"It's getting windy out here, let's go find a calmer area to fish."
Phrases like this are often used by anglers of all types when the breeze starts to freshen. The thing is, this can be a huge mistake. When on the water, the wind can definitely be a good friend.
When fly fishing, wind is often viewed as the enemy. It hampers casting, roughs up the water, and can make it more difficult to spot fish. Although many hate it, a little wind (or sometimes a LOT) can really cause the fishing to bust loose. In fact, in a few places I fly fish, I pretty much need it to be windy to have a successful day!
Wind can have several positive effects on the waters you're fishing, but not all of them are completely obvious.
While there's certainly a point where the wind is just too much to fish in safely or effectively, getting comfortable with fly fishing in breezy conditions is not just helpful, but a downright necessity. Every day on the water isn't going to be calm, and learning how to cast and manage line in these conditions makes you a much more well-rounded angler.
Just how can wind help the fishing? Let's go through a few of the big reasons....
Stealth: Being stealthy can be super important, especially when sight-fishing or fishing shallow and clear bodies of water. Wearing subtle clothing, walking quietly, and keeping a low profile are all great ways to avoid spooking the fish. Despite your best efforts, however, it's impossible to go unknown to every fish all of the time. Throw a little wind into the equation, though, and the odds can tip in your favor.
When the wind blows, it disturbs the surface of the water. Obviously, the harder it blows, the rougher the surface will get. It might make casting or spotting fish more difficult, but all that surface commotion also makes it more difficult for the fish to both see and hear you. While I'll still try to not draw too much attention to myself, I'm typically able to take a more relaxed approach to moving around and presenting my fly.
Speaking of wind chop, there's one place that I fly fish a few times per year where I pray for wind—lots of it! My best day ever was during vicious wind gusts of easily 50+ (thankfully off my left side so I could still kind of cast). With blowing sand and the water whipped into ocean-like whitecaps, I was the only one there that day. While in calm conditions the bite is usually slow and the fish quite spooky, I was able to enjoy constant hookups without having to worry about being overly stealthy.
Mud Lines: Mud lines can be caused by silt running into the water via rain runoff, repeated boat wakes hitting the bank, or the waves from a stiff breeze. Common on lakes, a mud line is a band of dirty water that typically extends from the shoreline out just a short distance. At first glance, the line of brown water hugging the shoreline might look like something you'd want to avoid, but that would often be a big mistake. Mud lines can be total fish magnets!
In 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 an obvious brown band along the banks once boat wakes and/or afternoon winds churned up the shallows. Although fishing often slows in the afternoon, the presence of a mud line can make for a big spark in the 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 may have also caused food to get washed into the water, thereby attracting baitfish and the predators you're chasing. Fish like largemouth bass and stripers can get really aggressive around mud lines as they quickly pounce on anything that happens to be moving by.
Finding a mud line is easy. If the wind is blowing, just head to the windiest shorelines. If it has been raining, they may be all over or at the mouths of creeks that are pumping out runoff. Depending on how rough the water is it might take a little while for a good mud line to develop, but once it gets going the fish often start using them quickly.
I like to cast up into the mud line a few feet, and work my fly out past the edge of it at about a 45 degree angle. This keeps the fly along the edge of the mud line just a little longer than if casting directly into it 90 degrees, yet still effectively works both sides of the water color change while keeping me at a bit of distance from the strike zone.
Oxygen/Food: Wind not only oxygenates the water which can make the fish more active, but it also contains a lot more food as well. When wind is blowing into a certain area, it's also moving concentrations of things like plankton and insects into that area. What follows them are baitfish and the bigger game fish that you're after. A shoreline or cove with wind blowing directly into it can be a heck of a lot more productive than a calm one.
Trout anglers know all about this one, but strong wind can also blow insects like hoppers, crickets, and ants into the water. When the wind starts to crank up, these little critters get whooshed into the water where they become highly-prized morsels to hungry trout 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—what a blast!
Wind isn't always a bad thing. A Florida keys tarpon guide who has to pole a skiff all spring in 25 knot winds may disagree, but it can absolutely be a game changer. If your skills are up to the challenge of adverse conditions, be prepared for some great days on the water. Don't hate the wind—use it to your advantage!