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A Reason for Every Season

By Rob BelloniSeptember 29, 2004

 Fishing and the weather go hand in hand.  I mean, we're outside after all, and what effects you most when you are outside?  The weather of course.  Sometimes you wake up and look out and think, ah ha today is the day when the fish will be biting.  And over the years we all know that sometimes we are right and sometimes we are so so wrong.  It's easy to give up on weather theories.  Things change so frequently and so many factors come in to play at each body of water that many times it seems like nothing is predictable.  But no matter how difficult it might seem, it's worth it to consider the weather when planning a strategy for a trip.  I'm not a meteorologist or an ichthyologist. But I do spend a lot of time on, and I do spend a lot of time on the water.  Below are a few of the conditions I look for to produce good fishing for freshwater bass.  You may agree or disagree. You may laugh because what I think is bad ... you think is good.  This
is no concrete science.   But a few things like this might help you to be at the right place at the right time.

Let's start in the summer and go from there.

There's two patterns that we get in California during the summer.  Onshore flow and offshore flow.  The closer you are to the ocean, the more likely you are to be getting onshore flow.  Onshore and offshore just refer to the direction of the wind.  If it's onshore, the wind is blowing in from the ocean at the beach.  If it's offshore, it's coming off the land and blowing out to sea.  Air that comes from the ocean is likely to be cool and damp.  When we get fog blowing in, that's the onshore flow in effect.  Air that comes from the land is likely to be hot and dry.  That's when all the fog disappears and you suddenly are looking for your chap stick. For me, either condition can be good, but it's not the condition that makes it good, it's the consistency of the condition.  From July through September, I look for there to be multiple days of the same condition.  If every day is cool and foggy for 3 to 5 days, my confidence goes up that I can catch a big bass. If every day is hot and dry for 3 to 5 days, my confidence also goes up.  On the cool and foggy days, fish may bite all day regardless of water temperature.  On the hot dry days, that's when you really need to be focusing your efforts early, late, and at night.  I have seen the occasional all day topwater bite on hot dry conditions, but that's rare.

Late September through October can be two of the toughest months of the entire year.  Weather can fluctuate rapidly from 90 degree days to 50 degree nights.  Large temperature variation from night to day has often proven to be a tough condition for me.  In this transition period, storms and bad weather can actually have a very negative affect on the bass.  When daytime temps go from 90 down to mid 60's, bass just don't seem to react well.  This is the time of year when water temperatures will also begin to drop, and a spell of cold weather can cause them to drop rapidly.  During times of change like this, my experience has been that fishing can be very hit or miss.

Around the end of October, weather starts to get consistently cool.  Water temperatures may stabilize some this time of year.  This is also a time of year when bass have probably really put a big dent in their food supply.  Think about all the bluegill, shad, crawdads, etc you may have seen in the shallows in the Spring and Summer.  Rarely will you see these forage items just hanging around in late October.  In the first three weeks of November, that's when we're likely to get a few larger comma shaped storms that come down from the Northern regions of the Pacific Ocean.  These storms can trigger very good fishing, which is quite the opposite of the September/October cold
weather.  I don't know if it's because fish have adjusted to lower water temps at this point, or because they are running out of food, or because maybe they feel these storms in the barometer more vs. the typically more southern influenced storms of late summer.  Whatever it is, this is a good time to go check things out.  This same pattern can be productive into December, sometimes even until late December.

The dividing line between early winter and real winter is rain.  When real amounts of rain fall in a short period, most lakes will muddy up and water levels will rise.  This is where fishing starts to get
spotty, but can still be very good.  The time in December and January is feast or famine for sure.  One day you're at the lake and the water is frigid cold chocolate milk water and nothing is biting.  The next week you go back and it has cleared a foot, the sun is out and the fish are ravenous.  I mentioned the sun, and in the dead of winter sun is going to be your friend.  The good kind of sun is a steady orange sun.  The bad kind of sun is a blindingly white, bluebird sky sun that makes your eyes water after a long day on the water.  Periods of stable weather in the dead of winter are a good time to go ply the water.  Sometimes you can even get in one or two days of good fishing
as a fresh storm comes in after a period of stable weather.  But once those big storms move through, staying home and saving your gas money is a good option.

