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When to Freshwater Fish - Freshwater Fishing Basics

When to Freshwater Fish - Freshwater Fishing Basics
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Best Weather and Time to Fish

There are a number of freshwater fish species, such as Trout, that can be caught year-round; but, that definitely doesn’t mean certain times of the year and other environmental factors won’t create better conditions for getting fish hooked onto your line. So, if you’re wondering when you should plan to go freshwater fishing, the number one thing to know is what type of fish you’re targeting. From there, start by considering their behavioral patterns and then look to the time of year.

Why does time of year matter for freshwater fishing? Consider how the temperature of the water influences fish behaviors. Freshwater fish can be split into three different categories based on the water temperature ranges they need to survive: coldwater (50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit), coolwater (60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit), and warmwater (80+ degrees Fahrenheit). How the water temperature fluctuates throughout the year is going to be a major deciding factor for not only when you fish, but also where and how.

For example, knowing that coldwater fish thrive in water temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you can assume that they’ll be feeding deeper in the water during warmer times of year, but closer to the surface in cooler times. The opposite can be said of warmwater fish, which will feed near the surface of the water during warmer times of year, but deeper in the water in cooler times. With behavioral patterns like these in mind, you can consider seasonal turnovers and how they’ll affect the way fish are biting when you head out to go freshwater fishing.

The Effect of Turnover

Turnover is the exchange of bottom and surface waters within a body of water, such as a lake or a pond, that occurs at different times of the year – Spring, Summer, and Fall. Knowing when these turnovers occur and how they influence the temperature of the water is going to help you determine where you are going to find the fish you’re looking for.

fishing in spring

Spring Turnover

As spring comes around the corner, the surface of the water starts to heat up, causing it to sink and be replaced by cooler, deeper waters. This exchange begins to even out once the water temperature becomes more uniform throughout the body of water, but as spring turns into summer you’ll see a different effect take place: stratification, or the separation of water into distinct layers.

Best Time of the Day: Afternoon to Early Evening

fishing in summer

Summer Turnover (Stagnation)

The layers that were created during spring turnover result in warmer layers sitting on top of cooler layers of water down until you reach a middle layer referred to as the thermocline. The thermocline acts as a barrier that prevents further mixing with really deep waters, and depending on the size of the body of water, typically sits anywhere between two and ten feet beneath the surface. During summer turnover, this is where you want to be putting your lures or bait. Water won’t be able to sink and break through the thermocline until cooler weather starts to roll in for fall.

Best Time of the Day: Early Morning and Afternoon to Early Evening

fishing in fall

Fall Turnover

As the weather cools off, so does the surface water, which becomes easier to mix with the cooler, deeper waters below the thermocline. As time goes on, this thermocline will disappear and the water will reach a relatively uniform temperature that invites fish to move about more freely. This is both good and bad for you as an angler because the fish will be more active, which means they’ll be eager to go for the bait you’re presenting, but they could also be anywhere in the water.

Best Time of the Day: Afternoon to Early Evening

Factoring in Light

The time of year is going to have a noteworthy impact on your freshwater fishing experience, and with each season you’ll find that fish naturally tend to gravitate to your line better at certain times of the day than they do at other times; however, there’s still much to be said about light. Light can’t penetrate down into the deeper depths of the waters, but in the waters it does touch it can cause significant behavioral changes in different types of fish.

In general, as you can see from the best time of the day to fish during turnovers throughout the year, fish are going to prefer the early morning and evening light. This is because the light warms shallow waters to create temperatures that are more comfortable for bait fish to be more active, inviting larger game fish to come in and feed; however, when the water becomes too hot, typically midday, fish are going to move into those deeper, cooler waters, so during these times you’ll want to use deep fishing baits, lures, and rigs.

fishing at dusk

Weather Conditions

The one thing that can completely change the game on an angler is the weather. As weather conditions change, so will your freshwater fishing experience. Consider how the following variable weather conditions can influence how the fish are biting when you’re planning your trip:

  • Cloudy Days and Overcast Skies

    Since clouds prevent light penetration, this keeps the waters from getting too hot like they do during the midday hours. This improves fishing, making cloudy days and overcast skies signals for anglers to head out to the water to trick cruising fish onto their line as they feed.

  • Storms

    Cloudy and overcast conditions can sometimes signal an incoming storm, or follow one that recently passed. Storms are important to consider not only for your safety, but also because fish are sensitive to the changes in barometric pressure that they bring. With cold fronts, you’re going to see an increase in feeding activity the hours immediately before the front comes through, but slower activity for a day or two after the front or storm passes. With warm fronts, fish are going to go on a feeding frenzy as the temperature of the surface water rises – this is especially true in winter.

  • Rain

    Storms can often bring rain, and rain impacts whether or not you’re going to have success catching fish. Light rains are good, particularly in spring or summer, since it impedes the fish’s visibility and brings insects and bait into the water, but hard rains are not the time to go fishing. Hard rains make it difficult for the fish to find your bait and lures, and increased current flow means the fish can’t easily stay in a comfortable position. Aside from the impact on the fish, heavy rains create unstable, unsafe conditions for you, the fisherman.

  • Wind

    With rain can come wind, another variable weather condition that can play a part in determining whether or not you’re going to find success getting strikes. When there’s a breeze, water and surface food is going to be pushed to the shore, with bait fish not too far behind, and larger game fish to follow. Cast your line from the shoreline, or near the shore if you’re out on the water, to up your chances at getting a fish when there’s wind on the horizon.

Always Put Your Safety First

While it’s true that certain factors can create better conditions to up your odds at catching that trophy-worthy fish you’ve been waiting for, always remember that your safety comes first. Storms can bring waves and other dangerous conditions, and fishing by yourself without a reliable source of light can be risky in some areas. Take precautions before heading out to the water and plan accordingly.

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