High Water In The Marshes

Submitted by OcracokeWaves on Tue, 10/08/2013 - 00:50.

I love having a home on an inlet of a big tidal river.  Living with the rhythms of the tides means that things are never exactly the same along the water.
When we get a really low tide,  the marsh becomes beach front property for fiddler crabs.  If we get a really high tide, just about anything can be wandering in the water covered marsh grass including my favorite fish, the red drum.

How high the tide goes depends on lots of things including the wind direction, the moon, and what storm happens to be riding up the coast.

Things get even more exciting out on the river.  During a very high tide, oyster bars can be submerged and the river can look like a lake that is easy to navigate.

When the oyster bars are under water, you need to be able to pick up the signs of an invisible oyster bar.  The water will often be smooth on the top of the bar with waves on either side of the bar.

It helps to be familiar with the river.  If you have seen the same area at almost low tide, it is a whole lot easier to recognize and appreciate an oyster bar.

The real challenge is knowing just how much water is covering the oyster rocks at high tide.  There are places where the water is six inches or less and there are a few deeper spots and an occasional gap in the rocks.   Also we rarely have two tides exactly the same.  The spot that might have six inches today, might only have two inches tomorrow at the same time.  You know you are in an area that is challenging if you have trouble finding enough water for a kayak at times.

The day that I snapped the high water picture of the big White Oak River oyster bar, I was fishing near it when I heard a big boat.   I looked up expecting to see the boat in the channel but he was coming straight for me and only veered away from me slightly.  He was traveling at high speed and I knew what was coming next.  It came only seconds later when I heard the boat hit the oyster bar with a crash.  His motor stuttered and then the boat made it over the bar with an awful grinding sound.  All I could think of is that the hull and maybe the prop were going to be seriously damaged.

Just because the water is high does not mean you can ignore the marked channel on the White Oak River unless you really know what you are doing.  In this map you can see that the marked channel just misses the oyster rocks on the White Oak.

Sometimes it is even harder to avoid the rocks. For the last couple of weeks we have been plying the river without the help of the critical Green 11 Buoy which I call the middle of the river buoy just before the oyster rocks.  The boat that I saw hit the rocks cannot use that as an excuse since it was headed down river and cut to the middle of the river before Red Sixteen.  He seemed to believe the water was high enough to let him go anywhere.  I suspect he got an expensive lesson.

While the water was high, it certainly was not high enough to forget the oyster rocks.  Those of us with a GPS in our skiffs have an advantage since we can follow a track even if there is a buoy or two missing.  If you have traveled the river lots, you can navigate by landmarks, but I like to have that GPS and the buoys make me feel even better.  I do have the landmarks memorized for that middle of the river buoy just in case.

High water is fun.  It does let you go places you might not be able to visit at lower tides.  However, it does hide the features of the river and if you like to fish a falling tide like me, sometimes a really high tide keeps everything hidden.  I have certain spots that I like to fish.  I can make a pretty good guess as to where they are, but it helps to have the tide low enough to see a few oyster rocks.

High water makes some people reckless.  It is easy to convince yourself that your boat up on plane is flying on top of the water.  However, high speed and oyster rock filled waters are not a good mixture.

Still I know the flooding tides are great for the marshes and lots of our critters.  I would rather have a really high tide than a really low tide any day.

Fortunately I have been boating long enough to know when the water is marginal with exceptional lunar tides.  We rarely have those really low tides, but they are a reminder that the water comes and goes.  We just have to pay attention and adapt to whatever water the tides give us.   

Fortunately we usually have great weather here on the Crystal Coast which makes experimenting with the tides as long as you are careful a real pleasure especially in the fall.