If you’re a passionate angler, you know that understanding your environment is key to a successful fishing trip. And when it comes to surf fishing, no factor is more critical than tides and currents.
These natural forces have a profound impact on the behavior of fish and can dictate where fish will be feeding at any given time.
Knowing when these feeding times occur can make all the difference between landing a trophy catch or going home empty-handed.
In this article, I’ll take a deep dive into everything you need to know about tides and currents for surf fishing so that you may become an expert in this essential knowledge base.
But before diving into the details, let's define tides and currents.
The Definition of Tides and Currents
Tides refer to seawater's regular rise and fall along the shoreline caused by the moon's and sun's gravitational pull. Tides are one of nature's most predictable phenomena, occurring twice daily around the world's coastlines.
They result from gravitational forces exerted upon our planet by both celestial bodies - primarily from our moon and our sun - which cause ocean waters to bulge outwards away from the earth’s center axis resulting in two daily high tides with two low ones per day.
Currents, on the other hand, are horizontal movements of water that are influenced by various factors such as wind, temperature variance, salinity, topography, and tidal cycles.
Currents can be swift or slow-moving depending on the location, and unlike tides, which generally move in one direction, currents can be variable and unpredictable. That’s why understanding the underlying causes of a particular current is essential for surf fishing success.
Tides are one of the most basic and crucial factors when fishing in the surf. Understanding tides requires understanding both the moon's and the sun's gravitational pull.
The moon is responsible for approximately 60% of the Earth's tidal influence, while the sun provides roughly 30%. This means that understanding each cycle and phase will help you predict when and where fish are likely to be feeding.
What Causes Tides?
The gravitational pull between the earth, moon, and sun creates a bulge in the ocean on opposite sides of our planet from these celestial bodies. As the earth rotates on its axis, this bulge creates a "tidal cycle" which results in two high tides and two low tides per day.
Because we have a lunar cycle of approximately 28 days, it takes roughly that long to have a full tide cycle: two spring tides (when tide ranges are at their most significant) and two neap tides (when tide ranges are at their lowest).
Types of Tides
Spring tides occur during full or new moons when there is alignment between the earth, moon, and sun. Both high and low tides are more pronounced than usual during spring tides due to increased gravitational pull from all three bodies working together.
These extreme tidal ranges can create new channels or deepen existing ones, leading to excellent fishing opportunities.
Neap tides occur during quarter moons when there is less alignment between these celestial bodies resulting in a minimal gravitational influence on our oceans.
Neap tide ranges tend to be much smaller than spring tide ranges, sometimes making for poor surf fishing conditions.
Surf fishing success depends upon your ability to understand how tidal cycles affect surf ecosystems where baitfish feed on nutrients transported by water movement tied closely with weather patterns.
By taking into account the gravitational pull of the moon and sun and the types of tides, you can better predict when and where fish are likely to be feeding.
Understanding currents is crucial for surf fishing, as they can significantly impact fish behavior and feeding patterns. To become a successful surf fisherman, you need to be able to read the currents and identify where the fish are likely to be feeding.
What Causes Currents?
Oceanic circulation patterns are one of the primary causes of currents. The Earth's rotation causes large-scale water movements in the ocean, known as gyres. These gyres move in a circular motion around subtropical high-pressure zones, creating powerful currents that can span entire oceans.
Another cause of currents is wind-driven movement. Strong winds can cause surface waters to move in specific directions, resulting in surface currents.
Types of Currents: Longshore Drift Currents
One type of current that is particularly important for surf fishing is the longshore drift current. These currents run parallel to shorelines and are caused by waves breaking at an angle on shorelines.
As waves break, they push water onto the beach at an angle, causing it to flow back into the ocean parallel to shorelines.
How They Affect Surf Fishing
As a surf caster trying to land that trophy-striped bass or red drum you've always dreamed about catching from shore, you must understand how these longshore drift currents work.
Longshore drift currents are critical in shaping beaches and creating sandbars and channels that attract baitfish and predatory fish. As these sandbars shift with changing tides and wave conditions, they create rips and gutters where baitfish become concentrated as they struggle against strong currents or cannot keep pace with them.
Take time to observe the beach at different times of the day and watch where waves are breaking and how water flows along the shoreline. This will help you identify areas where predatory fish will likely feed and give you a better chance of landing that big one.
The Importance of Tides and Currents in Surf Fishing
Tides and currents are critical to consider when planning any surf fishing adventure. Understanding how tides operate can dictate when fish will come closer to shorelines to feed, allowing for a higher chance of catching your target fish species.
Similarly, knowledge about current patterns can alert you to potential rip tide areas or areas where baitfish congregate, providing an opportunity for predatory fish like striped bass or bluefish hunting opportunities.
For example, current solid movements can influence where prey species will be located - near rocky outcroppings or around jetties where the flow is blocked. This will then affect choices on tackle selection, such as lures or bait type and size needed for a successful catch.
Lower tide cycles allow anglers access sandbars with deeper channels suitable for larger game species like flounder or red drum. It also helps to scan the area to find the perfect spot just before the high tide hits.
All this is to say that understanding tides and currents is an essential knowledge base for any angler serious about surf fishing – whether you're just starting or have been at it for years- so spend some time learning all you can about these fundamental forces before your next trip!
Take a look at the video to understand this better:
When the Baitfish Come to Town
There’s nothing quite like being on the beach, fishing rod in hand, and seeing a school of baitfish jumping out of the water. This is a sign that high tide is coming in, and an abundance of fish will follow.
During high tide, baitfish move toward shorelines to feed and mate. They are followed by predatory fish like snook, redfish, and tarpon, ready to feast on them. The maximum water depth during high tide allows these fish to move closer to the shore than usual and can often be seen in the surf.
The best time to reel in that big catch is about one or two hours before the high tide. For surf fishermen, high tide provides an ideal opportunity for catching big fish. The key is to use live bait that mimics what is already available in the water. This could include mullet, pilchards, or pinfish.
Another tip is to cast your line close to structures such as jetties or piers where predatory fish like to hang out during high tide. And lastly, don't forget to use a well-balanced surf fishing reel to get the most out of your cast.
The Hunt Is On
During incoming tides with high volume flows along beaches, gutters form. These gutters often act as highways for predatory game fish looking for prey items pushed off the bank by waves or tidal currents around jetties or other structures where predator species might hunt.
As a surf angler, you should be careful when wading out into these gutters, as they can have strong currents that can knock you off your feet and carry you out further than intended! Keep your eye open for schools of Ballyhoo swimming past these channels because predators will be nearby!
Nothing Lasts Forever
Low tides provide better opportunities when targeting species such as flounder, which will bury themselves into sandy bottoms of flats until the incoming high tide flushes them back into deeper waters. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows during low tide.
As the water recedes, fish are forced to flee from shallow water and head into deeper waters. This means you’ll have to cast your line further out, which can be challenging for inexperienced surf fishermen.
The Calm Before the Storm
During low tide, predator fish congregate in deeper channels and holes. These “low” areas provide a refuge from the solid current flows and increased turbidity along beaches caused by the outgoing tides.
This period of calm allows anglers to target schools of predator fish such as snook, redfish, or even sharks in these deep channels by throwing deep diving lures or live bait into these areas.
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Tides and currents are essential for successful surf fishing. Understanding how they work can make all the difference in reeling in those big catches.
Pay attention to tide phases, use live bait that mimics what’s already in the water, and target predatory fish near structures like jetties or deep pockets during incoming tides.
On outgoing tides, target species like flounder buried in sandy bottoms or focus on predatory gamefish congregating in deeper channels and holes. With some patience and practice, you can become a successful surf angler!