Most any fisherman who spends time on our local waters has a theory about how the tides work and where they need to be to catch fish during those tides.

Surprisingly enough there are plenty of people who don’t understand how important the tides really are, or for that matter what a tide is. According to Webster’s dictionary, tide is the periodic variation in the surface level of the oceans, bays, gulfs, inlets, and estuaries caused by gravitational attraction of the moon and sun. The influence the moon has over the tides is extreme to say the least. During the first and third quarters of the moon phase the tides are the weakest and have the smallest differences between the highs and the lows.

These small tide changes are called “neap tides”. On the other end of the spectrum are the “spring tides”, these occur when the moon is new or full. During the spring tides the differences between the high and low tides are the greatest. By thinking about these patterns you can understand why so many people plan fishing trips around the moon phases. The full or new moon phases mean more moving water because the tides are more extreme, this translates into more active fish.

Now that we have established what the tides are and how they get there energy we need to know what effect they have on the fish. During certain periods of the year the tides mean different things. For example, in the spring most fishermen like strong incoming tides because they tend to bring in good saltwater from the gulf.

During the fall it is opposite, outgoing tides help bring the bait into the lake as they empty the marshes. Either tide will help you catch fish, the main thing is to at least have some tidal movement. The periods between the tides are referred to as “slack”, during these times the fishing tends to be much slower. The tides trigger most fish into becoming more active, it is almost like ringing the dinner bell so to speak.

Now the tide schedules you see in the newspapers and magazines will give you an idea when the tides will occur. These schedules do not take into account what kind of weather or wind conditions may be present so you need to use a little common sense. For example, if the schedule calls for a weak outgoing tide and the wind is blowing strong from the south you may not see any change in the water level. The big south wind will essentially hold the water up from leaving. The exact opposite happens in the winter months when you have an out going tide and a strong north wind, the water levels fall dramatically. There are different factors to take into account, just be aware of the conditions.

One other important piece of the tide puzzle deals with correction factors for the tides. Your evening news may call for tides at Sabine Pass to take place at 1 a.m., that time will be different if you fish in another part of the Sabine area. What you need to know is what is the correction factor for your area. The time difference between Sabine Pass and Sydney Island is just over an hour depending on the conditions.

So if the tide is supposed to change at 1 a.m. at Mesquite Point it should start to change at Sydney Island around 2:00 a.m. under normal conditions. Now the visible movement may not be evident but the influence is there. The marshes on the other hand are tougher to gauge when it comes to tides, things like wind and runoff can make it almost impossible to calculate the tides correctly. All you can do is keep good records and watch the conditions in order to get a better feel for how the water will react to certain conditions.

The tides are not difficult to understand as long as you find some reliable information. My own personal choices for tide information comes from the Gulf Coast Fisherman magazine, sometimes called the Harold Wells report. The tides, moon phases, feeding times, and other information is in there in great supply. The correction factors and tide schedules are listed for the entire gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Florida. It is a very valuable piece of literature. Another great publication for tide information is Texas Saltwater Fishing magazine, they have probably one of the best overall tide charts out there.

Along with the tide chart there are also some great forecasts for feeding times all on one graph, very helpful when planning trips for both fishermen and hunters. There are others out there as well, all you can do is look at some of them and see if they match what you see on the water. Having confidence in one over another takes time, but it is time well spent. Hopefully some of this information will help you make your next trip more successful.