Below are some of my observations about good and bad fishing conditions based on decades of angling.
Wind can be a fisherman’s friend or foe.
Most bass fisherman like having some wind and I’ve had good luck on windy days when I’ve found nice protected areas to fish. Fish tend to be more aggressive when the water is rippled. Crank baits and swim baits are good choices on windy days but I’ve also had luck with spinner baits, worms, and flukes.
On windy days, fish tend to concentrate on wind-blown points and banks but during spring will often chase baits in the shallows in protected coves. Along those wind-blown banks, the transition between where the water is cloudy and clear is often a good place to try.
But there are several downsides to wind:
1) If you are fishing from a boat, it is more difficult to control with your trolling motor,
2) It’s easy to get slack in your line if you cast across the wind making it harder to detect bites and set the hook. To adjust, I like to fish in the direction the wind is blowing.
3) Riding to a protected cove can be downright scary and dangerous on open water as the strong winds lead to big waves if there is plenty of fetch.
4) The wave action from sustained strong winds can really muddy up a large shallow lake. On lakes that are normally clear, muddy water is a bite killer.
Still, despite these negatives, most avid bass fisherman would rather have wind than calm.
One of the best times to catch bass is right before a cold front moves in. The warm air associated with pre-frontal conditions usually offer rising water temperatures which increase the bite. The pre-frontal conditions also generally produce favorable wind and cloud cover. Fish can’t see you and tend to be more active than on calm, blue sky days.
Bad: Behind fronts, when pressures rise
I frequently hear laments about how rising pressure causes bass to clamp their jaws tight. I don’t buy that. Water is much denser than air so bass only have to move a matter or inches up or down the water column to equalize their pressure when the atmospheric pressure changes rapidly.
Pressure rises usually follow cold fronts, which cause temperatures to drop – which is the more likely reason fishing suffers. In spring, those temperature changes may cause the water temperatures to cool drastically, especially the second day after the front passes. These cold conditions often drive bass towards deeper water where they suspend and wait for conditions to improve.
Sharp downward changes to water temperatures during spring and fall are the pits.
The other reason high pressure is often thought to be a bass feeding killer is because it often accompanied by blue skies and light winds. While at Lake Okeechobee this spring, I asked former B. A. S. S. and Fishing League Worldwide pro Tom Mann Jr. about the wind and he said having no wind and calm water were terrible for bass fishing.
The problem with those really beautiful boating days is that the fish can see you better than on the windier, overcast days and therefore tend to get spooked more easily. They tend to hunker down in deep cover or move to deeper water and suspend within the water column. Those suspended fish tend to be hard to catch. I’ve had some of my worst fishing days on those beautiful, no wind, blue sky days with glassy water.
But a sunny day certainly shouldn’t discourage you from fishing. If you add a bit of wind to a sunny day, conditions can turn just right for a good catch.
Mann says he prefers a sunny day with some wind when fishing areas with heavy cover like Lake Okeechobee and grassy areas of Potomac. He told me that he has caught more big bass on sunny days than cloudy ones. He also noted that he has had much better luck fishing for smallmouth bass on sunny days than cloudy ones.
Usually good: Light rain or drizzle
Conventional wisdom is that rainy days can be good days to fish if you have really good rain gear and it’s not too cold.
I’m a fan of light rain as its splashes disturb the surface helping to oxygenate the water. It also also cuts down on the ability of fish to see you. Bass are more likely to roam and hit a lure if you get it anywhere close.
Culverts that are feeding runoff into the lake can be a good place to try on rainy days.
I’ve found rainy days are good days for using top water lures and others that stay close to the water’s surface. Since the fish are more likely to chase a bait, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are good choices. Swim baits that can be buzzed on top are also a good choice.
Usually bad: High and muddy water
While a little bit of rain is often good for fishing, the combination of heavy rain and runoff can lead to muddy and/or high water, both of which are problematic.
When Lake Okeechobee or the Potomac have unusually high water, bass fishing gets tougher. After the record breaking rains of January and February in Florida, the fishing on Lake Okeechobee was the worst I’ve experienced in 12 years visiting the lake.
I’ve also found that a day or two after a heavy rainstorm, the bass sometimes take a feeding holiday or at least become a little less active due to the influx of nutrients. This can lead to an increase in algae and phytoplankton which tend to use up oxygen in the water. Such blooms occur almost every summer somewhere on the Potomac River due to run off.
While I’m generally not a fan of fishing muddy water, sometimes you can find some success in clearer pockets and in shallow waters as all the runoff washes bugs and worms into the water. This attracts bluegill and other baitfish which prompt bass to follow.
In addition to the weather, you should consider the tides when necessary.
Generally, the lower half of the low tide and the first part of the rising tide are the best times to fish.
On the Potomac, a period of strong easterly winds will cause the tides to run well above normal. During those really high tide days, I’ve always struggled. The added water gives the fish more area to spread out in.
Get out there, and use the weather to your advantage!