In the far Southern parts of California, late January and February can be total prespawn and even spawning time for some bass.  In Northern California, February is the true prespawn time of the year.  I don't know how the bass do it, but big bass will start packing on weight this time of year like you wouldn't believe.  Even in water with 6" visibility, bass will find the food.  In February I'm still looking for stable warm weather or the first day or two of an approaching storm.  Sometimes ... sometimes you'll get a period where storms will very slowly roll in in February but without much rain in them.  I've seen 5 or 6 continuous days of clouds with light to moderate winds and these times can be great.  People try to pattern deep fish in winter, but in February you better be fishing right on the bank if you get condition like this.

March, oh March.  When you look at the top 25 bass ever caught, many many of them have been in March.  Bass reach their peak weight in March in most places.  Peak weight is fun to catch, but peak weight can also be hard to get to bite.  You'll notice that many of those fish on the top 25 in March are on live crawdads.  A guy who knows and understands the key prespawn areas can use live crawdads to really put a whuppin on big bass this time of year.  For the artificial bait guy things can be tougher, and I really think it's because the fish are simply full of food.  Weather wise, I personally hope for either very stormy weather to keep bass out of prespawn or very warm weather to move fish to the beds.  Weather that keeps the bass holding on prespawn areas will mean reports of big catches for guys using live bait and nightcrawlers.

The end of March signals spawning time for the bass.  Bass will move in and out to spawn repeatedly any time between January and July in California.  The standard months are March through May, but any time is possible since bass follow their own instincts lodged inside their pea sized brains.  Many people hypothesize on the moons affect on spawning bass, myself included.  But nothing says spawn time to the bass like a bout of hot hot weather.  Doesn't matter what the moon
phase is, if you get hot hot hot for 4 or 5 days consecutively - those fish will move up.  The funny thing is that because water temperatures lag air temperatures, the bass will often hang around on the beds even if a storm moves in.  Just because the sky clouds up for a day or two and drops 1/4" of rain doesn't mean the water temp will drop much.  If the weather is consistently bad during the spring (haven't we all been up to clear lake when they were on beds only to get blown off by 30mph winds for 3 days?) the fish will back off and go to nearby areas. Sometimes this kind of fishing can be ten times better than the bed fishing.  If you find a big pack of females that got pushed off their
beds in April, they're likely to be voracious.  When that cold weather lets up, those fish are also likely to get total lockjaw and suspend on wood as they prepare to go back on the nest.  Spring time fishing is never a sure thing, and this is the time when I have my eye on the forecast more than any other.

As Spring time turns to Summer in May and June, the storms become less frequent.  Hot weather builds and by mid-June the onshore flow usually starts to build back in bringing that famous June gloom.  There's a time on every lake where the fish go into a big funk after coming off the beds, and this is likely to be that time.  Weather becomes less relevant since the fish are just plain tired and don't really care if it's sunny or cloudy.  But sooner or later everyone starts to feel more chipper and the bass start to run around stuffing their faces with other newly hatched fish and crustaceans.  By the end of June, everyone is getting settled into their summer patterns, and the circle of the seasons is starting back up again.

My true belief is that human beings are so out of touch with the outdoors these days, that very few people have a sense of animal behavior any more.  We spend so much time in front of the TV or
computer, playing video games, driving in the car, listening to the radio, etc, that we never know the meaning of silence.  We never hear the birds chirping or the lizards crawling in the grass.  Even when we're in our boats, there's the constant background noise of trolling motor, bilge pump, splash of the waves against the hull.  We're so desensitized that we're missing the splash of a tern eating a shad, or the bulge of a bass' back as it moves in shallow water, or the buzz of a pair of dragonflies low on the water.  Taking time to observe the conditions constantly and the corresponding behavior of the fish can be one of the most valuable things a fisherman can do.  Whether your own weather theories pan out or not, you'll learn a lot by paying attention, and you WILL start to be able to jump out of the truck, take a deep breath, stare at the sky, put your finger in the lake and sense what may happen.

Copyright © Robert Belloni 1997-2012. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written consent.
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