On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
There is no telling by looking around you whether or not the tides matter to most people you talk to in the tiny enclaves surrounding Chincoteague Bay, Virginia. To be sure, the watermen who make their living in the bay pay attention to the tides, insofar as tending their oyster beds and crab pots are concerned. Getting convenient visual access to oyster beds is not only best at dead low tide, but getting to the beds in shallow water is faster and less physically taxing at low tide. The environmental health of Chincoteague Bay, only one of many appendages of the much larger Chesapeake Bay, has held steady in recent decades, one reason why oyster production has tripled in the past few years. Presumably what is good for oysters is also good for crabs, although the production of crabs depends upon more than water quality alone. In any case, the watermen who farm oysters and those who mine for crabs in relatively shallow water are keenly aware of the ebb and flow of the tides as they pertain to their daily lives.
Sport fishermen; on the other hand, do not seem to be so keenly aware of tides as a critical factor in planning their outdoor activities. More important to them are water temperature and seasonal migrations of favorite fishes that are influenced by changes in water temperature. Most sport fishermen have a vague idea about the seasons when flounder or croakers predominate, but usually don’t go so far as to construct equations that factor in seasons of the year and the best tidal features that might maximize their chances for success.
Not to be totally contrarian about the ideal tides for fishing, the Footloose Forester does at least want to mention the range of arguments that he has heard over the years. According to seasoned and successful fishermen he has known, the best time to go fishing in tidal waters is:
•On the incoming tide when food sources are transported from the ocean and estuaries
•At mid-tide when the maximum rate of food source loading from outside also maximizes dispersal patterns
•At the end of the incoming tide when the maximum volume of food sources are available
•At change tide when sediments in the current begin to settle on the bottom, increasing visibility
•On the outgoing tide when unutilized food sources are dislodged from the bottom and begin to flow in the currents, in the opposite direction
•At mid-tide as outgoing flow has reached the maximum rate of flow of the dislodged and uncaptured food sources in the currents
•At change tide as fishes position themselves for the anticipated influx of food sources on the next tide
The list above is a little bit of tongue-in-cheek only because the advocates for fishing on an incoming tide are not likely to give the time of day to those who advocate for fishing on the outgoing tides, and vice versa. If truth be known, however; most sport fishermen are not so dogmatically set in their ways to totally ignore the other options. For most of us, we go fishing when we have the time and the opportunity to do so, within the limits of other constraints such as proximity to fishing grounds, the vagaries of weather, and the necessary enthusiasm to devote the time. But it always helps to know that the chances of being rewarded with a basket of fish also goes a long way in making the decision to undertake a fishing trip.
The initial reason for sitting down to pen this chronicle has to do with knowing enough about the local tides to say that in this region where we live, there is a fair chance that most of the people, including sport fishermen, can’t tell an incoming tide from an outgoing tide. Inasmuch as the rise and fall of tides is barely perceptible in the short run, only people who truly have an interest in the tides are willing to say whether the tide is rising, falling, at change tide; is seasonally high during its peaks at high tide; or seasonally low at normal low tides. And forget about a quick look at a tidal chart for the day that might be under discussion. For Chincoteague Bay, the exact time of low tide on any given day depends on where you are standing on dry ground to observe the water depth. There are at least 18 different tidal gauging stations, thus 18 separate times when low tide occurs, according to the tide charts.
Tide Graph and Table for
(37.9067° N, 75.4050° W)
Chincoteague Channel (south end), Chincoteague Bay, Virginia
Another important reason why knowing more about tides is desirable is because the Footloose Forester and his regular fishing companions have had their share of disagreements about when the tide was coming in or going out; and even if it was an incoming tide or outgoing tide at a location where nobody could even agree where the entrance/exit channel of Chincoteague Bay was in relation to the tides.
The latest comment about the apparently incoming tide that was made by the Footloose Forester was refuted by his fishing partner who said that the direction of the current at the time made it an outgoing tide. Rather than get into a argument with his beloved Bengal Tiger there and then, the Footloose Forester decided to settle the argument once and for all time by subsequently consulting the daily tidal chart for the relevant gauging station; and for the precise time when we departed from it. By the way, we vacated our fishing spot by wading in shallow water to reach dry land from our casting positions on the exposed rocks near the water line. When we had arrived about 2 ½ hours earlier, the current was running left to right under the adjacent highway bridge and we reached the outer rocks in wet, muddy soil. When we departed, the current was easing but still flowed from left to right. Our wet feet in ankle deep water upon departure told one of us that we departed at mid-tide during an incoming tide. The ensuing disagreement did not change, one reason why it seemed prudent to find and archive the evidence in the form of the tidal chart. There will be other disagreements in the future but in the final anaysis it is best to have the evidence at hand to settle arguments. Which direction the current flows in an incoming tide in Chincoteague Bay is important for us to know because we intend to go fishing and clamming often when the tides are ideal.
About the author
Long forgotten was the time in Indonesia that the status of the tide led to a major inconvenience and an embarrassment. Ahi, a local fisherman who used his own boat (a heavy dugout canoe) to transport the two of us across the straight to mainland Ujung Kulon, took charge of beaching the boat on the other side. It was high tide when we landed and he decided to anchor the boat against the gentle waves by pushing it landward just a few feet. But when we returned from the forest several hours later, it was low tide and the dugout was high and dry. It was too heavy to push all the way to the water line, so we had to wait until the tide came in high enough to float the boat. We were fortunate to get back across the straight before it got dark.