Author: Eric Rybak with Freshwater Fishing Advice.
Most of us can only find time to fish a few hours a week if we’re lucky. Often times you can’t choose when you get leisure time, but you really should be aware of the best times to fish. Having the basic knowledge we’ll cover in this article can save you time and all you to catch more fish.
For most freshwater fish, the best time of day to fish is just after sunrise until mid-morning and from late afternoon until sunset. This is when water temperatures are typically a bit cooler, direct sunlight overhead isn’t oppressive on fish, and slightly reduced light conditions give fish like bass, pike, and trout a tactical advantage over prey which can’t see as well during these conditions. Catfish, bullheads, and walleye fishing, on the other hand, really picks up after dark.
The important factor to remember with the seasons in terms of fishing is to focus on the weather, not so much the month of the year. Fish will be looking to make their situations as comfortable as they can. In cold weather, they will be most active when it’s warmest which means during the winter you should fish in the mid-to-late afternoon when water temperatures are a bit higher.
During the summer, fish will seek relief from the harsh direct rays and oppressively warm water temperatures. Low-light conditions around sunrise and sunset will be key for many species. Fish may bite all day long but the best fishing will be at sunrise and sunset.
Spring and fall are transitional time frames. In early spring when the water is still cold, fish will bite best during the warmest parts of the day. After spring progresses and water temperatures rise, they will shift to a more “summer mindset” and bite best around sunrise and sunset. The opposite is true in the fall where the later into the fall it gets, the less active fish will become in the cooler times of the day.
Dominant senses often dictate the time of day fish will bite best. Bass, trout, and pike have very good reduced light vision giving them a distinct advantage over most prey species around sunrise and sunset. This is when the best action can be found during warmer months and when water temperatures will also be cooler.
Panfish like bluegill and yellow perch will bite best just around sunrise and before sunset in the late afternoon. Plankton, insects, and small baitfish will be active at this time which will draw the panfish out to feed.
Carp will bite all day long so it’s difficult to pinpoint the best time of day for them. They even love midday as they can often be seen basking on the surface feeding on insects and vegetation. Catfish and walleye will feed all day but seem to be more active at night. Catfish, in particular, will feed aggressively near dawn and dusk but do so to a lesser degree throughout the night.
Storms and Weather Changes
Just like humans, most fish seek comfort. When it’s hot they want to find the coolest water possible and when it’s cold they seek out warmer water. Likewise, they respond very favorably to breaks in the weather. A sudden warm spell during the winter can cause fish like catfish, trout, yellow perch, walleye, and even bass to feed aggressively. This can be as subtle as a 5-10 degree rise in air temperature. The same principle holds true during the summer as a cooling period can really amp up feeding and bring some of the best bass fishing you can find.
Storms are a great weather break to pattern. As air pressure drops with a rain system approaching, fishing can really turn on in a big way. Fishing can continue to be fruitful throughout the duration of the rain event for trout, bass, and pike so keep fishing unless you get too wet or too cold. If there’s lightening then make sure to get away from the water immediately- you don’t want to mess with electricity and water. Fishing will often slow way down after the rain ends.
Fish can be influenced strongly by the moon. Fish such as bass, northern pike, panfish, and trout which rely pretty heavily on their eyesight to locate food have trouble finding food on most nights with minimal moonlight. These fish will hunker down and rarely feed at night unless prey comes right to them since their poor night vision prevents them from hunting successfully.
All of this changes on full-moon nights when there is plenty of moonlight available. The moonlight only penetrates the top few feet of water so most feeding activity will occur near the surface. Fish that rely on their vision can become very active feeders at night. Full moon nights with minimal cloud cover can be some of the best fishing every month. Just be mindful that the morning following a full moon will often be very slow fishing. Mornings are typically one of the best times of day for fishing but fish that have been gorging all night on baitfish won’t be hungry in the early morning hours following their feast.
Moon phases affect catfish and walleye a little less since they aren’t as reliant upon moonlight to detect food. Walleye have much better night vision than most other species and are capable of finding food in much deeper water at night and also in almost complete darkness when there is no moon. Striped bass are an interesting species because even though they are reliant upon their vision to find food, they seem to be very light shy at night. On full moon nights, stripers are often in deeper water and may not even feed at all. They are very sensitive to artificial lights too and can completely shut down feeding or relocate if a headlamp or lantern illuminates the water.
Best Day of the Week
Fish don’t recognize days of the week nor do they let such matters affect their behavior. Days of the week affect fishermen though. As a fisherman with other obligations and interests outside fishing, you need to decide which days of the week best suit you. Many fishermen with regular 9 to 5 jobs end up launching their boats on the weekends. This makes for packed lakes and crowded fishing spots. If you want to fish on the weekend and avoid most of the crowds, then either go to less-pressured fishing locations like streams or smaller lakes or fish at night. Most anglers head home before sunset. Stick around into the night and you can have some really good fishing by headlamp.
You could also fish during the weekdays. If you work a regular job, then try stopping by a stream or lake on your commute. I try my best to go fishing once a week on my drive from work. If you have days off during the workweek then you could have the entire river or lake to yourself so take advantage of it.
To learn what the best times are to fish for bass, check out the article I wrote covering this in detail.