What makes a beach good for flood vs ebb tide?

Pat Lat

Mad Flyentist
I have found that a rising/flooding tide will pick up the little amphipods/isopods as the water rises so if I do fish a rising tide or slack high tide then low light conditions are key, as is quietly stalking the beach and casting close in, parallel to shore with little crustacean patterns is the only way I have caught fish on a slack or rising tide.
Also If you choose a beach that is more of a cove or bay then in my experience the better tide is the rising one, the fish will come in and explore a bit more than if the tide is draining the bay.
Fishing for SRC's in the salt in a never ending classroom. Just when I think I may have figured out a beach, I am proven wrong. I have found certain beaches fish better at certain times of the year along with certain tide levels and on incoming and outgoing tides. Then there are the magical days where none of it seems to matter. :confused:

Rich Schager

You should have been here yesterday...
Also If you choose a beach that is more of a cove or bay then in my experience the better tide is the rising one, the fish will come in and explore a bit more than if the tide is draining the bay.
They'll stay around during the entire flood, but make a fast exit once the flood ends and the drain begins...

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Lots of great responses here, wiai. You just have to learn each beach and how it fishes, at different tides and seasons, one beach or estuary at a time. They say it helps to keep a fishing diary.;)
You didn't mention species. One beach I know (up there in the Salish Sea) fishes well for searun cutts on the outgoing tide, as a nice little rip develops off the tip of the point (cutts will wait in the slack water inside the rip there and ambush food as it is swept out past the tip), but the cutts go away after the low. A fishable rip does not form there on the incoming. The food conveyor shuts off, and the cutthroat go somewhere else.
However, if any salmon are returning, the incoming tide right after the low is the time to fish for them there, as they seem to want to move in with the incoming tide.

Going back to your original question, wiai, the spot I mentioned only gets a good rip forming during the outgoing tide. There might be some place nearby that works for cutts on the incoming tide, but I haven't figured it out for that particular area, yet.

In my local estuaries and tidal creeks, the cutthroat might be foraging around just behind the fringe of the rising tide on the incoming. Or moving upstream. On the outgoing tide, they may hold in certain lies in the creeks' inter-tidal zones as the current begin flowing out again, with the water dropping. Cut-banks, pilings, overhanging trees/bushes, and large woody debris provide cover here. I can target cutthroat in individual lies, here.
Down lower, in the estuaries (below the creek/river mouths), the cutthroat may be spread out anywhere, foraging and chasing down bait fish. I troll for them with baitfish patterns and get random strikes down there. We mainly have mud flats and marshy edges out here in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, rather than gravel beaches, so I usually fish from a boat.

Jeff Dodd

Active Member
I tend not to think about tide direction when fishing for returning salmon, but rather I pay attention to how the tide sets up at a particular beach and a given tidal exchange. This all goes out the window however if I can find time to fish, I GO FISH!

This link provides a good visual of how the currents set up at local(some) beaches. You pick the date and beach, and then watch the current change throughout the tide cycle.


Active Member
I had a great South Sound beach mostly to myself about 12 years ago, and I learned a lot while fishing it at different times/tidal stages. The only relative constants I found were:

*That during full daylight, the fishing was much more productive two hours before and (especially) after high slack, when the food that grew in the tide pool began to wash out with the ebb.

*That fishing was ALWAYS more productive at dusk, and usually at dawn.

*That fish took up station in very nearly the same locations with each tide exchange.

*That fishing sucked during daylight for the couple of days preceding a full moon (but often got very interesting at dark).

*Pile worms made the cutthroat behave very strangely, and despite the audible slashing happening all around during a pile worn appearance, it was very difficult to hook fish during one.

*That there were no absolute constants.

Totally different take on trout fishing in the salt. Rivers and lakes are much more consistent, but hitting the salt right makes for fast, furious fun.
I would say learning 3 or 4 beaches very well is very critical to learning their nuances.

Water moving at walking speed is some of the best water to fish for both incoming and out going tide. Boulders ,rocks and deep impressions in the ground are good holding spots.

Even on a big tide change on a chart does not mean that a beach will have fast moving water the whole time throughout the whole beach . Some of the water will move slower even 50 feet way depending upon structure.
The water around a point that is steeply inclined will move much faster than water just off the point on gentle sloping ground.

The key is to look for structure at low tide to see where fish will hold when water will cover the area. When I find a hot spot on beach I make mental notes of time, and where the water was when they were there, so that I go to the same spot when I am at that beach again.
Take a step back and look the whole beach from a high point before fishing to try and see rips in the current and where fish are jumping. keep moving on a beach until you find fish

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
I think that Preston hit it square on the head here, in pointing out to us that there is no substitute for local knowledge of any particular beach. That takes time on the water, sometimes fishing, sometimes simply observing the tide cycles, witnessing current patterns on the flood and ebb at varying stages and degrees of intensity and overall exchange. This can take months, and years, for any particular beach location. One thing that I have learned about these beaches is that many of the best sea run Cutthroat fishing beaches are also good quality shellfishing beaches. These beaches often have some similar qualities of a heavier gravel and cobblestone bottom, complexity of shoreline habitats, mixing currents, back eddies, some significant current at some stages of the tide, and very often a tidal pocket estuary or lagoon, if not a freshwater input stream of some kind. Seaweed, Kelp, rocky ledges, broad flats and shelves, converging currents, all offer forage fish a complexity of habitat to grow in and reproduce in, and for the cutthroat to feed in.

