Weather conditions of all types affect fish behavior. From dreaded cold fronts and soaring barometric pressure to a walleye chop, light rain, or leaden skies, Mother Nature plays a hand in our favorite pursuit.
Thankfully, if you don't like the fishing weather conditions you've been dealt for the day, you typically don't have to wait long until everything changes.
To help you plan your fishing trips and tactics according to the forecast, we put together 10 of the most common weather patterns, along with tips and notes on what to expect—and how to deal with the conditions at hand.
Calm and Sunny
For walleyes, especially in the Summer Peak, bright and glassy conditions can disrupt the shallow weed bite in clear lakes, ushering large fish into deeper water. However, smaller, eater-sized 'eyes can still be caught along shallower weedlines. Deep bass remain active, but their shallow counterparts slide under docks or other shady objects such as downed trees. The shade offers camouflage, cool conditions and protection from the sun's UV rays. Photo: Fish were hiding in the shade on the Fox River.
Downpours of biblical proportions can yield phenomenal action for a variety of gamefish — provided conditions are safe to fish in. During the deluge, choose active presentations tailored to aggressive fish, which often roam much shallower water — or ride higher in the water column — than they would under bluebird skies. Once the rain subsides, fish often follow rising water into newly flooded habitat. If the water has dirtied due to runoff, seek out the clearest conditions available. Also pay attention to water temperature, being sure to target inflows with temps appropriate to the species you're seeking. Large pike, for example, favor cool water and follow chilly inflows into skinny water. However, when panfish or bass move shallow seeking fast-warming water in spring, cool runoff is a killer. Photo: This was a great night on the water.
Scorching summer hot spells can test our endurance, along with our skills. Rising water temps, a shrinking thermocline, and a full-court press from unfettered sunshine collide to drive fish into deep water, shaded areas, and thick vegetation during the day. If fishing the night shift is an option, take it. Otherwise, focus on prime times early and late, or take advantage of the arrival of wind, waves, and cloud cover — which can spark spikes in fish behavior. As water temperatures rise, finding icy inflows from spring-fed streams or seeps can produce epic catches of fish that like keeping their cool. Giant pike, anyone? Be forewarned, in extreme swelters, die-offs of curly-leaf pondweed coinciding with hot temps and a lack of wind can drive down a lake's oxygen levels, causing widespread summerkill of bass, panfish, walleyes, pike, and other species. Photo: 95 in the shade on Lake Winnebago.
A gentle drizzle with little or no breeze is a great time to be on the water. Reduced light conditions ignite feeding behavior in everything from trout to walleyes, while the rain keeps fair-weather fishermen on shore. On the bass front, this can be a perfect time to throw a one-two punch of jerkbaits and topwaters. In-Fisherman friend and veteran bassman Scott Bonnema tosses a big, suspending slashbait like the size 10 Rapala X-Rap in calm conditions, and chugs a Skitter Pop when a light wind mixes with the rain. Photo: Alaskan sockeye in a lovely light spritz.
When cloudy skies reduce light penetration, predators often go on the prowl, especially in shallow water. Large pike, for example, commonly become active in relatively shallow shoreline weedbeds that produced only small fish in sunny weather. As a general guideline, ideal lighting at noon on a cloudy day mimics the light levels experienced early and late in the day in clear weather. Active fishing presentations with larger baits often score the best catches, particularly in shallow feeding flats or other areas where schooling fish are feeding. Photo: Overcast on Gull Lake.
Post Cold Front
Associated with bluebird skies or wispy clouds, a rise in barometric pressure, and cooling temperatures, the post-frontal landscape can be one of fishing's toughest nuts to crack. For predators such as bass, pike, and walleyes, cabbage-crowned points and outside weedlines lying in 15 to 18 feet of water often hold groups of fish — though perhaps not active schools. Casting or trolling deep-running crankbaits such as Bomber's Fat Free Shad or the Rapala DT16 are good ways to locate fish. If you crank up one or two catches from a spot, be sure to try a slower presentation, such as a jig and softbait, to milk a few more bites from the area before moving on. When you have a choice, focusing on flowing water is another solid option, since river fish are often less affected by fronts than their lake-run cousins. Photo: Deep cranking.
Ouch! A skyrocketing barometer following a major cold front is often associated with the worst possible fishing conditions. While debate swirls about whether barometric pressure is actually the culprit, there's little argument that rising pressure often coincides with a lake's fish developing a serious case of lockjaw. Fish often sulk tight to bottom or cover, in loose groups rather than schools, and turn up their noses at presentations that worked so well a day or two earlier. Compensating tactics range from finessing small baits to fishing large lures fast, in hopes of triggering reaction strikes. Photo: Front went through during the night on Bays de Noc, headed east on the horizon.
Whoever said change is good had never fished during a long stretch of fair weather. Veteran multispecies angler and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries manager Roger Hugill says an extended period of stable weather allows fish to find their comfort zone — that is, a balance of the right water temperature, oxygen level, and other factors. 'This fuels a nice, steady bite, which is something we all like to see, ' he grins. Photo: Bays de Noc under stable conditions.
Gusty conditions can make boat control interesting, but the waves they generate often flip the feeding switch for bass, walleyes, and other gamefish. For example, two to three-footers rolling over a shallow rocky reef or weedflat trigger big pike to move shallow from nearby deep water. Largemouth bass living in the vegetation also turn on, although it can be a different case on the rocks. Sometimes, smallmouths that ruled a reef in calm conditions exit the area when big pike take center stage. For bass, pike, walleyes, and more, a suspending jerkbait slashed just beneath the wave trough can be deadly, as can Colorado-blade spinnerbaits, whose flash and thump rise above the din of heavy seas. Photo: Great conditions for an afternoon ride on Leech Lake.
If you could choose one time to be on the water, this would be it. While the pressure debate extends to whether a falling barometer affects fish behavior — or simply coincides with other conditions that do — many diehard anglers swear by it. In fact, In-Fisherman friend Bob Samson, a science teacher, multispecies fan, and devoted student of the barometer's affect on fish behavior, swears that even slight dips in pressure throughout the day can trigger bursts of feeding activity. Major increases coinciding with the approach of a large storm can coincide with sheer suicide bites. In-Fisherman art director Jim Pfaff and guide Billy Rosner experienced such action on Minnesota's Lake Vermilion, when muskies and trophy pike went on a rampage prior to the arrival of a mega-storm that dumped up to nine inches of rain on the nearby city of Duluth, causing major flooding.