As I begin this new blog (Boxing Day 2010), the air temperature outside is continuing at sub zero to the tune of -6 C plus (daytime), and unmentionable degrees below during the night. The main thoroughfares are clear with the motorway verges still banked high with compressed snow. Side roads, many have not seen a gritting lorry during the whole of the extreme cold spell, remain dangerous, snow bound and covered in a layer of solid glass-like black ice. Looking out of the studio window, across the roof tops, beyond the M4 motorway, the panorama is a classic “Christmas card” scene, with the isolated farms looking like large full stops, spaced across the solid blanket of pristine white snow; PICTURESQUE BUT INCONVENIENT!!
Time is rapidly running out for 2010, slowly but surely the demise of the old year is coming ever closer, replaced by the euphoria of expectation and the promise of good things for the new one. Human nature being what it is, come June, July and the peak of summer, when the bass, rays, smooth-hounds are in abundance, the traumas of the last few weeks will be but hazy memories, a timely reminder when thermal underwear, moon boots, and the all-weather suit have been replaced by a Flowery Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts, feather light chest waders, and WHINGING ABOUT THE HEAT!!
A New Year, New Tide Table Book!
A new year means a new tide-table book!! There are few stretches of coastline around the British Isles where these predictions are of more consequence than Wales, and in particular the Bristol Channel. The variety of different terrain and the extremes of tidal movement, second highest rise and fall in the world, makes the ownership of these small but invaluable booklets an essential part of a sea anglers armoury.
No sea angler worth his or her salt can seriously hope to operate with even a meagre level of success without access to a source of the local tide predictions, either through the appropriate web sites or the tide-table booklet, together with the basic ability to interpret the information it contains. There is no excuse for not having one of these booklets, they are available in a range of outlets such as good newsagents through to the prime source, the local tackle shop. Cost is minimal, usually under a pound, with some tackle dealers distributing them free of charge as a goodwill gesture to encourage customer loyalty.
Owning a tide-table booklet is a first step towards a better understanding of the moods and movements of the Bristol Channel. A brief discussion about the forces that are responsible for these tidal movements will make for better appreciation of the enormity of the phenomenon that we take for granted every time we go to the coast to fish, swim or just paddle our feet.
It may come as a Surprise!
It may come as a surprise that the Sun, despite being a much larger object, has only half the influence on the Earths ocean movements as the Moon. The size of the Moon and its proximity to the Earth, has the biggest effect by far, with its gravity pulling the Earths water towards it, affecting not only the oceans but land based areas of freshwater also. The “tides” are the rise and fall of the sea levels which occur as a direct result of this “tug of war” between the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon, Sun and rotation of the Earth. The fluctuating differences between the levels of water at high and low tide is called the “tidal range”, and is the visual manifestation on Earth of all this invisible astronomical activity. High water normally occurs twice a day in the Bristol Channel approximately every 12 hours and 24 minutes, with each sequence on average advancing 50 minutes later than the previous day. The explanation why each tide sequence (low to high to low) is not an exact split of the 24 hour day (i.e. 12 hours each), is because the Moon takes longer to return to the same location in the sky after orbiting the Earth, following the same direction as the Earth on its axis.
Spring tides have the biggest “range” between high and low water, the result of the combined gravitational effect when the Sun and the Moon are aligned, and occur throughout the year when there is a new or full moon, approximately every 14 days. The highest spring tides occur after the equinoxes in March and September. The spring equinox occurs on the 20th/ 21st March and the autumn equinox, the 22nd/ 23rd September. (2011- Spring equinox 23.21 PM 20th March and Autumn equinox 09.04 AM 23rd September)
Neap tides have the smallest “range” and occur when the Moon and Sun are not in alignment, with the gravitational forces cancelling each other out. Neap tides occur exactly halfway between spring tides, when the Moon is at the first or last quarter.
It is worth repeating that the tide tables are indispensable to any sea angler, boat or shore, supplied in a handy size, say 6inches x 4 inches, and very portable. The outside front cover spells out the area of coast covered by the predictions e.g. “Swansea Bay and Bristol Channel” together with the year to which they apply, 2011. The inside front cover usually carries all the important information, including naming the “Standard Port” on which the predictions are based, together with a list of minutes to be added or subtracted to give the approximate time of high water at other designated ports along the coast. Also displayed are the all important dates when 1 hour has to be added to the high water predictions in order to calculate British Summer Time.
In 2008, B.S.T. fell between 0100 March 30th and 0100 October 26th .
2009, 0100 March 29th and 0100 October 25th .
2010, 0100 March 28th and 0100 October 31st .
2011, 0100 March 27th and 0100 October 30th .
It is worth remembering that the tide table predictions are an accurate guide assuming “constant” weather conditions. In reality, such events as an occasional strong onshore wind or storm surge can increase the “real” height of the flood above the predicted high water in the tide table book, and reduce the extent of the ebb at low water.
Managing the Time and the Tides!
Each page in the tide table booklet is assigned to one calendar month, January, February and so on, with the predicted times of high water expressed in Greenwich Meantime. There is a wealth of information to be extracted from the tide tables for those who are prepared to spend just a little time leafing through the pages, sufficient to illustrate, figuratively, the rhythm and extremes of water movement in the Bristol Channel.
