Weather or not to fish
  |  First Published: August 2006

If you want to be a better angler, there is no substitute for time on the water and a wet fishing line.

Little hints like tides, water colour, wind and barometer readings do have a slight bearing on fish behaviour, so a little education never hurt anyone.

No matter what the weather bureau says, the tide guide indicates or fish seasons predict, every now and again fish will begin biting and just as quickly, they will shut down. This article won’t change those situations, but knowing when fish should start biting and when you would be better off mowing the lawn can help you make the most of your time on the water.

wind and barometer

Without getting too technical, a rising barometer will expand a fish’s stomach and make it hungry while a falling barometer does the opposite. As a junior angler I hung off every word that the old sea dogs at the boat ramp would say, and I still fish by the old saying ‘10 and 20, fish a plenty’, referring to a 1020hpa barometer reading. I know from plenty of experience that the saying is true and not only do fish bite on a high barometer, but the weather is nicer and the winds are often calmer.

I have discovered that wind direction also has a big bearing on fish activity. The barometer and wind direction work together to make the fishing good, bad or average. I’ll do my best to explain this, but use the diagrams to help you follow what I am talking about.

In summer, the high pressure systems sit on the bottom of the continent. These pressure systems move in a easterly direction and the wind will blow in a anti-clockwise direction around the centre of the high. The high also pushes air out from its centre so as the wind blows in the anti-clockwise direction, the true wind direction is anti-clockwise and slightly out from the centre of the pressure system. Diagram 1 is a synoptic chart that you would have seen many times on the evening news; the ‘high in the bite’ (a term that refers to a high pressure system centralised in the Great Australian Bight) will push winds onto the southern Queensland coast in an east/southeast direction. This will continue as the high starts to move towards the east coast and as the high moves closer to us, the barometer will start to rise and the fish will start to get hungry.

Follow the path of the high as it continues to move east and the SEQ coast will get the southeasterlies, and further north a easterly wind will blow. You’ll also notice that the ‘high in the bite’ starts to interact with the low up north, which occurs because the low system will have the wind moving towards its centre in a clockwise direction. At this stage, the barometer is getting nice and high and the fish are biting. With the high being closer and isometric bars getting wider, the winds start to drop and it’s time to go fishing. ‘Blue skies, moderate winds and hungry fish’ is the general rule, but remember we’re talking about the weather. It can be very unpredictable so use this as a guide only. What’s going on in the upper atmosphere and storm fronts can change very quickly so stay tuned for the latest weather forecast. A few ‘perfect world’ diagrams have been included to help you understand the basics of how the wind and barometer work together.

So let’s keep going and see what happens as the high goes under Queensland and starts to move out towards New Zealand. In Diagram 3, the winds start to shift to the northeast and depending on how far into Queensland the low pressure system is, we often see northerlies and very hot north westerlies dropping the barometer even further. Fish will start to shut down and it’s time to jump in the water to cool off and give fishing a miss for a couple of days.

Winter patterns

In winter, the only thing that changes is the position of the high. This is when the Monsoon Trough will move north and change the centre of the high pressure systems. You’ll notice on the diagram that the winter location of the high will move the dominant winds from southeast in the summer to westerly in the winter. The skies are normally clearer due to the barometer being higher and we will even see the high centralise over SEQ bringing with it beautiful clear days and light winds. Unfortunately, SEQ can also be affected by a very intense low known as the Polar Front that replaces the ‘high in the bite’ and pushes very cold and strong westerlies into our neck of the woods.

Sea and land breeze

So that’s the basics of wind direction, but there are a couple of variables in winter and summer that we need to know about.

You may have heard the term ‘afternoon sea breeze’ which refers to a generally stiff easterly that builds up on warm summer afternoons.

Just why we get that afternoon sea breeze is because hot air rises. When the temperature on the land is 30° and increasing, the sea temperature will be 25° as more hot air rises off the land than it does out at sea. To replace that rising hot air, we get a sea breeze. Up higher in the atmosphere, everything sorts itself out and equalises again but down on the water, the result is around 15 knots of easterly breeze.

The reverse of this occurs in the mornings when the earth cools down and we have a higher sea than land temperature. Instead of getting an easterly, we end up with a morning westerly until the land warms and things even themselves out. Great news for surfers and tailor anglers but we also get a chill from the cool air blowing off the mountains.

What it all means

Let’s have a close look at how this affects my own fishing. The first thing that we need to get clear is that none of this keeps me off the water, instead, it can tell me how well I am going to do that day and where I should fish or even what I should fish for.

In summer bream, whiting, trevally and surf fishing will all respond well to the high barometer that is present after around three days of east and southeast winds. Once the high has moved through, we often get one or two days of northerlies before the next system comes through and gives us our southeasterlies back. Chasing fish that respond to the high needs to be done prior to the northerly change when the barometer starts to drop and the fish shut down.

In some cases, very aggressive feeders like mangrove jack and cod will actually favour the falling barometer and start to become more aggressive for reasons that I don’t understand. Barra in the dams and rivers do exactly the same thing and will also be turned on by the hot days and hot northerly winds. Maybe they just like the heat but whatever the cause, the hot northerlies are the go.

In winter, a rising barometer will see westerlies appear. This means cold winds and flat surf but as long as there is just a little swell, the rising barometer will turn tailor on and make surf casting a lot easier.

In the estuary, flathead love cold mornings and a rising barometer but bite better once the barometer is right up there and the winds are calm or non-existent. I find that in winter there is often a onshore westerly blowing in the mornings and as soon as the sun starts to warm things up and once the onshore breeze stops, the flatties start biting. This is the same for the spawning bream. They will go nuts for a couple of days during the very high stable barometer where jewies respond better to the westerly of the rising barometer.

All this information is based around years of keeping a fishing diary full of detailed information such as the conditions that I fish in. There are other variables that also are indirectly affected by the high pressure systems and wind direction like the blue water from offshore being pushed closer to the coast but once you understand the cycle of the barometer and wind direction, you can start to better predict or fishing times and make the most of the peaks.

I love saying to the missus while I have one eye on the high that is starting to move closer to the Gold Coast, “Tomorrow we can do whatever you would like to do and I’ll just go fishing the next day”. Balancing you home life with peak fishing times is all part of being a good fisherman.

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