Barometric pressure does not directly affect trout or their feeding patterns. But, barometric pressure does have an indirect influence because air pressure is one of the fundamental drivers of our climate, and changes in weather can influence when or how trout are more likely to feed. Barometric pressure can also change water levels, during periods of low-pressure springs are more active and water levels can rise.
In what seemed like a previous life, I use to study metrology and environmental physics. I still maintain an interest in all things weather. Like all fishermen, I like to look for patterns and wonder how the weather and other variables such as barometric pressure affect fishing.
The weather does have a massive impact on trout fishing. But, I am far from convinced that barometric pressure does. It all comes down to how pressure works, and at a fundamental level, there is no difference between pressure caused by air and water.
I will explain why. Water is eight hundred times denser than air. One foot of movement underwater is the equivalent of an additional 800 feet of atmosphere above our heads.
A trout swimming only a few feet deeper, or shallower will result in a difference of pressure orders of magnitude greater than what any changes in air pressure will cause. A two feet tall wave rolling overhead will change the pressure more than even the biggest of approaching storms.
Trout as they swim about their pool, are rapidly experiencing pressure changes that far exceed anything the weather can cause, and just for the record. This applies to all species of fish.
Yes, Even a two feet difference in water depth is a greater difference in pressure than comparing an extremely low-pressure day to an extremely high-pressure day.
I will try and explain it another way
For every foot, a fish swims towards the bottom the PSI increases by 0.433
– Average pressure at sea level 14.7 PSI (1 Atmosphere)
– Pressure 1 feet below 15.13 PSI
– Pressure 10 feet below 19.03 PSI
– Pressure 30 feet below 27.69 PSI
– Pressure 100 feet below 58 PSI
– Record high pressure adjusted for sea level: 15.74psi (1psi)
– Record low pressure adjusted for sea level 12.6psi (During the eye of Typhoon tip) (2.4)
The difference between the record highest, and the record lowest air pressure, adjusted to sea level is 3.1PSI, this is the equivalent of only 7ft of water depth.
Now, Let’s translate to a realistic weather system.
In the morning the weather map is showing a high of 1029hPa (14.9psi), in the afternoon the weather deteriorates and cools as a low system blows in of 1009hPA (14.6)
This is a difference in pressure of 0.3psi which will occur over several hours. So the trout will experience a change of pressure equivalent to a depth change of between 2 and 3 inches per hour.
Changes in atmospheric pressure are simply too minor compared with the density of water to have any direct effect on fish behavior.
Do not only take my word for it
To test my own biases, I decided to read a bunch of research papers that were looking at the effects of barometric pressure on fish feeding and movement patterns. I must have read over 20 papers and they all broadly come to the same conclusion. Barometric pressure was not a measurable factor when determining fish behavior.
Over the years, I have had many discussions with avid fishermen many of whom had their own theories about barometric pressure. Some seem to be very passionate about it and convinced in their own minds.
When I listen to them in isolation, they can seem very convincing, but the problem is, I have met other anglers with widely differing views. Some say high pressure is good, while others say low. Even more, say that the trout behave differently in lake A than lake B and it is all based on the changes in air pressure.
So many contradictions and contrasting opinions are not just a consequence. These anglers are simply looking for patterns and they are finding them thanks to confirmation bias. We are all probably guilty of it.
So no, I am not convinced that air pressure or barometric pressure affects trout fishing, but air pressure does represent changes in the weather and that does affect the fishing.
What is the counterargument? Why do some people believe barometric pressure affects fishing?
In this section, I will try and explain the ‘theory’ of why some people believe barometric pressure has an influence on fishing. I will try my best to explain it without sounding dismissive.
Trout, like most fish, have a buoyancy organ called the swim bladder (also known as an air bladder). Trout, like most bony fish use this organ to help regulate their buoyancy. Think of it as a form of ballast.
It allows them to remain suspended in the water column without actively moving to maintain their position. The ‘gas’ in the air bladder is not atmospheric but contains a much greater concentration of oxygen. Fish fill their swim bladder with ‘gases, including oxygen which their gills absorb from the water.
Well, the theory goes as the barometric pressure changes the ‘air’ inside the swim bladder expands (or contracts) to such an extent that it puts pressure on the fish. When the air pressure drops, the air bladder expands causing discomfort putting the fish off their feed, and causing them to swim deeper to increase the surrounding pressure and equalize the pressure inside the bladder.
Some people compare the discomfort fish experience to our own discomfort caused by changes in atmospheric pressure such as old injuries playing up when the pressure suddenly changes.
