Working with the Wind

Every boater and angler has a relationship with the wind. Sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship. A sailor, for instance, leaps for joy when there’s a stiff wind. It’s what we wait for, that tell-tale snap when a boat comes about and a canvas sail snaps to attention. It’s the time when a spin fisherman working with a tail wind achieves unparalleled casting distances as the wind carries a spinner or jerk bait to new reaches. It’s a hate relationship for a fly fisherman casting into a head wind.  Strong head winds make delicate presentations impossible, and the end result looks more like a bowl of spaghetti rather than an art form. A fly fisherman would prefer low wind, the kind that turns sailors sullen, particularly when they have to putt-putt out of the harbor under the whine of an outboard.

What is probably more important for boaters and for anglers is to be able to tell what is going on and when. We need to know how strong the wind is so we can come up with a serviceable game plan. When the wind is too strong we may decide to leave the fly rod at home and pull out a favorite spinning rod. The bow and stern lines of a sailboat may remain firmly tied to a dock cleat while the lines of a powerboat are loosened and taken for a ride. Knowing the wind’s direction is important, too, for it will tell us if we should fish on the right bank of the pond or the left, or if there is a low pressure front moving low clouds filled with rain that will remind us that we did not pack our raingear and will get thoroughly wet that day.

An anemometer, that handy little gadget that was invented in the mid-1400’s is the most technical way to tell the wind speed. The cups or blades spin faster with fast wind and slower with slow wind, and their numbers tell us what to do. Many are equipped with wind vanes that also chart direction, and still others come with tubes and plates that register pressure. Mounting one on a rooftop is one of those luxuries in life that demystifies the wind.

There are many natural ways to get ahead of the curve. Flags at the harbor are a good indicator. Flags blowing tightly in a wind are good visual indicators, and when I see the flag pulling against the lines I know that the speed is greater than 20 MPH. It’ll be a challenging day for boating and for fishing, but a perfect day for sailing. Whitecaps are a good visual, too, and by studying the height you can tell if you’ll bounce around or be ok. And unless there is a lot of baitfish to eat, birds will sit down in a stiff wind, oftentimes in the lee. They’ll wait for the speeds to drop, and return to feed when it’s more efficient. Match the direction of the wind to a compass and you’ll forecast the weather. Wind from the east, fishing is least, wind from the west, fishing is best, wind from the north, blows the fish forth, wind from the south blows the lure in their mouth.  Of course it always makes sense to listen to the WX channel on your radio.  NOAA is of course an excellent source, and the Take Me Fishing site provides excellent local conditions, too. 

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at