Outdoor Horizon is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

Fishing An Incoming Tide: Good Or Bad?

The movement and direction of water plays a significant role in fishing. In coastal locations, tides can see a large movement of water twice a day, affecting both inshore and offshore fishing conditions. This leaves many anglers wondering if fishing an incoming tide is good or bad.

Fishing an incoming tide can be good for anglers, with fish more likely to feed in moving water. Tides have the largest impact on inshore fishing conditions, where fish will move toward the shoreline to prey on worms and shellfish disturbed by the incoming water.

Understanding tides and learning the tide times where you aim to fish is key to improving your chance of a good catch. In this article we’ll consider at what point a tidal flow is best for fishing and how to fish the tides, both inshore and offshore.

What Causes Tides?

Before considering the effect of tides on fishing, it is useful to understand what causes tidal flows of water. Such water movements are the result of gravitational pull from the Sun and Moon. While Earth’s gravity pulls water down towards the center of the Earth, the gravity of the Sun and especially the Moon pull water across the surface of the Earth.

Being periodical, the time of the tides can be predicted. This is highly beneficial when fishing, as you know the expected times of both high and low tide and can plan your day accordingly. Tides impact on currents and water depth and therefore fish movement, which are important considerations for any angler.

Is An Incoming Tide Good For Fishing?

An incoming tide is good for fishing. Fish love to conserve energy and will generally not fight against the current. Most fish will move with the direction of water flow. Although tides are different to ocean currents in the way they are formed, the same logic applies.

For this reason, an incoming tide is considered one of the best times to fish. As the water moves into fill a bay or estuary it tends to be clearer, contains higher levels of oxygen, and has a slightly lower temperature compared to the water already in the estuary. These are conditions that can lead to fish feeding actively.

Feeding Predators

The incoming tide can also bring a fresh supply of food. As the water washes in, a whole assortment of tiny creatures such as worms and mollusks hidden beneath the sands will be disturbed, providing feeding fish a fresh new menu. Predators will likewise move with the incoming tide to prey on the feeding baitfish.

Another factor is an incoming tide turns a previously dry or shallow stretch of coastal water into a deeper area of water. You will often find fish hunting closer to the shoreline as well as over shallow flats once the deeper water from the incoming tide allows.

Therefore, referring to local tide times and knowing when the tide is due to come in can be a good pointer for the best time to fish.

Is An Outgoing Tide Good For Fishing?

An outgoing tide can be good for fishing. When the tide starts to retreat there is still the movement in the water which will encourage fish to feed. Although rising tides are generally accepted as the best tide on which to fish, an outgoing tide can still see you catch, and catch well.

The insects, mollusks and plant fragments originally disturbed by the incoming tide will now be pulled out along with the retreating tide. This ready source of food for fish can make it a good time to drop a line and get a bite. The food is also being dragged into deeper water where the fish will look to move once the waters closer to shore become shallow again.

High Concentration Of Food

As the water recedes, the current can become stronger and pull the food sources toward the center of a channel. This concentration of food can attract a feeding frenzy and prove to be an ideal place to cast. Since the tide is outgoing, once you drop your bait in the water it will drift nicely toward the main areas of fish activity.

Not all fish will follow the incoming tide. Different species have different preferences concerning shallow and deep water, as well as different preferences for temperatures and light levels. For example, game fish will often wait for baitfish that are forced through channels on the outgoing tide, ambushing them as the tide brings them back their way.

What About Fishing At Low And High Tide?

Incoming and outgoing tides are part of the cycle of saltwater movement, but for a short period of time there is no movement. These are the times of actual low and high tide, when the tide movement ceases and there is a period of slack water.

While you may still be able to catch fish in slack water, it becomes much more of a challenge and would not be the best time to fish a section of water. You should instead consult local tide times and aim to fish either on the rising tide or on the outgoing tide when there is movement within the water.

Stagnant Water

Fish are less likely to feed when the water is stagnant. They will tend to head toward more favorable water conditions, particularly during low tide when the shallower water close to shore combines with the lack of water movement to force them elsewhere.

One exception to the rule at low tide can be channels where there are deeper pools of water. There can still be movement through the water in these spots that may bring in bait and therefore attract any fish that feeds on the bait. Knowing your geography is always an advantage when fishing, and this is yet another example.