Buying or acquiring a copy of the latest tide table booklet early in a new year, is a priority for many anglers, impatient to get a feel for what the new season may offer. My first task always was to scan the neatly set out predictions on the twelve pages, the purpose being to identify the Biggest and Smallest tides of the year. These two extremes became mental benchmarks, yardsticks against which all the other tide heights could be compared, immediately conjuring up an accurate image in the minds eye of the extent of the tidal range and behaviour. There are a total of 705 tides (morning and evening) in 2011. The biggest tide of the year (13.2 metres/ 43.2 feet) occurs at 08.14 AM (incl. BST) Monday, 21st March and the smallest tide (9.5 metres/ 31.2 feet) reaches its peak at 14.28 PM (incl. BST) on Monday, 28th March. Add 35 minutes to each of the above for Cardiff/ Penarth, plus 3 minutes for Porthcawl, with no add-ons for Port Talbot. (Based on the predictions for the Kings Dock Sill, Swansea). The principles of this exercise will be the same irrespective of the Standard Port. The big “secret” for getting the best out of the tide table booklet is to buy your copy from the same source year in year out, where the predictions are based on the SAME Standard Port, so that familiarity with the tide heights has continuity.
It is very much down to the individual as to how the information is used, be it to select a tide time and height for a “spur of the moment”, spontaneous session or a long term planning of times and tides chosen on the basis of experience, knowledge and behaviour of a particular species at a specific time of year.
Questioning the Accepted Methods!
In the 60’s I began to question the accepted methods and approach to sea angling that were the norm at the time, convinced that LIGHT TACKLE and SPECIES SPECIALISATION was the best way to lay to rest some of the myths surrounding the “unusual” conditions of extreme tidal range, heavily silted waters and the closed geography of the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel, along the south east coast of Wales. Frustrated by the poor and random returns of the “lottery” or “Chuck it and Chance it” approach, which appears to have stood the test of time, remaining the most widely practised style of sea fishing to this day. I selected several species which were of special interest to me and set about learning all that I could about habitats, behaviour, both theoretical and practical, until becoming sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to predict where, when and under what conditions they were present at specific locations. My prime target was the Bass and it is no exaggeration to say that the wealth of information gathered made it possible to predict when these fish would arrive at the proven marks almost to the hour. My sons and I proved the value of this approach time and time again. I well remember an incident which personifies this approach to the upmost degree.
A Warm but not Boiling Hot Sort of Day!
It was the mid seventies, probably 1975, and I had left work to collect my wife and two sons from home to take them to the coast. I remember it was one of those warm, but not boiling hot sort of days, with some cloud cover, and a fresh breeze coming in from the south west. Ian at 11 years was the youngest, with Mark older at around 13 years, both well versed in light tackle fishing for bass, and knowledgeable of the most effective times to fish for them. Not unnaturally, with me being a rod builder, they were kitted out with up to the minute, custom built, fibreglass rods with spigot ferrules, matched to their size and capabilities. Mark preferred a multiplier reel, an Abu 6000, whilst Ian’s choice was a small Abu fixed spool reel. I reluctantly had to return to work, leaving the three of them to make the longish walk to one of our top marks. The night before, I had worked out the time of low water, telling Mark the best time and state of the tide to start fishing. My wife often relates the tale of how she couldn’t understand why having set up, the two boys didn’t start fishing immediately preferring to scrabble amongst the rocks looking for additional crab to add to the bait bucket, that was until checking his watch, Mark baited up and cast out, quickly followed by his younger brother. Within minutes Mark had struck into a bass and was playing, reeling in a fish that turned the scales at 6 lb. plus. Ian followed suit not long after, landing a bass circa 4 lb. plus. No other fish were caught in this session , but this was one incident amongst many, that proved the validity of knowing the marks and appropriate conditions in detail, combined with the value of using the tide table booklet to forward plan. This session lasted 2 to 2 ½ hours, about the maximum effective period at a known mark for bass, rays and many other species, if equipped with the appropriate knowledge.”
One of the many virtues of forward planning via the tide table booklet plus an intimate knowledge of a species behaviour etc, is that the prime period of activity can be identified and the time at the waters edge condensed to a span of 2-3 hours, rather than being at the mercy of chance for long hours of unproductive, standing around on a beach or rock station, in the forlorn hope that something, anything, will break the monotony by trembling the rod tip. Bass are not alone in being predictable, Rays also have a short period of peak activity at particular times through a tide whether shallow water fishing from a beach or deep water fishing from a platform. Knowing when these “peak episodes” occur, at what state of a particular tide height, under what conditions, can improve the enjoyment, satisfaction and results beyond comprehension.
Although I have no history of smooth hound fishing, apart from accidental contact, never the less if you refer to my blog “Smooth-hound fishing in south east Wales”, there is plenty of evidence to prove that the dedicated, successful anglers, are intimate with the knowledge of everything about this species, and likely contact is predetermined by long time experience and association with the smooth-hounds, the marks and arrival times.
