Surf: Pick A Tide - The Fisherman

Surf: Pick A Tide

Surf Pick A Tide
Each angler’s home water is a treasure chest of details that can help the angler catch more fish more often.

The knowledge accumulated over many trips becomes the foundation of success.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention – actually, a paraphrase would fit this column a little better. Namely, if it’s harder to do something, some folks will get better at it. Decades ago, we didn’t worry about precise hours of a tide simply because there were many more fish and we didn’t have to. As long as the water was moving, we went fishing and we caught fish. But that was then, and this is now. With diminished numbers of fish, anglers need to be more precise about many things, including hours in a tide. Yes, we still have runs of fish when fish are caught from top to bottom and bottom to top of tide. Last fall’s migration was a good example, however, these “hot” runs have become rarer over time, and more typically, catching fish depends on intimate knowledge of your local waters. The knowledge accumulated over many trips becomes the foundation of success.

I’m frequently asked, “What’s the best tide?” Perhaps some questioners believe my answer evades the question, but it doesn’t. I tell them that it depends upon season, time of day, moon phases, and location. You see, that’s why I always urge anglers to develop an understanding of home waters rather than chase old news in alien locations. When anglers have intimate local knowledge, they begin to see trends, associations, and tendencies. These data allow them to deduce the best part of a tide. The generalities an angler deduces are only broad guidelines and starting points, not universal gospel. We need to be ready to adjust.

Here’s what I do. I start by fishing the last half of the ebbing tide because these are the most productive hours. Yet, depending upon success or failure, I expand my search in both tidal directions. As a result, I’ve discovered places that don’t match the generality. For example, a few spots are best during the incoming current. Obviously, I would never have had enough time to pin-point this if I was driving to and from a distant spot. However, when fishing close to home, we fish more often, spend more hours per trip, and have a willingness to expand forward and backward from a given starting point in the tide. Initially, an angler only eliminates water, but eventually fish are caught and trends emerge. A simple log helps by allowing the angler to accumulate accurate information and zero in on the best two hours of a tide.

Only when an angler fishes a spot frequently, invests hours, and records data does he or she begin to understand nuances about productivity, presentation, and tide in relation to weather, moon phase, and season. I fished a small spot within a spot decades ago and discovered, through trial and error, that it only produced lots of fish for two or three days on both the new and full moons for two hours on the start of the incoming current. The rest of the month, including all tide stages, produced almost no fish.

Then there’s the weather. Westerly winds make the high and low tides lower. In some places that may inhibit current flow and in others may force the bait into smaller and smaller pockets that become easy pickings for gamefish. Northeast winds make the high and low tides higher. That can make a high tide spot inaccessible and a low tide spot unproductive because of poor current flow or because there’s too much water there. Again, intimate local knowledge is the key to developing detailed understandings of when and how a spot works.

Seasonal trends are also important. For example, we expect sand eels in spring, peanuts and anchovies in late summer and autumn, and maybe a smattering of herring in the very late fall. Each type of bait is affected differently by moons, weather, and tides. As a result, the best two hours in May might not be the best time in October. Accumulating details close to home means you’ll enjoy more consistent fishing, year after year.

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