How Different Tides Can Affect Your Fishing

While tides affect every coastal location, the geography of the area impacts on the current and extent of the low and high tide marks. However, during the course of every month tides can be higher or lower than average due to the position of the Earth to the Sun and the Moon.

Spring Tides

When there is a full or new moon the Earth, Sun and Moon are in near alignment. The Sun adds its gravitational pull to the Moon’s, causing the ocean waters to bulge more than normal. The knock-on effect is higher than average high tides twice a month, known as spring tides.

A spring tide can see an increase in water movement, conditions which most fish like. A high spring tide can dislodge even more worms and shellfish than normal too, adding to the food sources in the water. Therefore, this can prove a good time to catch. However, some fish species can find the stronger currents of a spring tide too hard and may move to deeper water.

Neap Tides

Seven days after a spring tide the Sun and Moon are at right angles to one another, creating the least gravitational pull on the oceans of any point during the course of a month. This means the tidal range is at its lowest point of the month, resulting in slightly lower high tides and slightly higher low tides than normal.

The lower range sees lower water movement than normal and therefore neap tides are generally a less productive time to fish. Once again, different locations may see different impacts from spring and neap tides, and knowing your location will help you decide how much each tide affects the quality of the fishing in your area.

How To Fish Tides Inshore

Armed with your tide times you can position yourself in the best place to take advantage of the local geography to improve your chance of success when fishing from an inshore location.

Fishing An Incoming Tide

Rising water from an incoming tide will soon cover previously dry areas, bringing worms and shellfish to the surface. Fish will be coming into the shallower water close to the shoreline to feed on this bait, so this provides a perfect opportunity to fish. Always be aware of the speed of the tides and know the area when fishing close to the shoreline.

When fishing on the incoming tide you want to cast your lure out and let the current drift it back in toward the shore. If you are fishing from the banks of a creek, start fishing at the mouth of the inlet and let your bait move up with the incoming water. Game fish like trout will prey on their bait as it swims back into the creek.

Fish often head to shallow flat areas as they forage for food, so knowing the geography of the area is again a significant advantage. Underwater structures which are exposed at low tide will now be good places to target as fish may take refuge here once submerged. Game fish also use these structures as ambush points on passing baitfish.

Fishing An Outgoing Tide

The deeper channels and drop-off points become even more important as the waters turn and start to recede. The outgoing tide will force water though these points, flushing the insects and shellfish disturbed by the incoming tide with them. This deeper water with higher concentrations of bait will attract the fish.

Predators will also wait for their prey to leave the shallower water, thereby conserving energy. As the baitfish return from the shoreline, creeks and estuaries, fish such as trout will be waiting to ambush them. Some species such as redfish will head into submerged sea grass areas as the tide starts to recede to seek out crabs and shrimp.

Fish will use underwater structures to position themselves to ambush their prey on outgoing tides too. You may even notice that they use one side of a structure when the tide is coming in before switching to another side when the water starts to recede. This is because down current areas tend to reap the best rewards.

When fishing inshore on an outgoing tide you can drop your bait in and allow it to drift with the tide into deeper water, placing it close to the feeding fish. Be prepared to move around to find the fish as they will happily relocate, even if it is just a few meters, if conditions change.

How To Fish Tides Offshore

Offshore fishing is much more exposed to the elements, with the wind and weather conditions affecting the currents more when compared to sheltered inshore areas. Tides still matter, but the elements can overpower the influence of tidal movement in open water. The impact of the tide will also lessen the further you head out to sea.

However, offshore fishing near inlets and channels can still depend on the tides as much as inshore fishing, since the ocean currents may not move the bait and fish around as much in these areas. Water movement is still important, so any conditions where the water is quite slack is unlikely to be a major attraction to the fish.

When you are fishing offshore you need to be aware of the direction of the current. You will normally look to let the boat drift with the current and reel your rigs with the current too. Larger saltwater fish will tend to swim along with the current. Ambush points are still relevant too, so look for areas and channels of water where bait such as shrimp are forced by the current.

Final Thoughts

Fishing an incoming tide can be good, as fish tend to feed more in moving water than in stagnant or slack water. You will find tides have a larger impact on inshore fishing than offshore fishing, as fish prey on food sources that are disturbed by moving water, and tides have weaker effects offshore.