Does Mother Nature provide signs that help us predict when and where the fish will be biting? Is it possible to look at the sky, sniff the air and know whether or not it’s going to be a good day on the water?
Crazy as it may sound, the answer is yes. Experienced anglers say they can see, feel and, yes, even smell whether or not the fish will be biting on a particular day.
Several years ago, I went fishing with my good friend and pro-angler Spence Petros. As we launched the boat for an afternoon of smallmouth bass fishing, Spence said, “The fish are biting, can you smell it?”
I could. The air was heavy and had a “fishy” odor. As we rigged our lines, the exhaust from the idling outboard seemed to hang in the air around us. We caught fish until our arms ached that day, the smallies blasting everything we threw at them like they hadn’t eaten in weeks.
Since then, I’ve smelled a good day of fishing hundreds of times, but it wasn’t until recently that I understood there is a logical scientific explanation. Everyone knows fish become aggressive when a storm is approaching, especially if the storm is preceded by several days of steady weather.
When the barometric pressure is high (fair weather), the weight of the atmosphere keeps odors pinned to the ground. As the barometer falls (impending storm), those odors are released from swamps, bays and ditches.
Around a lake, the air will smell “fishy.” According to an old weather proverb, “When the ditch offends the nose, look for rain and stormy blows.”
Another weather proverb says, “When smoke descends, good weather ends.” There’s a logical explanation for that one, too: Pre-storm humidity tends to keep smoke from rising, which explains the outboard exhaust hanging around the boat.
Put it all together – heavy air, descending exhaust and fishy odors – and it means a change in the weather is likely to produce a good bite.
There also are ways to “see” the quality of fishing. It’s been my experience that “shiny” water is the kiss of death. By shiny water, I mean a harsh glare on the surface of choppy water, a glare so strong it almost hurts your eyes.
The explanation: During several days of steady weather, humidity builds in the atmosphere, blocking the sun’s rays almost as effectively as a pair of sunglasses. A hard rain often washes the moisture from the atmosphere, leaving in its wake a harsh light that hurts your eyes. Apparently it hurts the fish’s eyes, too, because I’ve rarely enjoyed much success on those kinds of days.
The ability to sense a good or bad day of fishing comes from years of experience. As Spence says, “After you’ve fished long enough, you get a feeling about these things. It’s a feeling based on past experiences. If you’ve caught fish under certain conditions, those memories are locked in your brain and you just know it’s a great day to go fishing.”
So what are the absolute best days to be on the water? Most professional anglers agree a cool day with a slight wind, high humidity and heavy overcast produces the fastest action. Such days usually occur after several days of steady weather.
A strong wind after several hot, calm days also can produce great fishing. Wind does a lot of things to a lake, all of them good. Fish might not move up to feed until several hours after the wind kicks up but may continue to be active a day or two after the lake goes flat.
Big waves stack algae and plankton on the shore and rile up the water, all of which attract forage fish, which in turn pull in the predators. Even on calm, sunny days, active fish may be found in extremely shallow water. The key is to fish the side of the lake that was exposed to yesterday’s wind where the water is stained. If anglers have trouble catching shallow fish, it’s usually because the boat traffic spooks them into deeper water. Tournament pros know this and like to cast to the shallows, keeping their boat a good distance away.
I’ve always maintained the best way to develop a sixth sense about fishing is to keep a log, recording the date, the place, depth, how many fish were caught and what lures were used to catch those fish.
Other pertinent information might include the temperature, wind velocity and direction, the barometric pressure and cloud cover. An even more valuable log would include the smells, intensity of light, yesterday’s weather and even the weather that follows.
If nothing else, keeping such a log would help anglers pay closer attention to all the factors that can, and often do, influence fish behavior, locking those observations into their memory bank.