If you asked me this critical question some 40 years ago, my answer would have been no because I really didn’t think it was an important factor. Back then, it was mostly a guessing game. I always wondered why I caught fish on certain days, and on other ones I couldn’t buy a bite. I often wound up frustrated and puzzled, consoling myself with the notion that what I was doing was simply validating why we call it fishing and not catching. I soon realized there was much to learn.
Curiosity definitely got the best of me, and as I logged more and more hours on the water, I began to research and evaluate why and when I caught fish. My logbooks were vital in helping to decipher the fish-catching puzzle, and eventually it became evident that the stage of the tide played a pivotal role in my successful days.
This revelation quickly changed the way I fish and eliminated all of the guesswork and non-productive time. These days, I fish much smarter. If you ask me if there is a wrong tide, the answer would be a profound yes. Let’s just say that I depend on a tide chart and it helps me be productive on the water. At this stage of my life, my time is limited and I always plan my days accordingly. In essence, I fish less hours and catch more fish. It may sound contradictory, but once you understand the need to concentrate your efforts on the most productive stages of the tide, it all makes sense. But before I break it down and get into the specifics, you have to ask yourself: How important is fishing the “right” tide?
Prior to writing this article, I asked a few novice fishermen this important question and surprisingly, their responses were all the same. Most people don’t have the time (or the know-how) to understand it, and they simply want to enjoy the outdoors, or just fish whenever their schedule permits. For the most part, they seem to rely on pure luck and just enjoy their day off.
Now that I have given you something to think about, I will share my in-depth perspective with you. Keep in mind that fishing is an art and there are other factors to consider, but understanding which tide to fish is the foundation (and first step) to consistency and quality in your fishing.
Those “other factors” I referred to include wind conditions, water clarity, time of year, structure, location, moon phases, water temperature, time of day and migration, to name a few. All of this can be daunting, but it’s all part of the fishing game.
I’ve been told that tides can be extremely difficult to understand, so without dwelling on the scientific aspects of the moon or how the moon affects water movement, I will spare you the headaches and give you the preferable feeding tides. Although many parts of the world have different tide patterns, it’s safe to say the Atlantic Coast’s day is divided by six hours with four tides to each day. In other words, there are two high tides and two low tides within a 24-hour period.
The common and identifiable tides are the “high” and “low” tides. What that really means is that the water is moving at its strongest point (and it happens to be the most difficult time to fish). Please also know that it takes time for the water flow to slow before changing direction. That period is called “slack water” and it’s usually very short lived. Please bear in mind, the prime time to fish is when the water starts to slow down. To simplify matters, let’s just say the best time to fish is the last 90 minutes before and after the slack tide. Hand’s down, that’s the magic hour (and a half) to fish. As the clock ticks closer to the slack period, the current slows and eventually comes to a halt. Subsequently, most gamefish move to other structure or staging areas. Contrary to what many people believe, a lot of big fish are caught during and near the slack phase.