What makes a beach good for flood vs ebb tide?

I am wondering, in your experience, what makes for a beach that's better for incoming vs outgoing tide? I can't think of any beach characteristics, such as slope, rock, etc, that shouldn't be symmetrical when water is coming or going. Of course that's grossly simplifying but it does make me curious what your empirical experiences seem to suggest. Cheers.
Sometimes, like at a point, water will sweep one way from a bay full of seaweed and crap on the outgoing, and then sweep the other way with clean water from the other side on the incoming (or reverse). More time cleaning your fly equals less time fishing.

Another example is if a salt water "pond" or estuary drains on the outgoing tide, quite a river of water flowing out will meet gravel/sand bars in a certain way that causes accelerated water movement that seems to draw fish. The reverse may not happen on the incoming.

As another example, many good beaches are around stream mouths which form a variety of changing sand/gravel/pools/weed lines that react differently with different water movements.

When I look at a beach, I try to remember that although the water level goes up and down, I envision how the water movement is going to happen - on the beaches that I fish this water movement is mostly lateral rather than straight in and out. Try to see how the general layout would be affected or what conditions would result.

And then many times despite my best efforts in analyzing it I'm skunked anyways.


Active Member
Seaweed (salad) is indeed an issue, usually on incoming tides. Every beach is different and it will take fishing and observations on your chosen beach that will give you your best information. I have seen some beaches where the salad leavee around the point and returns in a long skinny line during the first hour of the flood tide. I also believe the incoming tide at Tacoma Narrows flows on the east side faster than on the west beaches. Conversely, the outgoing tide runs very hard along the west side, which is why I like the ebbtide at the Narrows. But then, guys who only fish the east side will swear that the incoming tide is the best. - There you go.



Active Member
The changing heights and volumes of tides make almost every beach and every individual tide a special case. Cutthroat are there for one reason: the availability of food. While it seems reasonable to think that an incoming tide will stir up quantities of invertebrates such as amphipods and isopods and, while this is true in many cases, being relatively poor swimmers, tidal currents may sweep them rapidly away. The same is true of baitfish some of which may be better swimmers and able to hold their own against stronger flows than others. Thus the importance of beach topography; bars and points, can provide shelter from the current and can concentrate quantities of bait. A good example is Point Williams at Lincoln park where both incoming and outgoing tides create a large gyre either south or north of the point which becomes a favorite feeding area not only of cutthroat but of resident coho as well as mature coho returning in the fall. There is no substitute for local knowledge of any particular beach.
That makes perfect sense gents. Thats the problem of a grossly simplified mental model. Tide indeed doesn't just go up and down. Thanks for broadening my thinking!


Topwater and tying.
Then you throw something in like Colvos Passage where the tidal flow tends to always be northbound no matter what the tide because it's a secondary channel around Vashon Island. Confused yet?
. I also believe the incoming tide at Tacoma Narrows flows on the east side faster than on the west beaches. Conversely, the outgoing tide runs very hard along the west side, which is why I like the ebbtide at the Narrows. But then, guys who only fish the east side will swear that the incoming tide is the best. - There you go.

The Narrows is a good example. I used to dive there a lot, and you need a slack tide since the current is usually so strong. We found at certain times, that we could catch a slack on the west side long enough to make a half hour dive before the current resumed. Then we'd motor over to the Tacoma side, taking a half hour surface interval while waiting for the current to slow on that side, then make another dive of about the same length on yet another slack period. So, the same stretch of water behaves differently depending on which side you're standing.

To really learn a beach you have to go and watch on both ebb and flood tides, and during different exchanges.
Whether flood or ebb is best for any given beach depends on many variables as already mentioned. However, there almost always seems to be a certain "window" within the best tide (flood or the ebb) when fishing "turns on" and "turns off". Sometimes the period can be short lived. This has been my experience fishing the salt over the years. I experienced it today. About two hours into the ebb the action began. Jumping fish, biting fish, bait action etc. And, after an hour it tapered off noticeably and subsided.
I added this observation to my notes on this particular beach and when I fish it the next time I will try to be there for that "window". I know it won't always be the same for that particular location but from my observations over the years it often is.

Jim, you are undoubtedly the wisest of them all...least helpful, but wise!

The thing is, most of us who are working and/or have a family only have so much water time so I am just trying to distill some wisdom or at least know I am thinking/observing the right things when I do get to go. Journaling I know is going to help.

Are there any beaches where a smaller tide change is better than bigger? This weekend for example, the big tide change is early morning so that it won't be possible to fish, but would there be beaches where one can benefit from the smaller magnitude of change during the daylight tide? If so, what makes it better?
I re-read your original thread and realize I didn't answer your question. So, I will do so now.
There are so many variables involved there is no set answer ( I don't think there is???) other than "it depends".

Wlai, I'm nowhere close to as knowledgable about a the beaches as some others here, but I'll say this re the smaller tides: not as good at any of the beaches I've ever fished.

When I lived near the south sound I was going out there a LOT and I was always timing my trips around the larger of the two tides. The reason being, at least on the handful of beaches I frequented, the larger exchange of water. You really want spots where the tidal exchange produces a walking-speed current that runs parallel to the beach. That's kinda the optimal condition.