COLUMN: Air pressure affects fish bite

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I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July holiday, and what a difference a year makes!

Last year, we were coming off of a record heat wave, with unprecedented water temperatures on Flathead Lake that pushed into the mid-70s around the delta, and 80 degrees out in the 300-foot trench on the afternoon of July 3rd.

Happy to report that things are much more “usual,” as I hate to say “normal” much any more! But that is where we left off last time: How do you react when conditions get tough, and water temperatures are just one thing that can slow down (or speed up) a bite.

One of the most common conditions that can really affect a “bite” is the barometric pressure. Low pressure ahead of a storm or a front moving through can really turn fish on. But sometimes they get feeding so heavily on certain forage that you cannot get a look if you aren’t matching it. Try fishing crayfish patterns on the bottom when walleyes are on a minnow bite — if you don’t want to catch one, that is.

The general rule of thumb is when the pressure is low, fish feed, and when the pressure is high, fish can get lethargic and lazy. Low-pressure days are typically cloudy, with some wind and perhaps even a shower. High-pressure days are bluebird sky, calm winds and bright sun.

Give me cool and cloudy any day for better action. Adapting your presentations for when the bite gets tough with high pressure might include slowing down, down-sizing lures and matching bright lures to bright skies. A presentation that a fish has to look up into a bright-sun, calm-water day to see will almost certainly fail to produce. A bait at eye level or even a little below is a good start and most likely where the fish focus is.

Winds can make life difficult, whether trolling structure, casting from shore or jigging. When winds come up and you are forced to cast into the wind, you might as well move since your control is gone. If the wind is causing a deep belly in your line, you either have to use a heavier lure or approach from another angle. Winds can help concentrate baitfish and other forage up onto points and other structures, giving you visual indicators of where to start fishing.

Many times, winds indicate what the pressure will be doing. Ever heard of “wind from the east, fish bite the least”? That is because east winds usually indicate the passing of fast-moving fronts that can shut a bite down — and the time to fish was before the winds arrived.

“Should have been here yesterday” is another phrase we have all heard at one time, too. “Winds from the west, the fish bite the best” is another and, similarly, it signals a change to a more stable pattern.

Last, let’s discuss fishing pressure. We see this on Flathead Lake every weekend. Almost all the charter boats will tell you that fishing picks up in midweek after the number of boats subsides. It can apply to every situation, and the fish may get used to the commotion and find the baits less appealing or they spook out and don’t come back. Fishing the edges around the hard-hit areas when they do slow down almost always improves my odds, rather than just beating the same water as everyone else.

The next time a hot bite cools down or a bite seems nonexistent, analyze some of these factors and develop a reaction to the situation. Rather than just doing what worked yesterday, work out what you will be talking about tomorrow. I’ll see you on the water.

Howe runs Howes Fishing/A Able Charters. Contact him at or 257-5214 or by emailing

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