Choosing the best fishing time means taking many factors into consideration. Things like the weather, the sun, the moon, and seasonality can all affect how fish are feeding.
Sun Effect on Fishing Times
The sun can affect fishing times in more ways than one. This is also species dependant; for example, in a small lake that receives direct sunlight, the fish may move deeper to find colder sections of the pool.
Or fish like trout may stop feeding on insects off the top of the water because the sunlight hinders their ability to approach the insects accurately.
On the flip side, the winter sun can promote fish activity. It brings bugs back onto the water and heats up pools for bugs to start hatching.
Fish are more alert during bright sunlight conditions because it exposes them more to predators.
In the shallow zones in which most fish feeds are heavily exposed during bright sunlight conditions, fish feel unsafe feeding in these areas during these conditions and prefer to feed in shallow zones during low light conditions.
Moon Effect on Fishing Times
Every day, there are four lunar periods, two minor periods, and two major periods; these are the best periods for fishing.
A major period is when the moon is above your head or right below you. According to solunar calendars, this is the prime time for fishing.
A minor period is when the moon rises and sets, while not as good for fishing as major periods, it’s the second-best time to fish.
Major periods last on average for around two hours while minor periods last for around four hours each.
One glaring reason why the moon may affect fishing activity is that it controls the tides. For fish like salmon, a high tide brings in the water needed to overcome obstacles and help them get up the river. Similarly, the tide is used by stripers who enter estuaries with rising water.
So why this may have an effect on sea fish or river fish it might not have as much of an impact on fish in small ponds or lakes.
However, the moon has another feature that many people overlook when assessing how the moon affects fish. The light from the moon is a huge factor in predator fish feeding times.
The nocturnal foraging efficiency of bass was shown to increase with stimulated moonlight (McMahon and Hoanov 1995)
Similar to how the sun affects prey fish, the moon does the same, exposing them during a new moon.
(Steinhart & Wurtsbaugh 1999) came up with an interesting hypothesis that the effects the moon has on fish may be dampened in the winter months due to the light not being able to penetrate the ice cove so much.
Weather Effect on Fishing Times
Weather will most likely have a bigger impact on fish activity than moon phases.
The biggest effect weather has on fishing comes down to two things; temperature and pressure.
These two things probably have more effect on fishing than all the other factors combined.
Barometric pressure is the force exerted by earths atmosphere on a given area. Consider it as the weight of the air pushing down on earth.
You may have noticed that fishing during a storm yields good results, this is because of the high barometric pressure just before a storm.
Fish are very sensitive to changes in nature. One of the things that helps them keep in tune with nature is their lateral lines. Lateral lines are sensory organs used to detect changes in water movement and pressure.
Another reason why fish move more during times of high barometric pressure is because of their swim bladders. Changes in pressure cause the swim bladders to inflate or deflate. During times of inflation, it may become painful for the fish, causing them to move about more and even jump out of the water.
There is only one known warm-blooded fish species in existence today; all others are cold-blooded, which means they depend on the temperature of the water around them to control their body temperature.
During extreme cold periods, most fish slow down and stop feeding as much. In warm periods fish become much more active, however, warmer waters also tend to have less dissolved oxygen.
Fish will seek the perfect temperature to sustain themselves, so if the water is too warm and lacks oxygen, fish will move into deeper pools. Likewise, if the temperature is too cold, they will move into shallower areas of warmer water.
General Fish Activity Throughout the Day
Considering all the factors above, we can get a general of fish activity throughout the day.
The first thing we should note is that fish do not sleep the same way as land mammals. Fish can slow down their metabolism and rest for short periods at a time. Different species of fish will rest at different times.
As we mentioned above, prey fish are usually more alert during sunny days due to being more visible. This means they are usually resting more during low light conditions.
However, low light conditions is usually the best time for these fish to find shallow pools in which they can feed.
Fish feeding activity is usually highest during dawn and dusk. `Changing of light is rush hour in fish world as it also means changes in activity for fish.
Diurnal fish are getting ready to find a place to rest while nocturnal fish wake up from their resting period.