How many times have you read reports by anglers complaining that nothing happened at the fishing spot for a lengthy period from time of arrival, when without warning, there was a sudden flurry of activity, a rush of bites, maybe some fish landed, before everything went dead again, until it was time to go home. In essence, the period before and after the “feeding frenzy” was a “waste of time”, and the “magic moments” when the fish were active, was probably a very small proportion of the overall time at the “mark”. Developing the intuition and skill to identify when these “magic moments” will occur is helped by forward planning, and an intimate knowledge of your local patch.
I guess the obvious questions that follow the previous paragraphs, must include (1) How do you achieve the level of skill and intuition to identify these “magic moments” and (2) How can forward planning through the tide table booklet help achieve better results. The answer to both involves not a small amount of both mental and physical effort on the part of the interested angler, and there definitely are no short cuts. It is difficult, if not impossible to be well versed in all the species met along the shores of the Bristol Channel, so the initial decision is to select the “in season” species that inhabit your patch which are especially attractive to you.
It is at this time of the year (middle of January 2011), with very little, worthwhile sea fishing activity locally, that provides the ideal opportunity to scout the low water area of the big, spring tides, seeking out potential marks for the new season, logging and photographing specific gullies for attention later, when the bass are present in large numbers. Likewise, patrol the exposed areas of the “storm” beaches at low water, again looking for salient, “permanent” features that could be feeding stations to be cast to when they are covered by the new flood. Trial and error together with an independent, enquiring mind are a must if seriously seeking the tools of consistency, finding out for your self rather than relying on the subjective recommendations of where to fish, supplied by others whose “expertise” is likely based on second hand, out of date information anyway.
Flagging up the Peak Times!!
Early season shallow water beach fishing for small eyed and thornback rays followed by bass fishing in all its facets, made up the bulk of my spring and summer fishing. This was more than enough to fill the disposable time available to satisfy that passion for sea fishing. The shallow, shelving beaches in the region can be an asset in April and May for the rays, results very much linked to the local climate at the time plus the warming effect of a sustained visit by a weak but plausible sun. After a prolonged, hard winter, the shallow waters of a big spring tide flooding in over cold sand, are likely to discourage the rays, keeping them at distance, but a gradual, reasonable, sun blessed improvement in temperature, may be sufficient to encourage them closer inshore, at least within the reach of competent long distant casting from low water. If the climate of the surrounding catchment area remains very low, possibly sub zero, beach fishing is unlikely to be productive, so any positive, early season contact with small eyed or thornback rays is more likely over high water from deep water marks like the ledges on the left hand side of Witches Point (looking out to sea) or the Deeps at Ogmore by Sea. In anticipation of the shallow water ray fishing, flagging up all the daytime SPRING tides that exceed 39 feet (H.W.) in April and May was my first job, highlighting them with a coloured marker pen. The next step was to calculate the low water time (adding 6 hours 10 minutes to the previous high tide), including the hour for BST, and enter the results in the tide table book against the respective height tide.
Similarly, the procedure was copied for the bass, but in this case, the low water of all the smallest (neap) tides (day or night) from May through to early September, were flagged up.
Tide Tables tell a Story!
The tide table booklet is beginning to tell a story, signalling EVERY theoretical, suitable tide and tide state throughout the season that experience had proven was the most likely to be locally rewarding. The reality was that, much as I would like, it was impossible to attend all of these predictions because of family commitments, work and those other obstacles that stood in the way of fulfilling my favourite pursuit.
The next step was to convert the priority, low water times into a more representative pattern around my domestic commitments, taking into consideration working hours etc. This was achieved by dividing the priority tides into two categories, CONVENIENT and POSSIBLE, then allocating the respective code from the chart below, to reflect the sociable or unsociable consequences well in advance of the day.
CONVENIENT is a state of the tide that falls at either a sociable or unsociable time, when your effectiveness following a fishing session is not a consideration. (Weekends, Days off etc).
POSSIBLE is a state of the tide that falls at either a sociable or unsociable time, when your effectiveness following a fishing session has to be a consideration. (Work, etc.)
The Final Piece of the Jigsaw!!
Having gone to great lengths to prioritise all the peak tides and tide states in the tide table booklet for the coming season, based on hard earned knowledge of species movements and behaviour inshore, the vital, last piece of the jigsaw that will confirm whether the theory becomes reality and rewarding, will be the prevailing sea and weather conditions on the day. In this modern, technological age it is so easy to source this information in advance of the chosen date, thus making the right decision on whether to go for it or not, a simple matter of clicking onto the appropriate websites. Listed below are some links that I have found useful.
XC. Weather: http://www.xcweather.co.uk/GB/forecast
BBC 5 day : http://news.bbc.co.uk/weather/forecast/8
Magic Seaweed: http://magicseaweed.com/Porthcawl-surf-report/29/
You are invited to visit my new website, “Ticker’s World”, which includes access to my blogs, details, plus a review by Mike Thrussell Senior, of my new book “Bass Fishing from the Shore in South East Wales and More”.
Copyright Derek Townsend 2011