Cast & Blast

Our huge Lowcountry tides are like a good toilet. Here’s why that’s a good thing

The huge tide on May River last week.
The huge tide on May River last week. Special to The Island Packet/ The Beaufort Gazette

When I used to do seminars on “How to Fish the Lowcountry” at the Waddell Mariculture Center or while spending time guiding newcomers who needed help figuring out our waters, the number one comment I heard was: “The tides here are so big! I am scared to death of running into an oyster rake or running aground.”

So what was my suggestion to these folks?

I tell them to take a camera or a notepad and head out at low tide and record what they see. With tides that average around seven and a half feet, anyone who has spent any amount of time out on the our water knows just how different things look when the tide covers up the thousands of obstacles that dot our estuaries.

The second thing I suggest is that they take along a bottle of bug spray and bottles of water so that should they run aground and be forced to spend a few hours high and dry, at least they won’t get eaten alive by no-see-ums or be thirsty. That’s first-hand experience talking there.

Why the chatter about tides? If you don’t know the answer to that question then you were either out of town this week or had your eyes closed because the tides have been way up there. I will go so far as saying they were massive. Since I live within spitting distance of the May River, I get to see the full gambit of tides, both high and low.

One day last week, I had to drive over to Hilton Head for a doctor’s appointment. As I was going over the bridge to the island, I noticed something I usually only get to see two or three times a year. Having seen my share of big tides, this particular one was incredible. As far as I could see, nary neither a blade of marsh grass nor one clump of oysters could be seen. It was like I was on the beach looking out over the ocean.

I had my camera in the car and was dying to stop and take a picture of the scene. But the only dying would have been me given the danger that a truck or better yet, a Cadillac from Ohio, just might grind me into the cement like some five-day-old road kill.

So why were the tides so high this time around?

Even with overcast skies, I knew the new moon had just passed and on top of that, good old hurricane Florence was pushing in even more water. Laugh all you want, but since I was a toddler, new and full moons have just weirded me out. I’ll bet my first-born that you could put me in a bunker one hundred feet down in the ground and I could still tell you when a new or full moon was happening. I don’t grow fangs or anything quite that extreme, but a howl here and there is definitely possible.

As far as tides go, gravity has everything to do with the height of them. Another factor is the gentle slope of our coastline that contributes to our bigger than average tides. In areas where deep water is closer to shore, the difference between high and low tide might be one or two feet. But here that difference can be as much as eleven feet. If it makes you feel any better, the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia has tides that vary by 38 feet. Now that’s a tide and a half!

Remember those newcomers I spoke about earlier who always complain about our tides?

If our tides were more like down in Florida — where they vary by just a couple of feet — it would make it easier to navigate (and fish). But personally, I wouldn’t change our tidal fluctuation for anything in the world.

In a nutshell, these big tides are what make our waters so productive. I like to compare our tidal flow to a good toilet. (I can hear you now: “Why did he pick a toilet of all things”?) My answer to that is as simple as asking you would if you’d rather have a toilet that flushes like hell or one that requires a double flush? Point made.

Our big tides that occur four times a day keep our waters healthy and clean.

And when we have astronomical tides like we did this past week, it purges all the dead marsh grass and all of our horrible man-made trash out of our estuaries. I know this to be true because since I do a lot of offshore fishing, a few days after these big tides I see massive rafts of dead marsh grass sprinkled with human garbage as far out as forty or so miles offshore.

Our tides keep our oysters clean, our marshes pristine and no doubt make it easier for fish, shrimp and crabs that are trying to work their way offshore to get to their wintering spots. For them, mega tides must be like hitching a ride on a bullet train.

So don’t get mad about our tides. Try instead to understand that they are what make our waters some of the cleanest on the East Coast.

As long as you remember your bug spray, snacks and water, you’re good to go!