Volume 12, Issue 15 ~ April 8-14, 2004
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Chesapeake Outdoors
by C.D. Dollar

Of Tide and Moon Time
I felt a pang of empathy for the captain of the solitary sailboat that pitched wildly as its nose plowed into the near gale, barely making way up the Severn River. It looked like a turtle on a rock, it’s hard shell-like bottom teetering on the wave crest until momentum forced it forward. Earlier that morning, the descending full moon slung low over the western sky, challenging the rising sun for dominance in the celestial sphere.

The water ran out of the river like it was shot from a cannon, pushed on the surface by the violent winds and pulled along by the strong ebbing tide. Points and bars were exposed, and the watermarks on pilings were far lower than usual.

As every fisherman and hunter should know, effects of the moon cycle play a significant role in success. A working definition of tide is the periodic vertical rise and fall of water levels caused by the gravitational and centrifugal forces exerted by the moon as it rotates around the earth. To a lesser degree, the sun influences tidal range as well. Though linked to tides, currents are the horizontal movement of water.

The range and force of tides are greatest when the moon and sun align, yielding the highest high tides and the lowest low tides within the monthly cycle. This condition, called spring tides, happens during full and new moons. The opposite circumstances, called neap tides, exist when the sun and moon are at right angles to each other, causing their gravitational pulls to counteract each other and reducing the tidal range. Neap tides occur during the moon’s first and third quarters.

In a recent winter column I wrote about how, while hunting, my boat, dog and I were left high and dry on a grass flat by the water’s desertion. I thought I had calculated the spring tides right, but in hindsight, I didn’t factor in the previous 15 hours of interactive wind-push and moon-pull.

The wind had sat down significantly by the time I started to hunt, but the combination of honking north-northwest winds and the full moon cycle had set the stage: A decrepit flood tide lasted barely three hours, and an ebb broached nearly seven hours. Translation: no water and there I sat. And sat.

Similar wind-tide effects influence fish-feeding patterns, particularly in mouths of creeks, shoals, oyster reefs, flats and other fish habitat where bait congregates for protection and rest. Predators search these areas or lie in ambush. Fishermen follow suit.

Smart anglers play to tides as well as the winds, knowing that in general fish feed when the water moves because, in large part, baitfish are at the mercy of the tides and current. But if the current is too strong — as happens at Hoopers Island Bridge, the Rips off Patuxent River or Kent Narrows during spring tides — the fishing suffers as well.

Simply, you can’t get the fly or lure to act properly or to pass through the fish’s strike zone in such a torrent of rushing water. The same can occur when anglers troll or even chum in fast current and strong winds.

It’s the smart angler who pays attention to not only the time of the tides — roughly two high tides and two low tides every 24 hours and 50 minutes; then 50 minutes later each day — but also where they are in the monthly stage, neap or spring, and what degree of each. Often, that attention to detail marks the difference between catching fish or being beached.

Fish Are Biting
Rains, strong winds and chilly temperatures clamped down on the fishing over the past week. But the charter fleet is ready for rockfish, and scouting trips in the mid-Bay have found plentiful fish.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated April 8, 2004 @ 12:59am.