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Winds Change Tidal Times

A Westerly Wind and an East Running Current Can Play Tricks

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Winds Change Tidal Times

Mark Duncan with a St Johns River Sheepshead

While the relative positions of the sun and moon dictate tide times and water heights, many people don’t realize what an important role the wind can play. Winds of fifteen knots or more can significantly affect fishing efforts that are timed to coincide with a tide change. It happened again recently on a trip timed to catch the incoming tide.

We were looking to fish a tidal creek for seatrout on that incoming tide that was scheduled to start around 11 AM . So, in the early morning we headed for another area to fish the outgoing tide down to the low change. According to the charts, low tide at the first stop was to occur around 10AM, a one hour difference. That difference would allow us to run back to that creek – timing is everything.

West Wind

We were fishing the mouth of the St Johns River along the Atlantic coast, and some tributary creeks a little farther up river from the coast. The wind was out of the west, blowing about 12 to 15 knots – not really hard, but steady. The west wind did a couple of things:
  1. First, it really pushed the outgoing tide as it headed east out the river. The normally strong current was even stronger as surface water pushed by the wind came roaring out of the river.
  2. It kept the current running out – on the surface – even as the water depth began to increase at the tide change. The tide underneath was rising, but the surface current was still running east with the wind.

Surface Current versus Deep Current

The water on the surface was being pushed by the wind, and even after the tide began to rise and the current direction changed along the bottom, the water at the surface continued to run out the river. On this day we fished well over an hour past the scheduled “low tide” and eventually left with the surface current still running east.

Wise anglers need to pay attention. We were looking for fish – red drum specifically - that run along the bottom ledges and rocks, positioning themselves out of a normal current. Had we looked only at the surface current, we would have been fishing in the wrong location. The bottom current had already changed.

Incoming Water on a West Wind

Just as the wind pushed the surface water out of the river mouth on an outgoing tide, it pushed against the water trying to return on the incoming tide. Inlets up and down the coast can experience this situation on almost a daily basis. When a good wind pushes against an opposite running tide, i.e., a west wind pushing against a tidal current heading east, it can mean some very uncomfortable water.

People think that the inlet is really choppy simply because it is an inlet. If they look closer they can see a wind fighting an opposite tide. This action cause any ocean swells to be exaggerated in the inlet, making them steep and actually dangerous at times. Any time you have a stiff west wind along eth Atlantic coast and an incoming tide headed east, you are going to have a very rough inlet situation.

East Wind

An east wind works the same way against an opposite tide. East winds along the Atlantic can actually push water so hard that a flood tide can occur on an incoming high situation. And, on a low tide, that east wind can hold water back on the flats, not allowing the water to move with the tide.

On an outgoing tide and a stiff east breeze, inlets will be rough and dangerous once again.

Not Just Inlets

The wind can do the same thing to the water almost anywhere. Anglers fishing a shallow flat that may normally have one or two feet of water on a low tide need to take heed when the wind is blowing the same direction as the outgoing tide. It is not uncommon for a wind like that to blow a flat almost dry. This is the voice of experience speaking – waiting several hours for the incoming tide to re-float your boat is no fun.

Bottom Line

Here is the bottom line. If you stay in tune with the tides and plan to fish a specific tidal situation, you need to include wind speed and direction. We caught a number of fish on this particular day, but the incoming tide in that creek we wanted to fish was already half high by the time we got back to that creek. We missed out trout bite by about two hours – sitting and waiting for the current to change.

It was partly my fault for not paying attention to what I already knew was happening. But – we were catching fish, and I guess a fish in the box is better than two in the creek – to coin a modified phrase.

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