Home Fishing Tips & Advice How to Read a Tide Chart to Catch More Fish

How to Read a Tide Chart to Catch More Fish

Knowing how to read a tide chart properly is a crucial skill if you are serious about fishing. 

Tides can significantly affect the body of water you are fishing and can make for either a serious haul or a complete bust. Reading a tide chart can help you get the most out of your trip.

Some locations and land formations can look completely different in high and low tides. One famous example is the Hopewell Rock formation, located in the Bay of Fundy, Canada. Tides can be extreme, and depending on the location, they can greatly affect the fishing in the area.

It is reasonably clear in the pictures that the difference between the two tides almost makes the same location indistinguishable. During high tide, the intricate rock formation creates fantastic fish estuary, while at low tide, the same structure is completely dry. 

Of course, this is an extreme example. Most places on Earth have more subtle changes in tide-dependant water levels.

However, wherever you are fishing, it is essential to learn how to identify the best tide for fishing in your favorite spot. Learning the basics of reading and predicting tides can help you fish like a pro in no time. 

The Basics of Talking Tides

In order to better interpret and understand a tide chart, you should first learn some key concepts when referring to tides. Getting to know this vocabulary isn’t tricky, and you may already be aware of many of these concepts:

  • Tide – a tide is simply the movement or shifting of a water level that can be caused by several factors. The main factors that affect the tide are the Earth’s gravity, the Sun, and of course, the moon. A combination of these elements causes the rising and falling water levels. This movement can also affect how the fish move, which can be crucial when planning an outing. 
  • Low tide – a low tide refers to the water level at its lowest point.
  • High tide – a high tide refers to the water level at its highest point.
  • Rising tide – a rising tide is simply when the water level is increasing, or going up. 
  • Falling tide – conversely, a falling tide is when the water level is decreasing, or going down. 

To understand how tides can affect a fishing trip, it is first necessary to clarify what tides are precisely. Tides, simply put, are the rising and falling effect of the sea level at any given time. This rising and falling motion is a direct result of the Sun and moon’s gravitational pull. The Sun and moon, just like the tides, follow a timetable.

So, is high tide fishing or low tide fishing better?

In most cases, a good rule for successful fishing is to fish when the tide is “running.” That is to say, the best window for fishing happens is the middle portion of the tide cycle, rather than the peak of high tide. Many fish species, such as the snapper, prefer to feed and often become excited when the water is flowing. However, too high or low water flow can have the opposite effect on the fish as well. 

How the tides will be effected exactly, will depend on the relative position of the moon and the Sun. If the Sun and the moon are in line with each other, tides become more substantial, as the gravitational pull increases. When they are located on opposite sides, the gravitational pull tends to cancel out, and we see weaker tides. When the moon’s orbit comes closest to the surface of the Earth (every 27.5 days), the highest tides will form. Conversely, when the moon is at the farthest point in its orbit, we experience the lowest tides.

With that in mind, it is always wise to plan your trip around a tide table. 

How do Tides Work?

This educational animation provided by the NOAA gives you a general idea of how tides look:

The flood current is the portion of the tide that is moving towards the shore. As it gets near the shoreline, the water level rises. This typically means that it is an excellent time for baitfish to feed. This can also mean that the bigger fish you are searching for will head inland to catch these feeding baitfish.

The ebb current is the portion of the tide that moves away from the shore. During this tidal motion, the fish are also moving back to deeper waters, apart from the shoreline. 

A great general rule to live by is that you want to have moving water on your fishing excursion. Moving waters will activate movement in the fishery and increase your chances of landing a big one.

Reading a Tide Table 

Knowing how to read and interpret a tide table accurately is not only a useful practical skill, it will also help you determine the best time to drop your line. Tides can vary quite a bit depending on your location and the time of year. Your best bet is to access real-time data before your trip, regarding the current predictions and tide times. 

In most areas, you will be able to locate a tide table around a week in advance. However, it is wise to check again before you head out, just in case any information has been updated or changed. Knowing what you are up against is the best way to ensure you have a successful trip.

But what if you are new to tide tables and you aren’t sure where to start? Rest assured, reading a tide table is as simple as tying a basic clinch knot. 

The best way to get accurate and up-to-date information is to go to the NOAA website directly. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publish this tidal information free of charge.

Here is a recent example for Miami, Florida:

The great thing about this diagram is that it has all of the information you need to consider before planning your trip. It contains the high tide, low tide, rising tides, and falling tides, as well as the exact times when these will occur.

One key thing to look for on a chart like this is called the “tide range.” The tide range refers to the time difference between high tide and low tide. For the best fishing conditions, you should be searching for locations with more extensive tide ranges. 

Why does the tide range matter?

The tide range is significant because the best fishing happens in moving water. Remember, the water is moving most in between rising and falling tides. The baitfish are more active, which in turn, brings the bigger fish in to feed. 

According to most expert anglers, there are a few key considerations to take into account when scouting for a prime fishing location:

  • Look for a location where the rising tide takes place about an hour or so before the high tide.
  • Also, the falling tide should take place an hour or so after the high tide.

If you refer back to the info in the chart above, you will be able to glean a lot of useful information. 

Some key takeaways from this chart are:

  • On June 18th, the high tide will be around 6:30 am and again at 7:30 pm.
  • The low tide will take place at about 1 am and again at 1 pm.
  • The ideal time to go out fishing on June 18th is about 5 pm (tidal range between 5 and 10 is quite large).
  • If you want a morning trip, you should be on the water at about 6 am.

Tides can also have an equal effect on deep-sea fishing trips as well. The tides will determine where fish will maintain their patterns and structure and where food will concentrate. The best place to look for when deep-sea fishing is a location where baitfish are concentrated in circular motions of water. The circular movements will help to push more nutrient-rich deep-sea water up to the surface. This can take place around bays, harbors, islands, and reefs. 

The constant tidal flow will provide a steady stream of food for fish. The currents can drag along all types of live marine animals or plants to concentrate them in these small whirlpools. This usually happens where a structure, whether it be a series of rocks or a natural reef, will disrupt the flow of water. 

Fish will then gather in these areas where the food is concentrated in one spot. Likewise, when small fish or plants get pushed in by rising tides, the larger fish will follow these tides to feed and then leave as the tides return. 

So, whether you are deep-sea fishing, or casting from the coastline, consulting a tide chart for fishing before you plan your trip is always a great decision. It can mean the difference between feast and famine when it comes to fishing. The key points to remember are fish prefer movement, and pick a time with the most extensive tide range. If you follow these tips, you will be a tidal expert, just like that.

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Growing up on the south shore of Long Island, Chum Charlie has always had a passion for fishing. His favorite fish to catch is a striped bass and his favorite bait to use is bunker. Off the water, he enjoys blogging and sharing his favorite fishing tips & tricks that he has learned over the years.