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dock talk: How to read Tide Charts

Are there any ocean bound fishing trips in your future? Understanding how to read tide charts can have a huge impact on your ability to catch fish both inshore and offshore... 

SHAWN SMITH | GEORGIA | March 22, 2023

Are there any ocean bound fishing trips in your future? Understanding how to read a tide chart can have a huge impact on your ability to catch fish both inshore and offshore. Let's talk a little bit about what exactly tides are. This astronomical influence on the sea is caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon. Following a lunar timetable, there are two high tides (the highest point of the water level) and two low tides (the lowest point of the water level) every 24 hours and 50 minutes.

High tides occur 12 hours and 15 minutes apart with the water at the shore going from low to high or high to low every 6 hours and 12.5 minutes. It would behoove anyone fishing in the ocean regularly to familiarize themselves with tide cycles. For our purposes, it is important to note that fishing is generally better during periods with the most tidal movement (when the slope is steepest on the chart).  

First and foremost, tide charts are unique based on specific location and point in time. They will show daily predictions of low and high tides and their height for the selected area. The CO-OPS (Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services) an arm of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is the leading source for tide predictions. For this example, we will look at a tide chart for Wilmington, NC on 03/10/2023.  

Wilmington North Carolina Tide Chart

When looking at the chart the first point you should familiarize yourself with is the chart datum, or the 0 point on the chart. This represents the average low tide height. To understand chart datum, you must keep in mind that this is an average and while not represented on the above chart, low tides can dip below chart datum. Another important factor to keep in mind is the wind. The strength of the wind on any given day can quicken the rise and fall of the tide.  

As most of us know, fish are generally most active around dawn and dusk. And as you can see by the chart, between the hours of 6:00am and 12:00pm on March 9th the tide rose by roughly 4 feet. In this instance, the hours between 7:00am and 10:00am would be your best for morning fishing as the bite tends to be best when the tide is running (the slopes in the chart) and slows down when it approaches its high and low points (peaks and toughs in the chart). 

That covers the basics of reading a tide chart. It is worth repeating that these charts are ever changing and are dependent to the specific area you plan to fish so be sure to have the most up to date chart available before you head out!  

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Shawn Smith, Author, Pure Fishing


Shawn Smith is a native of Northwest Georgia and a graduate of the University of Georgia. An avid outdoorsman, he was introduced to fishing as a child and has spent the better part of the last 25 years with a rod in hand while venturing throughout the United States. As the Ecommerce Marketing Manager for Pure Fishing, Shawn is able to put his passion into practice while sharing his knowledge and love for the sport with others.

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