Another reason why dawn and dusk are busier times is that predatory fish are on the move. While high light hours may reveal more fish, the prey fish are aware of this and seek out safety in deep pools and crevices throughout the day. During low light hours, predatory fish are on the hunt and use the low light to mask them so they can sneak up on their prey.
Fishing Throughout The Year
Season changes have a huge impact on fish activity and their feeding habits. Usually, fishing activity is lower in the winter due to fish not feeding as heavily. Whereas in summer, fish activity is usually higher due to the fish’s higher metabolism in warm waters.
Early spring fishing
Spring fishing presents several great opportunities to catch fish, and in northern latitudes, a few weeks to take a break from fishing.
When the ice first comes off lakes and ponds, the fish are still in a state of torpor, (semi-hibernation) from the cold winter months under the ice. As the water warms up you’ll find them moving to the inlets that feed the lake. These streams bring snowmelt, and runoff to the lake warming the water, and more importantly bringing food.
Insects of all types are caught in the runoff. In some tributaries, small baitfish are washed downstream as well.
You’ll find your best success with live bait at this time, worms, waxworms, nightcrawlers, and minnows work well.
Spinners and spoons don’t work as well since the water is often murky and they don’t bet a chance to catch the sunlight that reflects off them attracting fish.
Best Bait for Early Spring
- Red wigglers
Late spring fishing
It’s time to get out the fly rod beginning in April in most locales. As the weather warms up the first hatches of the season take place. The air is filled with flying gnats, mayflies, caddisflies, and other flying insects. These bugs land on the water and the trout are waiting to feed. You’ll find other species hitting this floating buffet as well, but the five species of trout found in northern states will be the fish of the season.
Matching the hatch is the essence of fly fishing. You can throw the wrong insect pattern on the water all day and not get much action, or you can tie on a fly that matches the bugs buzzing around you and soon hear the sound of a sizzling reel as a big brown takes the bait.
Spinners begin to be effective in early May. Blue Fox, Mepps, Rooster tails, Panther Martin, along with spoons like the gold Five-of-Diamonds, Daredevils, and mottled gold or silver spoons with or without red dots all work well.
Walleye move near inlets to spawn in the spring, this is a great time to jig with rubber, Gulp minnows.
Best bait for late spring
- Flies that match the hatch
- Black gnat
- Blue Fox
- Rooster Tails
- Panther Martin
- Solid Gold
- Solid Silver
- Lead head with silver/black Gulp minnows
Best spring fish locations
- Walleye – inlets
- Perch – submerged cover
- Bass – inlets with exposed vegetation
- Trout – when the first flying insects arrive
- Crappie – shallow, warm water
- Bluegill – shallow, near shore
- Catfish – moderate depth – live bait
- Pike – near inlets with visible baitfish
When the lake turns
Stream and river fishing doesn’t change much as spring progresses, but northern lakes will undergo a process known as “turning.” As the water warms up on the surface the lower levels of the lake remain cold.
When the temperature difference reaches a certain point, the lower cold water will rise to the surface, bringing up decayed vegetation, and often a foul smell for a few weeks.
This isn’t a great time to fish with all the exposed organic material floating on the surface. After a few weeks, the lake will stabilize again, and great fishing will return with the arrival of summer.
If you are a bass fanatic, this is the season for you. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are the perfect summer species across the country. You can fish for them in a variety of ways with live bait, plastic worms, crankbaits, buzz baits, and even spinners and spoons.
Largemouth bass are especially aggressive, and always seem to be in a foul mood. They’ll hit just about anything that invades their domain when the conditions are right.
Fishing varies by the time of day in the summer months, with the best times usually pre-dawn to early morning, and then again late afternoon, from dusk to darkness. Bass don’t always obey the schedule though, you can find areas where they’ll hit in the heat of the day.
While bass fishing takes the lead in the summer months for many anglers, it’s not the time to ignore the many other great angling opportunities you’ll find with perch, bluegill, sunfish, walleye, trout, catfish, redfish, Northern pike, and muskie.
Fishing is often thought of as a summer sport, and for good reason, the water is clear, the air is warm and you can use fast-moving thunderstorms, low-pressure systems, and cloudy days to your advantage if you know what you’re doing.
