Wind - Friend or Foe?
by Neil Grose
Demis Rousos once sang a song called "my friend the wind He must have been a fly fisher, as the single greatest friend the fly angler can have is the wind, although listening to some anglers it seems like their greatest enemy. An ability to identify the match of wind direction with topographical features of lake shorelines is essential to maximising the benefits of windblown feasts, such as mayfly hatches and beetle falls.
Difficult days can also be salvaged with some canny interpretation of the wind. Reading the wind is a far more complex issue than simply finding wind lanes, it is subtle observation, good boat handling skills, and correct technique choice.
There are three important elements to reading the wind, they all have an intriguing interplay; the strength of the wind, the juxtaposition of shore line and wind direction, and the structure of the sub surface terrain. Reading the wind on a lake is not an easy skill, it is certainly much more difficult to do effectively than reading rivers. However, having said that, river anglers often read the wind far easier than their more experienced lake counterparts. Perhaps they are more in tune with the subtleties of their preferred environment.
In Tasmania we are rarely faced with no wind at all. In fact, as guides, a bright no wind day can be the worst of night mares. The trout have all the advantages,- no ripple to hide the angler, the leader stands out like winch rope, and the boat based angler can only bob about in the hope that a breeze will spring up and move things along. No wind and a dull drizzly day is another matter altogether, these can be red letter days for tailing fish, as well as mayfly feeders. Mostly, however, the wind will blow with moderate strength, usually, (hopefully) from the west, and with a degree of stability. It is essentially the stability of the wind which gives the best conditions for fishing the wind affected shores. Once a stable breeze has sprung, it begins to form currents in the surface layers of the water. Any trout food that is contained within this is carried along this current, which is inevitably found by feeding trout.
This current is affected by several factors. If the wind is blowing offshore, that is from the land and out into the lake, the surface food is blown out from whence it touches or emerges from the water. For example, if ten duns hatch three feet apart, the wind will blow them across the lake with similar distance between them. As trout often swim into a breeze when cruising, they will in this situation see only one dun, hardly exciting stuff. If on the other hand the wind is blowing along the shore, those ten duns will form a line, and float down the wind in single file, the trout moving up wind and along the shore will see all of them, including your imitation at the end of the queue.
Sporadic hatches in an off shore wind can be very frustrating, the trout tend to rise without any system, earning the term oncers. There are other terms for them, all unrepeatable! The trick here is to either track one individual fish and keep a fly in the approximate place, or as we will often do, use the combination of local knowledge and observation to find a better shore, where the fish will be feeding with more system. Generally summarised the best places for these small hatch days will always coincide with steady winds that quarter along the shore line, either blowing off it, or blowing onto it.
Each wind to shore relationship is accompanied by different techniques and expectations. Fortune favours the bold in these situations, often a move away from traditionally good mayfly areas will be rewarded if a shore with a breeze at better angles can be found. The hatch here may be quite sparse, but with the wind funnelling the few available duns in a predictable fashion, success may be better than first imagined. This is also the key to getting the best of the gum beetle feeders.
When the beetles lay on the water in their countless thousands the trick is to find where there are not quite so many beetles, the fish here will be much easier to catch. If you are able to position the boat along a shore with only a few beetles are being concentrated in a regular pattern then the trout are often slurping each one, making them easier targets. Some of our best Mayfly fishing is when there is a strong westerly front, with cold winds and persistent rain. The best bays when we have this wind pattern are bays that face east, sheltered from the westerly, and that slope from weedy shallows to depths of around ten feet or more.
Popular bays with this aspect are Duck Bay and Transmission Line Bay on Arthurs, as well as the entire western shore at Little Pine Lagoon. The Mayfly hatch with great industry in the shallow water, the wind then blows the duns out into the deeper areas where the larger fish tend to live, on exceptional days every trout in the lake joins the wind blown feast, chomping every dun it its path. The wind is the key, without its help the duns would stay put in the shallows where the trout would be very active, but only in a relatively narrow band. When the wind disperses a heavy hatch the opportunities are at their greatest, each drift with the boat can cover huge amounts of trout, anglers can have the best sport of the season in such conditions. As the duns blow further out into the lake the waves get higher and the trout throw caution to the wind, and explode through the surface flinging spray everywhere to grab the duns. A most exciting scene, just about any properly presented pattern will pull the trigger as these fish belt up wind. During the summer the best of our fishery is really Mayfly driven, it is with baited breath that we follow the path of cold fronts; they just might give guided clients fishing to remember for a life time.
As guides we are regularly asked where our favourite parts of lakes are. We often answer that it depends on the wind, and on the day. What may be a sensational bay in an over cast westerly won't be worth thinking about in a bright easterly. Good fishing areas therefore can be quite ephemeral, although fortunately quite predictable. During December and the early weeks of this year we have had an extraordinary amount of easterly weather, much more than in previous years.