Another benefit to fishing on popular shellfishing area beaches is that during clam and oyster seasons there can be many dozens or hundreds of people, clamming at low tide, all digging and chopping their way into the gravel, cobble and sand beaches for clams. You can bet that most of these clam diggers will inadvertently chop into some clams along the way. And despite the State regulation that we harvest these damaged clams, to count toward the daily limits, most people simply leave them lying there, all chopped up, in the same clam hole that they, hopefully), just filled in. Now if you can expect a flood tide to at some stage carry a current sweeping across a clam digging beach, with hundreds of chopped up clams, oozing protein in the loose substrate, then that will be an attraction to many species of marine organisms, not the least of which are the sea run Cutthroat.

"Chumming" to deliberately attract these fish is illegal here. But fishing down current of a shellfishing beach, that has a happily coincidental, significant "stink factor", of all of that chopped up clam protein just lying there, mixing into the tidal currents, ringing the dinner bell for everything that creeps, crawls and swims within miles, is just good practice. You can make a study of Cutthroat fishing on the clam beaches here, and you would have quite an experience. Oyster beds too attract feeding Cutthroat, usually on the incoming tide. Not all of those beaches will feature a significant current. But the invertebrate forage species in particular can be very dense in these locations.

One thing I always tell people is this: Do not get caught in the high tide mentality! The forage species often move, to varying degrees, with the tidal currents. This is especially true in the early months of the season, when so many bait species are very small and they struggle in any kind of current. Study the movement of water and learn the life history of the forage species on the beaches that you fish, and you will begin to understand what attracts the trout, at what likely tides and currents. Trout are free to feed on a wide range of forage, at any stage of tide, any current, any depth, any time of day or night. And they have plenty of forage here. So despite your best efforts there will be those days when you plan it all out and don't ever even see a fish. And other days when you will be stupidly fortunate and have a sensational multiple fish day, that will be purely based on the luck of being in the right place at the right time, when the fish were there and they took your fly. And sometimes a day like this will break all of the dogma and 'rules". So pay attention. And try to appreciate every single one of these unique wild fish that you catch.

Time on the water and local knowledge take an investment of time and effort. And even then, actually catching these wild fish does have an element of luck to it. That may be the best thing about it all. A little realistic humility goes a long ways in this game.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
If you study the beaches long enough, especially at the lower tides, you will learn how to spot the complexity of habitat, and the diversity and abundance of marine species there. One thing that I look for, along with good clamming and oystering conditions, is an abundance of barnacles. This indicates nutrient dense water. And some places are better for this than others. Along with an abundance of barnacles I am encouraged when I see juvenile shrimp and crabs, rearing in a pocket estuary or tidal lagoon nearby. All of this indicates a richness in the food web from the bottom up- from the planktons up to higher organisms. No doubt that Cutthroat do feed directly on some of these invertebrates, especially as juveniles when the crab and shrimp etc are very soft and small. And I have seen fish feeding on crab in the megalops stage, which are very, very small and vulnerable, and difficult to see.

Usually there will be good crabbing to be had nearby. And in our area right now we can see some 1000 crab pots set in the bay, with all of them soaking in the tidal currents, bait cups filled with stinky bait. That scent carries for many miles on the tides here, attracting numerous marine species to feed on the loose particles of protein. No doubt the Cutthroat are attracted to this too.

If you want to have some fun some time, here is a simple trick to find out what swims in your waters. This is an old aboriginal fishing method. But we won't be fishing here and now. Get a can of fishy cat food, or chop up some herring into a fine mess. Better yet- do both. Dump the horrid material into a bait pot, or a sheer nylon stocking foot, of a pair of woman's stockings, or use a small mesh bag. What you want is for water to be able to pass through the mess, without losing a lot of the meat in the process.

Now you go down to the beach at the lowest tide, just at slack low. And you get yourself a lawn chair or stool to sit on. You set the bait on the beach at the waters edge. And this will be best of there is a current of reliable duration coming on the tide. Use a rock or spike, or just your boot, to hold this thing down on the bottom in the currents. Sit down in your chair and wait. Be very still. Dont be moving your feet etc. A beer might help. Do not have any kind of fishing tackle with you when you do this. This is called "chumming", and it is illegal to chum for fish when fishing. But you aren't fishing. You are a scientist. This is an experiment.

As the tide comes in, and the current begins to wash through the bait, you will notice some critters will appear. One by one, here and there, gradually increasing. And it may be a surprise to see all of the things that will show up from downstream, in the tidal flows, following that scent to the source. You will see many of the smaller fish that you normally only see in nature guides, and some other things too. It is a lesson in just how much amazing, beautiful marine life there is here. You might get some new ideas about flies and fly patterns too, as you sit there in the shallows, watching the many various critters nibbling at the meal. Wear polarized sunglasses! In some areas the tide may rise as much as a foot per hour, so do this with some idea of safety in forethought. http://olympicpeninsulaflyfishing.blogspot.com

rhody2013-dick-davis-5-19-13 088.JPG
Bob you are describing the magic of near shore ecology, and why I can't stay away, so much happening.
Your posts in this thread and others, sound like the start of a great book I for one would like to read. Seems Ed Ricketts, Joe Campbell and John Steinbeck thought the intricacies of the near shore were inspiring enough to warrant years of there lives to its observation.
I now have a folding lawn chair on the back rack of my Trooper, I'll be the cigar smoking guy sitting in a lawn chair with waders in ankle deep water under a rising soldier's Moon, fishy cat food stuffed in women's panty hose under my feet dreaming up fly patterns for future encounters with all the tide promises.