December 29, 2011 by Alan Clemons
Editor's note: This article is from FLW Bass Fishing magazine, offering tips, techniques and tackle reviews for anglers of all skill levels plus in-depth features on the pros of the sport.
Here's a riddle: What do we curse in the spring and fall but wish for in the summer?
We can't see it, but anglers sure can feel even the slightest hint of wind while out on an open expanse of water. In the summer we beg for the wind to blow, even just a breeze to shake off the humidity and cool our skin. In the seasons before and after summer, however, wind can be an angler's bane. It muddies already turbulent waters, makes it hard to sight-fish and sends casts off-target in the spring. In the fall, the wind packs a chill that requires layering up even when the skies are sunny.
On the flip side, the wind can be a fisherman's best ally when it comes to helping position bass on structure and cover. While bass can't feel a gust of wind underneath the water, they can feel and see what the gust does to the water. Often, it provides an advantage over prey, sending bass into feeding mode.
"The wind is definitely your friend, no matter what time of year," says Chevy pro Dion Hibdon of Stover, Mo. "It can play a strong role in spring, but in autumn I believe you really have to pay attention to the wind. By October it's really important because bass are feeding so heavily on shad. The only time I cuss the wind is when I'm sight-fishing during the spawn."
So how do you make the wind your fishing pal? It takes a multistep approach of learning to read wind patterns, predicting bass feeding locations and mastering boat control. Learn those steps, and you'll come to appreciate those occasional gusty days.
Ringing the dinner bell
You might remember the times when you peered through a microscope in science class and saw odd-shaped organisms swimming around. What you were looking at were single-celled organisms called zooplankton and phytoplankton - the basis for the food chain in the underwater world.
Technically, phytoplankton are the base, since zooplankton eat them. The next link in the chain is shad, which eat zooplankton. This is important to note because almost all phytoplankton use sunlight to create energy, so therefore they will be in the upper portion of the water column that is illuminated by the sun. Much like bass follow the shad, shad follow the zooplankton, which will follow the phytoplankton, positioning them all high in the water column. This explains why schooling activity on the surface can happen just about anywhere.
But you might be asking what this information has to do with the wind. When the wind stirs the water, the entire food chain is moved about. Phytoplankton get tossed around, causing zooplankton to go on the feed, which in turn rings the dinner bell for shad. You can guess who else gets in on the feeding frenzy.
"The wind can help whether you're fishing shallow or deep," says pro Ray Scheide of Dover, Ark. "In shallow areas, it can position the baitfish and push everything closer to shore. If it blows overnight - depending on the direction - the banks it's been blowing on will have more bait on them."
Reading the wind
When the wind blows on a lake, it's going to pass over one area and create a disturbance at another.
If the wind is coming out of the south, the north banks will be affected, or vice versa when the wind comes out of the north. However, even protected coves or creeks can experience a "push" of water into them if the wind is strong enough and from the right direction. This creates a natural current that can even create small eddies around points at the mouth of a creek or cove. And where there is current, nearby bass will flock to it. A prime example is a windblown point.
"On reservoirs in summer that might not have constant current, the wind-generated current is just as important as a dam that creates current," Scheide says. "Typically, your best points will have deep water or a channel swing nearby that the fish are relating to when they're not in a feeding mode. But they won't have to travel too far to that point to feed.
"When conditions are right and the wind blows across or into a point, they'll move up and eat. They don't want to travel a quarter-mile to eat. That's why you want to get a series of points you can run to and can pick off one or two, or maybe a school if they're bunched up. If the wind's blowing hard and then quits, the current can reverse itself and the fish will reposition."
Depending on the direction the wind is blowing or might blow, Hibdon can pinpoint with near bull's-eye accuracy where the bass will be positioned. Often, it's important to look for the little pieces of cover or structure that redirect the current and draw in the fish.
Control in a big blow
Wind can create opportunities on offshore structure by more acutely positioning bass on points or other prominent structure, which means that dialing in on that sweet spot is critical. However, positioning can be more difficult to accomplish than it might seem.
"Wind can make it harder on the fisherman than the fish to stay lined up correctly," Scheide says.
Wave action can push and bob the bow of the boat, which, for instance, makes it hard to stay on a small indent on a point where the bass and shad are congregating. A trick is to point the boat dead into the wind so the wave slap isn't as bad and the boat's hull does what it's supposed to do by splitting the waves and providing some stability.