Best summertime bass lures
- Plastic worm – tried and true
- Worms – on a bobber or bottom
- Crankbaits – billed baits that dive to different depths on the retrieve
- Buzz baits – surface baits that mimic frogs or rodents
- Poppers – plastic lure with short streamers attached – shallow water
Best summertime walleye lures
- Live bait – minnows
- Jigs – silver and black rubber minnow
- Drop shot rigs – special hookup that presents a minnow over a moss bed
- Spinners – best in rivers
Best summertime sunfish lures
- Worm and bobber
Best summertime trout lures
- Blue Fox
- Panther Martin
- Rooster Tail
Spoons – lakes and large rivers
- Mottled gold with red dots
Best summertime catfish lures
- Stink bait – the smellier the better
- Worms – on the bottom
Best summertime muskie and northern pike bait
- Minnow rigs trolling
- Minnow rigs casting from shore
Low-pressure systems often create ideal fishing conditions. A light rain shower can bring larger fish to the surface in anticipation of food being washed into the lake, stream, or river after the rain.
Often, you’ll get strikes from bass and rainbow trout while the rain is still rippling the water. Fish are attuned to the weather, and apex predators like largemouth bass, brown, and rainbow trout will answer the call when the rain hits the water.
After a slow afternoon on a tiny Wyoming stream that was only 20 feet across at its widest, a fast-moving thunderstorm hit the area.
As the rain began to pound us we stayed on the water. I was using a Panther Martin black spinner with yellow dots, and my friend had a solid brass Mepps on his line.
About two minutes into the rainstorm I had a violent strike, and a few seconds later so did my friend. We both had a three or four-minute battle.
I landed a 26-inch brown trout, and he had one almost the same size. We had no idea there were trout this big in this tiny waterway.
A few years later I took my son-in-law to the same spot, in similar conditions. It was raining lightly when he hooked and landed a 27-inch brown.
Maybe it was one of the same ones from years before, but the message here is, “Watch the skies” when you’re fishing in the summer months.
Late summer fishing
As the water heats up in lakes and ponds, the oxygen level drops near the surface. Warm water doesn’t hold as much oxygen as cold water does. Fish prefer cooler water as well since the lack of oxygen and warmer water make them sluggish.
In late summer, all the techniques that work in early summer will continue to be effective, you’ll just have to determine bands of water temperature when you’re on stationary water and adjust your depth.
A fish finder or temperature gauge is a great device for late summer anglers.
Fall fishing can be the best experience of the entire year on the water. The fishing is still good on the cooling open water, but often the competition has disappeared, moving from the water to the woods as hunting season opens.
Many refer to the months between summer and the freeze as the “lost season.”
Many sunshine anglers move back indoors, turn on the TV and watch football, or load the shotgun for bird hunting, before heading to the woods for deer and elk.
Humans change their habits in the fall, so do the fish we pursue.
As cooler weather approaches, fish will feed heavily, trying to put a few pounds on before the long cold months of winter survival.
Location is more important during the fall season than any other.
Baitfish move with the arrival of colder water. Where the baitfish go, there go the predators as well. Bass won’t move as much as other species, clinging to the topwater as long as they can.
As surface or shallow water feeders bass prefer the cattails, lily pads, and other aquatic growth that comes with the summer.
Walleye move where the bait is. As baitfish find cover in moderate to deep water, the walleye will follow them.
Fishfinders are very useful in the fall when you’re out on the boat for the last few times before the ice freezes over the lake.
You’ll find walleye hovering at specific depths. Perch do the same thing, but you can find a lot of them nestled together around good structure that has a lot of baitfish hidden in it.
Trout cool down on dry flies, but wet flies and egg sack flies start to work much better. Egg sacks are especially good at the end of autumn on rapidly cooling streams.
Sunfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed, and crappie will still hit on worms, nightcrawlers, and waxworms, but their metabolism is slowing down.
It’s ironic that they’ll slow down, but eat more as winter approaches. In that respect, they’re much like bears preparing for the winter.
You’ll use similar baits, and angling techniques in the autumn, similar, but not identical to summer or spring.
Fish move up from the depths in spring, spread all over the water during the summer, then move back to the depths as winter approaches.
