How to Read a Tide Chart

Upon request I’ve been asked to do a blog post about reading a tide chart. This request was made off of my last blog post, where I discussed feeding windows specifically for targeting trophy trout. However, for this tutorial/discussion I’d like to be more practical. I’d like to focus less on the definitions and terms you would find if you did a google search and focus more on what to look for when planning a day on the water. Like most things in life, it boils down to routine, so in the next couple of paragraphs I’ll walk you through my routine if I were going trout fishing in the fall in my homewaters of Port Sulphur, LA.

The first thing I would do is acquire a monthly tide chart. These can be found on various websites or publications like Mississippi Sportsman or Louisiana Sportsman. Since I’m fishing in South LA, I’m going to use the Louisiana Sportsman. See attached…I used the November chart for this scenario because it’s my favorite inshore month for targeting numbers of trout on the inside water of Port Sulphur. So let’s plan our trips for the month to put a few fish in the box based off of the tide charts.

My initial observation of the tide chart is to determine the Full and New moon (FM – 6 Nov; NM - 22 Nov). For me these two moon phases dictate tide movement as indicated by the wave associated on the chart, thus making them generally the best times of the month to fish. I try to plan accordingly. My general rule of thumb is to fish a tide range at least .5 or higher. This can be determined by the range value annotated on the date. 20 Nov for example has a range of 1.1’ vice 17 Nov which has range of .2’.

Now lets say we got a kitchen pass and the weather looks good for a trip on 9 Nov. Let plan for a day on the water.

The wind will be SSE 5-10 with light fog in the am, then picking up out the WNW at 15 knots in the afternoon. The weather conditions, based off of the wind tell me there is a window to fish before a frontal boundary pushes through. Given that weather information and low tide forecasted for 0911 at Barataria Pass, I know I have until about 1100ish until the tide bottoms out. The reason I say 1100 vice 0911 (as indicated on the chart) is because the spots I will choose to fish will have to have an adjusted time for tide change. In short, Barataria pass is further south in the estuary than Bay Sanbois, where I’m choosing to fish. As a result the tide will stop at 0911 at Barataria Pass, but will afford me a little more time before it stops in my area.
Adjustments to the tide chart are generally located on your reference point, and you can either use tide adjustments or choose a closer location to the area in which you are fishing. To highlight my point I chose Manilla Village, which is one bay over from Bay Sanbois. So when it is projected to stop in Manilla, it will likely stop in my area…notice the difference for 9 Nov at Barataria Pass and Manilla Village? Low Tide in Barataria Pass is 0911 and Low Tide at Manilla Village is 1236.

Knowing that bit of information and the weather conditions, tee’s me up for a great morning of catching. I now know I have until about 1145ish to maximize my time on the water with good tide and good weather.

Now that I know that bit of information, I can focus on spots, structure, etc… Again given our scenario, my gameplan is to fish these 4 areas in succession. Why? Because they have nice drainouts nearby (water movement = bait movement), points and bottom structure. If I make that milk run in those weather and tidal conditions, and I didn’t catch anything then its safe to say that the fish aren’t there…move on, but focus on similar scenarios/characteristics. At some point, exploring and reflecting on your time on the water will give you experience on locations and tide/weather conditions and how fish react to all of those combined.

All that being said, tide and its effect differs in each estuary, however the one constant is maximizing your time on the water in good tidal conditions. If you do that and have a general understanding of how to read a tide chart, you will exponentially increase your chances of getting bit.

I hope this helps. God Bless and Tight Lines!