Also, be mindful of how the wind affects the fishing line between the boat and the target.
"If you can eliminate the big swag in the line caused by the wind, you can feel the fish better when it bites," Hibdon says. "There are a lot of times when the fish will just come up and barely get it, and if you have a big bow in the line you'll miss it. Other times they'll come up behind a (moving) lure and it just quits moving. Typically that's a big fish that has pushed the bait or eaten it, and if you have a bow in the line you'll miss it."
Of course, optimum positioning in wind presents another problem: casting into the wind.
Avoid the upside
Casting into the wind can be brutally frustrating at times because it can throw a lure off target and cause backlashes. However, it's often necessary, especially if fishing away from the bank.
Bass face into the current, even when it's generated by wind. That means a lure that was cast with the wind is going to travel away from a bass instead of traveling toward it, as it would if the lure was cast into the wind. The difference might not seem like much, but think about it in terms of catching a football. If it's thrown to you when your back is turned, you have a split second to react to it once it passes overhead and comes into view. If you're facing the quarterback when he throws the ball, you have much more time to position yourself to catch it.
"You don't want to ambush a fish and come from behind him," Hibdon says. "He might swipe at it and miss it. When he faces the current he's more efficient."
Casting into the wind is also critical when targeting cover such as docks, where bass have the luxury of relating to the dock posts or floats.
"If you get a little breeze then it's a no-brainer because they're facing the wind," Hibdon says. "You just have to put your bait in front of them in the same manner: in front of their face. A little wind just narrows down where you have to fish. You don't even have to fish the entire dock. It's not that difficult, if you don't make it difficult."
Because wind stirs up everything - it turns on the shad and subsequently gets bass fired up - it's better to present lures at high speed in breezy conditions.
In shallow, wind-churned areas, Scheide automatically picks up a buzzbait, shallow-running crankbait or spinnerbait. He might swim a jig, too, keeping it higher in the water column to mimic a shad zipping along.
"A buzzbait, crankbait and spinnerbait are going to be my first choices, and they will be shad-colored," he says. "If I'm out deeper, then I'm going to go with a crankbait or a deeper, heavier spinnerbait in 3/4 or 1 ounce to bounce along the bottom. There are times when color has mattered, but I believe most of the time it's where you throw it that counts. In dirtier water I'll go with brighter colors, and in clear water I'll stick with more natural colors."
As Scheide notes, windy conditions also affect the species you want to imitate.
"If you get a good, hard breeze, the bass are going to go to the shad and the bite will be much better," Hibdon says. "So if I'm fishing docks, instead of pitching jigs, I might throw a spinnerbait, [Zoom] Fluke or something that is more shad-oriented. As soon as the wind kicks up, the fish are thinking it's a good time to eat shad."
Smoke, white and gray are great colors for mimicking shad, as are patterns with "shad" in the title. When snags are a problem, you can also break out swimbaits rigged weedless. Hibdon has added a 5-inch Luck "E" Strike Bass Magic Swimbait to his dock-fishing arsenal because it accurately mimics a shad and can be fished around cover without fear of snagging.
Making a move
While wind can be a boon, it can also cause a bust. On sprawling reservoirs, Hibdon has seen the wind shift so quickly that everything he was doing falls apart.
That's when he knows it's time for a change, and he doesn't hesitate.
"When the wind changes suddenly, you have to change what you're doing," he says. "That's what most of those guys on stage at weigh-ins are talking about when they say they had to make an adjustment. You know if it was blowing in one direction and then shifted, the fish are going to change and you have to do it, too."
Solving the wind riddle is never easy, but the answer can lead to tournament treasure.
Put a sock in it
Drift socks are commonly used on the Great Lakes to slow the drift of a boat, but they shouldn't be overlooked on other waterways throughout the country.
Available in different sizes, the pyramid-shaped socks attach to the boat cleats and fill with water. This extra drag can slow the drift and help keep the boat positioned better.
"There definitely are times when I'm fishing offshore in practice and looking for key features or even subtle ones on a big flat when a sock can help," says pro Ray Scheide. "If the wind's blowing me along but I'm focused on finding some subtle points or something else, I might put on one or two."