Mythbusters – Excuses or fishy trends

Too windy, not windy enough, wrong wind direction. Too bright, too dull, too wet, too dry: excuses—or are they? Farmers and fishing guides have two things in common: firstly, they’re both in the weather everyday, working with Mother Nature. Secondly, both groups will tell you that the animals in their lives all react differently according to subtleties and vagaries of wind direction, atmospheric pressure and lunar cycles. In the case of fishing guides and experienced anglers, you can add a list of hatch and water level factors to the nuances of Mother Nature, vagaries which become plausible excuses at the end of a tough day. After the question of weather patterns and their affects on fishing came up on the FlyLife internet forum, I thought it might be a good time to do a bit of myth-busting with the aid of my fishing diary.


Myth 1: Frontal weather systems shut the fish down!
The facts: There’s no doubt about it, my fishing diary shows a strong positive correlation between frontal systems heading onto the island (Tasmania), and decreased catch rates. Experiences also show that trout aren’t the only animals affected by incoming frontal systems: cattle and sheep surrounding the rivers lay in a daze among their pastures, terrestrial displays of the same lethargy apparent in the aquatic world. From this evidence it is easy to pronounce myth-proven—but wait for the fine print. If you move to the next column over, detailing the number of takes (fish that eat the fly) for the day, the numbers are often close (within 20%) to that of an average day. The problem is that trout ‘nip’ the flies more often in these conditions, so more are missed or lost. On top of this, less trout are seen actively feeding, rather they are found hidden among undercut banks, reluctant to travel more than a foot for a well presented fly. The upside is that by using a few tactics for the conditions, the fishing can be almost as good. By focusing on polaroid-fishing, the fish that are still feeding can be found easier, and subtle takes can be better capitalised on by using quick, almost instantaneous strikes. Strip-strikes work best (lift the rod with one hand and strip line with the other for a super quick strike). I like canopied rivers on these days as the polaroiding is always reliable in the glare-free shelter of the trees, and fish populations are usually comparatively higher leading to more chances. 

Myth 2: The fish bite least when the winds blow from the east!
The facts: As with myth 1, myth 2 affects the fishing strategies, but not the fishing possibilities. This one is definitely Myth-busted!
Flicking through my diary pages, it becomes obvious that the easterly is a terrestrial fishing wind. I would hate to be on the Lower Macquarie or on the western side of Arthurs Lake looking for dun feeders, and the fish will act differently in many waters—but put me on the eastern shore of Great Lake or on a river in Tassie’s North Eastern Highlands, and I’d be having a ball on terrestrial falls. Easterly is a terrestrial wind at the lakes, probably because it is usually warm (follows a high pressure system), bringing winged beetles, cicadas and ants out of the scrub and onto the water. On the rivers, easterlies can bring humid conditions over the north-east in particular, as afternoon northerly sea-breezes collide with warm easterlies forming thunderheads over the North Eastern Highlands—perfect ant-fall conditions. Easterlies are a poor mayfly wind however.

Myth 3: Waters fish better when they are on the rise!
The facts: The subjects of this myth needs to be separated into four sections to match the results: lakes, lowland rivers, tailrace rivers and freestone/fastwater streams. The simple answer is that for the first three waters (lakes, lowland rivers and tailraces) there is clear and well defined positive correlation between the fishing and rising water levels: Myth-proven! The anomaly within this trend is found on the faster freestone and headwater river sections, where fishing often shuts down on a quickly rising water. The explanation for this is pretty easy really: in these rivers, a rising water level often leaves the fish fighting massive rough-and-tumble currents, without the advantage of being able to move out onto fertile floodplains filled with drowned insects to grow fat on. Therefore, floods are a serious event for a lot of fastwater inhabitants rather than a trigger for feeding activity.

Myth 4: Lots of wind is bad!
The facts: If you fish in Tasmania, you’re fishing on a small island in the middle of a massive ocean, so strong wind is a probability rather than an exception to the rule. From my diary entries, the resultant fishing is related to the consistency of the wind strength and direction rather than strength. Given that the wind speed is under 20-25 knots (less than 50km/h), with a constant direction and steady speed, great fishing can still be had. This is particularly the case when hoppers, cicadas and beetles are about—I would definitely say Myth-busted as a rule. The exception is when the wind is gusting and the direction is ever changing. During these conditions on the lakes, wind-lanes carrying and concentrating the food are broken-up and dispersed, while foamlines and seams on the rivers doing a similar job are blown apart and food dispersed. In relation to making casting too difficult, time and time again I find that wind is more psychological in effect—the angler pushes the rod harder, which leaves them casting bigger, less effective loops. Relax, rely on timing and technique to cast tight-loops, master the wind, and harness the opportunities it can create.

Myth 5: Full moon at night is bad for the next day!
The facts: Fish love to feed at night, it’s safer, and a full moon offers ideal conditions. Trout cruise the moon-lit waters, picking up buggy flotsam and jetsam like gum beetles at the lakes and corbi moths on the rivers during summer. This can result in a shadow of dull fishing into the next morning when the fish take a break, more likely than not just to digest the previous evening’s all-you-can-eat servings. Based on these conditions, I would say with confidence Myth-proven. I don’t let it deter me though, as there is always a sneaky, fat trout or two willing to hang around into morning for ‘just one more wafer’ of food, and by midday the fish are out and about, again reassuming their normal activities.

Myth 6: Overcast conditions are best for mayfly feeder fishing opportunities! 
The facts: Some of the most memorable lake-based dun hatches in my diary have all occurred during drizzly conditions. The best have been during January in the Western Lakes, with a soft rain falling. With that noted, there has been dozens and dozens of awesome mayfly hatches and spinner falls during bright days, particularly on the rivers, complete with excellent rises. Based on this I would definitely proclaim Myth-busted! When a mayfly nymph swims to the surface and hatches into a winged dun, it is on a race against to the clock. With inoperable mouth parts, the dun is racing to shed yet another layer of skin, turn into a spinner and reproduce, all before dying of dehydration. Dull days keep duns on the water for longer as their wings dry slower, giving the possible appearance of more mayfly than a dry day would when duns leave the water after a couple of seconds. The mayfly survive longer in overcast conditions, but bright days have their own set of advantages: during bright conditions, polaroiding is at its best. I would confidently say that your chances of catching a fish increase by 90% if you can spot and target a specific fish, so these polaroiding opportunities are not to be ignored, and offer a major tactical advantage. The mayfly still hatch just as much on bright days on the lowland rivers as they would in dull conditions, so relish both conditions if you’re looking for mayfly feeders. 
Well there you go, a bit of myth-busting. Remember, most of the detrimental conditions can be overcome by adjusting your tactics and destinations for the day.
Daniel Hackett, RiverFly Tasmania.

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