There’s no magic to tides. It goes in and out twice a day and has done so every day since the Earth’s creation! Fortunately, there are fish nowadays, and they love a running tide.
When is the best tide to fish? Today, you will find out as I give you a detailed breakdown in my expert guide.
Table of Contents
- The Complete Guide to Fishing Tides
- What is the Tide and How Does it Work? Understanding Tides
- Does the Tide Matter when Fishing?
- What is Slack Water?
- Which Tide Helps Fishing Activity?
- Do Fish Bite Better in High or Low Tide?
- Is Fishing Better at High Tide or Low Tide?
- What Tide is the Best Time to Fish?
- How do You Read Tides for Fishing?
- What are the Best Apps for Fishing Tides?
- How do You Know if it’s Low Tide or High Tide?
- Safety and Tides – A Word of Warning
- Final Thoughts
Disclosure: At BonfireBob, we recommend products based on unbiased research, however, BonfireBob.com is reader-supported and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on this page. For more information, see disclosure here.
The Complete Guide to Fishing Tides
What is the Tide and How Does it Work? Understanding Tides
Ok, before we get into fishing, we need to have a solid understanding of the tide and how it works. In the most basic sense, the tide is the movement of water in a given direction caused by the force of gravity.
Indeed. But don’t worry, we can leave celestial orbits and bodies out of it for the most part. Here’s what you need to know. Remember these few key facts:
- The Earth’s tides are caused by the moon.
- The closer to the Earth the moon is, the higher the tide.
- High and low tide takes place roughly twice each day.
- The run of the tide is strongest between the two tide states.
Two things influence the tide. The sun and the moon. Both bodies have a mass in space. Therefore they have gravity. The moon exerts a gravitational force on the Earth, as does the sun.
How is this relevant to tides?
Well, it is this gravity that pulls the ocean ever so slightly higher, and it follows the moon’s orbit. The moon also moves around a little each day, which is why we get high tides at different times of the day.
Here’s a quick video showing you what I mean. It is really easy to understand.
When the sun and moon pull from opposite sides of the Earth, this creates a tide that doesn’t change that much as they sort of cancel each other out. This is called a Neap Tide.
When the moon and sun pull in the same direction, this creates a really large pulling force and causes strong tides. This is called a Spring tide. Here’s another video explaining this concept.
At either low or high tide, the difference and flow are minimal at first. As the tide progresses, it gradually picks up momentum, with the strongest currents being observed directly between the two states of the tide.
Here’s an easy-to-understand chart to show you what’s going on over a single tide cycle and when it might be best to fish. See if you can spot a pattern?
Tidal Flow Chart
|Time||Tide State||Tidal Flow||When to Fish|
|12:00pm||Low Tide||Tidal flow slow||Poor fishing|
|Tide rising||Flow increases gradually||Good fishing|
|15:00pm||Mid Low to High Tide||Fastest tidal flow||Great fishing|
|Tide rising||Flow decreases gradually||Good fishing|
|18:00pm||High Tide||Tidal flow slow||Poor fishing|
|Tide falling||Flow increases gradually||Good fishing|
|21:00pm||Mid High To Low Tide||Fastest tidal flow||Great fishing|
|Tide falling||Flow decreases gradually||Good fishing|
|12:00am||Low Tide||Tidal flow slow||Poor fishing|
That’s the science over with for now… You don’t need to really remember this information in too much detail, but knowing the different tide states and the different types of the tide will help you be a better sea angler.
Read on to find out…
Does the Tide Matter when Fishing?
The tide is one of the main factors influencing your success in sea fishing. It dictates fish feeding behavior, where they can be found, and how likely they are to be present at a given time. Fish generally like flowing water, and it encourages them to feed.
Why is this?
If you’ve ever been to the beach at low tide, you’ll have seen that over six hours, the ‘dry ground’ you were standing on is gradually covered by water. Under your feet was likely a whole manner of worms, crabs, mollusks, and other tiny creatures buried beneath the sand.
As soon as this area is washed over with water, it disturbs these creatures who come out into the open… The water covers them, allowing fish to swim up and eat them! When the tide comes in, this is called the flood.
When the tide is going out, also known as an ebb tide, all of the things on the beach or rocks start to get washed out to sea. This also presents a valuable opportunity for fish to feed.
So, armed with the above knowledge, we can safely say that the fish are feeding when there is water flowing. And without the tides, this phenomenon wouldn’t happen.
If you can time your trip to coincide with the times the fish are feeding (dictated by the tide), then you have a greater chance of catching!
