If you are like many Americans, you will likely have a few vacation days to invest above and beyond your normal days off this month. By observing wind direction and speed you can better gauge which days to be on the lake and which days would be better spent whittling down your honey-do list.
Texas winter wind patterns are fairly predictable, and so are the responses of fish populations to those winds.
Since we had a wet cold front move through this week, let us use that as a starting point to enter into the wind cycle.
When a cold front enters Texas, winds will be from primarily a northerly direction (north-northwest, due north, or north-northeast) and temperatures will drop. As a cold front arrives, winds typically shift quickly to the north and blow hard (20 to 30 mph) for several hours and then moderate.
As this happens, barometric pressure rises, the temperature falls, skies clear and humidity drops. If boat control is possible in the hours during which the wind speed is ramping up and at which it plateaus, fishing is typically better than average during this window.
Once the leading edge of the cold weather (called the cold front) passes us and moves east, the wind speed will drop, skies will clear and we will experience cool, dry weather. This scenario is referred to as “post frontal” and brings some of the toughest fishing conditions one can face. When the forecast calls for cool temperatures, clear skies and calm winds, you will be better off putting a nice coat of wax on the boat or changing out your fuel/water separator, as the fishing will grind to a halt.
Fishing begins to bounce back once the high pressure conditions left by the cold front begin to break down. This is evidenced by winds shifting to the east, southeast or south, by increasing humidity, increasing cloud cover, and increasing temperatures. Fish begin to respond positively to the downward trend in barometric pressure.
Winds are typically manageable, from 5 to 15 mph. During this warmup, the cloudier and windier the day, the better the fishing tends to be. A long morning bite and a long evening bite are to be expected.
The day before the next cold front arrives, we will typically experience very strong (20-plus mph) southerly or southwesterly winds with very dark, murky skies and humid conditions. Temperatures will climb to a post-frontal high before crashing the next day.
The atmosphere is essentially being squeezed between the outgoing low pressure and the incoming high pressure and, as a result, warms up. Fishing will be below average during these conditions, with fish typically feeding in short spurts.
The best of the best fishing happens during a short window as winds shift out of the south, through the west, and to the west-northwest, northwest or north-northwest. If this happens in conjunction with daylight hours, the angler is in luck. As the pressure begins to rapidly rise as the next cold front makes its way into Texas, fish go on a feeding spree. Winds will be on the increase, typically beginning in the low teens and ramping up to around 20 mph before the wind finally shifts more northerly and the temperature begins to drop.
This window during which the winds shift may last from one to four hours, but the fishing is sure to be intense throughout. Once the cold front arrives, possibly dropping a bit of rain as the leading edge passes, this cycle then begins again.
This cycle will repeat itself right on through late March or early April.
The single most productive fishing trip I have ever had took place on Belton Lake in early January several years ago. Aboard for this full day trip were Jerry Worley of Harker Heights and two young men from his church. As the winds came out of the west that day in advance of a severe arctic cold front, the fish fed long and hard from dawn until dusk. My three clients landed 364 fish that day, with just a brief lull occurring around midday.
Before this past week’s extended round of frontal and post-frontal conditions put the fish off, I was able to gauge good fishing by timing the winds and thereby put longtime client Dr. Jim Wood on quality fishing for white bass and hybrid striper on Belton. The NOAA weather forecast called for winds shifting from south-southwest through the west and to the west-northwest during the morning hours in advance of the wet, cold weather that would follow. We landed 79 fish in right at four hours of fishing as the fish fed continuously for that period of time.
We found willing fish in multiple locations, indicating the whole lake’s population of fish was in a feeding mood fueled by forthcoming weather changes, as indicated by the wind.
To look ahead at wind speed and direction with confidence, I use the NOAA website www.forecast.weather.gov.