A Tidal Affair

While many things in life are uncertain, there’s one thing you can always count on. Tides will rise and fall due to the combination of the sun and the moon’s gravitational pull on the earth. If you’ve spent any amount of time on the water then you are fully aware that tidal movement greatly influences the feeding habits of highly prized game fish. So what does it take to capitalize on one of the world’s greatest natural phenomenons? It’s all about being at the right place at the right tide.


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Tidal changes create convergence zones where fish typically feed. Photo: FSF Mag

Glance at a tide table and you’ll notice that tides are listed as heights above or below the mean low watermark for any given location. Lucky for you there are hundreds of tidal datum locations around the state of Florida and you can find accurate tidal predictions for the entire year, along with precise adjustments for many specific areas. While they are indeed predictable, tides vary greatly depending on your location. Some areas in North Florida experience 6-foot tidal swings, while areas along the Gulf may only experience a few inches of tidal variation. In addition, most of Florida experiences two high and two low tides during every 24-hour period, while areas along the Panhandle only experience one high and one low tide daily.

Highly prized game fish that forage shallow flats are almost as predictable as the tide iteslf. Day after day they utilize the same thoroughfares...

Topographical enhancements also play a large role with narrow inlets, estuaries and bridge channels greatly influencing tidal magnification and flow. Winds can also have an impact on the tide, with strong winds fully capable of blowing water on or off the flats and effectively eliminating or exaggerating the tides. Furthermore, when the sun and moon are aligned we experience higher than normal tides, commonly referred to as spring tides. When the sun and moon are not aligned lower than average neap tides are the norm. Because there are so many variables that influence tides, there’s no single best tide to focus your efforts or secret manual that holds the key to consistent angling success.

While there are numerous factors that account for a successful fishing trip, it’s important you keep tabs on the tides. In almost every scenario it’s best to fish when the water is moving. Let’s take snook for example—one of the most tide-influenced species of all. When stalking snook in the backcountry your success will be determined by your ability to read the water. If the tide is in the early stages of incoming, you’ll want to target potholes, points and grass flats (points also offer prime ambush territory on falling tides). As the tide continues to rise look for lethargic linesiders to start hunting in the shadows of overlying mangroves as prime ambush territory becomes submerged. To be a successful fisherman you must think like a fish. Inlets are another snook hot-spot, and with either an outgoing or incoming tide forage will be concentrated, confused and flushed in or out by the turbid water. Snook are well aware of this fact and take full advantage of the prime feeding opportunities.

Along the Gulf, Boca Grande Pass is ground zero for exciting tarpon action. Spring tides coupled with a full or new moon result in a phenomenon referred to as hill tides. This is when a larger than normal high tide dips to below average low tides. As a result, thousands of crabs are washed out of Charlotte Harbor with hungry tarpon ready to gorge.

Highly prized game fish that forage shallow flats are almost as predictable as the tide itself. Day after day they utilize the same thoroughfares and troughs to access protein-rich waters. They are extremely savvy and use the tides to their advantage, so study the tide and make detailed mental notes of what you observe while on the water. Professional guides have the uncanny ability to read the tide and as a result they know precisely where and when to post up to intercept game fish traversing the shallows.

While tides bring food to game fish and reveal prime ambush habitat along inshore venues, on the offshore front the horizontal movement of water isn’t as apparent due to the lack of fixed structures. However, just because tides go relatively unnoticed don’t think they should be overlooked when it comes to prowling fertile blue water. Serious wahoo hunters know these lighting fast predators utilize the tides to their advantage, with outgoing tides flushing baitfish off deep ledges and seamounts. Anglers are well aware of a wahoo’s tidal tendencies and as a result, die-hards study the tides and key in on a hot-bite that may only last a couple hours.

Whether you enjoy plying fertile offshore arenas or secluded inshore venues, remember that tides are not the only factor in regards to game fish feeding habits. While they are no doubt important, they don’t override a game fish’s seemingly never-ending need to feed.

Get Connected

While numerous websites offer tide tables with tidal predictions for locations around the state, you’re not always going to have the Internet on your side. You can purchase watches that have built-in tide data, or you may opt for a paper tide chart often available for free at your local tackle shop. In addition, GPS/chart-plotters have built-in tide tables to keep you updated while on the water.