What is Slack Water?
Slack water is the period where there is very little tidal flow. This is the name given to a short period around high tide and again at low water. It is usually around 30 mins either side of high and low water extremes.
Because there is very little movement, there isn’t much food being washed up and around. As a result, you’ll get a small ‘lull’ in the action until either the tide starts to flow in or flow out again. Sometimes it is literally like a light switch where the fish will suddenly ‘turn off’ from feeding while they wait for the tidal flow to kick back in.
Which Tide Helps Fishing Activity?
The best tides to fish are when the water flows at its strongest. This will be in the periods between two tide states. So, either mid-way between high and low tide or between low and high tide.
Generally, fishing low water up to high tends to produce better results than fishing high tide to low tide.
Remember that we also talked about spring and neap tides?
Spring tides give the movement of water an extra boost and magnitude, and fishing in spring tides can yield fantastic results. Neap tides have a lower range between high and low tide, and as a result, they are the poorer of the two tide types.
So, if you want to fish in 100% optimal conditions, and as a general rule. Try and fish from low tide to high tide during a period of the year when there are big spring tides.
Do Fish Bite Better in High or Low Tide?
Depending on the species, fish will bite at all tide stages. However, more species of fish feed as the tide floods, so you should aim to fish two or three hours before high water to take full advantage and have the best possible chance of catching.
High tide brings something else, and it’s pretty obvious.
Fish tend to be much more comfortable in deep water. It keeps them safe from predators and allows them to come closer into the shore, where areas are packed with food.
This also helps you as a fisherman.
Listen, I’m good, but I guarantee you I’ve never caught a fish on dry land. The high tide simply allows areas to be covered with water, which is vital for fishing, right?
Is Fishing Better at High Tide or Low Tide?
You’ll find fishing a low to high much easier than fishing from high to low. Not only will the fish be coming towards you as they swim further and further inshore to eat all those tasty morsels that have recently been covered by water, but you won’t spend your day chasing an ever-receding water line.
There is another key reason why it is better to fish from low to high.
If you time it right, you get the opportunity to gather vital intelligence, especially on big spring tides where the water recedes a lot and comes up to a really high level when the tide comes back in.
You’ll be able to identify features that will hold fish once they are covered by water, such as rocky reefs, deep gullies, and weed beds. From that point on, all you have to do is wait until they are covered before casting out!
What Tide is the Best Time to Fish?
Ok, you want answers. I get it. Fish don’t always follow a rule book, but here is a quick reference table to help you decide the best tides for fishing:
|Fishing Areas||Best Tide for Fishing|
|Shallow Beaches||Low tide to high|
|Steep Beaches||High to low tide|
|Piers||Low to high tide|
|Rocks||Low water to high tide|
|Jetties||All tide states|
|Harbor Walls||All tide states|
How do You Read Tides for Fishing?
With a little practice, reading tides for fishing is easy. There are a few really easy ways to work out what the tide is doing and when.
Here’s what you need to check to get a good idea:
Tide tables have been around for hundreds of years. The moon’s orbit is predictable, as is the turning of the Earth. As a result, some clever guys have been able to plot every single tide on a table.
You’ll be presented with several key pieces of information:
- Tide State – This indicates whether the tide will be at its highest or at its lowest.
- Time and Date – This will appear next to the tide state in a column. This tells you at what time and day the tide will be at its highest or lowest.
- Height – This is an important column. Based on an average point, it tells you how far up and down the water will go. When there isn’t much difference between these numbers, the tide will be neap. When there is a huge difference between them, you will know it is a spring tide.
But Bob… I noticed that the tide times are estimated. Why is this?
The variation is because the high and low tide is marginally influenced by other factors. They aren’t significant enough to cause a huge variation. Both the air pressure and the wind will influence when high tide and low tide happen. High air pressure keeps the water at a slightly lower level. And strong winds can sometimes push the tide along a little.
If you want to know more about how air pressure affects fishing, be sure to swing by my guide right here.
If you live close to the sea (lucky you), then you may find that local weather reports on either the TV or the radio will tell you at what times high and low water are.
This can be beneficial because you will also get a great idea of the weather too! A nice bright day with a strong tide? Get the rods in the truck ready!
Technology has made it possible to find out lots of useful information we can use to help us catch fish, and luckily tidal data is also included. There are plenty of great apps out there that can let you see what the tide is doing.
Many even have a predictive function that keeps track of the moon phase, which can also heavily influence when you might want to fish.
Seeing that the moon has so many impacts on our daily lives, it stands to reason that it also has some impact on fishing, which anglers have speculated for years.
