I posted a photo on social media of a recently acquired tide clock. I commented that it only works on the Atlantic coast of Florida and not along the Gulf. That generated a lot of emails with questions about why and also why are tides so important, specifically to fishing.
Get ready for a little science.
Tides essentially move water to and from our beaches via interaction with the sun and moon. While the sun is mostly responsible for the overall height of the tide during certain times of the year, the moon pushes and pulls the ocean and Gulf waters in and out on a daily basis.
The sun moves from a northerly position in our skies during the summer to a southerly position in the winter. This is pretty simple to see and understand. The sun is higher in the sky and days are longer and warmer in the summer. As the sun moves toward the southern horizon the days get shorter and the temperatures get cooler. But something else happens as the sun moves south. It pulls the water table with it. Its effect is most noticeable on the western Gulf coast of Florida where we have less water in our bays in the winter than we do in the summer. In other words, the water table is higher in the summer than it is in the winter and that’s why navigating our inland waters during wintertime becomes very tricky.
The moon moves water in and out of the bays and along the coast on a predicable timetable. Along the Atlantic coast two low and two high tides occur every 24 hours and 50 minutes. It’s like clockwork. If you know when the high tide occurred today all you have to do is add 50 minutes and you’ll have the time of tomorrow’s high tide. It’s the same for doing the math on the low.
Now here’s where it gets tricky and why a tide clock works on the Atlantic and not on the Gulf coast of Florida.
While the Atlantic Ocean is wide open along the east coast, the Gulf of Mexico has only one entrance from the area around Cuba. The Gulf is like a big bathtub or pool where water sloshes around due to land masses and wind, which makes tides do some crazy things. The Gulf tides are based on the Atlantic tides, but some serious math has to be done to figure out when the highs and lows will occur. Thus the tide clock is rendered unusable in Southwest Florida.
Not only are the tides tough to predict, they are also different from place to place along the Gulf coast. A high tide near Fort Myers may not be high at all near Clearwater. Needless to say, a tide chart or application is a must if you are a boater or angler.
Tides are very important if you want to catch fish. As a matter of fact I believe they are the most important thing. You can own the finest equipment and the recommended lures, but that’s not going help catch fish if you don’t know the tides.
Bait moves with water movement and our game fish are basically lazy ambush feeders. They like for the bait to be concentrated and brought to the dinner table via moving water. If the water isn’t moving the fish aren’t biting. Pretty simple.
And then there’s this. The tides on the Gulf coast are also affected by wind. There is very little water in our mostly shallow bays, so the wind will push the water in or out based on direction and speed. The tide chart may have a level and time for low tide that turns out to be a lot different due to heavy winds. I’d have to write another article to explain this in detail.
Take the time to study tides if you want to be a successful angler. There’s a lot of information and instruction on the web and during fishing show seminars. There are also phone apps that work well. One of my favorites is TideTrac.
By the way. There are lots of perfectly good working tide clocks in Fort Myers thrift shops that were donated by users that moved here from the Atlantic coast. Perhaps they’d make a great gift for an east coast friend?
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman and retired spin & fly fishing guide. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association.