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Small boat, wind, and waves forecasts

6/30/18 @ 2:08 PM
User since 7/14/09

It is my first year out on the big lake this year, and basically I am looking to maximize my fishable days on the water - with absolutely putting safety first. With work and family (who are usually my crew - kids are just as hooked as I am I think!), I am limited on the number of days I can go. 

When a free day is approaching, I start watching weather reports and wave forecasts (near shore and open waters), however those have been less than accurate.  Father's day weekend for example, wave forecast was looking like 2 footers, which was very fishable previously, however when we got out and could barely stand only a little ways out (seemed bigger than 2 footers!), we turned around and went in.  For reference, the weather was much like this weekend, stronger south winds.  On the opposite side had my best day memorial day weekend in a north wind and 2 footers. Then days I passed on have had reports and buoy data that seemed good to fish in, but forecasts that were not to favorable.

My question in all this is how do other 'small boaters' determine if it is fishable and plan a go / no go?  Is there some type of wind speed and direction to watch for along w wave forecasts?  I know I don't have the experience, and error on the side of caution, but it seems I missing some wisdom in how it all ties together and looking for some guidence?   

EDIT: Am I asking the right questions about the right data?

For reference, I am in an Alumacraft Voyageur, 17'10 with fishable meaning I can stand up in the boat. I am almost equal distance between Racine and Bender, so those would be my 'home' ports.  The other MKE launches aren't much further though if that makes a difference.

Thanks for the help! 

7/1/18 @ 11:27 PM
User since 7/14/09

Great information!  Thank you both for the responses!  

Sounds like I should also be taking a more holistic view of the winds and waves on the lake to find those fishable times.  Not only to know not only what current conditions are, but to also figure out what is coming my way.


7/1/18 @ 11:29 AM
User since 3/30/15
If it is the lake breeze setup (SE 10-15), it will calm quickly once the wind drops.  If it is weather front winds or post frontal northerlies, it can take 12-24 hours.  The seas due to these winds will slowly transition into long period swells which are pretty fishable. Keep in mind that it could be blowing out of north up by algoma and calm in racine and racine will have swells.  Westerlies if you are staying close to shore, <2 mi, are fine, but out further can become gnarly.

7/1/18 @ 6:09 AM
User since 7/6/06

It can really depend. If you have a strong west wind, it can smooth out pretty quick. But visa versa too, if you have a strong east or south wind it can take a while to die down. 

There are always exceptions to the rules obviously. This lake always surprises me. We were out on Thursday morning in flat calm conditions. I knew around noon or so, it was going to change to a south wind and start picking up. I bet in 30min - 1hr we were in a 2-1/2 chop. But again, we knew it was coming and planned on pulling lines once that happened. 

Another resource are local bait shops. I call them up, most of them are willing to help, and just ask for current wave conditions. 

7/1/18 @ 12:08 AM
User since 7/14/09

Thanks Fischer and XRay for the information and apps.  I really like the windfinder app!  And how you both break it down makes perfect sense.  Definitely won't be going out if there is a small craft advisory.

Yes, my crew doesn't quite have their sea legs yet, they got a little dizzy on our short boat ride Father's day weekend.  No chumming, but had we stayed I am sure there would have been!

Reading through, I think increasing my time on the water may include not so much looking for a good day, but narrowing it down a bit and using the resources and forecasts to find those windows of opportunity during the days I can fish, making sure to keep an eye on conditions and not push it.

Follow up question, how long does the lake take to lay down after the winds die down?  I get it can get rough quick, just wondering on the other side of that, especially if the common patterns are for winds to die down in the evening.  

Thanks again!!

6/30/18 @ 5:03 PM
User since 3/30/15

I have fished a 16' starcraft for the last 4 yrs out of Milwaukee and Bender.  A lot of it is understanding the patterns.  Summertime here will almost always have a SE wind pick up in the afternoon to around 10-15 knots which will generate 1-2' seas, but it dies down after 6pm.  Mornings are almost always light winds.  Today we have a solid 20 knots with seas reported at the atwater buoy of 2.6' with a dominant wave period of 4 sec.  That number and what they predict in the forecasts (today 2-4') is the average of the top 1/3 of all the waves.  That means you will have waves 1.5x that number every 5 minutes or so.  Even though this may seem ok, it will be tough fishing as you will only be able to go down wind with poor boat and speed control.  If you try to take those waves side on on a troll, the crew will get sick.  If you have to run in into those waves it will be slow and very bumpy.  The crew will be chumming.  My criteria after pushing it a few times is:

1. Go: seas <0-2' and winds <15 knots verified by the atwater buoy and the sensor at the north gap and not forecast to increase.

2. No Go: Small craft advisory regardless of the wind direction.  Seas forecast or actual >2' with wind >15 knots. East wind 10-15 knots no matter what the wave forecast (guaranteed to suck).

3. Potential go: seas 1-3' and winds dropping <10 knots.  Need to be a little desperate to go.

6/30/18 @ 3:25 PM
User since 7/6/06

I use the Windfinder app, Weatherbug app, Sailflow app, and the link below.

I really try to make sure all the sites i use are telling me the same thing. Or very similar.

In the link, I'll look at the near shore and offshore wave forecast. As well as the future waves, as it may get rougher sooner than they forecast, so it gives me an idea of what may come when I'm out there. I also look at ports north and south of where im heading out of to see what their forecast says. 

The sailflow app helps also, as you can see what the wind is doing by the port you want to fish. Keep in mind, wind can greatly differ from onshore to what is on the lake.

I also use webcams if the ports im going to have them. We fish Port Washington to Baileys Harbor. 

I fear a south wind more than anything, as it seems i have had the worst luck with a strong south wind. If they are forecasting winds in the teens, and gusts higher; i figure i most likely wont go. 

It can be real tricky sometimes. We have drove an hour or longer to just turn around and head home many times.

This weekend for example, i looked at all of the info above, and knew i wasnt going. We have an 18' starcraft with a 99" beam. We will fish "rough" waves, but try not to challenge the lake either. 

Also, when you're out there, keep an eye on the apps. Also keep an eye on if you feel a wind direction change or wind speed change. That lake can flip in a heartbeat, even if its glass calm and it is forecasted to stay that way. Storms pop up out of no where, and wind can change with no warning. 

Generally if they predict 2' or less, or 1'-2' i feel pretty confident about going. If they predict 2'-3', or 3'-5' i get leary about whether we will get out. 3'-5' may be a 2'-3' in reality. Last saturday was nice by algoma and baileys harbor, but i heard it was rough by port and sheboygan. A small craft advisory is an automatic no go. 

I hope that helps some.

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