Using the tides

Tides: regular, predictable, charted to the minute and to the inch, yet a perpetually changing permutation of sun, moon and The constant ebb and flow of the tides is perhaps the nearest thing to perpetual motion. Only when he understands the tides can the sea angler derive the best fishing from both beach and boat.

Not all tides are equal. Spring tides—the strongest—occur every fortnight during full and new moons. Weaker tides, known as neaps, occur between each spring tide, during the first and third quarters of the lunar month.

Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of both moon and sun, but the sun has a much smaller effect. The gravitational pull is greatest during full and new moons, when the sun, moon and earth are all in line. On the quarters the moon is at 90° to the sun, as seen from the earth, and the gravitational pull on the oceans is at its lowest. Spring tides rise and fall the most and neaps the least.

The amount tides rise and fall varies a great deal, not only between springs and neaps but also between different coasts. In some places, the West Coast of Ireland for example, the tide rises only 6ft even on a spring tide. In others, like the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada, the rise can be more than 55ft. The greater the rise and fall, the fiercer the tides.

Tides are also stronger when they are funnelled between two land masses. Classic examples of this are the Straits of Dover and the Pentland Firth, between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Islands. But the greatest tide range to be found anywhere in Britain is the Bristol Channel. Such areas can be dangerous for small craft as even a light wind blowing against the run of the current causes big waves.

In most places the tide both floods and ebbs for just over six hours, and both the flood and the ebb are the same strength. But in some areas ebb and flood are different. On the south-east coast of Kent, for example, because of the funnelling effect of the Straits of Dover and the Goodwin Sands, the tide floods for about five hours but ebbs for seven. But here, of course, the ebb tide is weaker than the flood.

Slack water

Where ebb and flood are equal, there is a slack-water period at high tide, and another at low tide, when the direction of the flow changes through 180 degrees. Where there is a seven-hour ebb, slack water (or ‘turn-o’-the-tide’) occurs 2 1/2 -3 hours after high water and again about 2 1/2 -3 hours after low water.

Double tides are experienced in the Solent, from Portland to Selsey. First, the flood surges in from the west, then there is a second high tide produced when the returning ebb from the French Coast holds back the now-turning first high tide.

Knowledge of the tides can greatly enhance your catches. For example, during the strongest run of the tide, it is better to fish inshore where the tides are usually less fierce and where lighter leads can be used.

If possible, offshore wrecks should be fished during neaps, as fish such as conger are reluctant to emerge from shelter during strong tides. On the other hand, surface feeding fish such as bass become more active on fast spring tides. The first current washes a greater abundance of small fry over the bass’s habitat, so encouraging it to feed more freely.

Fast tides are also an advantage when drift fishing with artificial lures for species such as pollack, bass and coalfish. Fish may make a headlong dash after a fast lure, which probably would not have fooled them had it been moving slow enough for the fish to study it.

Clew Bay tides

The beach angler, too, can benefit from fast tides. For example, in Clew Bay on the West Coast of Ireland there is a very small rise and fall, even on a spring tide, but within the bay there are islands which funnel the tide. The strong tides gouge deep channels between the islands, happy hunting grounds for predators such as tope and skate.

Beach anglers find no difficulty in casting into the middle of these channels and can take big bags of fish when they do so.

Tides are also important when gathering bait. Spring tides will ex-pose banks which may only be reached on perhaps two or three tides every fortnight. Such places often provide excellent ragworm or lugworm beds as they can never be overdug. Razorfish can only be gathered on the lowest of spring tides as these are the only times when their habitat can be reached.

The tides affect the sea angler in so many ways that a tide table is an essential part of his equipment. They are easily obtained from tackle shops at most seaside resorts. They all give high water times, some also give low water times, and most give the height of the tide (usually in metres). Even without studying the phases of the moon, you can easily discover the dates of spring tides. They are those with the highest rise.