The most misunderstood factor in coastal fishing isn’t selecting the right lure, fishing the right spots or using the right rods and reels, it’s is tide, and the way it affects fish and fishing.

Most anglers have a basic understanding of the tide. They know fish in general head shallower and feed on a rising tide, and pull back out to deeper water as it falls. But beyond those two factoids, what do they really know?

The Farlex dictionary calls tides, “The periodic variation in the surface level of the oceans and of bays, gulfs, inlets, and estuaries, caused by gravitational attraction of the moon and sun.”

Pretty basic information, and why should we care? For fishermen along the coastlines, tides are important because they spark fish to bite, enable access to certain areas when water levels are high and eliminate access when they run low. But there’s so much beyond that, and there’s a great misunderstanding of tides and actually much misuse of the word.

Let’s say an angler wants to fish the outlet of a small marsh pond on the north end of the nearly million-acre Galveston Bay complex on the Upper Coast of Texas. He looks at the tide tables and sees the tide will begin pouring out at 9 a.m. and the peak low will be around 1:30 p.m. He needs this pond to drain because it is very shallow, and on high tides holds many fish.

As the water levels recede, the fish move like a funnel through the outlet.

When he gets there, the water is higher than he thought and in the course of a few hours, only a few inches of water pour out of the spot instead of the expected 14 inches.

What happened?

He relied solely on the tides, but neglected considering current. Anglers use these terms interchangeably, but there are big differences.

Current is “A steady, usually natural flow.” This flow does not have to be caused by the sun and moon like a tide. Other factors can produce current.

If the angler had paid attention to the fact that the wind was blowing at 15 miles per hour out of the south, and had been blowing 25 to 30 out of the south the last few days he could have guessed that because the shoreline face south vast amounts of water pushed into marsh from the Gulf over the past couple of days. The huge winds caused current that counteracted the tide.

The tidal pull alone was strong enough to take 14 inches of water out of the inlet, but the southerly wind was strong enough to knock it back to a 4-inch flow. The current counteracted the tide.

Tides are essentially a slow-moving wave that starts in an ocean, Gulf or sea and moves inland. Imagine a large tidal wave originating offshore, smashing the immediate coastline and gradually dissipating as it moves north. On a much, much smaller scale, that is how a tide acts. Winds as noted above are a huge factor that anglers should consider when gauging tides.

A strong southerly wind pushes a lot of water into a bay system, causing unusually high tides, sometimes even during periods when moon or solar patterns call for low tides.

South winds frequently wreak havoc with tide tables. What are shown as low tides end up being more than a foot above normal because of the constant, pounding south wind.

Conversely, north winds will push water out of an ecosystem set up like the example. That is why tides are so low during fall along the Texas coast. "Blue northers" in conjunction with a strong tidal pull will really drain an area, which helps cleanse coastal marshes.

Another tidal confusion is how people distribute information about them as well as how anglers examine them.

Suppose an angler decides to go fishing on Tuesday morning and watches the tide predictions on television. It shows tides for the “Galveston area,” for example. He sees there will be a low tide at 9:45 a.m. and a high tide at 1:55 p.m., so he assumes the tide will be rising between those two times.

To properly base a fishing trip around tidal movements, the key to pay the most attention to is how much change will occur between tides. Just reading the general tide table is a waste of time. An angler must use "Tidal Correction Table" for specific areas to adjust for tidal movements in his fishing spot.

The report was right in giving the tidal times, but they are always given for a specific point, not just a region. In this case, the tides were taken from the end of the North Jetty, which is 15 miles away from the north shoreline of East Galveston Bay where he plans to fish. On top of that, the tide is predicted to only move 6 inches.

He probably will not even notice the change that far north. This can lead to a general confusion about the accuracy of the report he watched.

Remember that tidal movement is always the most out-of-proportion and visible around passes and inlets. That is because water in these narrow areas is being forcefully funneled through them. However, in the bays or the open ocean, it is not always easy to tell when the current is moving, or in which direction.

Sometimes there is a conflict between wind and tide, and on a weak tide with a strong wind, it can be especially hard to identify tidal movements.A good way to determine the direction of the tide is to find some structure and look for signs of movement around it. If you are wading you can kick up some sand and see which direction it settles. If fishing from a boat, pitch out a lightweight sinking lure and watch the direction it moves.

Once you get comfortable with reading the tides and learning how they intimately affect the areas you fish, there is no question you will catch more fish more often. Just remember to factor more into your fishing equation than just the tide.