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Heres how I decide to “GO” or not..

Keep in mind that these are just forecasts, they can be much better and they can be much worse.  With experience, and access to several sources, you will get better and better at finding those “doable” days. Keep in mind if you only fish when the forecast is  “absolutely perfect” you won’t fish much.  Sometimes you just need make an educated guess and “roll the dice”,  heading to the coast to decide if its “doable” when you get there.

 TONIGHT...W WIND 5 TO 10 KT...BACKING TO S AFTER MIDNIGHT.
 WIND WAVES 1 FOOT. W SWELL 8 FT AT 9 SECONDS.
 .WED...SE WIND 5 TO 15 KT...BECOMING S 20 TO 25 KT WITH GUSTS TO
 30 KT IN THE AFTERNOON. WIND WAVES 2 FT...BUILDING TO 5 FT IN THE
 AFTERNOON. NW SWELL 5 FT AT 9 SECONDS. CHANCE OF RAIN.
 .WED NIGHT...S WIND 25 TO 30 KT...BECOMING SW 20 KT AFTER
 MIDNIGHT. W SWELL 11 FT AT 8 SECONDS. RAIN.
 .THU...SW WIND 15 TO 20 KT...BECOMING W 10 TO 15 KT IN THE
 AFTERNOON. WIND WAVES 4 FT...SUBSIDING TO 2 FT IN THE
 AFTERNOON. W SWELL 10 FT. SHOWERS LIKELY.
 .THU NIGHT...NW WIND 5 TO 10 KT. WIND WAVES 1 FOOT. W SWELL
 7 FT. SLIGHT CHANCE OF SHOWERS IN THE EVENING.
 .FRI...N WIND 5 TO 10 KT. WIND WAVES 1 FOOT. W SWELL 6 FT.
 .FRI NIGHT...NW WIND 10 TO 15 KT...VEERING TO N AFTER MIDNIGHT.
 WIND WAVES 2 FT. W SWELL 5 FT.
 .SAT...N WIND 10 TO 15 KT WITH GUSTS TO 20 KT. WIND WAVES 2 FT.
 W SWELL 5 FT.
 .SUN...NW WIND 10 TO 15 KT. WIND WAVES 2 FT. W SWELL 5 FT.  

When you look at a NOAA forecast you have several things to use to make your decision.

Wind/Windwaves: wind equals “wind waves” or “chop” which are day spoilers for us yakers. I look at the previous days wind and the next few days wind forecast to get a general trend of the wind.  For me any forecast that indicates winds in the 15-20 KT range or more is a no go for all but the nearest/shortest trips.  Forecasts like:

WED...SE WIND 5 TO 15 KT...BECOMING S 20 TO 25 KT WITH GUSTS TO
 30 KT IN THE AFTERNOON. WIND WAVES 2 FT...BUILDING TO 5 FT

should be a red flag.  The shorthand of this forecast is; slight breeze in the AM when you launch, turning to fairly windy by late morning, to damn windy by early afternoon.  In general, I have found that on most days (oregon coast summer) if NOAA says 5-10kt you are good till early afternoon with little to no wind and if it indicates 10-15kt you are usually good till about 11 or so am before it starts to blow.  If its blowing more than a light breeze when you launch it most likely won’t get any better.

Another factor to consider is wind direction. In the summer the swell pattern is predominately out of the North and most often the wind follows the direction of the swells, which is fine.  A situation to keep an eye on is when the swell and the wind are coming from opposite directions.  When a south wind hits north swells it tends to stand the waves up intensifying the sea state. In short be wary of the south wind..

This forecast screams ugly conditions...

AFTERNOON. NW SWELL 5 FT AT 9 SECONDS. CHANCE OF RAIN.
 .WED NIGHT...S WIND 25 TO 30 KT...BECOMING SW 20 KT AFTER
 MIDNIGHT. W SWELL 11 FT AT 8 SECONDS. RAIN.


