Tides can be intimidating if you’re new to the briny, water but they can be learned quite easy.
They go up and down every day on the same cycle, and can be read well into the future. These are predicted tides. Wind plays a role in the tides’ height and, as we know, water conditions can’t be forecasted until days prior. So what to do, where to start?
Tide charts are everywhere — in print and online. Look up the dates and place you want to fish, and you’ll have the tide chart. Take redfish for example: From spring through fall, they tail and patrol grass flats during high tides. The higher the tide, the more water floods the banks. This not only gives you more places to hunt fish, but it gives you more time on the flat. In Charleston, S.C., a 6-foot tide is about average for most grass flats to flood. If I were planning to fish, I would look for any tides on the charts from 5.8 feet, upwards. If it’s 6.7 feet to 7.1 feet, this would also include my prime time at 6 feet. It will happen an hour or two before high tide and can be found on the curve on the tide graph. The same goes for low tides: An hour or two before the actual dead low and and an hour or so on the rising are prime times. Winter redfish are mainly a low-tide game and since heights are not important, just that it’s low water, we can look only at the time.
Tide stations are placed in different places along different stretches of several rivers in this area and the tide readings will be off for each spot. Again, let’s use Charleston as an example. If I read the Charleston tide chart at 6 feet at 12:00 p.m., it is giving me the reading from Charleston harbor. If I’m fishing up river on the Wando, the height is roughly 7.3 feet at 1:35 p.m. It might be earlier and lower in other spots. When you are doing your research, the time of the tide will be important, but the height of each station is irrelevant if you base it all on the knowledge that a 6-foot (in the harbor) will flood the flats. By doing this, you stay sane, since you won’t have to know the actual tide height at each location — just what time it’s going to happen.
If you look at websites such as NOAA, they provide a graph of “actual” vs. “predicted” tides so you can see how they are trending. Wind (depending on its direction) causes the tide’s height to be “tweaked” either by a few inches or often over a foot. In South Carolina, a stiff Northeast wind will push more water into the rivers and flats. In such fabled waters as Mosquito Lagoon in Florida and much of the Gulf, the wind might be the only force that moves water since the tides are so small. Just an hour south of Charleston, Beaufort has 9-foot tides when we have 6 feet in Charleston, so everywhere is different. But research can go a long way with just a computer and a tide chart.
The tides drive the world in which we fish. It changes a little each day, but the fish’s behavior can be patterned to certain stages of the tides. As a general rule, with rising water, the fish are pushing shallower hunting. When the water recedes, the fish fall back gradually, eating as the bait gets washed back with them. Some may think reds only tail during high tides, yet they have shallow areas in which they hunt and feed during all stages of the tides. The “when” and “where” is up to you. Just stay shallow, my friends.