December 21, 2015

How To Avoid Rough Water & Catch Fish During Strong Wind

I first started fishing with my dad in the 1990's and, back then, we always fished out of a small aluminum flatboat.

Man, that thing could not take a wave to save its life, and if you got into any kind of chop at all you could count on your teeth rattling out before you got back to the launch.

GnarTooth the Flatboat

This simple but dependable boat caught a lot of fish!

No, she wasn't the exactly what we call "state of the art", being unable to comfortably cross large bodies of water in a chop, but she got the job done and – most important – we learned how to make up for her shortcomings when fishing windy days.

In the years since, I've learned to combine that knowledge with other tricks picked up along the way, and that's what you'll find in this guide to fishing strong wind.

How To Fish Windy Conditions

Wind speed is the first thing I look for when planning any fishing trip, and that's because it will dictate where and how you will be able to fish.

When you have a light wind (or none at all) you can pretty much drive your boat anywhere and position on fish any way you like.

But a strong wind? Forget it!

This doesn't mean it's impossible to catch fish, you'll just need to make the right compromise, and this guide shows you exactly how to do that in windy conditions

However, before we get started, I must make it clear that this article is not about fishing a west wind.

Nor is about how wind affects water levels.

This guide is strictly about how to adapt to fishing in strong wind from any direction.

It's a long one, so I've included the menu below to jump to your favorite part. 

How strong is a "strong wind" for inshore fishing?

In the realm of inshore fishing, a 15 to 20 knot wind or higher is generally considered to be a tough wind to fish in.

This is not a textbook "gale force" wind but usually is strong enough for NOAA to issue a small craft advisory.

noaa small craft advisory due to strong wind

What makes strong wind so bad?

Strong wind makes fishing difficult for a variety of reasons, and I'd say these are the most relevant:

Casting Becomes Difficult

For starters, it is difficult to fan cast.

If you have seen the Elements of Effective Fishing then you know it is ideal to fan cast around your fishing spot to check for hungry trout or reds.

It is easy to cast with the wind to your back, more difficult with it blowing on your side and downright frustrating casting straight into it.

Casting in windy conditions creates wind knots, backlashes and more that negatively impact your effectiveness, because time spent picking those out is time spent not having a line in the water, which is time you certainly cannot catch a fish.

I know that seems obvious and not that big of a deal, but it really adds up to negatively impact your fishing fun.

Water Becomes Dirty

A strong wind can cause water to become dirty, especially if it's a north, northwest, or west wind (here in Louisiana).

strong wind creates dirty water

Waves like this will disturb the bottom and muddy the water.

That's because those winds push water out of the marsh and, once water levels become low enough, waves created by strong wind begin churning up the soft mud that makes up most of our coast.

This turns the water to "chocolate milk", ruining what was once good fishing.

Boat Positioning Is Tougher

As mentioned earlier, boat positioning is easy when the wind isn't blowing, giving you the advantage to cast from whatever angle you like.

But that all changes when fishing windy days!

You are left with fewer options, and sometimes stuck with pretty bad ones, like having to cast into the wind or risk blowing into a bridge or rock pile. 

Strong Wind Can Kill The Tide

We all know that wind affects water levels in the marsh, meaning that – depending on the direction it blows from – it will cause water levels to rise or to fall.

This concept goes one step further: wind can cancel out an opposing tide altogether, causing a pseudo neap tide not predicted in your tide app.

Imagine launching your boat thinking you will have that "perfect" tide to catch speckled trout, but instead arrive to your honey hole only to see that water that is dead still.

That is an entire blog post in and of itself, and I can tell you that the relationship of wind and tide is covered in great detail in my Mastering The Tide seminar.

Is there anything good about a strong wind?

Yes! As always, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud, and fishing windy days is certainly a "double-edged sword".

Consider these advantages when the wind is blowing really hard:

  • no bugs to bite you
  • water will move during neap tide
  • bait can be moved to predictable locations
  • more room to fish because fair-weather fishermen stay home

Prepare Your Tackle For Fishing Windy Conditions

Many anglers targeting speckled trout and redfish use the Inshore Rig, because a weighted cork is easily attached to make casting into heavy wind easier.

A cork that's pretty heavy is the VersaMaxx coastal fishing cork, but I'll admit that it's not my favorite because it sits so low in the water.

egg cork with weight for saltwater carolina rig

However, because the heaviest part of a popping cork rig is usually the cork itself, that part tends to lead through the air during a cast, causing the leader line to tangle on the main line.

