Have you ever wondered what might be the best tide or moon phase to surf fish? There’s no doubt both of these occurrences have a big effect on surf fishing.
Tidal movement and moon phase are two of the least understood natural phenomenon yet combined they have one of the most pronounced influences on surf fishing. Higher tides expose more food and provide more underwater structure than low tides. Full moon phases give fish more light to feed and can dramatically change the hours of day found to be the most productive.
What Causes Tides
It is important to understand the relationship of tidal fluctuations and moon phases because of their pronounced affect on the quality of fishing. Tidal theory includes the interaction between gravitational and centrifugal forces.
The levels of the ocean fluctuate daily as the Sun, Moon and Earth interact. The Earth’s inward pull, known as gravity, affects the Moon by holding it in orbit. The Moon’s gravity, at the same time, is also pulling at the Earth. The gravitational attraction of the Moon causes the oceans to bulge out in the direction toward the Moon, (sub-lunar point). The Earth itself is also being pulled toward the Moon (and away from the water on the far side). This creates another bulge on the opposite side of the Earth away from the Moon, (antipodal point). The combined gravitational forces as the Moon orbits around the Earth and as both, together, revolve around the Sun, causes the world’s oceans to rise and fall. With the Earth rotating on its axis while all this is happening two tidal cycles occur each day, (in most places). Variations in coastline topography can have significant affects on localized tides.
What Tide Is Best For Surf Fishing
(There are really two times…)
The optimal tide would allow for roughly a six-foot tidal swing. For example, a morning low tide of 0.2 feet and an afternoon high tide of 6.2 feet would allow for this six-foot swing. Tidal movements greater than this create strong upcoming and receding water movement. These excessive movements make it difficult for fish to see and catch bait. Tidal movement less than four feet, and especially during diurnal or neap (small swing) tides, cause the opposite condition: very little water movement and thus much less rotation of bait through the strike zone.
In most circumstances (see below), the best time to surf fish from beaches that have been dredged and enlarged is on an upcoming high tide. Two hours before through two hours after the high tide. I like to fish for corbina and spotfin on the incoming tide because each successive wave moves them farther up the beach and over the sand crab beds. For surf perch I like fishing the high tide going to low tide as it seems the receding waves and water help to pull my bait into the offshore trough where the fish are.
When fishing during the slack high tide periods (the time exactly when peak high tide is reached) water movement is at a minimum and many times the bite will fade away and then become dramatically active again as water begins to turn, receding on the low tide cycle.
There is an exception to this rule when fishing for halibut, near rocks and from undredged beaches. At these times fishing at peak low tide and peak high tide may be essential.
A good case in point would be for halibut which seem naturally lazy and love to bury themselves in the sand and wait for bait to pass by. They are most active at both peak high and peak low tide. This is when tidal current is slowest and they have to work the least to eat.
Also, when fishing areas that are rocky (or adjacent to rock, rivermouths and natural beaches) many of the most favorable areas may not be accessible until the tide drops. Try your favorite spots at both high and low tides to find when and where the best places to fish are. You may be surprised to find the best structure can only be reached at the lowest tide.
Generally, the largest tidal changes are during the full and new moon phase. This will cause the largest movement of water and provide both opportunity and challenge to the fisherman. Some of the best fishing and bait catching conditions occur during these moon phases.
How To Read Tide Charts
Tide charts can be found at your local tackle store, surf shop or on the internet. They come in small pocket sized books or in the form of a graphic calendar. I prefer tides presented in graph form as seen in the following illustrations. This format makes it very easy to visualize the changes in tidal movement and thus plan your trip accordingly.
Below are graphic calendar illustrations of tidal movement. One of the first things you’ll notice using a graph is that the best fishing tides occur roughly every two weeks.
Semi-diurnal tides (The Best Fishing Tide)
Large water movement
Diurnal (neap) tides (The Least Desirable Tide)
Very little water movement
The best time to surf fish is when the tidal movement has at least a six foot swing, on an upcoming high tide, two hours before until two hours after peak high tide and in the evening or morning when the “people factor” is not a factor.
The Moon’s Affect On Surf Fishing
There is much speculation about how the Moon affects fishing. Many long-range fishermen swear by the notion that a full moon means a great bluefin tuna bite. But this is mostly a myth with very little scientific backing.
One thing we do know about the moon phase is that during a full moon fish will feed at night because they are able to see and track bait. During new moon periods (when the moon is dark) fish feed most actively in the very early morning and evening when the light is bright enough to see their forage but low enough to hide them as predator.
During a full moon period the biological clock for fish is pushed back while they digest what they have caught and eaten during last night’s full moon. Morning fishing during these periods may well prove unproductive.
In most cases, full moon nights mean surf fishing may be better in the afternoon and into the night.
To get more tips on surf fishing check out Bill’s website www.fishthesurf.com where you’ll find his new book: Surf Fishing, The Light-Line Revolution, 2nd Edition along with surf fishing reports, rigging tips, live beach cams, tides, moon phases, fish pics and more…