Wind as it relates to fishing is certainly a very crucial aspect, which is why I am diving a bit deeper into this area. A quick Google search shows a ton of anglers asking how wind affects fishing and in what direction is the best to catch fish. While there are many factors that play a role in the creation and movement of winds, I am certainly not a meteorologist by any means, and what you read in this section is what I adhere to, both in method and reasoning.
A while back I looked at the weather with a different approach, and in the beginning, I did not pay a lot of attention to the wind unless it was blowing hard enough to be an inconvenience or safety risk. It wasn't until I made a graph of wind directions and speeds that it started to look a bit more useful, and then I applied what was useful to my fishing techniques and finally learned where to focus my attention.
Before we go any further, I want to give you a quick pressure tendency chart that goes along with the barometric pressure as we discussed in the previous topic. I find this not only important for fishing, but also for safety when boating.
As you chart the barometric pressure over three hours you can use this to help understand the potential winds. Throughout normal weather patterns it is unlikely that you'll see significant value changes as in the chart above, but rather smaller segments of .01 to .03. These larger changes begin to occur as a storm gets closer, or during spontaneous summer squalls in fast-moving systems. The way that I use this chart in combination with a rising or falling barometric reading is by charting it over several days leading up to the day I fish. The evening before is when I really start looking at the three-hour changes, and then a final three-hour measurement before I hit the water. From that I am able to formulate a pretty good idea of what the conditions are going to be like and how rapidly it will change. Once you begin using tools like this you become more accustom to it and it will begin to make much more sense, and most often will be right more times than not.
To be clear, I do not use the wind and pressure tendency charts all that often, as it takes time and dedication, something that I don't have much of these days. A while back I got a bit technical to see if I could make my production better, and it did help greatly. Now days, I really only use it when I absolutely need to catch fish, particularly when I'm taking others out to catch fish, you know...when you absolutely need to produce!
Moving on, we've all heard the saying that goes "wind from the east, fish bite least; wind from the west, fish bite best." Additionally, it goes on further to say "wind from the south blows bait in their mouth, while "wind from the north few sailors set forth." These are sayings most of us have heard from childhood to indicate if the bite will be good or bad.
While there is some truth in these sayings, they are a bit misleading. You've got to dig deeper to see why a simple wind direction affects the bite. While no one really has an actual proven answer, it is more than likely not the actual wind direction affecting the bite, but what you'll find resulting from wind of any direction. I've had great days that defy these sayings, as well as bad days that defy them. The moving of the surface water is really what's affecting the bite through temperature changes, water clarity, and from surface transparency. There are some exceptions such as surf fishing where you really want the water churning up the bottom releasing crabs, sand fleas, and other baits into the wash, or times when the wind direction needs to be a certain direction to aid in pushing surface bait into confined areas of interest. Windy days from a certain direction can certainly increase the bite, but again, it's mostly the action rather than the direction that sparks the bite, even though the direction aided in the action. It's scenarios like this that are a welcome and sought after event, but from this, anglers broaden the wind direction debate and start thinking too much about the wind direction and not enough about the action. I have been around other anglers that absolutely refuse to fish on an East wind, and it makes me laugh every time I hear someone say that. Perhaps their particular spot may not be good on an East wind due to conditions as mentioned above, there are going to be plenty of spots that produce on an East wind.
Before getting into more on wind direction and the bite being good or bad based on its cause, let's talk a bit about what's behind these winds and where they are coming from. In the Florida spring and summer months with no approaching outside weather influences such as fronts, winds are generally going to occur from sea to land naturally during the day, known as sea breezes. These occur most often at this time due to the greater temperature differences from sea water to land, particularly in the afternoon when the temperatures are at maximum differences. Land heats much faster than water, and the warmer air over land causes low pressure on the surface, while the mass over water builds a higher pressure due to the cooler water. The wind naturally moves from high pressure to low pressure, and the greater the difference, the stronger the winds created. The convergence of these different pressures aid in creating various conditions that are favorable to fishing. At night, the roles reverse, as the land mass dissipates heat much more rapidly, thus causing a high pressure mass to build over land surface and low pressure over the sea surface, effectively creating a land breeze.