If it applies to your situation, throwing a drop shot is a great choice, because drop shot rigs lead through the air by the sinker and don't tangle as easily.

tackle for windy conditions

This is especially a better choice than a carolina rig, if you are fishing the bottom of the water column, for the same reason mentioned above.

Spinning Tackle For Windy Conditions

Some braided fishing line is a nightmare in heavy wind, especially in comparison to monofilament and fluorocarbon, both of which don't tend to fold over onto themselves.

Braided line performs best on spinning tackle when there is no twist in it, but even when spooled correctly, it can become twisted from use over time.

You should regularly make time to remove twist from braided line to eliminate tangles from wind knots.

Adapting Casting Tackle To Windy Conditions

Try cranking down on the spool tension knob and braking system in order to prevent line overrun.

There is no set formula for this, so experiment to learn what works best for you and keep making quality casts without getting backlash.

To learn more about baitcasters and their braking systems, check out How to Select a Great Inshore Baitcaster.

You should also consider a reel sporting Daiwa's Air Brake System. It's made specifically for throwing light baits and strong wind.

Try This Simple Casting Technique

Of course, you can always use better casting techniques!

Instead of using an overhead cast, try a roll cast, which is like swinging the rod more like a golf club to keep the bait flying low across the water, where strong wind can't grab it.

I detail this casting technique more in this ultimate guide to jigging speckled trout.

Locate Fishing Spots Protected From Strong Wind

Being equipped to battle strong wind may not be enough, so you have to find a "less windy" location.

Seriously, find a spot where the wind is not blowing as hard, even if it is not somewhere you fished before.

It's better than duking it out in a hard blowing wind at your favorite fishing spot, right?

Now, anyone who has been to Louisiana's marsh knows that it's pretty wide open, because it's constituted mostly of spartina grass, which is low-lying and doesn't do much to block strong wind.

nowhere to hide during windy days in the marsh

Louisiana's prairie marsh is mostly flat and featureless, but there are places you can try when fishing windy days.

However, there are places in the marsh offering protection on windy days, places worth casting a line. Below you'll find examples, and what they look like on Google Earth.

Spoil Serves As High Ground To Block Heavy Wind

A glance at any map of Louisiana's coast reveals the numerous man-made canals criss-crossing the marsh. These canals usually have "spoil", or piles of dirt, built up on each side that are good for fishing windy days.

protected canal for fishing windy days

As long as the wind is not blowing straight down the canal, you will have protected water to fish.

This spoil was created when soil was removed to make a waterway deeper or create a new one. Not all dead end canals will have tall spoil, but some do and those that do will have varying spoil heights.

good spots for fishing windy days

Inside LAFB Elite I talk a lot about the great fishing of the MRGO and its versatility, especially south of the Rock Dam.

One unique trait is the southwest shoreline of the MRGO: it has really tall spoil.

It is so tall that you can get completely out of 15 knot winds from the south, west and southwest to sight fish redfish in perfectly smooth water. 

MRGO shoreline protects from strong wind

The MRGO has tall spoil vegetation has grown on over the years, allowing for a break from strong southwest wind. The tall spoil allows for calm water created by the "lee of the land."

Hide Behind Man Made Structure

Tall structure is good for hiding from tough winds. Man-made structures like natural gas platforms, docks, locks, flood walls and levees are all great examples.

great wall of chalmette

The Great Wall of Chalmette, often referred to as "The Wall", is a flood wall that serves as an excellent break against a vicious wind.

In fact, many of the locations described in this guide are featured inside Inshore Fishing 101 so you may see exactly how to fish them.

fishing lee of land

This trip to "The Wall" yielded a limit of speckled trout, and in it you see exactly how and where it happened.

Rock jetties, like the widely popular (perhaps too popular) MRGO Long Rocks, will definitely keep you protected from wave action created by strong wind, though it will still affect your casting.

using lee water when fishing strong wind

Sometimes fishing pressure can get a little crazy. 

Hide Behind Roseau Cane

Natural structure like roseau cane, which is found throughout the marsh, especially in places like Venice.

fishing behind roseau cane to escape strong wind

Finding roseau before your fishing trip is pretty easy because it stands out on Google Earth, like in the graphic below.

locate roseau cane on google earth to avoid strong wind

Plan A Better Route To Your Fishing Spots During Strong Wind

You should avoid every open body of water and take the smaller, more "protected" bodies of water instead.

