I’ll never forget growing up fishing on Grandpa’s dock, sitting anxiously holding a fishing pole rigged with a hook and worm, waiting for a hand sized blue gill to bend the tip of my rod. Grandpa always used to say that the bluegills would bite the best in the evening and early morning. This translates to around 5-9 am and pm depending on the region and time of year. Periods of light transition are well known feeding times for just about all fish species. Many fishermen rely solely on the early morning and evening periods to do all of their angling. But what is the best time to fish overall?
Bluegills will feed in the mornings and evenings, and usually a portion of the lake’s population will always remain shallow, holding to your Grandpa’s dock or raft, through out the year. However, after bluegills are done spawning, many of these fish will move out to deep water and school. If you are only able to get out and fish during the day in the summer, your best bet is to get out in 15-25 feet of water and drive around using your sonar to find schools of fish. Once you find them they are usually bigger, and not shy about biting just about anything you drop in front of their face.
When is the best time to go Bass fishing? Well that is an easy answer if you own a boat that rides in 6 inches of water and sports a 300HP outboard…..ANYTIME. What if you only have a few hours to spend on the water? What time should you fish for the best results? Well the first question is finding the fish. In order to do this you need to figure out at what stage are the fish in relation to their spawn (pre spawn, middle of spawn, post spawn). This is will be the biggest factor in locating fish for at least half of the fishing season. Some fish will always remain shallow regardless of the spawn. These fish will entertain shallow water anglers all year long. However, many of the bass will eventually start to set up on deeper water structure in the summer months. Look for weed edges, rock bars, sand flats, riverbeds, and any other structure that may hold fish. Once you find fish, there may be feeding windows where the bite seems to turn on or off. Feeding window terminology is often thrown around while talking muskie fishing, but it applies to any predatory fish that seems to feed more actively when certain environmental conditions are present. Bass will feed in the morning and evening, but they will also feed through out the day if you present your lure correctly. And don’t forget about the leading edge of a storm or front! Almost all fish species will actively and aggressively feed on the leading edge of a storm.
What about Walleyes? Walleyes are maybe the most quintessential light transition feeders in freshwater. Walleye are famous for biting best during low light times. Early morning fishing trips on the lake or river may end before the sun even comes up. They also may not even start until after the sun goes down! But can you catch walleye in the day? Yes, you can! Popular mid day tactics include trolling deeper water with crank baits or crawler harnesses. You can also find deep main lake structure and jig for them. Plenty of walleyes have been caught in the middle of the day.
Pike and muskie are veracious apex predators. But what is the best time to fish for them? Pike and muskie will follow the flow of bait fish and smaller game fish for most of the year with the exception of their spawning periods. They also feed famously in low light periods around sun up and sun down and also during the night. However you can also find them feeding during the day. Feeding windows are a hot topic in muskie fishing, and they are usually a small period of time at some point in the day where conditions become desirable for fish to actively feed. This window can last 30 minutes or 3 hours depending on the optimal conditions and how long they exist. For example, a very well known feeding window occurs on the leading edge of a major front or storm. These atmospheric pressure changes, especially in the summer time, make muskies go crazy before and during storms.
Well with so many fish species and so many different times, the question still needs to be answered…What is the BEST time to go fishing? There is only one correct answer. The best time to go fishing is when YOU can. Far too often we as anglers get caught up in thinking there is one perfect time to be on the water. The reality is that in fishing nothing is ever absolute. I know it is practically impossible to not feel guilty for missing the perfect storm front, or the topwater morning bite, but there are plenty of fish to be caught anytime of the day. Enjoy your time on the water, and focus on what is in front of you. Try not to lament on what you may have missed. Instead you should commit to effectively fishing the water when YOU can be on it. After all, the best time to fish is when you can, so don’t waste your precious time by thinking about when you could not be on the water!