The title of this article is a little ambiguous: I am discussing wind often encountered while trout fishing, not chronic indigestion.
New Zealand anglers cannot ignore the hazards associated with wind, as this country is a windy one. In Canterbury, for instance, we have a variety of windy conditions: the squally southerly; the hot, gusty nor’wester; the cold easterly; and the occasional westerly. While there are days when a breeze is as bad as it gets, these are rare.
The majority of my fishing involves using small spinners and light line, so big winds can make the going tough. Over the years, I’ve had some strange experiences while fishing into a strong wind. One of the funniest was at Lake Lyndon, a rainbow trout fishery located under Porters Pass on the road from Christchurch to the West Coast.
The day had started reasonably calm, but as so often happens, it got gusty as the ever-present nor’wester increased in strength. I was using a 7g red Jensen, so was struggling to get out very far. On one cast I got the trajectory wrong and the cast went higher than planned, just as a strong wind gust roared in. This saw the spinner stop in its tracks, rise up, then rocket back over my head to land 60 metres behind me in the tussock! No fish there unfortunately – and the retrieve was tricky, too.
Talking about Canterbury, perhaps the windiest spot in the province is Lake Coleridge. Nor’westers and southerlies can really roar up or down this exposed waterway. I’ve experienced this lake at its angriest several times, and its whitecaps rival anything the ocean can throw at unsuspecting boaties. There have been tragedies, nearly always caused by a strong wind springing up and swamping the boats.
The land juts out at certain points on the Coleridge shoreline, enabling wind-driven waves to throw gravel up in layers there, creating huge gravel banks.
A few years back, a mate and I fished for landlocked salmon during a southerly storm. We encountered rain, snow, wind and cold that day, and were thankful of our neoprene waders. Read any fishing book and they all say the best land-based lake fishing occurs when anglers must cast straight into the teeth of the gale. The theory is that trout are in close, gobbling up food morsels stirred up by the waves hitting the shore, making them very susceptible to a small spinner or lure. Anglers, though, are susceptible to hypothermia!
I would support fishing the downwind shore, but on many days this strategy meant I got blown inside out, soaked, and ended up feeling miserable.
The trick with fishing into the wind is to keep your casts low and flat, and punch them out hard. Waders or gumboots are necessary because the incoming wind creates waves over the top of shallow water.
Summer in Otago this past year was one of constant wind from every direction. It made the fishing hard, because although some wind is an advantage, strong wind is mostly just a pain. I only got the kayak out three times, and even then the going was tough because of the wind, which sprang up early and just got stronger as the day advanced, blowing all through the night as well. I was pleased I wasn’t a camper.
Some of the best fisheries in Central Otago are up high in the mountains in exposed, windy locations. Throw in a gusty summer and the trout are quite safe. It can really blow at places like the Poolburn Dam, Upper Manorburn Dam, Falls Dam and Onslow Dam. On those windy days you don’t see many upright anglers fighting the elements; most people are hunkered in the lee of rock tors, watching their worm rod.
The continual action of the waves erodes the banks, and in a few places fishing cribs are getting closer and closer to ending up in the lake.
The ideal wind for spinning and trolling is ‘a ripple on the water’, where there is enough breeze to hide the line shape in the water, but not enough to make fishing uncomfortable. Calm water is the domain of the fly angler; spin anglers give it away when the surface is flat.
Some spinners or lures are better suited to fishing into the wind than others. Light Rapalas struggle because of their shape, while the Panther Martin cuts through the air well for its size. Those who prefer fishing with the wind behind them can cast anything they like.
There is an old saying ‘When the wind is in the east, the fish bite the least, and when the wind is in the west the fish bite the best.’ So, what are my thoughts on that? Yeah, there is no denying that many windy days have been fishless days, but it’s hard to remember where the wind was coming from. Maybe the wind just stuffed up my technique and that explained the lack of fish. I have had good fishing in southerlies, but maybe I just cast more often to keep warm. The jury is still out on the wind-direction question, though many anglers uniformly detest easterlies.
There are some pluses for fishing in the wind: fewer anglers are on the water, the fish can’t see you and are less flighty, and also tend to be on the feed if food is being carried along by wind currents. The fact that winds can die off out of the blue is also a plus.
There are downsides, though. Casting is trickier, it can be miserable, it can be dangerous when fishing from a boat, trolling is bumpy and uncomfortable, and kids want to go home earlier. So in the end it comes down to how much you love fishing: if you wait for the perfect day, you may never wet a line!
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