Gone now are the long, hot stretches of stable, high pressure that make summertime fishing the most predictable fishing of the year.
As autumn arrives, paying attention to wind direction and frontal activity will pay big dividends for the angler.
Fall and winter weather works in a cycle. Let’s start with the warm, balmy weather that we enjoyed Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This weather was accompanied by moderate atmospheric pressure, humid and cloudy conditions, southerly winds and warm temperatures each day.
Thursday through Saturday was a bit warmer than the previous day.
Next in the cycle comes pre-frontal weather with a sudden wind shift from the south, through the west, and then from the northwest or due north. A sudden increase in wind velocity also occurs with pre-frontal weather. This weather occurs in advance of the arrival of a cold front, pushing that balmy weather away to our south and east. The atmospheric pressure begins to rise rapidly.
Next, the cold front arrives, typically with a narrow band of showers and rapidly dropping temperatures.
The atmospheric pressure continues to rise and wind speeds stay high as the skies slowly clear out and the atmosphere dries out.
Next, we experience post-frontal conditions once the cold front passes and leaves very high pressure in place, along with bright, cloudless skies, cold overnight temperatures and calm winds.
Finally, southerly winds return, humidity and clouds increase, the atmosphere warms, and we enjoy a few days of mild weather in advance of the next approaching cold front. The cycle then repeats.
At each stage along the way, gamefish react in predictable ways.
The best fishing in the cycle, albeit short-lived, typically takes place just after the skies begin to clear following the arrival of a cold front, once the thin band of showers moves past us to the east and south.
Fish go on a feeding spree during this time, typically in the lower third of the water column.
Fishing continues to be good until the north winds die and post-frontal calm settles in. Post-frontal conditions with bright sun and calm wind bring the toughest fishing in the cycle.
Once the winds turn back out of the south, solid fishing returns and stays that way until the next pre-frontal weather returns. The fishing that takes place in conjunction with the sudden wind shift from south through north will typically be average or above average.
Keeping an eye on the weather and adjusting fishing days accordingly will yield big dividends.
Such was the case this week for several groups of local anglers. On Monday morning, Cliff and Jennes Wohleb of Belton joined me for a morning of multispecies angling on Belton Lake. A cold front pushed through on Sunday, but the north winds were still blowing at 10-14 miles per hour Monday morning and the dreaded high-pressure conditions characterized by calm winds and bright skies had not yet set in.
The Wohlebs fished for about 5 hours and landed 117 fish, including white bass, hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass and freshwater drum.
I avoided taking any parties out on Tuesday as calm, bright, post-frontal conditions prevailed.
The forecast for Wednesday was more promising, with a return of southerly winds, warmer temperatures and a reduction of the atmospheric pressure.
My three anglers, Melanie Ringstaff and Lee Pointer, both of Salado, and Larry Carter of Harker Heights, landed 148 fish in just 4½ hours on that morning.
On Friday, Earnest Henderson of Georgetown and his son-in- law, Evan Blazor, put 190 fish in the boat on a full-day, eight-hour trip on the third of four days of balmy weather with increasingly warm, humid, cloudy conditions.
Carefully watching the weather and fishing at the high-percentage times mentioned above will continue to hedge your bet right through early March when the rising water temperatures will begin to trump frontal conditions.