The Perfect Storm

Bass Anglers Welcome Stiff Gales

John Felsher October 23, 2015

In a place as flat as Florida, nobody likes to fish when the wind blows a gale, but a stiff breeze might actually put more bass in the boat. Brutal winds make casting and boat control challenging, but strong winds generally affect fishermen more than fish. When winds thrash lakes, many anglers run for marinas, placid coves, leeward shorelines or other places that block the breeze. However, they may also be unknowingly running from the fish.

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Photo: B.A.S.S.

Winds can quickly whip wide-open waters like Lake Kissimmee or the Everglades into froth. Even on calm days a severe thunderstorm can rise unexpectedly, sending boaters scurrying for cover. But in Florida, just as suddenly, that mighty rush could die down leaving barely a breeze and mirror slick surfaces in its wake.

In the right place, anglers can use wind power to drift silently across flats or coves.

“Wind can hurt, but as a general rule wind is a friend,” advised Mark Davis, one of only two anglers to have won the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year and the Bassmaster Classic in the same year. “Often, fish feed best when the wind blows and if I’m fishing points or other structure I always fish the windy side first. Wind creates current and fish usually position themselves facing into the current to look for bait coming toward them.”

Wind not only creates currents, but sometimes actually reverses existing flow. While bass often look upstream to spot food, they don’t necessarily face in the direction of prevailing winds. Surface water may flow in one direction, but beneath the surface it may flow in the opposite direction for a short distance. In the stormiest conditions, bass frequently hover just over the edges of drop-offs and ledges. They face toward the shoreline, waiting to ambush whatever the current may backwash in their direction.

Wave action can also aerate water and push plankton toward windward shorelines. Shad, minnows and other baitfish feed on plankton and follow the tiny organisms as they drift with the wind and current. Anglers know that where shad go, bass go. With plentiful food and enriching oxygen, bass find everything they need along windward shorelines during the most unforgiving conditions.

Around windswept banks it is highly advised you throw baits that mimic shad, such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jerkbaits. Large spinnerbait blades generate considerable flash and vibration in the water to compete with the natural noise from wind driven waves breaking on the surface. Nearly round or teardrop shaped, a Colorado blade displaces a lot of water and produces considerable vibration. Oblong willow leaf blades tend to run faster and cut through vegetation better than Colorado blades. In clear, weedy waters typically found in many Florida lakes, anglers may prefer to burn slim willow leaf bladed spinnerbaits parallel to cover.

“The harder the wind blows, the more excited I am to throw spinnerbaits,” explained Alton Jones, a former Bassmaster Classic champion. “As a general principle, if the wind is blowing 20 miles per hour or more, a spinnerbait fisherman is going to catch fish better in any season under any other conditions. One of my favorite techniques is to run a spinnerbait as fast as possible along a steep bank. I use a ½ or ¾ ounce willow leaf spinnerbait because I want speed without lift. I like white and chartreuse with double #4 and #3 gold blades.”

Breakers pounding shorelines may also dislodge a smorgasbord of morsels from their protective lairs. Waves sometimes rip crawfish and other creatures from their hiding places in mud or grass, kicking off a feeding frenzy. In addition, brisk winds can knock insects, lizards, frogs, mice, snakes or other creatures into the water where hungry bass wait to devour them. This condition presents an excellent opportunity to throw topwater lures. When winds churn the surface you really want to throw baits that make considerable commotion, such as buzzbaits, poppers, propbaits, soft plastic frogs or jerkbaits.

“Topwater baits are a fun way to fish in the wind,” remarked Dean Rojas, a professional angler with over $1.7 million in B.A.S.S. tournament winnings. “I like to throw propbaits around grass and woody cover. Around grass I rip it then let it sit in pockets. I only move it six to eight inches so it stays in the strike zone longer.

Wind also serves as excellent natural camouflage for anglers, lures, lines, boats and associated equipment—an absolute must when fishing sparkling clear waters found in many Florida systems. On calm days, fish in clear water can see shadows and silhouettes against a bright sky. Anything that looks like danger can spook wise lunkers, and a little breeze creates ripples that break up the surface and makes objects more difficult to distinguish.

“Flat calm conditions make fish spooky and aware of everything going on above and below,” advised Peter Thliveros, a bass pro from Jacksonville. “Flat calm conditions in clear water provide some of the most difficult situations to catch fish. If wind breaks the surface of the water and makes it difficult for fish to see, it puts them in a less defensive posture.”

Waves crashing against a shoreline also help muffle unnatural sounds. Bass grow accustomed to hearing breaking waves, but abnormal noises such as whirling electric trolling motors can easily alert big bass, particularly in heavily pressured lakes with clear water. Sounds can also transmit through a boat hull, creating strange vibrations that fish can easily detect.

“A strong wind lapping against the bank produces a lot of noise and oxygen,” Jones explained. “On a calm day almost any small noise might spook a bass. On a windy winter day bass don’t care as much about noise. Wind is almost like wearing camouflage and a stiff breeze makes bass less aware of human presence. Bass act like totally different creatures when they don’t think anyone is around.”

In the right place, anglers can use wind power to drift silently across flats or coves. Near grassy flats, people can run their boats upwind as far as possible and raise the motor and drift without making a sound. After drifting across a flat, crank the outboard, run through previously fished areas to avoid disturbing other waters and make another drift. For extra directional control, leave the motor in the water and cock it in the direction that provides the best drift angle. Only use an electric motor sparingly for directional control.

“Along large flats, drifting with the wind is a very effective way to find fish,” Thliveros said. “Wind might be so strong that it causes grass to lay down in a certain direction. That creates little channels or troughs in the grass. Bass get into those pockets and this is a great area to present a spinnerbait.”

Wind also creates constrictions around points, obstructions, sandbars or narrow passes that force fish into small areas. Often, lunker bass hide on the lee side of wind blown choke points to ambush anything currents might drive past their noses. As morsels appear, bass dash out and gobble a few helpings before retreating to slack water to conserve energy. In such points of congestion, anglers should throw crankbaits into the wind and run them downstream.

Certainly, strong winds can make things more difficult for anglers. For that reason, many top bass anglers often find themselves alone on windswept shorelines. They might also find themselves alone with a livewell full of tournament-winning fish. This winter season don’t panic when the weatherman forecasts a gale. Instead, follow the aforementioned tips and hold on to your hat!

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