Ask any angler who makes a living on the water, and they’ll tell you that weather matters.
Tournament champions, professional guides, and charter captains study the skies and the weather reports, keep track of air and water temperature, and watch barometric pressure and moon phases like a hawk hunting a country road.
Their livelihood depends on their ability to read an incoming front, a clear and cloudless sky, or a light summer rain as if they were real-life fortune tellers, and they can predict their chances days in advance.
If you want to catch more fish, that’s a skill you need to acquire, too.
So keep reading to find out the best weather for fishing.
Table of Contents (clickable)
How Different Weather Conditions Affect Fishing
Most predatory species are more active in low light.
Apex predators like largemouth bass and pike are blessed with excellent vision, especially in conditions where the lighting is dim.
They use this advantage to target prey like minnows, shad, bluegill, and other small fish not their equals in eyesight, and it’s almost always a good idea to hit the water in the 90 minutes around dawn and dusk.
But that’s far from the only effect of the sun on fishing.
In the early spring, when water temperatures are low and fish are still struggling with cold-induced torpor, a bright, warm day - especially on the side of a lake or pond that gets the most sun - will bring some fish back to life.
Bright sun in early spring can bring the bass to life.
They’ll get warm enough to chase a lure or strike a worm.
But the opposite is often true in the summer. As heat pressures fish, forcing them deep to avoid discomfort and robbing the water of oxygen, it can be tough to find anything biting.
Your best bet in bright, clear, hot weather is to switch to night fishing if you can, as lower water temperatures and higher oxygen saturations encourage feeding, and large fish that shy away from the shallows chase bait into just feet of water.
Just ask Bernie Barringer. “My biggest muskie, 53 inches long and wide as a birch log, was caught 2 hours after dark. I am not alone in this; just ask a room full of serious muskie anglers and the ones who fish at night will have a story similar to mine. Big fish work the night shift.”
Early morning can also be a good bet, well before you see the sun cresting the horizon. The water will still be cool and oxygen-rich, and the hunt will be on until heat dampens the mood.
Hot, sunny days drive fish deep and towards shade.
After sunrise, look for shady spots, deep vegetation, and anything else that provides relief from the sun.
Cloudy skies can be a godsend in mid-summer, offering a break from merciless heat.
On cloudy days in the summer, fish will be more active, and if clouds break a heatwave, so much the better. Hit the water at dawn, and expect fish to be spread out and hunt actively to make up for lost time.
Walleye are especially fond of overcast days with a light to moderate wind, creating what anglers call “walleye chop.” These conditions decrease visibility and create dappled, dispersed light underwater - the perfect conditions for walleye to tilt the odds in their favor.
Walleye chop is ideal for pike, too.
Closely associated species like pike and muskie also favor these conditions, especially if the water is also being cooled down by a light rain.
Bad weather can be a fisherman’s friend, so don’t give the water a pass on a gray day.
Incoming cold fronts with wind
When the weather changes from sunny to overcast and the wind picks up, threatening rain, the fishing can be very, very good.
Not only does this cool things off a bit - always a good thing when water temperatures are creeping upward - but rapidly dropping barometric pressure can also signal ideal conditions to catch lots of - and big - fish.
Cold fronts in warm weather offer the hottest fishing.
Scientists aren’t sure why, and they point to many interacting variables: light conditions, temperature, discomfort, oxygenation, etc. But what anglers agree on is that these are often the hottest time to hit the water.
Charter captains like Terry Sullivan study the weather carefully. “During summer, we get an upwelling effect ahead of a front. Right before our southeast wind shifts more southerly and begins to blow, which precedes the front, it triggers a hot bite locally. The fish sense that a change in weather is about to occur and feed heavily right before the front. Once the wind goes hard south, they shut down. I guess they know they won't be eating for a few days, so they have to gorge themselves.”
You need to know the local weather patterns to understand what a change in the wind means, and don’t buy the old adage:
Wind from the east, fish bite the least;
Wind from the west, the fish bite the best;
Wind from the north, few sailors set forth;
Wind from the south blows bait in their mouth.
Changes in wind direction are highly local, and there’s no rule of thumb to predict what they mean. Instead, watch for rapidly falling barometric pressure associated with wind and cooling temps.
Rain has well-known cooling effects, and of course, low-light conditions favor predators.
But a closer look is really necessary to get the most from wet weather.
Runoff into a lake, pond, or river carries lots of prey items, and predators start gathering where these inflows hit the main body of water. Especially in warmer weather, cool incoming water offers relief from heat stress, greater oxygenation, and an easy meal.
Gray weather can offer a golden opportunity.
Apex predators will follow the smaller species into these locations, and they’re prime spots to hit in a drizzle.
Heavy rain can be a problem, though.
Yes, it will cool water temps and increase oxygen, both good things. But it will also cause excessive runoff, carrying dirt, clay, and mud into the water.
Fishing in conditions like this is pretty much a waste of time.
That sudden decrease in visibility is not favorable to predators, and a deluge can be tough to fish. Look for the clearest spots you can and work a bit shallower than you normally would. The cooler water and heightened oxygen levels will have big fish hunting in places they were previously avoiding.
And the really bad news is that a big rain can keep the water murky for days, killing fishing well after the storm has passed.
If you're fishing out in the rain, gear up to stay dry: Best Rain Gear For Fishing - Your Guide To Staying Dry While Fishing
While sun-lovers and swimmers take to a lake on the bright, cloudless days of summer, savvy anglers know that those are the least effective times to fish.
Instead, the gray, blustery day before an incoming cold front drops rain by the inches or a breezy, overcast morning in midsummer are prime times to catch big bass, stripers, pike, and walleye.
It’s not that sunny, warm weather can’t bring good fishing, too - it can and does in the spring and fall when warmer water is just the thing to trigger feeding. But bright sun typically doesn’t work in your favor because it lessens the effectiveness of ambush hunting.
Whatever weather triggers feeding and makes predation easier is going to allow you to catch more fish.
And for that, clouds, wind, and gentle rain are almost always a good bet.