Kent Coast Sea Fishing Compendium
Spring, Neap & Proxigean Tides
Spring & Neap Tides
The sequences of high and low waters or spring and neap tides are factors of vital importance to the lives of fish. From the anglers point of view the indirect effects of the tidal rhythms are the most important because many of the creatures on which the fish feed depend on the tides for timing their day-to-day lives.
Between the tide marks, the breeding, feeding and migration activities of many worms, crabs, shrimps and prawns are often only possible when the tide is in.
Even more striking is the way in which mass movements, which render the animals vulnerable to the fish that eat them, take place on only tides of a certain height, or even only on a few well-defined tides each year. It is at these times that bait organisms are most easily collected and most effective as bait.
Spring tides are the best tides for fishing, especially the big spring tides which coincide with a period of rougher weather that is just settling down. Neap tides are unreliable because fewer fish are inshore and feeding.
However, fishing at HWS tides is often made more challenging by the strength of the tide and increased volume of seaweed. Spring tides (from the Anglo-Saxon "springan" meaning to spring, swell or bulge) occur twice a month at full or new moon when the sun, earth and moon are all in a straight line ("syzygy") and the gravitational forces of the sun and moon reinforce each other resulting in a 20% higher than average tidal range.
Neap tides (from the Anglo-Saxon "nep" meaning lower, scarcity or lacking; alternatively, neap is of Greek origin, meaning scanty) occur twice a month when the moon is at first or last quarter and at right angles to the earth-sun line and the solar gravitational force partially cancels the moon's resulting in a 20% lower than average tidal range.
Due to friction, spring and neap tides do not reach their maximum height and range until two days after
- new and full moons (spring tides)
- half moon or first and last (third) quarters (neap tides)
A proxigean spring tide is a rare, extreme form of spring tide which occurs once every 18 months or so when the moon is at its closest point in its orbit to the Earth and in its new or full moon phase. This produces a 25% increase in the tide.
Forthcoming dates of Proxigean spring tides:
13 July 2018 New 30 August 2019 New 16 October 2020 New 4 December 2021 New 21 January 2023 New
Lunar calendar with the exact dates and times of the moon phases in 2018.
All times are local time for London. Time is adjusted for DST when applicable. Dates are based on the Gregorian calendar.
New Moon (Spring Tide) First Quarter (Neap Tide) Full Moon (Spring Tide) Third Quarter (Neap Tide) 18 December 2017 06:30 26 December 2017 09:20 2 January 2018 02:24 8 January 2018 22:25 17 January 02:17 24 January 22:20 31 January 13:26 7 February 15:53 15 February 21:05 23 February 08:09 2 March 00:51 9 March 11:19 17 March 13:11 24 March 15:35 31 March 13:36 8 April 08:17 16 April 02:57 22 April 22:45 30 April 01:58 08 May 03:08 15 May 12:47 22 May 04:49 29 May 15:19 06 June 19:31 13 June 20:43 20 June 11:50 28 June 05:53 06 July 08:50 13 July 03:47 19 July 20:52 27 July 21:20 04 August 19:17 11 August 10:57 18 August 08:48 26 August 12:56 03 September 03:37 9 September 19:01 17 September 00:14 25 September 03:52 2 October 10:45 9 October 04:46 16 October 19:01 24 October 17:45 31 October 16:40 7 November 16:01 15 November 14:54 23 November 05:39 30 November 00:18 07 December 07:20 15 December 11:49 22 December 17:48 29 December 09:34
"Practical Letters to Young Sea Fishers" (1898) John Bickerdyke at page 13
Chapter II: Favourable Conditions
… Whether the neaps or springs afford the best fishing in any particular place should always be ascertained by making local inquiries. Bear in mind, however, that a man who is anxious to let you a boat and his services at so much per hour, is not always a sure guide on this subject. If a rogue, he will tell you the fishing is first-rate, whatever the state of the tide at the time the question is asked. Thus he lets his boat, and disgusts the young sea fisher, who, perhaps, catches nothing. Also bear in mind that it is not every man who wears a blue jersey, and can chew tobacco, who understands sea fishing. The majority, indeed, of the sea-side half-a-crown-an-hour-men know very little about it …
"Sea Fish" (1898) Frederick George Aflalo at pages 6 & 7
Spring tides are those which occur at the new and full moon, the rise being then considerably greater than at the neap tides, which occur in the moon's first and third quarters. It is generally accepted that the fishing is best at the former, when the additional speed of the currents sets so much more fish food on the move; but glancing through a few of the more recent entries in my diaries, I am disposed to give the preference to the quieter conditions obtaining during the slacker neap tides. Indeed, so strong are the spring tides, especially on the third and fourth days after new and full moon, that fishing is only possible for an hour or so, just after high and low water, and then only close inshore. During the neap tides, on the other hand, it is possible to fish uninterruptedly during the greater part of the day, so that, even if the fish are not feeding quite so ravenously, the total catch is usually better.
