Spring fishing goes hand in hand with foul weather. Adverse weather affects anglers far more than the fish we seek, but there are times when Mother Nature can shut down the angling action faster than you can yell “fish on!”
For those of us weekend warriors who feel fortunate to get out and wet a line once or twice a week, we don’t have the luxury of picking our fishing days and must balance the threat of what the weather dishes out with the option of staying at home and missing a day of angling. Most of us will push the envelope a bit (ok, a lot) just to avoid the latter, and prefer a wet day on deck to a dry afternoon indoors during the fishing season.
The following will help you make the right call the next time you have to juggle the angling option.
Rain can be uncomfortable and it can have an impact on fish activity—but not necessarily a negative one. A cold summer rain can turn off fish, but a warm rain in April or October, when air and water temperatures are cooler, raises water temperature. That can wake up lethargic fish and trigger feeding activity.
There are some advantages to fishing in the rain. For example, fish can’t see well through the rain-rippled water surface, thus allowing the angler to get closer. Rain run-off from shore carries worms, insects, and other food into the water, which can switch the fish into feeding mode. In rivers, minnows, insects, and food are swept into the current by the rain-swollen flow. All these factors make fish more apt to take your bait.
During a gentle rain, riverbanks can be productive for anglers, but it’s best to move into deeper water as the rain gets steadier, as that’s where many gamefish head as well. In a heavy rain, river mouths can be the most active areas due to the increased flow.
When it rains, live bait is usually a better choice that lures. Rain and run-off can make the water murky and cut the visibility of artificials, but fish can still locate live bait with their sense of smell and the minute vibrations given off by the real thing. The exception is surface baits, which may be taken eagerly in the rain.
Another rainy weather consideration is water clarity. It gets worse after spring rains, especially if you’re fishing a river system that can have a “flushing” effect on the lake. On man-made lakes, the major feeder creeks are usually first to become muddy, so it’s important to took for smaller creeks to fish. On the other hand, usually the lower end of any lake remains clear for a longer period of time than waters up the lake.
Lake level is another important fishing factor affected by rain. Many reservoirs are purposely maintained at low levels throughout the winter months in anticipation of spring floods. These “draw-down lakes” often feature extended points and featureless shorelines. With rain the lake level may rise in a matter of a few hours, changing the locations of the fish you seek, often to shallows in adjacent coves to take advantage of the new sources of food being flooded.
Of all the weather factors facing fishermen, wind is the most frustrating. Anglers who will face the coldest, wettest conditions can often be found tinkering in the garage on days when the wind blows, reluctant to get out and test their mettle—and that of their hulls—against the stiff breeze and the waves it blows up.
However, for some gamefish wind increases their feed activity, much the way rain does. Walleye, smallmouth bass, and muskellunge, for example, all seem to get more active during a blow. Wind creates a chop on the water, which serves to reduce light and makes it more comfortable for light-sensitive species such as walleye to feed shallower. Some walleye anglers are reluctant to wet a line for the species unless they see what is called a “walleye chop” building up on their favorite fishing waters.
Wind churns up water and pushes it around until it is met with resistance. As the wind crashes into an island or point, it brings with it baitfish and smaller predators, funneling them against the stationary structure. There anglers can often find the larger predator fish, whipped into a feeding frenzy and gorging on the abundance of food concentrated on the windward shore.
When fishing in the wind, fast lures with plenty of action are often a good choice. Large wobbling-body baits for walleye and muskies are popular, as are oversized willow leaf spinnerbaits for smallmouths and big Rat-L-Trap-like lures for largemouths. Faster trolling speeds can also be productive in a breeze, with downwind presentations often getting the nod. Drifting with the wind is also productive and, when called for, anglers using drift socks to slow their presentations often are rewarded.
Cold fronts are a separation between warm air and cold air that pushes through an area, usually from the north. As the atmosphere tries to stabilize during the changes of the spring season, there is always a struggle going on with the unsettled cold air. With the approach of a cold front, there will be a rapid change in barometric pressure. Fish become active under the wind and clouds that accompany a front, and as uncomfortable as it might be for anglers, the hours before the arrival of a cold front can be a great time to catch fish.
As a cold front passes, the barometric pressure rises and it is the high pressure that follows that is famous for making the fishing tough. It’s often accompanied by clear skies, bright sun, and calm breezes. It may be a comfortable time to fish, but anglers in the know realize it may take two or three days and a barometer dropping back to normal levels before the fishing will improve.
That’s because fish are cold-blooded, meaning their environment controls their metabolism. They sense the changes to their environment that are brought on by a cold front, causing them to become inactive. Sometimes they move to deeper water, or tighter to cover, so that’s where you want to look for post-front fish.
The change calls for slow, finesse fishing tactics which often include vertical presentations with jigs or jigging spoons to keep your bait in the smaller strike zone.
You also must often downsize your baits or lures, and go to lighter line if the waters have cleared, to fool these fish. It can be hard to locate fish pushed off their typical haunts by a front, but once they are found, you can usually goad them into striking with patience and persistence.
Then again, that’s the rule for consistently catching fish regardless of the weather. So unless it’s particularly stormy, ignore Ma’ Nature’s mood, dress for the occasion, and go fish!