This could make for a longer trip, but virtually guarantees a safer and more comfortable trip.

Good Example Of Avoiding Rough Water On Windy Conditions

If you wanted to fish Bayou Biloxi (and you're launching from Hopedale Marina) on a day there is a strong west wind, you would not take Lake Borgne to get there, not if you enjoy a smooth and dry ride, anyway.

Instead, try running Bayou LaLoutre and go through Stump Lagoon to get there.

route planning strong wind

"Lee" Water For Fishing Windy Days

In some cases, you can use larger bodies of water to get from point A to point B, but you want to stay in the "lee of the land" and not get blasted by big waves.

fishing windy days

Four Horse Lake will be a bumpy ride in nasty winds, but the smaller bayous won't. NOTE: When I refer to "lee water" I am really referring to the "lee of the land."

Go Island Hopping To Avoid Strong Wind

Islands, or broken up marsh, offer refuge from rough seas and high wind.

Unfortunately in this scenario, you're not completely avoiding rough conditions, you're just enduring them less.

The graphic below shows such a scenario, and it is clear that the red route is going to be a butt whoopin' going head first into rough seas, whereas the green route uses shorter legs across rough water.

fishing windy days biloxi marsh

Eventually, you end up a lot closer to the lee of the land Spot B sits in, so when you make that last leg of the trip you are crossing water not nearly as rough as the western half of the red route.

And – if you're smart about it – you'll take time to fish a few extra spots on the way, like what you see marked along the green route.

Get More Tips For Fishing Windy Days + See How I Do It

Just because a strong wind is forecast doesn't mean that it won't be worth going fishing. 

It's almost always worth going, and now that you've finished this guide you have the knowledge you need for fishing windy days, so you have fun catching fish when everyone else chickens out.

If you'd like to see every consideration I take to make a successful fishing trip happen, then all you have to do is join LAFB Elite!

If you’re new to inshore fishing, or just looking to understand the “why” when things happen, LAFB Elite is worth the money and time invested into the courses.

The amount of information in the courses is huge.

Also the community is filled with people who mostly have the same goals in mind, so when you ask a question you get good information, not some dude giving you some generic or wrong answers.

Daniel GiglioLake Pontchartrain Basin Angler

I've been fishing Lake Pontchartrain since I was a kid and learned a lot inside Inshore Fishing 101.

What stuck out the most to me was presenting baits to fish. I got skunked many times until I learned how to do it the right way. 

I love to laugh, so the humor you put in the videos was awesome. 

It took about two weeks for me to complete Inshore Fishing 101. I've already applied things you taught me and have increased my catch.

Thank you, Captain Devin!

Matthew Tamburello

I just want to say job well done, Devin!! I think anyone who completes the course will be a more rounded angler, with more ammo in the magazine, so to speak. New angles to think about and apply to their fishing game.

I know I learned a lot, have applied it and have seen the difference that more knowledge produces! Thank you, Devin!!

Jerry LaRoccaNorthshore Native

I grew up fishing Delacroix with my dad from age 8-14. I never understood what we were doing or why, and didn’t think to ask questions. Dad did all the leg work and put us on the fish, I just threw at 'em and reeled 'em in.

Today, Captain Devin's Inshore Fishing 101 helped me learn all the things my dad knew to make those fishing trips happen. I'm able to plan good fishing trips to find 'em and catch 'em.

This is much easier due to Devin's ability to "dumb things down" and make fishing concepts easily understandable.

Now 18 years later we are getting a new boat and getting back on the water. Looking forward to showing Dad what I have learned!

Jeffrey StewartMississippi Angler

Captain Devin

About the Author

Devin is a former fishing guide and lifelong inshore angler. He founded Louisiana Fishing Blog in 2012 to share his ideas as a charter captain and still writes in it today. Since then he's created a fishing university — LAFB Elite — where he teaches inshore anglers how to safely navigate Louisiana's coast and catch more fish.

  • Hey Gene, this is a great question and probably something I should have included in this guide.

    I do use a drift sock, especially since I fish/drift with a trolling motor so much.

    It’s 30″ IIRC, but it could be bigger, like 42″

    Hope that answers your question.

  • Great read, thanks for making this!!!!

    Now I realize I’ve been beating up my boat too much on fishing trips.

    I gotta learn how you do that Google Earth stuff so I don’t do that, and I bet my back will appreciate it as well. Ha ha ha ha!

    Anyway, thanks for the help. I just subscribed.

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