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What’s Behind Abnormal High Tide Levels in Galveston Bay

October 31st, 2017

By Capt. Joe Kent

The most common question anglers have asked so far this fall is what is causing the abnormally high tide levels in the Galveston Bay Complex?

High tide levels are common all year long; however, their duration is almost always limited to the events that caused them, such as strong east and southeast winds, storms in the Gulf of Mexico and to a lesser degree the Full Moon Phase.

For most of October, the tide levels have been averaging two feet above normal all around Galveston Bay.  The most interesting part of this is that, while at times the normal triggering factors mentioned earlier were present, the high water levels continued after those factors diminished.

So, what is behind all of this?  Well, I checked with a Galveston area weather expert and asked that question.  The following is his theory on why the tides did not quickly recede to normal levels.

First, higher than normal tides is the new normal along the upper Texas Coast, at least for the time being.  October 2017 was one of the warmest ever in and around Galveston (since observations began in 1871).

This is reflected in the water temperatures in deep Gulf waters.  Since warm water expands, water levels will be higher than if the water temperatures were lower or in the normal range.

Also, we are seeing a residual run up of water along the upper Texas Coast, as there is some inertia built into the development of higher tide levels. Also, we still are getting a fairly robust fresh water flow from the recent record setting floods that are causing large amounts of water to flow from rivers between the mouth of the Sabine River to the mouth of the Colorado River.

Strong northerly winds will mitigate the situation by blowing the water out of the bays and back into the Gulf of Mexico.

It should be easy to conclude from the expert’s opinion given above that global warming is aggravating the situation as well.

Now, how does all of this affect fishing in the Galveston Bay Complex?  During September and October the higher tide levels hampered fishing.  Generally, when there is a change from the normal, fish react to it.  In this case we saw some negative effects on inshore fishing while the surf likely benefited from the longer stretches of water hitting the beaches.

The one area that saw the least effects was offshore where the summertime pattern continued.

For inshore fishing, the marshes and back bays were flooded and that drove redfish well into the normally shallow waters chasing bait fish and reaping the spoils of freshly covered ground where crustaceans and other small marine life were thriving.

Besides the abnormally high water levels, the record temperatures of October delayed our fall fishing patterns from getting underway.

Often I have mentioned that Columbus Day was a time when we saw signs of the onset of fall fishing patterns.  Not the case in 2017, as now I am leaning more toward Veteran’s Day as that pivotal time.