How to Read a Tide Chart and Get More Fish

Mar 12, 2021 | 3 minute read
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Knowing how to read a tide chart is important if you want to catch fish.

Tides can make a huge impact on the body of water you’re fishing and can make your outing either fruitful or completely unproductive.

Tide change in Hopewell Rock showing a comparison between high and low tide

Some places, such as the Hopewell Rock, in the Bay of Fundy in Canada, can look totally different depending on the tide.

As you can tell, the difference in the water level can either get you to your favorite fishing spot or completely deprive you of any fishing.

Luckily, most places see more gentle changes in the water level.

If you want to fish like a pro, you should learn the basics of how to find the best tide to fish your chosen spot.

Things to Know About Tides

To get the most out of your fishing trip, I suggest learning some key concepts:

  • Tide – a tide is a movement of the water level caused by a variety of factors. The Moon, the Sun, and the Earth’s gravity are all combined in making the water level rise and fall. This affects how and when the fish move, which makes it important for us when planning a fishing trip. There is a lot of information on the topic of tides.
  • Low tide – a low tide refers to the lowest point of the water level.
  • High tide – a high tide refers to the highest point of the water level.
  • Rising tide – a rising tide means the water level is going up.
  • Falling tide – a falling tide means the water level is going down.

How Tides Work:

This animation by the NOAA shows how tides work:

NOAA diagram showing how high tide, low tide, tidal range, and how tides move

As the flood current – the tide moving towards the shore – approaches the coastline, the water level goes up, which means dinnertime for baitfish. But it also means dinnertime for bigger fish that you’re after.

During the ebb current – the tide moving away from the shore – the fish also move away from the coast.

As a rule of thumb, moving water is what you want to have on your fishing trip. It will stir up the fishery and get you better chances of getting a bite.

Fishing Tide Tables

Knowing how to read a tide chart helps you choose the best time to go fishing. As tide times can vary depending on the spot you are fishing, it’s safest to check real-time data on currents and tides for the selected dates. Tide tables are usually available for the week ahead, but you should check a day or two before getting out. This will let you stay atop of the game.

But how do you go about understanding the tide if you’ve just started fishing?

When you go to the NOAA website, you will find tide charts for different places around the US.

Here’s an example of a tide chart for Key West:

A diagram showing the best tide times for fishing in key west, with instructions on how to read a tide chart

This diagram shows you the main points that you should take into consideration before the trip – high, low, rising, and falling tides, as well as the times when these will happen.

The difference between low tide and high tide is called a ‘tide range’. Generally, you should be looking for spots with greater tide ranges.

Why is this important?

Because the moving water (rising and falling tides) will bring baitfish to bigger fish that you’re targeting. That way you are more likely to get a good bite.

According to one of the biggest authorities in the angling world, Ken Schultz, the general rule is to fish:

  • The rising tide an hour or so before the high tide, and
  • The falling tide an hour or so after the high tide.

So, if you have a look at the diagram above, you’d be able to find some useful info.

For example,

  • On April 2, the high tide will be around noon.
  • The low tide will take place about 6 pm.
  • The best time to go out fishing on April 2 is about 10.30 am.
  • If you want an afternoon trip, you should be on the water about 1 pm.

For real-time data on tide predictions, check out the NOAA tide prediction list.

There you have it. Now that you know how to read a tide chart, let’s now turn it to you. How do you go about interpreting the tides? What tides work best in your favorite fishing spots?

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