By Jonathan Manteuffel
Special to BassFan
When the wind is from the east, that's when fishing is the least.
When the wind is from the north, do not bother to venture forth.
When the wind is from the south, it blows the lure into the fish's mouth.
But when the wind is from the west, that's when the fishing is the best.
– Old fishing rhyme
I’ve heard all my life the adage that an east wind is bad for fishing – particularly bass fishing. Over the years I’ve heard numerous theories that attempted to explain why this is so, but none have made complete sense to me. A recent east wind got me thinking about it again, so I decided to investigate.
The east wind is not prominent in many regions, so when it does occur, it’s a bit out of the ordinary. This could change the shorelines normally hit by the wind, shift the currents in some bodies of water, bring cooler air across the surface that would cool the water, stir up sediment due to changing currents, or induce other disruptive effects in the aquatic environment. Other factors frequently associated with the east wind are rising barometric pressure and high, clear skies.
I came up empty scouring the Internet for scientific explanations or studies. Much of what I found was conjecture or simply repeating the old rhyme above. Some people believe that since fishing is often good as a storm is approaching and the pressure is dropping, then the fish have already filled their bellies and don’t need to eat later when the east wind is blowing. One guy on a fishing forum thinks the average fisherman usually fishes the same places the same way with the same lures, and if he has success on west winds but not on east, he assumes it’s the wind, when in reality the fish have repositioned off of his spot and he hasn’t adjusted. Many anglers think the fish’s swim bladder gets uncomfortable.
I decided to ask the experts – biologists and fishermen with many years of experience in many weather conditions. But first, let’s look at how east winds originate.
How Do We Get an East Wind?
East winds occur due to the movement of pressure systems, and the relative position they have to each other and to the particular location of the lake in question. Surface wind moves from areas of high pressure toward areas of lower pressure. Thus, if there is a high pressure system to your east and a low to your west, you’ll likely have an east wind through your area.
Brandon Palaniuk believes that any unusual wind will cause turmoil in an aquatic environment.
Huntsville, Ala. meteorologist Brad Travis (WAFF 48) explained that conditions differ across the country.
“How you get an east wind can vary across the nation,” he noted. “An east wind in North Alabama will typically result when high pressure is situated over the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic states. We also get easterly winds in the summer when the Bermuda High sets up. Some easterly winds happen with 'cold air damming' as well,” he continued. “This might not be a good time for fishing because the pressure is rising with the back-door cold front.”
A Biologist’s View
The bass is a top predator, and as such it seems like it should be virtually impervious to environmental phenomena like wind direction or atmospheric pressure changes. But it is also an efficient and opportunistic feeder, so perhaps the east wind influences its prey in such a way as to cause the bass to reduce feeding efforts? On the other hand, I know that I sometimes experience achy joints when there’s a rapid change in the barometer, so maybe the bass feels it too.
Alabama District 1 fisheries supervisor Phil Ekema believes the that the bass itself is also affected.
“Winds blow from the east following a cold front,” he observed. “Associated with these east winds is high barometric pressure, cooler temperatures and bluebird skies. Fish don’t like the pressure change because it affects the air in their swim bladder, nor do they like the bright sunshine.
“To adjust to the pressure changes, fish must relocate in the water column, or just wait uncomfortably for their bodies to slowly adjust, or the pressure to lower again,” he continued. “Fish need to find shade or go deeper to avoid the bright light. Fish activity levels decrease once water temperatures drop below their preferred comfort level.”
But wouldn’t a fish need move only fractions of an inch in the water column to compensate for atmospheric pressure changes above it?
“I agree,” Ekema said. “The small barometric pressure change that an aquatic organism feels when they are already subjected to the increased pressure of just being in water would seem very small and easily remedied by changing water depths slightly. But what they feel and what we think they feel aren’t necessarily the same. Fish must be extremely sensitive to minor changes in pressure.”
What Do the Pros Think?
Two-time Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year winner Brandon Palaniuk had these thoughts on the east wind phenomenon: “I think it only applies if an east wind is abnormal. I think most places in the country have a western or southern wind on average, so that’s what is going to be normal for the fish and the natural currents in a lake. If the wind blows an opposite direction, it’s going to change how that body of water flows and in return change how everything in that system moves.”
Steve Hacker has guided on Pickwick and Wison lakes for 35 years.
Longtime professional guide Steve Hacker offered the following: “There are a million data points related to fishing, and I've been out enough to see every theory proven and disproven a thousand times,” he said. “But generally, it is tougher on an east wind. I'm not sure it's the wind direction as much as what that usually, but not always, signals – that a frontal system has just passed and the barometer is now rising, after it had been falling as the front was approaching.
“Most people think that the east wind that (blows) around the (second or third) day after the passage of a cold front (coincides with) when the barometer is reaching its peak pressure,” he notes. “They believe that the combination of bright, high, blue skies, high barometric pressure and east wind dampens fishes' enthusiasm to bite.”
Just Go Fishing
In conclusion, the prevailing attitude appears to be that the east wind usually signals a rising barometer, which is apparently unpleasant for fish, which then take a break and slow their activity until they feel better. Still, there are places, days and situations where the fish don’t seem to care if an east wind is blowing.
Areas with common east winds are less affected. Spawning fish will stay on the beds and still act much the same. Current releases from dams can be much more influential on bass feeding than wind direction. Sudden severe temperature changes or heavy rains are more influential.
If you’re experiencing a slow bite on an east wind day, you can compensate by fishing the wind-blown banks, heavy cover, deeper, slower, with downsized lures, and make repeated casts. If you’re not in a tournament and not opposed to the practice, use live bait.
Regardless, on the whole, east wind or not, it’s still true that the best time to go fishing is whenever you can!
> Florida-strain bass are notorious for ANY weather change depressing their activity level, east winds included.
> Since water is about 784 times denser than air, diving 10 feet deep into the lake would result in the same pressure change as hiking down a mountain 7,840 feet tall.
> This chap’s YouTube video affirms the same mysterious east wind effect manifests in the UK. Interestingly, he notes his observation that the water seems to clear up dramatically and unexplainably under an east wind, and of course fish used to more turbid water would become more cautious with a sudden clearing.
> Meteorologists use something called a wind rose to depict how wind patterns vary over time. Here are some wind roses for the Southeastern U.S.. Here are directions on how to read a wind rose. Some locations show that the east wind blows a significant percentage of the time.
Jonathan Manteuffel, a resident of Huntsville, Ala., has been a frequent contributor to BassFan over the past 20 years.