Our typical westerly weather bays are not as good an option in an easterly, but applying the same theory to bays better suited to the constant wind, we have been able to find some sensational fishing, and revisit places ignored for many years. Very rarely will we fish an open area of water that doesn't have any type of wind influencing the activity of trout, ie a wind lane or slick. As the wind touches the shore in different ways, so are there different ways to fish the resultant effects. Regardless of the wind direction, if the angler finds a shore which has a quartering onshore breeze, combined with a steady hatch of Mayfly, or fall of terrestrials, the die is cast for some excellent fishing. The reason for this is that the wind when blowing onto and along the shore will generate a current on the surface layer of the water. This will carry any surface food in a predictable direction, and in concentrations substantial enough to produce trout to feed voraciously, or at the very least keep a watchful eye out for you best dry fly pattern. Look for rocks either poking out of the water or a foot or so underneath. Two reasons for this, one is that they are prime holding lies for trout, the other is that if you hit them with the boat you can damage you boat or worse still, fall out. Think of the rocks not as an obstruction, but as an opportunity. Logs and stumps are also structures to look for. The only other element to look out for is the presence of weed. No weed, no fish, particularly in Arthurs. In Great Lake it's a little different, but if you can find the shallow weed in "the big lake" then you will find some excellent fishing. Combine this with a bright and windy northerly day and the polaroiding from a boat on Great Lake is simply world class.
One issue during "the dog days of summer" is water temperature, and how this can turn the fishing off. As 1 write this we have had a week of hot windy days, the unfortunate result of this is that water temperatures in the shallower lakes begins to climb into the 20's. Little Pine is in the low 20's, the shallows in Arthurs are the same. Bronte is basically a no show due to the high temperatures. Trout find this very uncomfortable, and either vacate the normally productive water for cooler parts, or simply get very lethargic and hard to catch. This is where anglers who are aware of the effects of the wind can come up trumps.
Shores where the wind is blowing onto can be the most effected by warm water, the wind blows the top layer of water into these parts, often causing temperatures 2 or 3 degrees higher than the main lake. Very much places to avoid. However if the angler can place the flies in a place where the main lake meets shallow rocky reefs or other significant structures on the edges of drop offs, then a combination of the cool water in the convection current and the food channelling in this will provide welcome relief in the form of active trout.
The other feature that is encountered during the summer months is the lack of wind. Guides nightmare, bright day and no wind. The Western Lakes are at their most difficult with no wind, drifting the shores is impossible with little wind, hatches are a no show, except for caddis and black spinner along the rocky shores. These have been the saviour on these days, sneaking the boat along deserted shores stalking caddis and spinner feeders is very challenging and exacting fishing, the use of an electric outboard essential for this. As the day progresses the wind will usually get up, if only in slight puffs. When it does this slicks can often form out over deep water, if these contain reasonable amounts of trout food then the recipe is struck for some excellent fishing. Trout know that there is food up for easy offering, and will feed enthusiastically in these circumstances. They are not easy to catch in these places, they feed high in the water, often only several inches under the top. We have seen fish swimming along with their backs out in thirty feet of water, sucking in all manner of foods. Presentation has to be precise, they will not so much refuse your offering as simply not see it.
Flies for all these situations outlined above are relatively simple, basically any general pattern will do. Popular traditional flies such as the red tag and black spinner will always have their devotees, although for me you cannot go past the pommy dries, such as the carrot, Bob's bits and a hopper of one colour or another. Fished in a balanced team these flies are unbeatable, our clients are amazed that we would tie such creations to their lines, let alone catch fish on them, but the catch rates speak for themselves, as does the rate of repeat bookings from clients, eager to repeat their success next year. It should go without saying that boaters should exercise extreme caution on really windy days. You don't catch many fish when you are dead. Crossing exposed areas of lakes in little boats is asking for trouble, yet we still see 12 foot dinghies in water that is uncomfortable for us in our large boats. If you do get stuck in an unexpected blow, then head for shore and stay there until things drop out. It is far better to have people worried about and find you alive than run the risk of not completing the journey. Carry a few provisions and some warm clothes at all times, and prepare for every eventuality. A good friend of ours was recently caught out in a big blow, and had the good sense to stay put rather than push his luck. He had a cold and hungry night, but that was all. There are excellent weather reports available that are quite accurate. When the bureau predicts 20 knot winds in the highlands we always get them, so always get an up to date report, or if in doubt actually ring the bureau at the airport, they will help. If in doubt don't go, the fish will still be there tomorrow.
Although we often curse the wind, the lack of it is definitely cause for greater despair than too much. On a windy day anglers can retreat to sheltered parts, but you can't retreat from flat calms. Understand that the wind creates currents in the surface of lakes, and that the trout know the importance of these and will be out there having a real party. Exercise caution, work with the wind instead of against it and the rewards will be rich indeed.