Minus Tide

Sometimes a morning on the beach is just about fishing, but sometimes it’s much more when you stop, look, and reflect.

Today’s time on the beach was the second.

This weekend’s new moon is contributing to spring tides this week – meaning higher highs and lower lows, with good tidal current between the two tides.

The general rule of thumb is to look for strong tidal current to have the best chance of catching a searun cutthroat trout as that’s when they’re feeding, with different beaches fishing better on the ebb or the flood.

On the west side of Puget Sound where I fish the best tides for fishing are the ebb.

Unfortunately for me,  the lowest tides are occurring all week in the morning hours that I favor for fishing.  Fewer people and low sun angles make for better fishing; I don’t care for being out midday or later with high sun angles and more people – and in the summer, the heat of the day.

This week’s low tides meant that it was moving from an ebb to a flood, with a relatively slack waters on each side of the low tide, where typically fishing is poor; of course, proving exceptions to the rule, people do catch fish in situations and times that violate the rules of thumb – sometimes the fish don’t know the rules they’re supposed to follow.

So, I decided to do a beach reconnaissance – an uncovered beach provides an opportunity to look at the structure where fish typically can be located.

Structure is the form of the materials that make up the beach (e.g., cobble, mud, sand) and the shape of the submerged beach (e.g., where the slope changes, or where there are dips or small ridges).

With a minus one point five (-1.5) foot tide relative to the mean lower low datum,  I knew it was an opportunity to see more of the uncovered beach than is typical – always a good option to recheck assumptions and memories from past walks at low tide.

I decided to leave the waders at home and just wear my wading boots with neoprene wet wading socks – I might get slightly cold feet if I stepped into the water, but I knew I wasn’t going to do much wading with a slack current at such a low tide.

I did bring my rod and a popper (a fly that floats on the surface) in case there was one of those fish that didn’t know the rules and was looking for something to feed. And it would be an opportunity to practice fly casting with an actual fly rather than a bit of synthetic yarn tied on to look, if not perform, like a fly.

As I walked to the water’s edge, I turned to look back to the visible high-tide line and began to notice the way in which the beach slope changed as I looked up and down the beach. Covered with water during typical tidal cycles where the upper beach appeared would be more or less uniform, that wasn’t the case farther out.

As the tide slowly turned, and the flood began its almost imperceptible movement, it became obvious that the deepest beach slope related to how close the tidal currents came to the beach.

In some places, where the beach was more or less uniform in slope, the moving water was still relatively far from the shore; where the current was closer to the shore, the slope was somewhat steeper. It was, and should have been, obvious that hydraulic action of the strong Narrows tidal currents shapes the beach.

None of that would have been apparent if the minus tide hadn’t caused me to really look and try to understand why the lower beach was as it was.

A perfect analogy it seems to me for what it takes for us as individuals to understand what is going on within ourselves. The daily patterns of our lives act as the normal tidal range, masking the deeper forces that shape us. It is often only a sudden health crisis or another shock in life to expose the deeper recesses and forces us to see what we’re really about and what we value.

Standing there, I started to think about how my life changed since January 2019 and what I care about and how things that seemed to matter much when I was younger no longer do.

It’s not the first time I’ve reflected on that, but standing at the water’s edge at the time of low tide I realized that it provided me an opportunity to see myself as such a small part of the world around me. The tidal cycle – including minus tides – will continue long past me, as it has for all who came before. And maybe my role in all of it just to be the best part of all it in the places I stand.



Author: Tom

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