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How To Read A Tide Chart and Fish the Best Water

Knowing just when is the best time to fish can make all the difference to how much fish you get to bring home for supper. And if you like to fish on the coast rather than on a river, then knowing what the tide is going to do can mean the difference between coming home with nothing and coming home with a big haul.

If you’ve never read a tide chart before, don’t worry, we’re here to make it easy for you. We’re not going to give you any jargon without first explaining it. And we’ll answer some of your most frequently asked questions on the subject as we go along. 

Where to get a tide chart from

The best place to get your tide chart from if you’re fishing anywhere in America, is the website for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which you can access on this link.

You can search for the tide chart you need by state, by coast, or by searching by the figures of your particular latitude and longitude, if you happen to have that.

Jargon Buster

  • High tide – the highest point of the water level (physically and in the chart)
  • Low tide – the lowest point of the water level (again both physically and in the chart)
  • Rising, incoming, or flooding tide – the movement of water as it moves toward high tide
  • Falling tide – the movement of water as it ebbs away and falls towards the low tide
  • Slack Tide – A brief period in between the tide movements when the water is not flowing in or out

What tides are best for fishing? Is it better to fish a rising or falling tide?

What you’re looking for when fishing is moving water. Moving water stirs up the fishery and gives you more chance of getting a bite.

The rising or incoming (flooding tide) is considered by many to be the best time to fish, and there are several reasons for this…

Compared to low tide and high tide, the movement of the water during the rising tide will ready the fish to eat again as the water pulls them closer to the coast, so they are more likely to be looking for food and be drawn to your bait.

Moreover, if you are fishing where the river meets the sea, then during a rising tide, the water has a lower temperature and contains more oxygen. And these factors together mean that the water is clearer, so you will be able to see the fish more clearly. 

But, you need to remember that the movements of the tides will affect the movement of your bait, and you may have to recast your bait more often into the water during the rising tide in order to let the fish get to the bait. 

If, for whatever reason, you cannot get to your chosen fishing area during the rising tide, then your next best option is to do your fishing there just after low tide instead.

How to Read a Tide Chart and Get More Fish

What does a tide chart look like?


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A tide chart has dates and times along the bottom x-axis and this time period is marked in 6 hour intervals, by a dotted line reaching upwards, to make the chart easier to read.

Meanwhile, along the y-axis, the vertical line in other words, you have the height of the water at a particular point. 

The reason that tide charts use 6 hour intervals is because this is in line with how the water level moves. It usually takes approximately 6 hours for the water level to move from low tide to high tide.

But you must remember that this doesn’t always happen uniformly, which is why it’s best to check the tide chart for the particular day that you want to fish, rather than just guessing the timing, or going off the last time that you managed to get a good haul.

Like the tide itself, the movement of the line of water across the graph is in waves, and although you will clearly see patterns in the waves, you have to bear in mind that the chart doesn’t always reach the same height and depth with every high tide and low tide, and this can vary according to the weather conditions etc.

As we made reference to a little earlier, low tide is represented by the lowest dips and troughs in the graph, while high tide is represented by the peaks in the graphs. Simple really.

Understanding the Tide Chart

The difference between the low and high tide on the tide chart is known as the tide range. And because you are looking for moving water rather than water that’s more stable and static, you should seek to do your fishing within these tide ranges rather than at high or low tide.

Ken Schultz, one of the biggest authorities in the world of fishing, says that the best times to fish are during the rising tide, just an hour or so before high tide, and during the falling tide, just an hour or so after high tide.

So, what you need to do is look at the tide chart, and see when high tide is. Then you can work out what time it will be, either one hour before or one hour after. And that’s precisely when you should arrange your fishing trip for.

As a general rule, you should look for spots with greater tide changes if possible.

Wrap Up

So, now you know how to read a tide chart, and I trust that we haven’t confused you at all. You should always go to a trusted source for your tide chart information, such as the website for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which you can access on this link.

Remember you have your best chance at catching fish, during the rising tide, as the water starts to creep higher up towards you, ideally about an hour before high tide.

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