April 13, 2017
By John Felsher
While windy days make difficult bass fishing, they also stimulate bass into feeding and make them much less wary.
Nothing quite looks so peaceful as dawn breaking on a lake undisturbed by the slightest breeze with only striking fish marring the mirror-like surface.
While such mornings make fishing pleasant, extremely calm days don't always produce the most bass. When spring winds whip a lake into froth, many anglers stay home or run to the nearest cove to avoid gusts. Unfortunately, they are also running away from fish.
"I love fishing in the wind," said Kevin VanDam, four-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "I love rough conditions because a lot of times those conditions activate the fish, but I'm smart enough to know that when the wind blows a spot out or muddies the water, I'm just wasting my time."
A howling wind can muddy a lake and make conditions physically unpleasant for anglers. Brutal breezes can blow lures in crazy directions, greatly reducing casting accuracy. Strong winds can also make holding a boat in position tough.
"Wind affects fishermen much more than it affects fish," explained Peter Thliveros, professional bass angler. "Extreme wind makes traveling difficult and limits where people can fish. It also limits the time that people can fish because it's more difficult to get to places. Wind also makes boat control critical. If anglers can position the boat into the wind and fish against the wind, they can make more precise casts and cover structure properly."
Winds can also cause or change currents. In coastal areas, gusts can even overcome tides, either pushing water toward the sea or creating higher than expected tides. By moving water, breezes position fish around structure. When wind pushes water across a point or around rocks, stumps or other current breaks, bass frequently hide in the slack water on the leeward side of obstructions. They typically face into the current, waiting to ambush anything driven past their noses. As morsels appear, bass dash out to eat and then retreat back to slack water to conserve energy.
Boats In Wind
Gusts can make boat control difficult, but rather than fight the wind, enlist it as an ally. In the right place, anglers can use wind power to glide stealthily across honeyholes. When it's planned correctly, anglers zigzag across highly productive waters undetected and with little effort.
"In big, shallow flats, drifting with the wind is a very effective way to find fish," said Peter Thliveros. "Wind might cause grass to lay down in a certain direction. That makes little channels or troughs in the grass. Bass get into those pockets. Hit those pockets and channels with spinnerbaits."
When not running the outboard, anglers can use it for directional control like a rudder. Position the motor so that it guides the boat in the best direction to make a good drift.
When winds blow too strong, tossing a sea sock can create drag to slow the drift. Attaching a five-gallon bucket to a rope and hanging it over the side makes a great, inexpensive sea anchor. Some anglers drag chains to slow the drift.
"A sea anchor slows a boat down to let someone fish an area more thoroughly," Thliveros said. "Anything that slows the boat lets anglers fish more precisely."
"By playing the wind into their favor, anglers can put more fish into the boat," stated bass pro James Niggemeyer. "Frequently, the wind shows how fish will position themselves on a point. Sometimes, the wind runs up against the riprap or a stretch of bank with baitfish on it. The wind stirs things up and moves the water column."
When bass face upstream looking for food to flow to them, they do not necessarily face into the wind. Water crashing against a shoreline "mushrooms," like a bullet. Along a windy shoreline, the current may actually move away from the beach a short distance. Frequently, bass hang just over the dropoff edges facing toward the shoreline, waiting to ambush whatever ventures too close.
"I always want to cast into the wind unless the wind is blowing so hard that I can't cast," advised Alton Jones, former Bassmaster Classic champion. "When fishing riprap, I put the boat gunwale about a foot from the rocks and make long casts parallel to the bank."
Breezes can also stimulate bass to feed by moving bait. Shad and other baitfish feed on plankton. Wind concentrates plankton against shorelines. Shad follow plankton and bass follow shad. Waves also help oxygenate water, giving fish an energy boost. Where bass can find food and oxygen, anglers can find bass.
Moving water and waves crashing against the shoreline may also drive prey from cover or disperse baitfish schools. Lonely shad in the open make easy pickings for bass. In addition, breakers pounding shorelines or other objects may dislodge morsels from their protective lairs under the water. Wind and waves can also knock insects, lizards, frogs, mice, snakes or other creatures into the water, kicking off a feeding frenzy.
"Often, fish bite better with a little wind blowing, especially when the water temperature gets up there," said Mark Davis, Bassmaster Classic champion. "Wind can move bait around and create activity. Wind can stir up crawfish and get them moving. I like to fish along rocky shorelines on a windy day. Fish are not as spooky."
Additionally, sound waves travel long distances through the water. Vibrations can easily transmit easily through a boat hull. Unnatural noises can spook bass, particularly in heavily pressured lakes. However, bass grow accustomed to hearing natural noises as waves pounding a shoreline. Masked by a brisk breeze, anglers can sneak up on largemouths more easily and make accurate, stealthy lure placements at short range.
"It's impossible to keep from making noise in a boat," Jones explained. "On a windy day, bass don't care as much about noise. On a calm, sunny day, almost any small noise might spook a bass. Watch what happens when someone turns on a trolling motor. Baitfish scatter. Bass do the same thing. Wind makes bass less aware of human presence. They act like totally different creatures when they don't think anyone is around. People need to learn how to use wind to their advantage and not their detriment. Wind is almost like wearing camouflage for fishing."
Wind can also create visual camouflage to disguise anglers, lures, lines, boats and associated equipment. On calm days, fish can see shadows or outlines silhouetted against a bright sky. When these images fall on a placid surface in clear water, it can easily alarm wise lunkers. Winds rippling across the surface break up the outlines of lures and people in a form of natural camouflage.
"I like the wind to ripple the surface," VanDam stated. "When a fish looks up at the surface against the sun, it sees a mirror. I want wind action to break up that outline of the bait. A spinnerbait is a great lure to use on a windy day. I want to create the illusion that the spinnerbait is a real baitfish so I use colors that blend in. In a spinnerbait, I like a natural shad pattern as opposed to a pure white or chartreuse."
Since sound waves travel long distances through water, fish depend heavily upon vibrations to find food and avoid becoming a predator's dinner. Spinnerbaits with large Colorado blades give up considerable vibrations to compete with the natural noise generated by wave action. The big blades also create significant flash that mimics baitfish, making spinnerbaits a top choice for fooling bass on a windy day.
"As a general principle, if the wind is blowing 20 miles per hour or more, a spinnerbait fisherman is going to catch more bass in any season under any other conditions," Jones said. "The harder the wind blows, the better bass bite spinnerbaits. I like to run a spinnerbait as fast as possible along a steep rocky bank. I use a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce willow-leaf spinnerbait because I want speed without lift. I like white and chartreuse with double No. 4 and No. 3 gold willow-leaf blades. I reel fast and steady. When bass hit, they practically knock the rod out of my hands."
Rattling crankbaits can also provoke vicious strikes when bass feed upon shad congregating on windward shorelines or driven past wind-swept points. Fast-burning lipless crankbaits, such as Rat-L-Traps, can also produce excellent results, particularly for tempting schooling fish. Face the boat into the wind if possible and run baits with the current to mimic baitfish drifting with wind-driven water.
"One of the most important things I learned a long time ago, only to worry about the variables I can control and don't worry about the ones I can't control," VanDam said. "You can't fight the weather. Do what the conditions allow you to do and use those conditions to your advantage.