The long stretches of stable weather we Texans enjoy in the summer months are now in the rearview mirror.
Turnover has taken place, and the window has now opened on some of the year’s fastest fishing, rivaled only by the spring warmup when flooding does not hinder.
From 7 a.m. on Oct. 9, through 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, my clients landed 601 fish over the course of five half-day trips on Belton Lake, primarily by reeling Maindelle’s All-Purpose Lures upward off the bottom in 35-50 feet of water. Fortunately, the weather cooperated over this entire stretch.
From now until the spring warmup, weather will play a predictable role in fish behavior, and therefore, in fishing success.
First, understanding the cycle of autumn weather is important. As we move toward November and December, cold fronts will become more numerous and more severe, each dropping the water temperature a bit more until early March.
The cycle goes like this: first a cold front arrives (as was the case Monday morning). As the front arrives, winds begin to blow from the northwest. Some fronts are dry, others will have a short-lived band of moisture on the lead edge, dropping some rain as the lead edge of the front quickly passes over and continues to the southeast.
Winds typically spike rapidly from the northwest and continue to increase as temperature decreases, winds then peak, then begin to die to nearly calm as high atmospheric pressure sits atop Central Texas.
After the front’s passage and the cessation of winds, we will experience bright, calm, cool conditions until southerly winds return. In a normal weather cycle, we typically do not experience easterly winds.
Only when Gulf of Mexico moisture spins over us either due to tropical influence or the influence of a strong low pressure system will we have easterly winds (and rain) for any length of time.
Southerly winds will typically persist for several days causing a slow warmup, then, as the next cold front approaches, winds will increase from the south-southwest due to compressional warming of the atmosphere.
Three to four hours before the incoming cold front’s arrival, winds will swing briefly through the west, then go west-northwest, then north-northwest. Finally, the front arrives with yet another rapid spike in wind velocity and a drop in temperature. The cycle then repeats. This will go on all winter, right into early March.
Because we are on the cusp of this change of seasons, we have several weeks to enjoy the impact of these fronts at a time when the water temperature will still be in the 60s and 70s (it was in the mid-70s on both Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes this week).
In most years, the best of the fall fishing occurs through at least the second week of December. I have seen excellent fishing continue into the first half of January in years with a slow autumn cooldown. In fact, my single best guided trip, with three clients aboard, saw them land 364 fish in early January several years ago.
To try to boil this all down, I have described below the wind and weather conditions within the weather cycle when above-average, average and below-average fishing can be expected.
The best of the best weather for fall fishing is pre-frontal fishing in the hours just before and during a cold front’s passage, and up until the point where the winds reach their peak velocity.
Winds will shift from southerly to westerly, then spike and turn northerly. Dry cold fronts tend to produce better than those with precipitation on their lead edge.
Above-average conditions can also be expected toward the end of a warming trend, especially when accompanied by southeasterly, southerly or southwesterly winds at or above 10 mph and gray cloud cover.
Average conditions can be expected for a day or two from the time the winds return from the south after going calm following a cold front’s passage.
Average conditions may also be expected after the northerly winds peak, and until they go calm in the day or so following a cold front’s passage.
Below-average conditions are typically experienced when low pressure causes winds from the north-northeast, the northeast, the east or the east-southeast.
Foggy conditions (typically experienced on cool mornings after rainfall) lead to below average fishing.
Periods with light and variable winds from any direction, or calm wind conditions typically also lead to below average fishing.
The worst conditions take place during the calm, bright, cold pause between the cessation of winds following a front’s passage and the start of southerly winds. These conditions are so predictably tough I will postpone fishing trips with clients if I see these conditions developing.
I have put together this summary so that if/when you have the luxury of choosing when to fish or when it might be better to stay at the house and catch up on chores (a luxury many will have in the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons soon coming), you can choose wisely.