Look in any outdoor-themed calendar, and you’re likely to see the “Lunar forecast”. This will come with notes on how the phase can affect the fishing.
Although there is very little in the scientific literature about how fish react to changes in the lunar cycle. It hasn’t stopped anglers from developing some serious superstitions about how it all works.
Some think that fish are most active in some specific lunar phases. While others swear that it has more to do with moon rise and set. Others think that daytime fishing is poor for a couple of days around a full moon. They say this is because the fish are all feeding at night.
The bottom line is everybody knows that there’s a good likelihood that fish are affected by changes in the lunar cycle, but nobody knows definitively how.
We know some interesting things, though, like bass and bluegill time their peak spawning activities around a full moon. And that new and full moons result in “spring” tides with higher highs and lower lows that can dramatically affect how inshore and brackish species act.
What are the Best Apps for Fishing Tides?
There are plenty of great apps out there. Here are some of my favorites:
This app has to be my all-time #1 when it comes to deciding the right time to fish based on the tide.
A free version is available on their website, and it is packed full of useful data to help you catch fish. It includes:
- Tidal forecasts
- Wind speeds
- Moon phases
- Barometric pressure
- Water temperature
- Surface conditions
- Tidal Coefficient (generally the higher, the better)
And much more…
The app is also available on most handheld devices. For forecast information, you will need to pay a small subscription fee. However, if you sea fish regularly, you’ll find this an absolutely invaluable tool, and it is worth every penny!
While not quite as advanced, Smart fishing tides do a great job of giving you up-to-date and accurate information. All you need to do is start with the dropdown menu of your chosen country and then whittle it down until you find the nearest fishing spot to you.
From there, you’ll be presented with a large and easy to understand graph, detailing both high and low tide along with:
- The local weather
- Hourly feeding level predictions (I love this feature, it is actually really accurate)
- A satellite map, so you can see the ground around your mark
- A sonar map
- Lunar states
This data is currently limited to the USA only, but for American anglers, it is well worth a look.
Nautide is extremely similar to tides 4 fishing, and you’ll find a lot of the same data…
After all, that’s what you’d hope to see? If apps say different things, then someone has to be wrong…
This app is developed specifically for smartphone use, so you can’t access it for free on a desktop. It gives you pages of data on all things relating to the tide.
This app uses a paid subscription service, but it only costs about the same as a tide table or an almanac, so it is really great value.
How do You Know if it’s Low Tide or High Tide?
Aside from the above, there are a few ways you can tell if it is high or low tide. They could be considered a little old school, but they work well. It will take a little longer to work out if you go the ‘old-fashioned way’. Here’s how to do it. You will need…
The mark one human eyeball.
When you arrive, pay close attention to the water. When the tide is on the way out, there will be a substantial area above the high water mark that is wet. As a general rule, the tide is on the way out. You can also see if there are features above the water, such as pier legs or jetties. If the higher sections are still damp, this is another surefire indicator that the tide is receding.
If you can’t see wetter areas above the high water mark, it is safe to assume that the tide is coming in.
Safety and Tides – A Word of Warning
I want you to have a great time fishing and don’t want to be a party pooper.
When it comes to tides, you must be certain you know what the tide is doing.
Here are some key tips to keep safe:
- Never fish in an area where you are unsure of what the tide will do. Often it is easy to find that the tide has snuck behind you on its way in. Leaving you stranded.
- Never fish anywhere that there isn’t an escape route from an incoming tide. And make sure you plan an escape route in advance.
- Don’t fish in remote locations alone. All it takes is one slip or sprained ankle, and you could struggle to get out of the way of an advancing tide.
- Keep a mobile phone dry, charged, and to hand. If it comes to the worst, you can always call the coast guard to assist you.
- Keep an eye on the tide at all times. In some areas, the tide can come in frighteningly quickly.
- Never turn your back on the sea. Rocky outcrops are great for fishing, but all it takes is one rogue wave, and you are in the drink. Have one eye on the sea at all times.
- Never sea fish in bad weather. Wind and rain make for big waves. The change can be dramatic. If the weather is forecast to be bad, leave the fishing for another day, regardless of how ‘good’ the tide is.
The best tide to fish will be from low water onwards and is particularly good when there is a spring tide. Fish love flowing water as it washes and disturbs more food.
Little fish struggle in these conditions. Big fish don’t, so it is ideal for a day of sport. Get a good app, follow my advice above, and you’ll have a great day out.
What are you fishing for? Let me know in the comments below!