Strong winds and large waves often cause problems for boaters who fish. Many anglers struggle to fish effectively in the wind, but the larger issue is one of safe boating when the water is rough or when it builds to rough conditions. Sometimes, coping with the wind is not terribly prudent, and the sensible thing to do is head for port. This is especially so if the wind appears to be building. Keep your eye on the weather and don't wait for the worst conditions to arrive.
Make Safety the Priority
Safety should be the first concern when fishing in heavy wind, especially when the water is cold, the waves are high, the boat is small or tipsy or flat-hulled, or there is a far distance to go. If the water is cold, and you get wet due to rain or taking on splashing water as the boat rides through waves, you could become hypothermic. Put on and fasten a proper-fitting PFD that will keep your fully clothed body afloat and your head upright, as well provide some warmth. Also fasten the lanyard to the ignition safety switch (aka “kill switch”) to your body; if you get thrown out of the boat or it capsizes, you want the motor and spinning propeller off.
When the wind and waves are rough, consider whether you, and the boat you’ll use, are up to the conditions before you ever embark. On the personal comfort level, taking a pounding by running through heavy waves is hard on the back and neck, particularly for older anglers. And though the fish may be biting like crazy, that is small comfort to a companion who gets seasick, which is more likely in rocking seas.
Stay Alert to Changing Weather
The boat is a different story. You have to realistically assess what your boat can handle, going forth only if you’re completely sure and prepared, or turning back when good sense demands it. Of course, going out to fish under severe wind is much different than being on the water and angling when conditions change from calm to frothy, which can happen quickly. Too many anglers push their luck each year, not noticing shifts in wind speed or direction, or thinking they can run themselves out of trouble. Sometime they pay for it.
Many anglers are guilty of not looking enough to the horizon for squalls and thunderstorms. That’s one reason why, on large bodies of water, the wise angler has a VHF radio, hand-held weather radio, or smartphone with a weather app to stay informed of weather patterns, changes, and potential problems when in a locale where these devices function.
Beware of Shallow Lakes, Plus Reefs and Shoals
If the wind has picked up enough to put whitecaps on the water or, worse, a trail of foam, beware. That’s called Force 4 on the Beaufort Wind Scale, and it's time to decide what to do, especially on large shallow lakes, which are among the most dangerous bodies of water because waves build quickly there and are often close together. So are lakes with many reefs and shoals. Small boaters get caught in troughs, or get pushed up into shallows or shoals or boulders and bang up the outboard's lower unit or the boat hull, maybe even causing capsizing (especially watch out in a canoe or kayak). Recognize the dangers that lie ahead and be smart enough to avoid them so that you remain safe.
Stow Anchor and Mooring Ropes
In addition, be sure that nothing impedes your boat's progress when you’re faced with strong winds and their accompanying waves. A crippled boat is very tough to handle properly in the worst conditions. You shouldn't be out there with a motor that isn't working well, for example. And make sure that any anchor or mooring ropes aren’t laying out where rough-water bouncing could cause them to be swept overboard. If so, the rope will be in the boat's propeller in an instant, probably seizing up the motor, and you'll be in a lot of trouble.