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life on the edges

THE LAST FEW YEARS  have seen me pay much more attention to the weather system in the days prior to any given fishing outing. I’d like to think that after forty years you tend to learn something about what’s going on around you, even if you are paying attention to something else most of the time. Enough time on water or in the bush will teach you, even through osmosis, certain truths about wildlife and their cycle of activity. Certain tendencies seem to stand out in particular and contrary to what fishing tackle manufacturers want you to believe, success in the practice of catching fish is essentially not an issue of technique or lure choice but is first and foremost the resolution of a problem of natural science. At the risk of sounding like a heretic to the fishing industry and foregoing any future possibility for product endorsements, my position is that biology and meteorology are more important factors in fishing success than the choice of lures.

All biological of life on this planet, both land and sea based, lives on or close to the edges. This is true for humans as well as all animals and fish. Globally, over two-thirds of the worlds entire population inhabit coastal areas. There are important reasons behind this phenomenon. At the basest anthropological level, at the dawn of mankind as a  social animal, the edges offered greater opportunity for food and migration. Areas where land met water were among the first areas to be settled by nascent semi-nomadic communities.  The reason is simple – economic opportunity and food resources. There is always life on the edges, where it seems to collect all creatures, like a natural highway or lay line. This paradigm became manifestly evident a few years ago when upland bird hunting in some corn fields where the birds had gathered to greedily feed at the edge of the fields. The edge was a relatively safe place for them to feed as they were within meters of the safety of the brush should any predatory danger arise. While there was risk there was also reward. My hunter friend assured me that the same pattern applied during deer hunting season as they were located in the scrub at the forests edge before venturing cautiously out into the apple orchards or open fields to feed.

This was a lesson learned from the water as well. Both salt and freshwater fish love edges as well. The great pelagics of the oceans migrate up and down the continental shelf along coastlines or followed current or temperature breaks in the water. Inshore fish, like stripers or bluefish, moved up and down the coastline. Freshwater fish are no different and also have a preference for edges. Physical structure in its many forms is key to locating game fish. Riptides, weedlines, rocky points, temperature breaks, seams in rapids, breaking waves, tidal breaks, eddies, currents, underwater humps and saddles. The places where water meets land are the areas where most activity takes place.

But there are other edges as well, less visible to the eye, equally important as the physical edges towards the the understanding of wildlife and its cycle of activity. The edges of weather. The understanding of how weather patterns have a significant impact on all life can sometimes be the critical factor determining the level of success or failure on any given day. Here once again there is a correlation between human and animal behaviour. A perfect example is how all life tends to seek shelter from a rain storm or cold front and hunker down until the system passes or they gradually adapt to it, as we do in winter. Life withdraws from the edges and seeks refuge, a safe haven from the elements. But inclement weather can sometimes also have a way of increasing activity and getting things to react, particularly during changing and unstable weather patterns, both before and after its passage. Rising barometric pressure, high humidity levels, prevailing wind directions , lunar cycle, heat, cold, cloud cover, intensity of sunlight, precipitaton in all its foms - all these things play a critical role in determining the level of activity.

Certain things hold true in my experience with certain species of fish. Largemouth bass tend to be more aggressive in certain weather conditions, particularly unstable weather patterns after a long period of stable weather, high heat and humidity, with barometric pressure rising over a hundred kilopascals, when skies are generally overcast and dark and prevailing winds are from the South or Southwest, and with severe thunder storms in the forecast. This is the best type of system to look for before going fishing for largemouth. Other fish species may respond equally well to this system but also have different preferences. Most esocidae for example, pike and muskellunge, while they will also respond positively to shifts after a prolonged stable period, can also become more active than any other species when a storm blows through from the North East. High winds, cold weather, rain, snow, and general inclement weather can really start a feeding frenzy. These same conditions could otherwise be very difficult for bass, trout, or most other freshwater species.

And while the sometimes severe thunderstorms of summer can often trigger activity, in the late Fall or winter, approaching cold fronts can similarly have the same effect on fishing activity. This phenomenon was experienced one late December many years ago when we found ourselves drifting large suckers minnows for muskies in one of our favorite holes. It had been warm all week and the morning temperatures were idyllic -  sunny with clear skies, unseasonable warm at 14 celsius, with 0-5k winds from the South. Great weather for winter fishing but horrible for catching until the system changed radically by late afternoon as a harsh cold front set in, winds shifting and gusting from the North bringing temperatures down to below zero and dropping the first white blanket of snow across the landscape. 

Before the first snowflakes hit the water, we both had simultaneous hook-ups, two good fish that were estimated at close to thirty pounds before released. We baited new minnows and dropped them over the side of the boat and one was immediately taken before we could fully let out our lines. A third fish had been sitting under the boat, probably aroused by the activity of the other two fish. It fought well and after a few good runs managed to throw the hook.  We continued our drift and once again the ratchedy drag sounded off, indicating another fish had taken the bait. This time the hook was solid and after a brief yet intense battle the fish was brought alongside the boat. It was another thirty pound fish. The action was incredible that day, with two other fish coming next to the boat before we headed home. The storm had without a doubt triggered this incredible feeding activity in a place where one good fish per day was the norm under ideal circumstances. Since then, fishing the structure that lies within these meteorological patterns, the edges of weather systems, have been responsible for many great days on the water and many trophy fish.

 

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