Fish, Weather and People
Nature Bulletin No. 241-A October 22, 1966
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
FISH, WEATHER AND PEOPLE.
can be one of the cheapest and most satisfying forms of
recreation for people of all ages and both sexes. The proudest moment
for many a boy is when he comes home with a big catfish or a string of
bluegills caught with a can of worms for bait, and a cane pole or a
willow cut from a thicket. Fishing can also be an expensive sport when
the fisherman, laden with gadgets and high-priced tackle, journeys long
distances to northern waters.
The time of year, the sign of the moon, the barometric pressure, the
direction and velocity of wind, rainfall, the amount of fishing and other
conditions are some of the reasons given by credulous fisherman to
bolster up their alibis. None of them can be proved. We do know that,
in general, in the streams, ponds and inland lakes of Illinois, the
principal fish caught in early spring are bullheads and, after them, the
crappies. In summer the catches are mostly bluegills and largemouth
black bass. In autumn, often, we again get good strings of crappies. But
beyond that, as far as we know, in only one body of water has there
been kept sufficient records over a long term of years, and a scientific
study of such records, to throw any light upon the theories about why
and when fish bite or don't bite.
Rinaker Lake, a 14-acre impoundment near Carlinville, Illinois -- about
midway between Springfield and St. Louis -- has been used for almost
50 years by a club of local people to furnish some of the best year-
round fishing in the state. From 1932 to 1943, a careful day-to-day
record was kept of each angler's catch, to serve as a guide for the
management of the lake. During this 12-year period, a total of over
15,000 pounds of hook-and-line fish was taken. This amounted to 3-1/4
pounds per fisherman per trip -- over twice as good as the average
success in other waters of Illinois. The catch was made up almost
exclusively of four kinds -- largemouth black bass, white crappies,
bluegills and black bullheads. Although each of these kinds, in certain
years, made up a much more important part of the total catch than in
other years, the total average catch per fisherman' s trip was about the
same from year to year.
These records and the records of the local weather station were used to
test some of the beliefs that weather has a lot to do with the best time to
fish. One of the oldest ideas is that fish bite better during and following
rains. There was a moderate increase in the average catch on the 244
days when over a half inch of rain fell but there was little effect during
the days that followed except that bass bit almost twice as well when
the water cleared up, two or three weeks later. Whether it was sunshiny
or cloudy made little difference. Neither did wind direction, possibly
because the lake was so small that there could be little wave action.
Some fishermen claim that fish bite better on days with a high
barometric pressure, and others that a rising barometer is best. This was
tested in detail, using US Weather Bureau records, but there was no
evidence of any effect. Incidentally, fish rising or sinking through a few
inches of water undergo greater pressure changes than the most extreme
changes shown by the barometer during the course of a year. Both
bluegills and crappies seemed to bite a little better in the light of the
moon than in the dark of the moon but the average difference was only
a few percent. Further, confirmed anglers fishing one or more times
each week had no better luck than persons who fished only a few times
a year. During the entire twelve years, men averaged 3.25 pounds per
day, while the women averaged 3.22 pounds.
Of course, the men say they hooked a lot of big ones that got away.
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Update: June 2012