Casting a Weather Eye

By Vernon Summerlin

Predicting the weather is like predicting fishing. Since weather influences fishing, how are we ever going to figure out what to do? A meteorologist shares his insights to help you improve your odds of bringing home some fish.


“Looking at the sky and trying to read it is not that easy,” says Meteorologist Davis Nolan for WKRN in Nashville. “You can look at the weather forecast and see that a front is on the way. While you are out fishing and see a squall line you can read that pretty easily, but you don’t always have squall lines with a front.

“As a weather man, I sit here and look at the wind shift line in Memphis and Jackson to the west to get a feel for it.” Nolan admits if there isn’t a line of showers he can’t easily tell where the front is.

“If the winds are from the south and you ask me if a front will come through in an hour I would have to say I don’t know. I could say we are ahead of one since the winds are from the south but I can’t predict when it will arrive. It may remain stationary to the west for three days; I could call it if I had more information.”

Nolan tells us we usually get high cirrus clouds from the west a day or two in advance of a front. Then we would expect the ceiling to start lowering with mid level stratus clouds followed by low level stratus clouds. These low clouds produce precipitation. The closer the front, the lower the ceiling. He cautions us that there are a few times when we may see cirrus clouds without an approaching front.

“People like fishing the day before a front better than the day after.” The high pressure following a front is given credit for shutting down the fishing.

“Barometric pressure produces a lot less pressure on fish than water does. The entire column of air above the earth’s surface is defined as weighing one atmosphere. To move from the surface of a lake to 16 feet deep is also one atmosphere of pressure. The small amount of change in pressure caused by a frontal system is less pressure than a fish swimming down two feet. A fish can easily withstand 10 times any change barometric pressure causes.”

Nolan admits, “Whether the barometric pressure is really doing anything to the fish or not, I don’t know. And as my physics professor said, ‘O.G.K.’ – that means only God knows. It may be that the pressure change is tied in with something else, that’s my guess.

“With a frontal passage, or “fro-pa” as the professionals call it, the wind shift is the most important thing I look for. The barometric pressure will bottom out and start going back up and you will feel colder air move in with the wind shift.”

Nolan pointed out important differences between winter and summer fronts. Summer fronts are weaker and don’t have much cold air. We may not have a frontal passage in a relatively long time because it’s hard for one to move into the South.

In the winter, fronts may move through at a rate of two per week. “They are stronger with stronger barometric pressure readings and stronger winds ahead and behind them. The systems are more active in the winter,” concludes Nolan.

My personal experience has been that fishing is usually poor before a winter front, beginning with the high cirrus clouds. When the ceiling drops, I’ve noticed the fish are more active.

Guide Gene Austin of Nashville says he had rather fish the sunny days early and late in the afternoon. “The sun’s warmth makes them active and they move up. When the sun is high on a clear day the fish are going to drop down a little deeper between 11 AM and 1:30 PM.

“I don’t read the cloud formations but I can tell by the wind on my body, even blindfolded, which direction the wind is blowing and what kind of front is coming. If I’m fishing on a pretty day and the wind changes a little bit, I can tell if it’s going to rain that evening. I miss sometimes but I’m more often right than wrong. I’ve fished for so long and have felt the atmospheric conditions change so many times that I know how to interpret the changing conditions.”

Cold fronts are notorious for shutting fish down. Austin says, “It’s not that the fish aren’t there, they are lethargic – not very active. I think the worst fishing conditions are a falling barometer and an east wind. I relate it to having a head cold with your head stopped up and pressure in your sinuses. In my opinion, the falling barometer affects fish very much the same way.”

He believes, “The best front is the fast moving front. The one that eases in and hangs around is tough to fish. A few years ago in February, I was listening to the weather report and it said it was 65 degrees in Nashville and 25 degrees and snowing in Memphis. I thought, He’s Nuts! I turned on the Weather Channel and, sure enough, they showed it snowing in Memphis. I jumped up and got the boat. I had the best fishing that day I’ve had in many years.”

The next day morning, before the front arrived, Austin and a buddy went and caught fish again. “They are more aggressive with a big, fast storm coming. With slow moving fronts, you might as well rent a movie and stay home – that’s as tough as it gets!”