Weather and Sea Conditions

Weather – especially wind direction – can have a significant impact on the behaviour of fish, and therefore the success of a fishing session. For this reason, the most successful anglers always consider the influence which the weather will have on the fish they are targeting and spend time researching what the weather conditions are likely to be like when they are fishing, and consider how this will impact the methods they will use.

Wind Direction and Sea Conditions

The state of the sea and the direction in which the wind is blowing will play a major part in whether or not fish are present within the casting range of shore anglers, with the sea condition during the days leading up to a fishing session also need to be considered.

Marsden Rock, South Shields
Marsden Bay in South Shields, South Tyneside. Left, an offshore wind causes calm and flat seas, while the other picture shows the sea whipped into near-storm conditions by an onshore wind.

Onshore Wind: When there is an onshore wind coming off the sea (i.e. someone standing facing out to sea would have the 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 an easily accessible source of food for larger fish and they will move inshore into shallower water to take advantage of this. The churning up of the seabed caused by an onshore wind and rough seas also leads to the sea becoming more coloured as sand and sediment is stirred up 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 often an extremely productive time to fish, as so much food will have been dislodged that larger fish which usually live in deeper offshore waters will come into shallower waters to feed.

Paying attention to the food sources that have been released by the weather can prove productive. If mussels have been dislodged by a storm and litter the fishing area then it makes sense to use them as bait as fish will be switched on to feeding on them. Similarly, if lugworms are scattered around a sandy beach after a period of rough weather then these are likely to be the best bait to use. Indeed, 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. Using high-quality fresh bait is particularly important during these periods as the fish will have a large amount of food to choose from and may therefore ignore sub-standard baits. 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 heavy seas. It is not worth risking personal safety for a fish, and it is always better to wait for the seas to calm back down before taking on a mark that is potentially dangerous in bad weather.

Calm Seas at Amble Northumberland
Very calm seas with no waves at all at Amble, Northumberland.

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 very calm sea will be evident. With no shellfish or worms dislodged there is likely to be little for larger fish to feed on 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, it will be smaller species such as whiting, poor cod, rockling and pouting which are likely to make up the majority of catches, as they will be encouraged to move out of the cover of rocks and weed beds and feed freely due to the absence of larger predatory fish.

Summer Fishing

In the summer the reverse of the situation described above can be true, and it is periods of calm, settled weather which usually bring the best results for sea anglers. This is because many of the spring and summer species that anglers target such as plaice, pollock, wrasse and mackerel (and the sandeels and sprats they prey on) spend the colder winter months in deeper water out to sea where the sea temperature is more stable, and move into shallower water nearer to the shore when the weather improves and the sea temperature begins to warm up. However, if sea conditions close to the shore are rough or choppy they will not come in as close and may stay further out to sea, and out of range of the shore angler. For this reason, it often takes a spell of good weather and calm sea conditions before summer species begin to be caught by shore-based anglers.

Fishing in bad weather
The worst weather can produce good fishing in winter, with calm, settled weather being needed in the summer months.

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. As well as warming sea temperatures cause crabs to start peeling which is another reason why species such as plaice and bass move into shallower, inshore waters to take advantage of this source of food in the spring and summer months. Mullet are another fish that is generally caught in the summer and it is calm and still conditions that give anglers the only chance of catching a decent specimen.

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 standardised 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 and many other countries. 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.

Other Weather Factors

Westward Ho! in Devon
A sunny day at Westward Ho! in Devon

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. Very heavy rain and floods further inland 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 exceptionally high level of freshwater flowing into the sea for this to be a real issue. Finally, a sudden cold snap in winter can lead to near-frozen sands and beaches. This makes digging for worms a much harder job, and supplies of lugworm and ragworm to tackle shops may become intermittent at these times.

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.