I saw that the Weather Channel was forecasting a major nor'easter and that rain would continue for several days. We had been in the grips of an early fall heat wave with 90-degree weather and humidity ... a mini-drought, if you could call it that. Over the next 24 hours things were about to change, and do so drastically. I made plans.
With temperatures to drop, cloud cover to increase and winds to pick up, I figured my best chance to make a decent catch was to fish ahead of the front, before any substantial rain and falling temperatures would cause a complete washout. I had four hours - time to make a move.
With a couple of plastic containers of worms and a pair of ultra-light spinning outfits, I made my way to one of my favorite central Maryland public fishing lakes in quest of panfish action. Just to see if the fish might turn on and make it a good outing, I pitched out a simple bobber/worm rig and let it bounce along naturally with the chop of the wind. I was not ready for what would happen.
The short story went like this: 118 total fish, mostly bluegills, red-ear sunfish, catfish and crappies. Many were small, but along with the pile of marginal panfish was a mix of 14 largemouth bass, seven of which exceeded 4 pounds, and two were around 5. My top five fish would have been around 22 pounds. All were caught on diminutive gear and 2- and 4-pound test. All were caught from the shore and everything was released.
It was one of the most incredible days of fishing I had ever had, the kind of day you never forget.
My question is this, was the weather THAT critical in the ultimate outcome of this trip?
Had the falling barometer had so much effect on these fish as to turn everything on in the lake?
Or, was I just lucky, never to have this happen again?
Clearly, weather influences and affects fish behavior in very strong ways. There is a ton of internet reading devoted to the subject, much of which deals with barometric pressure and its immediate effect on fish life. Many scientist believe that even slight drops in barometric pressure triggers fish into feeding activities, as the swim bladders adjust to pressure changes within the underwater atmosphere. It certainly wasn't the first time I had a wild, crazy fishing just before a major front had moved in, and I hope it won't be the last!
An interesting article by fisheries biologist Ralph Manns on the In Fisherman website, entitled "Barometric Pressure and Bass," tries to explain what major, oncoming fronts do, and do not do, to fish behavior.
In short, Manns' biological crews conducted underwater observations in a series of Texas lakes to determine the fish behavior during the climatic changes. Additionally, Manns felt that the drop in barometric pressure was just one of several factors that contributed to feeding frenzies at the onset of major weather changes. His studies observed fish close to the shorelines, mid-depth and open water (schooling) bass.
He concluded that a percentage of bass from all environs were, in some way affected by the change in barometer. He felt that other associated factors with frontal passages ... cloud cover, wind and noticeable temperature drop, were at least as much of the puzzle piece as the barometric pressure changes.
Traditionally, dropping barometric pressure is associated with deteriorating weather conditions, much as what we just experienced with the coastal north east storm that dumped a bunch of rain on us and dropped air temperatures dramatically.
On the East Coat of the United States, these "coastal lows" tend to put barometric pressures lower than in , say, mid-west storm fronts that are not associated with tropical events like we see here.
Coupled with increased cloud cover, diminished sunlight penetration and surface wave action, fish get plenty of signals that a major change in the weather is about to happen and that environmental activity will slow down and all but come to a halt during a storm event. However, just before the onslaught, it is time to party.
Scientists have yet to understand completely the total picture here. But obviously, there is often a dramatic increase in fish feeding behavior just prior to major frontal movements, nationwide.
Most serious anglers have experienced it first hand, and can recall one, if not several, trips where fish were wildly feeding despite the impending bad weather that was forecasted. This phenomena even occurs with the ice fishing crowd in the upper Mid West, as one storm front after the other can trigger, then subdue, a walleye or panfish bite through 20 inches of ice. Crazy!
So what does this mean to us average guys that just want to take advantage of a hot bite?
Well, if at all possible, get out ahead of the storm, and worry about milk, bread and toilet paper on the way home from one of the greatest fishing trips you'll ever have, just ahead of the storm!