September is one of the windiest months of the open-water fishing season. I will defer to experts like Dr. Saunders on why this is. I just know that the wind whips up a good froth on our Northern Ontario lakes nearly every afternoon during August and September.
Many years of guiding and fishing on Northern Ontario lakes has given me lots of experience with waves and wind. I have a cabin on Nipigon Bay on Lake Superior so I’ve spent a lot of time on that enormous body of water. Even though Nipigon Bay is somewhat sheltered from the big lake by a series of large islands, the bay is about 20-miles long and 5-miles wide – with its length lying east and west. Subsequently when prevailing winds blow from the west the waves can be downright nasty, and boating can be challenging – even frightening. In fact last summer my wife and I had to spend 4 long hours on an island waiting for the wind to settle so that we could safely boat across the bay back to the cabin. We were actually prepared to stay the night in the event that the wind did not settle.
Many of the lakes accessed by Wilderness North also have potential for big waves at certain times of year. Certainly not as daunting as Lake Superior, but with enough wind and surf to put a damper on your holiday (pardon the pun). Lakes like Makokibatan, Whitewater, and Miminiska are also long bodies of water that lie east and west. A good west wind can whip up some dandy waves on these bodies of water, and not just in September. This past June I boated with two customers on Makokibatan on a couple of days with substantial wind. I did my best to get the customers onto fish in some pretty nasty weather; hopefully without giving them the impression that they were reenacting the final scene from the movie, The Perfect Storm.
Here’s a list of techniques and considerations that I employ to deal with stormy “seas”:
- Pay Attention to the Forecast: When available, check daily weather forecasts using the internet or radio weather channels. I use the weather channel on my GMRS radio (walkie-talkie) religiously. When the marine forecast calls for a wind warning, I take heed.
- Who are you going to believe, the weather-man or your eyes? Whether forecasted or not, watch for storm fronts developing on the horizon. If you see black clouds approaching move towards camp and prepare to get off the water. Don’t be one of those dopes that say, “But the forecast wasn’t calling for a storm”.
- Stay close to camp on windy days: If the weather is calling for building winds in the afternoon, plan your boat trip such that you don’t have to cross open water to return to camp. Instead find a secluded bay on the same side of the lake and fish there.
- Go home with the wind at your back: Plan trips so that you travel into the wind in the morning and with the wind when you return in late afternoon. It is easier to boat with the waves than against them, and waves generally build as the day progresses.
- Don’t cross the waves: There is nothing more nerve-racking than cresting waves breaching the side of your boat. You can lessen risk by “tacking” like a sail boat and crossing open water in a zig-zag pattern. A boat can flip sideways much easier than end-for-end.
- Take the long way home: There is a tendency to want to hug the shore-line when boating in angry seas. A presumption is made that if the boat capsizes you will be closer for swimming to shore. However, this thinking is flawed for a number of reasons. One is that reefs, rocks and sandbars are often closer to shore – especially near points. If you run aground during high seas, you stand a very good chance of sinking your boat. Secondly, waves swell as the water column decreases near the shoreline. And finally, if you’re anticipating the possibility of capsizing – go to shore and stay there!
- Stayin’ Alive: If you want to live long enough to disco dance to the BeeGees like John Travolta…or not! then you need to stay alive. Ensure all your safety equipment is onboard and wear your lifejacket. Making a decision to spend a few hours or even a night on an island is a lot better than capsizing your boat in rough weather. Most of us have enough body fat to see us through a missed meal – or two!
If you have some additional tips, or experiences you’d like to share about “troubled waters”, I’d love to hear from you.