We get asked a lot about the best tides for bonefishing on Andros Island. We’ll do our best to give a basic explanation of a very complicated topic!
What is a Good Tide?
In most general terms, a ‘good tide’ is one in which there’s a decent amount of ‘moving water’, or tidal flow, during the time that you’re fishing. Moving water moves the food around which moves the fish around, and moving water also changes the areas on a flat that have the right depth for bonefish to feed, which again moves the fish around.
Slack is Bad
Usually, fishing slows down when the tide is slack – at either the high or low end of the tide cycle. That’s first and foremost because there’s not a lot of moving water, but high slack and low slack also have their own issues.
On a high tide, many flats are flooded, which means that there’s a fair amount of water all the way up into the mangroves, which means that bonefish can go way into the mangroves to feed, which is a very safe place for them to feed because they’re protected from predators…including anglers! If you’ve ever poled along a mangrove edge and heard fish tailing 100 feet into the mangroves, you know this can be a frustrating situation.
On a low tide, many flats are dry or so shallow that bonefish can’t swim on them, which forces the fish to group up in the channels or move off into deeper water – neither of which are very compelling angling situations. We want fish spread out, cruising along the flats!
So, a ‘good tide’ day might be, for example, a day where you start fishing just as the tide starts to come in, and the tide comes in all day. A ‘bad tide’ day might be a day where you start fishing just as the outgoing tide is finishing, fish through a low slack tide, and knock off just as the tide starts coming back in. It’s better to have more time with moving water.
There Are Lots of Exceptions
Before we talk about some of the ways that it’s more complicated than just the stage in the tide, we should point out that there are many, many exceptions to what we’ve covered. Fisheries vary a lot, and individual flats vary a lot.
Some flats fish better on a high tide. Some flats fish better on a low outgoing tide. Some flats fish better on a high incoming tide. Distance from deep water, structure of channels around a flat, size and shape of the flat…they all play a factor in when a flat will fish well.
Predicting the Water Level
So, just check the tide chart for the area you’re fishing, make sure you’ve got moving water during the time you’ll be fishing, and you’re good…right?
If only it were that simple. Multiple variables impact the water level on a given flat at a given time, and the timing of the tide is only one of the them.
The wind has a huge impact on water levels too – particularly in places like Andros Island where the area covered by the tide is huge compared to the vertical drop of the tide. If the wind is blowing in the same direction that the tide is flowing, it will tend to accelerate and/or strengthen the size of the tide. If the wind is blowing in the opposite direction that the tide is flowing, it will tend to slow down and/or weaken the size of the tide.
The effect can be huge – we’ve seen situations, for example, in which certain flats were at ‘high tide’ for 2 days straight, because the wind literally held the water on the flat. On the flip side, strong sustained winds can ‘blow the water off the land’ – meaning that the flats on the interior of the island have much less water than normal after periods of several windy days. Tide charts are a useful guideline, but not the final word.
Tides on Andros Island
They’re really complicated!
Andros Island, our home at Andros South, is a big island with a huge system of flats around it – call the system of flats roughly 30 miles wide at most points. It’s got really deep (5,000 feet +) water just a mile to the east and a huge bank just to the west. It’s cut up by several giant waterways (the Bights) and a bunch of smaller creeks, many of which are very windy and feed water to various areas of flats.
Because of all this structure, the path along which the tide flows to different flats varies a ton! One flat might be right up against deep water; another flat might get its flow via a windy, 15-mile meander through the creeks. This variation means that the timing of any given tide varies a lot depending on where you are on the island. It takes time for the tide to flow, so the distance from deep water impacts the timing of the tide.
You can pull back and see this at a high level when you look at South Andros Island as a whole. In general – this is a little hard to get your head around at first – when it’s high tide on the east side of South Andros, it’s low tide on the West Side. In between, the tide will be at varying stages of incoming and outgoing, depending on where you are – and the creeks wind around so much and interconnect so much that the change doesn’t even occur consistently as you move in one direction. Is your head starting to hurt yet?
Actually, this is a fantastic thing when it comes to a day or a week of bonefishing. Why? Because, due to all the incredible variation in the tides across different parts of our island, our guides can find almost any given tidal condition at any given time. We don’t need to wait out ‘bad tides’ or slack water – we can just move and find better tides somewhere else.
Sometimes conditions change, and our guides aren’t perfect. Even after 20 years on the flats of South Andros, they’re sometimes surprised by the amount of water on a given flat when they arrive. But still – the ability to tailor a fishing day around different tidal conditions on different parts of the island is a game-changer when it comes to consistently delivering quality bonefishing days.
So When Should I Come?
“I want to book my Andros trip during the best tides.” Of course you do – we all want to have the best fishing experience possible.
Here’s the problem – the best tides vary depending on where on Andros Island you’re fishing. Where on the island you’re fishing depends on the weather (Wind out of the South? Go West!). Can you predict the weather? Neither can we.
You can have a great plan, based on the tides, to fish a certain area, but then wake up and have weather conditions that mean you’re better off fishing another part of the island. This is one of the huge benefits of Andros Island – it’s so big and has so many different exposures that you can move and find better conditions – but it also means that it’s harder to plan a trip based on the tides.
Not every place is like Andros Island. Most bonefishing destinations have a much simpler tidal pattern, a smaller fishery and fewer different exposures to the wind. In those places, planning a trip around the tides can be really important.
If you want to plan a trip to South Andros based on the tides, the best you can do is pick good tides for a specific part of the island. If you want, say, low incoming water in the South in the morning (which would be a perfectly great thing to want), you could pick dates based on that predicted tide, and hopefully fish in the South a bunch during your trip.
As a side note, for a rough approximation of tides in the South of South Andros Island, you can use this tide chart and add two hours – that’s a decent guideline.
How I Book My Trips
It’s time for an incredible letdown after a fairly lengthy post on the right tides for bonefishing.
After something like 30 trips to South Andros, I, your humble editor, honestly, literally, don’t even check a tide chart when I’m looking at dates for a bonefishing trip to Andros South. In my opinion, the other variables have a bigger role in affecting quality fishing than predicted tides – recent wind and current weather especially.
I book my trips based on when I can go and when my friends can go. That’s much more important than the tides!