Bass fishing can be awesome in the fall, but you’ll need to know the geography of the water.
If there is remaining vegetation on the surface, largemouth bass will be there, if there is a shallow sand bar adjacent to deeper water, odds are the bass will be nearby.
Best fall bait for bass
- Black plastic worm
- Red plastic worm
- Crankbaits – bigger billed for deeper water
- Buzz baits – if there is surface vegetation
- Nightcrawlers – the universal bait
Best fall bait for trout
- Panther Martin – sonic action compensates for long sunshine
- Blue Fox spinners
- Worm harnesses
- Wet flies
- Egg sack flies
Best fall bait for sunfish/crappie
- Waxworms – on the bottom
- Red wigglers – bottom or bobber
- Nightcrawlers – bottom or bobber
- Jigs – red for crappie
Best fall bait muskie and northern pike
- Minnow – near other baitfish
There are times in the autumn months when crappie fishing can be incredible. The snow squalls that mimic summer showers, only colder often bring on fabulous periods of fishing.
In October one year, on Ocean Lake, a reservoir that was fed by surrounding farm irrigation, the crappie fishing was epic.
A few dozen anglers caught their limit of crappie in just 30 minutes using red yarn wrapped around a number 6 hook with just a single small lead sinker 18 inches above the hook.
The voracious crappie hit on every cast from shore, and the guys in boats just dipped their line in the water and pulled in crappie.
The wet snow was barely noticed as the fishing got blazing hot.
Those are the types of fishing you can expect with the unstable weather that occurs during the autumn months.
If you live in southern states, not much changes aside from the scenery as the trees lose their leaves, the conditions in the water remain nearly the same in winter as they do in late autumn and early spring.
If you live in a colder climate, the entire situation changes as ice covers the lakes, and the fish don’t bite as hard, or as often in the ice-cold water flowing in rivers and streams.
Winter is a time that many people choose to just stay inside. But, if you’re a heartier outdoor type, the winter months can bring the best fishing of the year if you know what to do.
Record-setting rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout have been landed on fly rods with egg sacks during the depth of winter.
One morning we set out on the Big Horn River at 18 below zero. We wore chest waders, and long Johns with layers of winter clothes above the waders and waded into the frigid Big Horn.
Using egg sacks on our fly rods we just let the sacks float away from us with the current, we didn’t cast at all that day. There were three of us and we landed and released over 30 trout in two hours.
One of them was the biggest any of us had ever seen on the Big Horn, a monster brown 31 inches long.
The only issue we had was the tip freezing solid with ice on retrieves, choking the line. Dipping it in the river melted the ice and we were able to let out line three or four times before it froze over again.
Most people think of winter fishing as boring holes through the ice, jigging or setting up tip-ups, and patiently waiting for the fish to come along. That’s sort of the process, but knowledge of what lies under the ice can make or break a day of ice fishing.
The same structure that held walleye or perch in the summer months will likely be holding the same fish when the ice covers the lake.
Fish react to the light coming through the ice as they do during the summer.
You’re limited in what you can offer fish since you can’t cast or troll, but you can jig.
Imitation minnows, smaller spinners, and flashy spoons work through the ice. Minnows, worms, and waxworms either on a rod or preferably with a tip-up work well 24-hours a day on the ice.
States vary in their regulations on how many holes you can fish simultaneously and whether you can fish 24-hours a day or there are time limits on the water. It’s a good idea to check the regulations before you go out, they can be different with ice fishing than the rules you know from open water fishing.
An added benefit to ice fishing is catching burbot, also known as ling, or freshwater cod. These sometimes huge fish are difficult to catch during the summer but are favorites around the ice fishing hole in the winter months.
Often referred to as “poor man’s lobster” these fish are among the best tasting of all North American game fish and may be the ugliest as well with their large bulbous head, and snakelike lower body.
Best winter bait for walleye
- Jigs – lead heads with rubber minnows
- Small spinners
- Small spoons
Best winter bait for trout
- Small spinners
Best winter bait for perch
- Jigs – lead heads with rubber minnows
- Small spinners
- Small spoons
Best winter bait for burbot (ling)
- Small spoons