It is the ultimate beginner’s question: When is the best time of day to fish in freshwater? Answer: When they’re biting.
All kidding aside, some of the things you’ve heard about the best time to fish are true—sometimes.
Is the best time always morning? A darn good bet regardless of where you fish in freshwater, but let’s have a deeper look into this topic.
When is the Best Time of the Day to go Fishing? When Everything Lines Up for the Fish
The best time for an angler to be on the water usually centers on two things critical to a fish: its food and its safety.
Whatever affects these two essentials should draw an angler’s attention when determining what time of day to drop a line.
So what affects these two essentials of life for a freshwater fish?
Water temperature will greatly affect your catch rate in freshwater. Keep in mind that fish are cold blooded, meaning that the ambient temperature affects their comfort level much more than we warm-blooded creatures.
Fish are constantly trying to find the perfect zone, one that maintains their vigor—rather than threatening it—while triggering activity in their food source (e.g., minnows, crustaceans and insects).
During the warm season, morning poses prime time for catching fish. The water will only grow warmer as the morning wears on, which usually causes fish to become more sluggish.
Vice versa, if you are fishing during the cold season and the water seems as cold or colder than the open air, wait until the sun can warm the water to invigorate fish and the natural food it seeks—whether insects, minnows or crustaceans.
Avoid fishing during the extremes of the day—very hot or very cold.
If ice fishing, expect to find your prey more active as morning progresses and even at midday or after on many occasions.
Days are shorter in winter, which means the mealtime for fish is shortened as well. Midday on ice can often produce the most action on your rod.
Wind and Precipitation
Wind storms, heavy rains and hail or snow can affect a fish’s activity or behavior.
If fishing a river, lots of rain can raise the water level and create an extremely strong current, leaving fish to find shelter below to keep from wearing themselves out by fighting the current. It’s about their safety. Wind is usually not as critical on rivers.
If fishing a lake, rising water is not as much an issue as roily water, impeding visibility for the fish and actually changing some of the temperatures from stratum to stratum.
Depending on the season, the rain can either warm the water or cool it, which can affect the behavior of the species you are seeking.
Then there is the practical side of fishing in heavy wind or rain: It is difficult for an angler to cast or even stay on the water comfortably.
It is just downright hard to persevere in severe conditions. So, you might not even find out whether the fish are biting because you opted for a warm trailer or vehicle and hot chocolate instead of battling all the elements.
A slight wind, creating merely ripples, is the best wind. This offers a fish some cover; it is not as wary of shadows, which results in a greater willingness to move around the body of water in search of food. Fish finders (sonar devices) can be a great tool when fish are moving.
Not always, but as a rule, winds from the north and east quell fish activity more than those from the west. Similarly, the bite just before a storm usually exceeds the bite just after one.
Best Time to Fish for Trout
They will go deep in midsummer just to avoid water near the surface. Their comfort zone rests between 45 and 65 degress Fahrenheit.
They also need water warm enough to induce insect hatches. After all, 90 percent of a trout’s diet consists of insects.
Spring and fall usually bring trout from the deep and into shallows or along shelves and points in search of food. Inlet streams also attract feeding trout, even in warmer weather.
Best Time to Fish for Bass, Catfish, Walleyes and Sunfish
Walleyes, bass, catfish and sunfish will seek shadows or shade but won’t necessarily go deep unless the extremely cold season arrives. They then become virtually dormant.
These fish can suffer warm temps better than trout. However, they may gravitate to cooler water or shade from midday to afternoon in midsummer.
Find the Best Fishing Days Using Fishing Calendars
If you refer to a fishing calendar online or in hard print, you can shortcut all the science behind lunar cycles and barometric pressures. A fishing calendar accounts for all of the planetary influences that can affect the behavior of the fish you seek.
Some science, however, is elementary. For instance, you don’t need a fishing calendar to figure out that a morning after a full moon or three-quarters moon can result in a slow outing the next morning.
Fish feel safer to roam in the dark of night and a bright moon allows them to find their prey more easily. Fish with bellies full from a full moon aren’t as hungry the next day as those fish left to total darkness.
Therefore, morning is not always the best time of day to fish when preceded by a bright moon. You might even wait until the moon cycle is over before getting back on the water during daytime hours.
Some of the best fishing occurs during mornings between the waning moon and new moon.
When in doubt…
Resort to mornings more often than any other time of day when wondering what time to be on the water. At the same time, remember that some days—whether fishing for trout, walleye, bass or other spiny rays—a 10 a.m. or even noon bite can far exceed the 6 or 7 a.m. bite, especially in lakes.
If you wish to default even further when in doubt, equate good trout fishing with mornings and dusk (especially if fly fishing because the hatches prove more proliferant at these times).
If fishing for bass or walleye, keep tossing your bait or lures throughout the day and find the haunts that might harbor fish on a sun-lit water or on a cloud-covered day.
There is no perfect answer to the question of what time is best to fish on a given day. Just keep an eye on your fishing calendar, its charts and the weather to gain a fairly educated guess.