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Understanding Tide Charts

An understanding of tide charts has many advantages when fishing the southern coastal areas and estuaries.  For boaters this is especially true in areas where a coastal boat ramp may be unusable for launching and loading if the tide is to low.  In addition, many coastal ramps are protected against erosion by artificial jetties and the presence of a high tide may hide these otherwise recognizable hazard by distorting visual references.

The use of tide charts and navigational charts can aid in the planning of a boat outing by eliminating tidal flow guess work.  Besides, any fisherman will tell you that the tide cycles play a large part in fish feeding behavior.  Also, many anglers prefer to fish during a particular tide cycle, either high or low, and tide charts give them the advantage of arriving at that perfect time.  These are but a few reason why it is impossible to ignore tidal effects when boating and fishing coastal regions.

Our purpose here is not to examine the tidal differential producing forces such as centrifugal and gravitational, or contemplate the complexities of lunar declination.  Instead, our focus will be on the information that can be had from reading a tide chart or table.  However, a quick basic over view of the lunar effect on the tide is in order since, the moon is the leading player in tidal movement.

Tides are generally highest and lowest around the full moon and new moon phases.  The tide cycles during these phases are referred to as a Spring Tide.  Spring Tides occur because the earth, moon, and sun are basically aligned generating a strong gravitational pull.  Spring Tides produce the strongest tidal current flows due to the greater swing between the high and low tide.

Consequentially, during the first quarter moon phase and the third quarter moon phase, the combined gravitational pull of the moon and sun is at its weakest.  This results in a smaller difference between high and low tide.  Thus, tidal current flow is not as strong.  The tides during these quarter moon phases are called the Neap Tide.

Most experienced coastal fisherman will acknowledge the occurrence of semi-diurnal tidal cycle, meaning there are two high tides and two low tides in about a twenty four hour period.  Due to the time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth, most experts acknowledge a 24 hour and 50 minute tidal day.  Which means on a few days only three tidal cycles are observed.  In addition, the Gulf of Mexico region may experience a diurnal tide (one high and one low) in a twenty four hour period.  All the more reason to have an understanding of tidal events.

Keep this in mind as well, tide changes are usually shown in their local time zone.  The only other thing to note before we take a look at the tide tables is that as a tidal change approaches, the current flow can slow significantly.  This “slack tide” time frame is generally about 2 hours.

Below is the tide charts my friend Jack used to help him plan his Fourth of July fishing trip.  He found this information in his local paper.

TIDAL TABLE

Day

Time

Height

High/Low

Time

Height

High/Low

07/01/2011

2:56 AM

-0.1

L

9:15 AM

4.0

H

07/01/2011

2:47 PM

-0.4

L

9:39 PM

5.1

H

07/02/2011

3:35 AM

-0.3

L

10:02 AM

4.1

H

07/02/2011

3:31 PM

-0.5

L

10:24 PM

5.1

H

07/03/2011

4:19 AM

-0.4

L

10:50 AM

4.3

H

07/03/2011

4:18 PM

-0.5

L

11:09 PM

5.1

H

07/04/2011

5:00 AM

-0.5

L

11:39 AM

4.4

H

07/04/2011

5:09 PM

-0.3

L

11:56 PM

5.0

H

07/05/2011

5:47 AM

-0.5

L

12:36 AM

4.6

H

07/05/2011

6:06 PM

-0.2

L

 

 

 

07/06/2011

12:44 AM

4.9

H

6:38 AM

-0.4

L


Jack fishes in an area near the Georgia-Florida line that can experience large tidal shifts.  Jack singles out the day he wants to fish and begins to put his plan together.


07/04/2011

5:00 AM

-0.5

L

11:39 AM

4.4

H

07/04/2011

5:09 PM

-0.3

L

11:56 PM

5.0

H


He observes that the 5:00 AM low tide is -0.5 feet below the Zero Tide Height.  From his knowledge of the area he knows the boat ramp is unusable when the tide is less than the Zero Tide Height of 0.0 feet.


07/04/2011

5:00 AM

-0.5

L

11:39 AM

4.4

H

07/04/2011

5:09 PM

-0.3

L

11:56 PM

5.0

H


Thus he elects to launch around 6 :30 AM, giving time for the water to come up.  His second observation is that the up coming high tide occurs at 11:39 AM with a height of 4.4 feet.


07/04/2011

5:00 AM

-0.5

L

11:39 AM

4.4

H

07/04/2011

5:09 PM

-0.3

L

11:56 PM

5.0

H


That means that in six hours and thirty nine minutes the water height will change by 4.9 feet (5:00 AM to 11:39 AM is 6 hours 39 minutes; while -0.5 feet to 4.4 feet is 4.9 feet height increase). 

To Jack this indicates a strong incoming tidal flow which dictates where he will striper fish.  Jack is also aware that within an hour of reaching high tide, the tidal flow slows in preparation for reversal.  During this slack tide he plans to change fishing location to take advantage of the out going tide. 

As a final point he notes that by 5:09 PM the water height will be -0.3 feet below zero tide height (a change of 4.7 feet from high to low).  He plans to have his boat loaded on the trailer by 3:30 PM in an effort to avoid any unforeseen complication due to low water levels, completing his day on the water.


07/04/2011

5:00 AM

-0.5

L

11:39 AM

4.4

H

07/04/2011

5:09 PM

-0.3

L

11:56 PM

5.0

H


A few more tips are worth noting.  First, not all tide charts and tables are formatted the same.  The look may be different but all the necessary information is there.  Secondly, these tide charts and tables are “PREDICTIONS”.  Weather has a huge effect on tidal conditions, especially wind strength and direction.  These weather effects may create a mixed tide.  And third, tide heights can vary greatly even within a 10 to 15 mile range.  So, most tables and charts have a correction table which allows for tide time adjustments for your specific area.


tidal graph

Find tide charts in local news papers, fishing magazines, or periodicals, even local TV stations web sites.




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