"Sea Fishing Simplified" (1929) Francis Dyke Holcombe & A. Fraser-Brunner at pages 14 & 15
… The question of tides is all important in sea fishing, and you should pay more attention to them than to mealtimes, although to many seaside visitors that again is a counsel of perfection. It is, however, a mistake to come ashore for luncheon and then go afloat again, for one wastes too much time in doing this. It is better to take sufficient food and drink with you for yourself and your boatman, and remain at sea all day, coming ashore in time for the evening meal. The flood is usually the better tide of the two, although this is a matter upon which it is not safe to be dogmatic; for in some places at any rate, the ebb is considered to be the more favourable tide. It will often happen that fish will feed at the commencement of a tide, but after it strengthens, the bites fall off and finally cease altogether; in such circumstances you should not be discouraged and give up fishing and come ashore, for it is quite likely that the fish will begin to feed again when the tide eases.
The strength of the tidal current is, of course, greater during the Spring tides, which occur at the times of the new and full moon, than it is during the Neap tides, which come between the Springs. The strongest Spring tides are generally reckoned to occur two days after the new and full moon respectively. This rule, however, is not a hard and fast one, for tides are curious things, and vary in a remarkable and unaccountable way. In fact, it is very unsafe to dogmatize about them, for the more one knows, the more one realizes what a lot more there is to learn.
On the Cornish coast, where there is fine sea fishing, and in some other places, it will often happen that some of the best grounds can only be fished during the Neap tides, because one cannot hold the bottom during the Springs except by using so much lead as to make fishing with rod and line out of the question.
Tides vary a good deal at different places according to local circumstances, and on some parts of our coast they run much more strongly than on others. In the Bristol Channel, for instance, tides are very strong. A strong tide is very much against sporting fishing, because one has to use so much lead in order to hold the ground. In the Isle of Wight district "double" tides are met with, and these extend Westward as far as Old Harry Head, near Swanage.
Some sea anglers I have known are very impatient, and if they do not get bites at once they want to shift to another place. This is a mistake. If you know you are on good ground - and as to that, of course, it is a question of having confidence in your boatman - I am a firm believer in giving the berth you have taken up a thoroughly good trial before moving. After all, fish, like human beings, do not want to be feeding all day long; only one species - the spur dogfish - seems always to be ravenously hungry.
It is a sound general rule in all sea fishing that, under normal conditions, the bigger the bait the larger the fish caught - within reasonable limits, of course. It is also a rule of equal - perhaps of greater - importance, that if the water be very clear and bright the size of the bait used should be reduced, while you should also employ finer tackle than you would if the water was coloured a little. Very thick water is not an advantage, for the fish cannot see the bait so well.
"Inshore Sea Fishing" (1939) W. S. Forsyth at pages 53 & 54
An hour before the flow or ebb has reached its highest or lowest point respectively, the rate of flow or ebb slows down until it stops altogether. This is known as the slack of the tide, and is the most favourable of all times for fishing, as it is at this period that the fish feed.
This may be easily understood. During the flow or the ebb, especially at places about a mile or further from the shore, the fish, either singly or in shoals, are borne along with the tide. So quick is the transport that the fish find difficulty in stopping when any likely food comes in sight, and are soon carried past, when it is then a case of "out of sight, out of mind." Others, again, who instinctively remain in a certain spot, take shelter among the seaweed and rocks at the sea bed, where they lie in a restful attitude until the slack comes, when they can swim without hindrance in search of food.
All sea life seems to spring into action at the commencement of the flow, revel in its life-giving stream for a few hours, and gradually settle down to a contented restfulness during the ebb. From these facts one may infer that the ideal time for fishing would be at a time when the slack tide after the ebb occurs shortly after sunset and shortly before sunrise. It will be seen then that such occasions occur for a few days only every fortnight, and if the weather be at all favourable, these are the periods to take advantage of for fishing.