Since people even believe, that more minor pressure differences give the fish advance warning of impending weather changes. For example, when their swim bladder inflates, it indicates to the fish that less settled weather is about to arrive.
The table below is how many fishermen believe barometric pressure affects fishing
How Barometric Pressure Affects Fishing
|Weather and environment
|Theory on how trout respond to changes in barometric pressure.
|Higher Pressure (30.50)
|Clear skies, light wind, and settled weather
|Trout are reluctant to feed and seek cover. Fishing is slow but persistence can be rewarded.
|Low Pressure (29.60)
|Cloudy, Rainy, and generally unsettled weather. Springs are more active.
|Fish move to deeper water and become reluctant to feed but a bit more active than high pressure
|Fast Raising Pressure
|Trout becoming more active, but shoals can be concentrated.
|Fast Falling pressure
|Unsettled, Windy, developing clouds and fast-moving fronts
|Fish start to feed, and activity picks up as the trout get in a meal before the bad weather hits
|Medium / stable Pressure (29.70-30.40)
|Trout are reluctant to feed but might be tempted. Others claim that trout feed normally.
Are insects and hatches influenced by barometric pressure?
There is some evidence to suggest that changes in barometric pressure does influence the behavior of insects, but the behavioral changes are not consistent between species of insects, and the interaction between air pressure and insects is poorly understood.
There is evidence that many insects such as caddisflies, and potentially mayfly hatches are influenced by pressure changes. Most notably periods immediately prior to barometric pressure changes, and periods of depression.
But, for both groups of insects temperature remains the dominant factor that determines hatch activity.
Why does barometric pressure influence aquatic insects and not trout? Will, I can only speculate but it likely comes down to the rate of movement. Insects move slowly and when not hatching they creep along the bottom. Because the nymphs barely move, the pressure from the water remains more constant so it is believable that they can detect changes in atmospheric barometric pressure.
Barometric pressure is a useful guide for predicting the weather
While the trout might not be responding to the changes in barometric pressure directly, changes in pressure does change things that the trout can pick up on. High pressure, typically means calm weather and blue skies. In the summer they can be hot, in the winter they can be extremely cold. When it is sunny, trout prefer to seek shade. They might go deeper, or hide undercover.
But, calm conditions can trigger mayfly hatches. They hate the wind, in fact, most insects do. So the increase in food can be enough to tempt the trout out of hiding.
While low pressure, typically means high wind and storms. These conditions can make fishing challenging. We all know how hard it is to cast into the wind or to try and spot fish when the surface is choppy. But the trout do not care that we struggle to catch them.
They are still beneath the chop feeding. Storms and rain, weather events in which low barometric pressure results in can at times cause the trout to feed. That is because rising water levels due to rains expose and wash downstream more food. It is an insect buffet for the trout.
How about the transitional periods?
The transitional period is when the air pressure is raising and generally represents changes in the weather. If the pressure is rising, the clouds will depart and the winds will weaken.
Contrasty dropping pressure, generally speaking, will bring the wind which will blow in the clouds, and because the wind is blowing from the polar regions it generally brings cold weather with it. Cold weather, depending on the time of the year can be a blessing or a curse.
In the middle of summer, when the water temperatures are hot. A drop in air temperature can cool the water, which will encourage the trout to feed. But in winter, when the water is already cold, a cold front is just as likely to discourage the trout even further.
Barometric Pressure can influence water levels!
This is something I have observed firsthand many times. I grew up on a farm with a small creek, over the summer the pools become disconnected, the only inflows being springs.
During periods of high air pressure, the springs become weak and the water level will drop. But when the air pressure drops, and well before the storms roll in the springs erupt back into life and the levels of the ponds can raise several inches. Sometimes, the creek even starts to flow again.
In periods of drought, and low flow. Fish can become more active during periods of low pressure simply because the springs are more active helping to cool the water.
I do not know if this is of much relevance for trout fishing or not, because trout struggling to survive in such stressful conditions probably should not be caught.
Summary – Barometric pressure is not a good guide for determining the feeding behavior of trout
I will now summarize this topic. While many anglers believe barometer pressure strongly influences the feeding behavior of trout, there is simply no evidence that this is the case. From a purely physics perspective Slight chances of air pressure are dwarfed by the pressure changes experienced by fish as they swim up or down in the water column.
Now, Barometric pressure is a good indicator to use to predict weather changes, and maybe even insect activity. These changes do influence trout feeding behavior.
Disagree with me? feel free to share your thoughts and prove me wrong in the comments below.