Why Fly Fishing When it's Windy is a GOOD Thing
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
"It's really starting to blow out here, let's find some place to fish out of this wind!" Have you ever heard a phrase like that used by another angler or possibly even said it yourself? The thing is, this can be a major mistake. Wind can often be your friend!
Especially in fly fishing, wind is often viewed as the ultimate enemy. I totally see where folks are coming from on that. A good wind chops up the water, makes it more difficult to spot fish, can make fishing from a boat tougher or even more dangerous, and of course makes casting and line control trickier. Despite many anglers not wanting to brave a blustery day, some degree of wind can really cause the fishing to bust open. Personally, I can think of a few places where I pretty much NEED it to be windy to catch fish in any numbers! When the wind blows, it can have a number of positive effects on the water you're fishing, but not all of those are totally obvious. There's certainly a point where the wind is just too much to fish in safely or effectively, but getting used to fly fishing in at least moderately-breezy conditions is not just helpful, but downright necessary. Not every day is going to be calm and peaceful, and learning how to cast and manage your line in these more demanding conditions makes you a much more well-rounded fly angler.
Here's a few ways that wind can help improve the fishing... Stealth: You typically don't want the fish to have any knowledge of you being anywhere nearby. To avoid alerting the fish to your presence, you can do things like wear subtle-colored clothing, walk/wade quietly, or simply keep your profile low. Despite these solid efforts, however, it's basically impossible to go unnoticed to every fish every time. Throw a little wind into the equation, though, and the odds tip in your favor. When there's wind, it disturbs the surface of the water. Obviously, the harder that wind blows, the choppier it gets. Sure, casting and spotting fish might get more difficult due to the chop and the clarity possibly getting more roiled, but all that added commotion also makes it more difficult for the fish to both see and hear you. In these conditions I'll still try to not draw too much attention to myself, but I can often take a little more relaxed approach when moving around or presenting my fly compared to when it's calmer. On the subject of wind chop, my best day of trout fishing ever came on a day with downright violent winds. With gusts of easily 50+ along with roaring whitecaps and gobs of blowing sand, the trout were chomping like I had never seen in my years of fishing that place. In calm conditions, the bite there can be painfully slow to non-existent, but on that day I enjoyed literally constant hookups without having to sneak around or make long casts. As an added bonus, I was the only angler for miles — nobody else wanted to deal with those conditions!
Mud Lines: Common on lakes, a mud line is a band of dirty water that typically extends from the shoreline out just a short distance, sometimes only a few feet. Typically, mud lines are caused by silt flowing into the water from rain/runoff or by boat wakes and wind waves lapping up on a shoreline. At first glance, the line of brownish water hugging the shoreline might look like something you'd want to avoid, but that would often be a big mistake. A good, well-established mud line can be a major fish magnet! On the California lakes I grew up fishing, mud lines would often start to appear in the early afternoon. Certain shorelines with clear water in the morning would develop that distinct brown band along the banks once ski boat wakes and/or afternoon winds churned up the shallows. Although fishing may often slow in the afternoon, the presence of a mud line can bring the fish up shallow and spark some great action. Fish use the dirty water of a mud line to conceal themselves so they can ambush passing prey. On top of that, the water splashing onto the bank can also cause food to get washed into the water, thereby attracting baitfish and the predators you're after. Fish like largemouth bass and stripers can get really aggressive around mud lines as they patrol that boundary waiting to pounce on anything that comes by. It might take time for some good mud lines to develop, but once they get going it doesn't take long for fish to start using them.
Oxygen/Food: Wind oxygenates the water which makes the targeted species and bait fish more active. On top of this, a windy zone can also contain a lot more food, too. When wind is blowing into a certain area, it's helping to concentrate things like plankton and insects into that area. This is where the food chain comes into play, as baitfish and the bigger fish you're after all follow along. That's one reason a shoreline or cove with some wind blowing right into it can be much more productive than a calm one. Trout enthusiasts likely know all about this one, but strong winds can also blow insects like crickets, grasshoppers, or ants into the water. Once adrift, they become gourmet morsels for hungry trout, bass, panfish, and other species. During blustery summer afternoons on one of my favorite small trout streams out west, I go armed with nothing but a foam beetle or ant dry fly — it's my favorite way to catch em!
Just remember that wind isn't always a bad thing to the fly angler.
A Florida keys tarpon guide who has to pole a flats skiff all spring in blustery conditions may cuss the wind, but it can quite literally be a game changer. The changes don't even have to be that drastic — just going from flat calm conditions to a mild breeze can cause an uptick in action. Don't hate the wind...use it to help you catch more fish!