When it comes to the bite under these normal conditions, a slight land or sea breeze does lend a bit of hand to increasing the bite, but not because it has any real barometric effect, but because it often creates surface disturbances such as ripples or chop, thus helping to mask the angler above the water (surface transparency), and also helping to mask the presentation of the bait, as well as unwanted sounds. This alone can increase the bite, and is another reason why a lot of anglers start linking the bite with the wind, even when the direction of the wind had no real effect.
We all know that fish feel comfortable while under cover, whether it be deep water, actual structure, or wind-blown ripples on the surface, it certainly increases the likelihood of fish becoming more active, but it certainly does not matter the direction in most cases. As I stated, these are natural occurring breezes and are usually light, so don't confuse these natural breezes with our well-known thunder-boomers. In my opinion, when we have normal light breezes with no outside influence from fronts they have no effect on the fish beyond what I have stated.
Fish understand that with barometric and weather change the water is going to get murky, temperatures are going to change, noise is going to increase leaving them vulnerable, and food supply is going to get harder to find. It is this reason that I think too many anglers put too much attention on the wind direction rather than the actual wind, cause of the wind, and resulting actions. Furthermore, the tidal movement is what controls the fish below the surface, while "fishable" wind really has little effect other than roughing up the water and a few other aspects mentioned throughout this section. Notice I used the word fishable. It is a certainty that a 50 mph summer storm is going to have a major surface effect on the water and fish activity, but we aren't out fishing that condition so there's no need to dissect that further to determine if the bite is better or worse.
Let's take a look at the historical data numbers and see what we can determine from it. I've included the following to give you a better understanding of what the wind is doing around Florida. These are the very charts that I created many years ago to help me see what things really looked like. For me, it helped change my way of thinking and my approach to fishing, and perhaps it will help you as well.
I picked twelve cities from north Florida to south, keeping each coastal city at nearly the same latitude across the state and fairly spaced from north to south for comparison. First, note the days without any wind recorded. You'll quickly notice the southern most cities have more wind over the year on average, while the northern most cities have less. Miami and Key West have wind recorded about 95% of the year, while Cedar Key is at 61%, and where I live in Tampa Bay comes in at 80%. For those that adhere to the wind direction as a measure of fishing, it is obvious, according to the data, it's more frequent and important to pay attention to as you travel further south. This gives you a good look at your area, but doesn't tell you wind speeds, which I've also made a chart for.
Before we get on wind speed, let's look at the wind direction. I've done a fair share of reading the forum boards on this subject to get a feel for where anglers believe their winds are mostly out of, and most posts that I have read are not aligning with the climate data chart above. I feel the reason for this is that many anglers do not put a lot of stock in lighter wind directions, but do take note when the wind is an inconvenience. It is at these times when the barometric pressure is changing due to an approaching condition outside of a normal sea or land breeze. This further strengthens the message that the direction of the wind isn't controlling the bite, but the strength, cause, and results of the wind are. If the wind direction was the main factor, then either the land or sea breeze would be good, but not both, and I just don't see that happening under light breezes in my area, as they are both equally good and bad at times. The only time I really see a lull in the bite, beyond normal reasons, is with drastic pressure changes that we know can certainly turn on or off fish activity. For all we know, while the winds are making it hard for us to cast and present our baits properly, the bite could be on fire but we're just missing the opportunity due to poor presentation.
I can tell you first hand that over the many years I've been fishing Florida waters, the wind direction doesn't seem to be a determining factor to me outside of creating surface disturbances and pushing more water with windblown tides as I have repeatedly stated. Being a peninsula, we get unobstructed winds coming from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic ocean that change constantly throughout the day and night, and that's without factoring in the prevailing winds that set the tone for direction. Add to that the regularly occurring land and sea breezes each day and night and you've got wind from every direction quite often.
Let's take a look at the wind speeds and see how they look across Florida. The first thing you'll notice if you compare northern cities to southern is that the winds tend to be lower minimums up north, and higher maximums down south, as well as slightly higher daily averages southward. You'll also notice that places like Miami and Key West being the furthest south are affected much more by winds. To go a bit further, May through September are the least windy months throughout the entire state as the transition from spring to summer winds down. What remains pretty consistent for each city is the daily averages, and when comparing city to city, the only two places that really stand out is Cedar Key with a much lower daily average, and Key West with higher daily averages, while the rest are pretty close. These are the numbers that you are going to see more often than not, so your trips will be based on this wind measurement in general. Don't let an east wind keep you from having a good day on the water because it rhymes with least, as I am confident that it's a misleading phrase that holds little water.