While anglers take many different factors into account when planning a fishing trip such as time of day or night, the stage of the tide, bait, hook size, rigs, casting distance and so on. However, many anglers only consider weather in terms of how it will affect them when they are fishing, and do not think about how the weather will affect the behaviour and feeding habits of fish. Weather – especially wind direction – can have a big impact on whether a fishing session is productive, or a blank.
The Importance of Wind Direction
The directing in which the wind is blowing has a major impact on the behaviour and feeding habits of sea fish. Many experienced anglers place wind direction above tide, day/night and bait choice in the importance of deciding when and where to fish. In winter, cod fishing sessions are massively influenced by wind direction for the following reasons:
Onshore Wind: When there is an onshore wind coming off the sea – i.e. someone standing facing out to sea would have wind blowing toward them – the wind will be stirring up the seabed by whipping up waves and causing the sea condition to be rough and choppy (or potentially wild and stormy if it is a very strong wind). This will disturb marine worms out of their burrow, dislodge shellfish such as mussels, limpets and cockles from their home on rocks and force small fish, crabs and other forms of marine life out of weed beds. This creates a feast for larger fish and they will move inshore into shallower water to take advantage of the food which has become available. The churning up of the seabed caused by an onshore wind also leads to the sea becoming more coloured which improves the conditions for fishing through the day. While storm conditions are obviously unfishable due to safety and practical reasons going fishing immediately after a storm is the ideal time as so much potential food will have been dislodged fish will be feeding freely.
Indeed, paying attention to the food that has been released by the weather can pay dividends – if fishing near a mussel bed after a storm then this is the obvious bait to use, similarly if lugworms have been washed up on a sandy beach then use them as bait as the fish will be switched on to feeding on them. If massive amounts of a particular kind of food have been dislodged and spread around a feeding area then it is not unusual to find fish exclusively feeding on this source of food and ignoring all other baits that are put in front of them, so pay close attention to the choice of bait when fishing after a storm! Similarly, fresh bait is a must due to the fact that fish will be spoilt for choice with the amount of food available and may be choosier than they would be when food is scarce and therefore turn their noses up at sub-standard baits put in front of them. Remember, however tempting it may be to go fishing in rough conditions safety always comes first. Big waves and swells can make rock marks dangerous, and piers and breakwaters often have waves sweeping over them during rough seas. It is not worth risking prsonal safety for a fish and always better to wait for the seas to calm back down before taking on a mark that is potentially dangerous in bad weather.
Offshore Wind: When there is an offshore wind – i.e. someone facing out to the sea would have the wind blowing against their back – the wind will be killing the action of the waves and a calm to very still sea will be evident. With no shellfish or worms dislodged there is simply nothing for these fish to feed on in shallow water and they will head to deeper water further out to sea (and out of the range of shore anglers) to seek food there. In these conditions big cod are few and far between, and it will be whiting (which have a reputation for still feeding in calm conditions) which make up the majority of winter catches, although even these will move into deeper water if necessary, leaving anglers scratching around for minor species such as rockling. In spring/summer things are a little different. It can often take a period of fairly calm and settled weather to bring the migratory spring species such as plaice with casting range of sea anglers, and shoaling fish such as mackerel prefer calmer weather as they too may stay slightly offshore if the sea is rough.
Mullet are another fish that is generally caught in the summer and it is calm and still conditions which give anglers the only chance of catching a decent specimen. The calmer seas also carry less colour and this is an advantage for anglers using plugs and spinners as they rely on the fish seeing the lure in clear water. For these reasons summer fishing can still be pretty decent when there is an offshore wind in summer, while fishing for winter species during or after a period of an offshore wind can be quiet.
The Beaufort Scale
The Beaufort Scale is a system used to measure the wind strength and the impact that it is having on the sea. The system was invented by Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort in 1805, and was the first successful attempt to create a system that standardised the description of sea conditions. It has undergone many adaptations and modifications in the two centuries it has been in use, and the modern system is widely used today in Britain, Ireland, Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Greece and China. There are thirteen categories in the Beaufort scale ranging from 0 (“sea like a mirror”) to 12 (“huge waves – sea is completely white with foam and spray”). See the complete Beaufort Scale with pictures of sea conditions here.
Temperature of the sea, and surrounding coastline also has an effect on the migratory and feeding aspect of fish. It is the calmer, warmer water in summer which brings the shoals of sprats and sandeels and the mackerel that feed on them. As well as this raising temperatures sends the signal for crabs to start peeling which allows anglers to collect their deadliest bait and also brings species such as plaice and bass into inshore waters to take advantage of this source of food. The raising sea temperatures due to global warming are also having an effect on fishing. Mullet and bass seem to be increasing in the range of places they are found with areas such as the north-east England, North Yorkshire and surrounding areas seeing higher catches of these species which were previously rare in these regions. Near-tropical species such as triggerfish and sun fish are also becoming more regular catches for anglers on the south, and south-west coasts, and there are even reports that tunny (Bluefin Tuna) have returned to the Atlantic Ocean off the south-west coast of Ireland! However, it is not all good news. It is thought that warmer seas may create conditions where cod and other coldwater fish move further and further north until they are no longer caught in British waters. This is a worst case scenario, and a situation that anglers pray doesn’t transpire. The dropping temperature of the water in winter brings the coldwater fish such as cod and whiting in from the north. These fish stay for the winter but whiting in particular seem to be staying for longer each year. A cold snap in winter can bring near-freezing sand and beaches which can be bad for sea angling as it forces marine worms deeper into their burrows meaning there is less potential food around the shoreline for fish. This can make digging for worms a much harder job, and supplies of lugworm and ragworm to tackle shops may become intermittent. However, a plus point of a cold snap is that bait-stealing crabs move into deeper water and the ones that remain feed very little. If a winter is particularly long and cold, frosty weather continues into spring it can delay the shoals of sprats, sandeels and mackerel arriving which will in turn delay the migration of the warmer water species and anglers will have to wait longer for the summer species to arrive.
Other Weather Factors
Neither rain nor snow has any great effect on the behaviour of sea fish, other than making fishing for shy species such as mullet much more difficult if not impossible. While sea fish are unaffected by rain, a sudden downpour can make life a lot less comfortable for the anglers fishing for them! Anglers should ensure that they have sufficient waterproof clothing and shelter so that that rain does not ruin or cut short a fishing trip. However, very heavy rain inland can have an impact on sea fishing at river marks and in estuaries. Floods further inland, or rivers that have burst their banks, can send huge amounts of freshwater into the sea which can drive away sea fish (apart from the flounder which has the ability to live in water with a very low salinity level), but there has to be an unusually high level of freshwater flowing into the sea for this to be a real issue. It is a good idea to put keep some suncream in the glovebox of the car or in the bottom of the fishing box so it is always available all summer. The clothes that anglers should wear to protect themselves from wind, rain and the freezing British winter weather are covered in detail in the clothing section of this website, and there is a page on Weather, Winds and Tides so that anglers can plan fishing trips.