“Try to bring him around the right side of the boat,” I yelled.
However it was impossible for Gary Rogers to hear me as raindrops the size of green peas slammed down on our rain hoods and the surrounding river. Thankfully the automatic bilge pump on my boat was running non-stop so we were in no danger of sinking, I hoped.
Finally Gary fought the monster catfish into submission. The net slid underneath but it was a struggle to lift the beast over the side of the boat where a second huge catfish already rested in the rain. The smallest fish was quickly released but as we weighed the larger one (31 lbs.), the huge storm cloud rolled away to the south, allowing just enough sun to create a rainbow and an epic picture. It wasn’t the biggest catfish Rogers caught that day, but I am betting it is a picture that will end up on his wall, and in his memory banks, forever.
It was Tuesday afternoon in the middle of a multi-day weather system that has dumped more than 8 inches of rain in the Chattanooga area, and it is still raining as this story is being written.
In the midst of the Tuesday storms Rogers and I were enjoying one of the most incredible “big fish” bites either of us has ever experienced. In the span of an hour-and-a-half we boated a dozen catfish. At one point we had a quadruple – four big catfish on the line simultaneously. The majority we caught during the flurry of action weighed at least 20 pounds each with the four biggest fish weighing in at 48, 33, 31 and 31 pounds. The entire afternoon’s catch exceeded 300 pounds of catfish.
Fishing guide Capt. Ty Konkle was on Chickamauga Lake Tuesday as well. Capt. Konkle and his client endured multiple grueling blasts of rain and wind. He said, however, “It was an awesome day on the lake. We put the smackdown on the blue [catfish] and had some flatheads mixed in too. Bob wanted to break his personal best blue cat and we did that several times!”
Now the million-dollar question – was our Tuesday catfishing success due to where and/or how we were fishing, or was it due to the weather we were fishing in?
The weather’s affect on fishing success is a question anglers have likely debated since the first caveman figured out how to make a fish hook. There is very little, if any, scientific research to substantiate if and/or how weather systems affect fish feeding behavior. Most anglers believe, however, that it definitely does.
“I think that foul weather has a positive impact on fishing,” writes Pete Masic, Jr. on the Chattanooga Fishing Forum. “I personally prefer the foul weather days over bluebird calm days. Some of the best [fishing] days that I have been a part of on the water were during raw, windy, rainy, cool or cold days.”
Masic’s opinion is generally consistent among most anglers who often say they much prefer fishing ahead of, or even during, an approaching foul weather system. And most say the immediate days after a storm system passes can be the worst fishing.
“Some of my best crappie [catching] days have been in the rain,” writes Candi Burrows.
Retired game warden Jim Miller agrees, writing, “Foul weather, or what I like to call dark days, seem to trigger certain species especially in fall, spring, and winter.”
Brian Phillips writes, “My average fish in rain is better and more aggressive. Several years ago my cousin, brother and myself were on Watts Bar in a torrential downpour. Tornadoes were expected (we didn’t know) and we literally caught fish every cast!!”
Like Phillips, I personally will never forget bass fishing on Nickajack Lake Easter weekend in March of 1997, the night several tornadoes rolled through the area injuring dozens of people in Chattanooga. Before the storm’s intensity chased me from the water, I too was boating more big bass than I could count.
Such anecdotes are common. On the TNDeer.com Fishing Forum Chad Batey writes, “Growing up, dad would always watch the weather and plan our catfishing trips around thunderstorms. If it was calling for severe weather, we would head for the steam plant at New Johnsonville and try to be there before the storm hit. We sure had many memorable trips like that.”
The question is, “Why?”
Some hypothesize that falling barometric pressure directly affects the swim bladders and subsequent behavior of fish. However, one scientific research project from a Minnesota university concluded, “Barometric pressure did not have a significant influence on how much yellow perch ate.”
Tennessee fisheries biologists I know, however, will quickly admit that anglers on the water regularly observe fishing patterns and affects long before scientific research can prove it.
LESS FISHING PRESSURE
One thing is certain – when the weather is bad there are always fewer anglers on the water to make such observations. Boat launch ramps fill up on pretty, sunny days while foul weather days or extremely cold days leave parking spaces aplenty.
Eric Nelson writes, “Foul weather actually encourages me to go because I love when the elements become a challenge and most boaters will be on the couch with their feet propped up!”
However nearly every angler agrees that when storm systems bring lightning, it is wise to be at home on the couch.
ENDURE THE COLD
Decades ago Chickamauga Lake would always be empty in the dead of winter except for duck hunters. These days, however, anglers have discovered that game fish still definitely feed even in the extreme cold.
“I have [crappie] fished in the winter breaking ice in some areas,” writes Burrows, “The fishing was insane that day, with a very aggressive bite.”
Rusty White adds that, “Being on the water while it’s snowing is amazing. The snow buffers the sound and it’s so quiet and peaceful, except, of course, for the singing of the line through the water because the fish usually bite pretty good when it’s snowing.”
LOTS OF VARIABLES
Back on the Tennessee River Tuesday, Rogers and I had to stop fishing several minutes as a huge raft of debris washed downstream from the rising water. Foul weather and rain, especially in amounts like we’ve experienced recently, bring numerous changes on the water including muddier conditions, increased current flow, changing water temperatures and numerous of other environmental variables.
Those variables make it even more difficult to specifically attribute fish behavior to any one factor, such as changing barometric pressure. But listen to the majority of anglers and you will likely be convinced that it is worth spending some extra money on quality foul weather gear. And when storm systems (without lightning) are approaching, hook up the boat and head for the lake.
I feel certain Gary Rogers feels that is true.