Picture a sleek fishing boat skimming the glassy smooth surface of a lake. Imagine a surface plug being twitched between the lily pads, a big largemouth lurking just below the unruffled surface of a peaceful bay.
Such are the images portrayed by magazine covers, calendars and advertising photos. While mile-high skies and mirror-smooth lakes make for attractive photos, they sometimes add up to unsuccessful fishing. Anglers looking for a sure-fire way to increase their success would be better off thinking of dense clouds, roller-coaster waves and murky water.
Most fishermen avoid the wind, especially on big waters. While I’m not encouraging anyone to take unnecessary risks, working the windy side of the lake is perhaps the best way to catch more of any species of fish. That’s because a strong wind does more to activate the food chain and stimulate a feeding frenzy that any other factor.
As waves push across a lake, they carry warm surface water from one side of the fishery to the other. They also push plankton, the primary food source for smaller forage species, to the windward side of the lake. Big waves crashing against the shore rile up the water, breaking up light penetration. Waves also oxygenate the windy side of the lake.
Consider all those factors—a smorgasbord of forage along with warm, stained, oxygenated water—and it’s easy to understand why fish find the windy side of the lake irresistible.
There’s something else about a big wind, something most anglers never consider. Crashing waves break up the outline of the boat and also help mask boat and motor noise. In calm water, fish tend to shy away from boats. However, in big wind they don’t seem to care as much about a boat being around. Instead of backing off and making long casts to spooky fish, anglers can get up-close and personal with fish on the windy side of the lake.
Here are some tips for fishing the wind:
Fish might not move up to feed immediately after the wind begins to blow. It may be necessary to wait them out or to move from one spot to another until you locate a school of feeding fish.
As the water becomes more stained, lure selection and presentation may become critical. It’s usually best to fish brightly colored baits that give off a lot of vibrations that help fish locate the lure. Crankbaits and blade baits work well under windy conditions, but jigs can also be effective if they’re fished aggressively.
Boat control can be critical. A high-thrust trolling motor may be enough to keep the boat in position. If not, a drift sock is often helpful in getting the job done. A drift sock is a big, parachute-like device that attaches to your boat. When it fills with water, it slows down your drift speed dramatically.
Windy-side fish can move extremely shallow. Fish that previously were suspended far from shore or hugging the bottom in 25 feet may move up to 10 feet or less when they get active. Don’t be afraid to go shallow.
Look for the areas where the wind is making the most direct contact with the structure. After the wind has been blowing for a while, fish may scatter across a reef, island, point or flat, but initially they’ll probably be concentrated at the point where the wind meets the structure.
Look for transitions where clear and stained water meet—often called a “mud-line.” Very often, active fish will be relating to the edge of the mud-line. Sometimes they may even move into the muddiest water that looks like coffee with a lot of cream. Try to figure out how the fish are relating to the stained water.
Current can actually be a consideration when fishing a big body of water. The windy side of a big lake or reservoir can be several feet higher than the calm side. All that water crashing into the shore doesn’t just stay there, it washes back creating an underwater current called a seiche. The water pushing towards the shore also creates a current.
Fish feeding on incoming forage may be facing current from the main lake. Shallower fish may actually be facing the seiche, feeding on whatever is being washed back into the lake. For that reason, direction of presentation may be critical. If you seem to be picking up more fish moving one direction than the other, concentrate on the most productive direction.
Finally, NEVER stay out in waves bigger than you or your boat can safely handle. And ALWAYS wear your life jacket when it’s windy. If it gets too rough, head for a protected area. But if you can hack it, and feel comfortable fishing in rough water, you’ll find the hottest bites on the windy side of the lake.