. Invariably the incoming tide always offers the best odds to score because the rising water covers new feeding areas for fish and frees from the bottom myriads of minute marine life upon which bait feeds. The poorest fishing occurs when there is no water movement, and occurs on the slack stand between changing tides. This slack period can range from just minutes to as much as nine to 10 hours. It's during this slack period that fish do relatively little feeding. The reasons is simple. There are no currents to bring schools of bait within range of the game fish, for during this slack period a lot what fish feed upon simply burrow into the sand or mud on the bottom or move into the grass in marshes.
High and low tides are noticeable along coastlines or structures fixed to the bottom but standing above the surface. High and low tides occur offshore but they go unnoticed because there are no fixed references. Moving water, however, can be most noticeable, especially if a boat is lying at anchor. There are times when many fathoms of anchor line are out in order to keep the craft in one place, and there are other occasions when there is hardly any tug on the anchor. So how does this figure in the fishing? Look for poor fishing when the anchor line hangs slack.
Consider fishing offshore banks or wrecks. There are times when a lot of weight is needed to carry the baited hook down. These are also times of good to excellent fishing. Even on those days when the tide is slack and there is no movement in bay or tidal areas, there is almost always movement in offshore waters. The reason is the wind. Even just the so called "whisper of a wind" there will be movement in water at the surface. It may be poor for bottom fishing, but under this condition one can expect reasonably good surface fishing in the spring through early fall months. But forget it in the winter because the migratory fish will be gone.
The prime influence on tides is the position of the earth in relation to the moon and sun. Tides are highest when the gravitational pull of the moon and sun are along the same line. Study the Gulf Coast Fisherman's Forecast Adjustment Times, Tide Table Adjustment Times, Tide Tables for your area and Current Movement predictions. Then base your fishing days on the data correlated. You'll find marked improvement in your fishing success.
Every year we're faced with more and more regulations on the fish available in our waters. It wasn't like that decades ago when fish were far more plentiful than they are today.