When I leave my house to head out to fish the Potomac River, I make a right turn out of the driveway, a left turn at the first intersection, and about a quarter mile down the road there is a flagpole with a massive American flag. That’s my first sign of how the day will go. If it’s standing perpendicular to the pole, straightened by a brisk wind, I know that I am about to get my 48-year-old back pounded into submission.
The Potomac is a nasty mistress, and it seems that there are more “the-sea-was-angry-that-day-like-an-old-man-trying-to-send-back-soup-in-a-deli” rides than there is smooth sailing. It’s particularly bad when the tide bucks up against a strong wind. Add in a few cruiser wakes, and it’s like piloting a fiberglass raft in a washing machine.
When the flag is limp, though, I’ve learned not to expect glass-like conditions.
Even when there’s not a wisp of wind at the house or 20 miles down the road as I approach my most common launch site, Leesylvania State Park, that all seems to go out the window when I enter the marina. As I pull around to the north boat ramp, I’ll start to hear the moored sailboats clanking. When I open the door of my Suburban, the sound of waves pounding against the bulkhead is unavoidable. Thoughts of a run-and-gun strategy involving 50 quick stops turn into a game plan that requires camping in one or maybe two grass beds.
Of course, most of the time when I’ve gone to Erie or St. Clair, I’ve suffered the opposite situation – not a bit of wind at all. Of course, that’s better than 6- and 8-footers, but when it’s dead still in clear water the fish often seem to clam up. You can’t plan your drifts properly and would-be bites turn into follows and near misses.
I can prepare for sun with a buff and sunscreen. I can prepare for rain with a quality Gore Tex suit. I can prepare for sub-freezing temperatures with heated insoles. I cannot, however, brush off the impacts of the breeze – or lack thereof.
Of course, there are days where you want it calm, like when you’re fishing a subtle topwater. There are days when you want it windy, like when they’re chewing the skirt off a spinnerbait. Rarely, however, does the wind speed knob get set exactly where you want it.
I don’t think I’ve ever stepped outside of the house in the morning in said to myself, “That’s exactly the amount of wind that I want.”
And that, in a nutshell, is why the wind is the worst part of fishing. You can and should of course tailor your day to the conditions at hand, but the benevolent “fair winds and following seas” we’ve been promised are either a sailor’s hallucination or a figment of Madison Avenue’s fertile imagination.