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. For this reason the most successful anglers always consider the influence which the weather will have on the fish they are targeting.
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 fishing sessions – especially for species such as cod – 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 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 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 often an extremely productive time to fish, as so much food will have been dislodged that large fish will be in the shallower inshore waters and 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, high quality fresh bait is important 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 rough 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.
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 larger 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 conditions are calm for a long time, leaving anglers scratching around for minor species such as rockling.
In the summer the reverse of this is 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 which 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.
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. As well as this raising temperatures sends the signal for 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.
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 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
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. 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.