How the moon and tide can influence your fishing

The effect that the moon, sun and tides will have on fishing is incredible and a lot of anglers that I have come across over the years have asked me do I prefer to fish the moon phases or the tides? My answer is that I fish both, as they both influence each other, but I mainly work the tides.


Lunar cycle


The lunar cycle has 8 phases in it, and all of these phases have an effect on the tides which

in-turn plays an important part in the day to day life of the angler and the fish species that they are targeting. (Ref to diagram 1)



Effects on the tides


Tides are periodic short-term changes in the height of the surface at a particular place caused by a combination of the gravitational force of the moon, sun and the motion of the earth.


The ocean responds simultaneously to inertia and to the gravitational forces of both the sun and the moon. If earth, moon and sun are all in a line, the lunar and solar tides will go to their extreme. This will result in higher high tides and lower low tides. But if the earth, moon and sun form a right angle, the solar tide will tend to diminish the lunar tide. Because the moon’s contribution is more than twice that of the sun, the solar tide will not completely cancel the lunar tide.

To put this in simple terms the large tides caused by the linear alignment of the sun, earth and moon are called spring tides and occur at two week intervals corresponding to new and full moons. Neap tides also alternate at two week intervals and occur when the earth, moon and sun form a right angle. This will happen during the first and last quarters of the moon phases.

Now if you have ever looked at a tide chart and wondered why there is a slight difference between the tides on one day to the next. It is because the lunar day (24 hours 53 minutes) is longer than the 24 hour clock that we base our day on. Therefore the highest tide will arrive approximately 53 minutes later each day.

Ocean currents.

Australia’s fish species are influenced by currents, wind drifts and eddies. If you take a look at the map of Australia (Ref to diagram 2) that has the schematic view of ocean currents that are found around Australia you may start to realize why there can be an overlapping of fish species that are found in Australia. Australia is affected by the South Equatorial current that is found in the top northwest part of Australia, which in-turn joins up with the Leeuwin current that is found off the west coast of WA and part of South Australia. From there the coast of Australia is influenced by the Flinders current and the West Wind Drift. While the east coast of Victoria, NSW and Queensland has the East Coast eddies and the East Australian Current.



Tidal Patterns


Not only do tidal patterns come in the form of spring and neap tides, you also have semi-diurnal, diurnal and mixed tides. Semi-diurnal tides consist of two high tides and two low tides, each lunar day. A diurnal tide consists of one high and one low tide. Mixed tides occur when successive high or low tides are of significantly different heights through the cycle.

You will find that in most populated parts of Australia there will be a tide change approximately every six hours. How great the difference between the low and high water will depend on where you are fishing in Australia and at what stage the 28 day lunar cycle is at. For example, you could be fishing the Parramatta River in Sydney for yellowfin bream at the beginning of the month when the moon is in the first quarter and you have a high tide of 1.5 metres. Then come back and fish the same place when there is a new moon in the same lunar cycle, and find that you have a high tide of 1.9 metres. What this does for the yellowfin bream at this spot in the Parramatta River is that it allows them to forage further up the bank to areas that they normally won’t be able to get to, which then enables the angler more areas to target the yellowfin bream.


 Fishing around channel markers is a very productive way of using the tide changes.

Tidal currents


The rise and fall in the sea level as a tide crest approaches and pauses will cause a tidal current of water to flow into and out of bays and harbours. This water rushing into an enclosed area, due to a rise in the sea level is called a flood tide and water rushing out because of the fall in the sea level is called the ebb current.

Many marine animals and plants also benefit from the tides. The daily ebb and flood sweeps nutrients from the shallows, it moves the juvenile stages of fish species from intertidal nurseries to the deep ocean, as well as move juvenile stages of fish species spawned off the coast. This daily ebb and flood also generates currents that mix nutrients and distribute sediments.

As an angler you need to take note of these different tidal conditions, because these changes in the tidal current (flow) will governed whether you will need to change or adjust your rigs to suit the conditions. For example if you where fishing for luderick near the top of the tide on the run-out and the current/flow of the water was not fast you would be able to let your float go along with the current/flow. But what you would find as the tide started to get half way down the tidal current/flow would have increase to a point where you would have to slow your float down by holding it back.



 Both of these fish were caught while working Berkley Big Eyed blades in ten metres of water. The spot were concentrating on rose out of fourteen metres of water causing an upwelling of the currents.



Once again the tides and lunar times play an important part in getting it right when fishing off the rocks. To a novice angler trying to get this part right when fishing can seem to be an extremely difficult job, and yes it does take many hours of trial and error to work it out.

In my early years I fished at a place on the north coast of NSW near Nora Heads. The main fish species were bream, drummer and luderick. This very small gutter lead into a large and open hole that the bream, drummer and luderick can only access when the tide was around 1.8 metres and there is a bit of a swell running from the north. The moon had to be full and out during the day. But on the same headland you will find another small gutter that only fished well near the bottom of the tide and there has to be a bit of a southerly swell running and the moon was on its back.

On the south coast of NSW there is a small township called Gerroa, and it is here that I will only fish for drummer and luderick when a shadow has started to be cast over the rock and water edge. To fish here during the morning when it is very sunny is usually a waste of time.

With the coming of the flooding tide it brings with it all kinds of tasty morsels as it rushes over the sand flats, rock bars and weed beds. If I was chasing flathead I would tend to work the edges of a drop-off at two different times of the tide. One would be when the flathead lays in wait just on the edge of a drop-off to a sand flat and as the tide gets up a bit getting ready to move onto the sand flats looking for a feed. Secondly I would also targeted the same spot, but as the tide is about half way down as the flathead will tend to lay in wait for the smaller fish to come back off the sand flats as the tide recedes.

Some of my biggest sand whiting have been caught either side of the top of the tide on a sand flat. But I have also caught them in the last throws of the receding tide working the edges for that last worm or nipper.

Now as to the lunar influence when fishing an estuary, it will depend on whom you talk to and what place and area they fish as to which part of the moon cycle is best to fish. If I am fishing for mulloway I prefer to fish three days either side of the full moon and it doesn’t matter whether it is day or night. For whiting I prefer to fish at night during the last quarter of the moon and for bream I like to fish the dark of the moon. This is due to the fact there is usually not as much movement in the water during the change of the tide.


Blog Archives


Sign-up to our regular newsletter. Keep up-to-date with the latest product and find out how to win some great stuff.

Useful Links