It is a well established fact among professional fishermen that the slack after the ebb is more likely to bring success than the slack after the flow. If the slack tide occurs during Spring tides or Stream tides the conditions are more favourable still. In the waters close to the shore fishing may be pursued at all times, as the run of the tide is very much reduced, but generally speaking the same feeding times persist as for deeper water.
"The Sea Angler Afloat and Ashore" (1965) Desmond Brennan at pages 12, 13 & 22 - 24
The twice daily movement of the tides is of the greatest importance to the angler. Fish usually feed best when the tide is making or falling but this is not constant for every place. Some places fish best on the flood tide, some on the ebb tide or for only a portion of the tides. Others may fish well only on the slack of the tides, i.e. near high or low water. The action of the tide sweeps food and fish along with it and fish may travel along one route on the flood but the ebb tide may take them back another way. Some species, i.e. bass, travel long distances with the tides, along beaches and into estuaries feeding over ground not available to them when the tide is out. Others, like turbot, may let the tide take food to them, lying in ambush on the bottom and pouncing when some tasty morsel is swept within their reach. Tidal currents, particularly where they are swift, or are compressed by headlands, islands, shoal ground or underwater obstructions, sweep along large quantities of bait fish which may become concentrated in a small area. Many predator species, such as mackerel and bass, may be found in such circumstances feeding on small fry, whilst they in turn may be preyed upon by larger predators, such as tope and shark.
Most fish seem to feed better when there is some movement in the tide. Many species use the tides to take them to their feeding grounds, others let the tides bring their food to them. Bass, mullet and flounders swim up beaches and into estuaries on the flood tide, retreating again as the water begins to ebb. Turbot prefer to wait on gravelly or sandy bottoms where there is a good run of tide, feeding on whatever smaller fish are swept their way. Dabs and plaice seem to feed best when the tide is fairly slack, i.e. at high and low water. The tide sweeps along with it shoals of small fry, herring fry, sprat, sandeels, etc., and where large quantities of fry are concentrated by fast tidal streams the fish that prey on them will be found. Tides may set in one direction on the flood, in another on the ebb carrying fish over different ground on each tide. If you can discover the different routes taken on both tides you will enjoy fishing on both the ebb and flood. The strength of the tides will affect the movements of fish as they will travel farther on springs than on neaps.
No summary of the shore would be complete without reference to the effect that the tides have not alone on the fish which live in the shallow waters but also on the creatures which live in the "no man's land" between tide marks and which are an important part of the food of these fishes.
The daily and lunar cycles of the tides … and their effect is nowhere more evident than on the shore … The tides ebb and flow over the shore twice daily and their range is greatest on the spring tides. It is then that the tides cover the greatest area of the shore on the flood tide and expose the greatest area on the ebb. At the other extreme are the neap tides when the sea makes its smallest advance up the shore but also uncovers the least on the ebb. In between these two extremes is the average range of tides which weaken and strengthen through the monthly cycle.
… Many species of fish which live in our inshore waters travel in over the sands and up the estuaries as the rising tide covers the shore and opens feeding grounds not available to them when the tide is out. Their movements will naturally tend to be more nomadic on springs than on neaps as a greater feeding area is available to them …
"A Guide to Shore and Harbour Fishing" (1976) F. H. Burgess at pages 51 & 52
Early mornings and after dark are often the best periods of the day for success: especially if the tide is beginning to flood, bringing in the food for the smaller fish, who are in turn followed by the larger ones as the water deepens. The best times are usually about three hours before high water, and approximately three hours after it; though very often the first run of the ebb is also good.
A warm, stiff, onshore wind with a rising tide is ideal, and where the scouring action takes place behind the breakers of the surf, that is the place to try your offerings, rather than a long cast further out. Use a single hook on a short trace if the sea is rough, as weed, surf and scouring will quickly tangle up a long flowing one.
It is seldom worthwhile fishing over a shingle beach when the water is quite clear, unless it is a shelving one or the water deepens suddenly, and if you want a really good sized fish, your chances will be greatly increased if you use a large bait. If you are using worms put on three or four, and whatever your bait, be generous.
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