Since 1992, I’ve kept a detailed log of every fishing trip I’ve taken on Belton Lake and Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir. From this log, clear trends emerge from the data.
One thing that has become quite clear is that no other single factor impacts fish behavior more than local weather; not season, nor moon phase, nor water temperature.
When it comes to local weather, the most desirable circumstance for angling is stable weather. Stable weather exists when either a high pressure system or a low pressure system dominates.
When a high pressure system dominates, days will be hot, clear, dry and nearly cloudless for a number of days in a row. We experienced such a scenario during the month of July this year. The skies remained clear for approximately three weeks in a row, the overnight lows only dipped to 76-78 degree, the daytime highs were in the high 90s, and the winds were southerly, with light winds in the morning and stronger breezes in the afternoon. Every day was like the day before, and the fishing became predictable as the fish did the same things in the same places and at the same times each day.
Just three weeks ago, the season’s first cold front made its way into Texas, followed by a low pressure system which dominated the weather for about 10 days. During these 10 days, rain fell daily, the skies remained grey and nearly 100 percent cloudy, the daytime highs only made it to the mid-80s, and, once again, each day was like the next weather-wise.
During this time the white bass bite on Belton Lake went through the roof and my clients enjoyed multiple 100-plus fish days.
The past two weeks’ weather has now been anything but stable, and my results have fallen off a bit, averaging exactly 61 fish caught per trip. Characteristics of unstable weather include winds from multiple directions and at varying speeds over the course of a given day, heavy morning cloudiness, afternoon thunderstorm development and hot and humid weather.
So how does one deal with unstable weather? First, I make sure that we are on the water during the most productive hours, around sunrise and sunset. Even in unstable weather conditions, the rapid increase in light at sunrise and the rapid decrease in light at sunset both spur increased fish activity.
Next, using live bait will help buffer the impacts of unstable weather and the impacts of cold fronts, as well. Prior to this week, the last time I found it advantageous to use live bait with any regularity was at the end of May and into the first part of June when another round of unstable weather put the fish off a bit.
This past week, I watched the weather forecast closely in advance of a scheduled trip on Thursday morning with Krystin Brown, of Temple, and her father, Ron Snodgrass, visiting her from Ferris, Ill. Not only had the weather been unstable, a mild cold front was due to pass overnight with clearing skies and northerly winds due for the morning of this trip.
My instinct told me I needed to have ample bait on board to make this father-daughter trip successful. So, several hours in advance of my clients’ arrival, I netted large, lively threadfin shad as insurance against the tough fishing I anticipated.
Indeed, as first light came, there was scant topwater action despite the fact that topwater action had been taking place consistently, even with our unstable weather. We landed our first legal hybrid striped bass at 6:34 a.m. and continued to catch a variety of species, including hybrid striped bass, white bass, drum and blue catfish, right through the end of our trip. Anglers in the area using artificial baits were having little or no success, and the lake was nearly devoid of anglers by 8:45 a.m. I noted that even those covering larger spans of water via downrigging or flatline trolling were struggling.
By the time we pulled our lines in around 11 a.m., Brown and Snodgrass had boated a total of 52 fish, including a legal limit of 10 hybrid of at least 18 inches, and enjoyed steady action over the four-plus hours on the water. We were on the water at the right time with the right presentation for unstable weather conditions.