Swell and Period:

Obviously we are all looking for small swells, however, just as important as swell size is the period length/wavelength. Swell size is the “wave height”  from trough to crest. The wavelength is the distance between the crests, whereas the waves period measures the size of the wave in time. A wave period can be measured by picking a stationary point and counting the seconds it takes for two consecutive crests or troughs to pass.

The following website is the best I have seen to see to show the correlation of how these factors (wave height/wavelength/period) affect the sea state.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/volvooceanrace/interactives/waves/index.html

General Rules:
The smaller the swell the better (duh!)

The larger or longer (denoted in time in seconds) the period/wavelength the better. This stretches the waves crests father apart and flattens out the sea state.

A good rule of thumb is the period should be at least twice the swell height.  So if the forecast reads 4 ft swells at 10 seconds (wave crests far apart) with 1-2ft wind waves you would be looking at a relatively decent forecast (depending on your experience). But if the forecast was 4ft swell at 4 seconds (wave crests close together) you probably would want to stay on the beach no matter who you were.

Beware small (one day) windows of good conditions, sandwiched between bad conditions.  These generally occur between changes in weather patterns and are often misleading or very short lived, often conditions can change very quickly as a front moves in etc.

The best teacher is experience.  Go with others who have more than you, ask questions, “why is today a good surf day?”.  Study and create a library of “bookmarked” sources to draw info from, the more the better. Check out the forecasts for yourself in person, if you are far from the coast the Pacific City surf cam can be a great tool for this.  Look at the forecasts, then check the cam. Its not perfect, but it can give you an idea of what’s “good” and what’s “bad “.  Soon you will have an idea of what specific conditions look like in real time. In the future, when you see those conditions/pattern on the forecast, you know its time to take a day off and catch some fish.

Comments *

1) Re:
Written by Yakabout on December 22, 2011, 10:47:09 AM
Nice tutorial on the essential elements of picking the proper place and time for piscatorial pursuits!
You are quite correct when you point out that if you only head to the water on perfect days you will rarely fish.
As my friend Jon always says--"you gotta lay a hairy eyeball on it!".
2) Re:
Written by Maddog on February 16, 2012, 07:30:38 AM
Great info! Most of my off-shore experience has been in the Summer months diving near shore reefs from my "fish & dive" Cobra. I'm new to this site and would like to get some feed back for setting my kayak up for fishing. Any advice and pics would be appreciated as I'm anxious to give it a try!
3) Re:
Written by Dray on April 05, 2012, 10:11:30 AM
Thanks, this really helps explains a lot.
4) Re: Go or No Go
Written by North Star on April 18, 2013, 11:58:57 AM
Thanks Ron. Informative and helpful. Thanks for getting me on the board here!
5) Re: Go or No Go
Written by Blueduce on September 14, 2013, 06:01:55 PM
 Great educational read. Thanks for sharing
6) Re: Go or No Go
Written by tambs on October 26, 2014, 07:21:34 PM
Good read. 

It also helps to time the tides, and time inlet/bar crossings at slack.  High slack is best, followed by low slack under most conditions, then the flood, with the least desirable time to cross being the ebb.   The rule of twelfths regarding tidal exchanges is a good rule to follow.   This rule states that 1/12 of the change in total water height will occur during the first hour after tide change, 2/12's of the change in height will occur in the 2nd hour, 3/12's in the third hour, 3/12's in the 4th hour, 2/12's in the 5th hour, and the final 1/12 in the 6th and final hour of a tidal exchange.   

This demonstrates that the greatest flow occurs in the middle two (3rd and 4th) hours since a full 6/12's (or 50%) of the tidal exchange occurs in these two hours, and is commonly associated with the roughest crossings. 

The rule is a general rule only, and the exchange rate can be skewed slightly by crossings that are influenced by river flow.  The overall rate of exchange (over the entire 6 hours) won't be affected appreciably, but hour-specific flow rates at these locations can be.  So it is always wise when contemplating a crossing to not only consult with tidal prediction tables, but to also check peak ebb times as well.  There are many websites that offer this information in addition to high/low data and times. 
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