Fishing is not just about selecting the right bait and heading out onto the water. There are a variety of factors that can affect how well the fish are biting when you get out there. One of the biggest factors in catching fish and determining how active and hungry fish is determining the best time of day to fish.
In this article, you’ll learn about the different hours throughout the day that can affect freshwater fishing activity, as well as how seasons, weather and moon phases change how often fish bite. If you’re looking for the best time of day to fish, there should be a variety of tips and information included here to suit your needs.
Best Time of Day for Fishing
While fish will eat off and on throughout the day and well into the night, there are specific windows during the day when fish are just more active. For most species, including trout, walleye and bass fishing, their feeding activity is heightened in the morning, an hour or two before sunrise, and at dusk.
During these early and late evening hours, the sun is not shining directly onto the water but light is still present. Small bait fish are being active, and the larger target fish are hunting for them. You’ll notice many freshwater fish are much more willing to take your bait during these hours.
By the Season
The seasons can have an effect on the best times of day to fish as well. You may need to adjust your fishing trip to line up better with the seasonal times to ensure you have plenty of fishing success when out on the water.
As the water temperatures start to warm up, fish are becoming more active during the early and mid-spring. The water is still cold from the winter and while some species of fish are still slow and sluggish, others will be aggressively feeding.
In the early spring, you’ll get the most reactions from fish during the mid-morning and late afternoon hours. But as the season continues on, the best fishing will happen in the mid to late afternoon towards the end of spring.
Water temperatures will be their warmest throughout the summer months, and many fish will retreat to deeper water where it is slightly cooler. Feeding activity from most fish won’t be seen throughout the mid to late afternoon so you may not want to plan a fishing trip during these hours.
The most activity from bass, pike, trout, walleye, crappie, and other species will be in the early morning hours before the sun peeks over the horizon. Fish will be actively seeking meals during these hours and will eagerly take your bait. You will also get decent fishing activity during the late evening after the sun has set and before it is very dark.
See also: Fishing tips for hot days
As with the summer months, the best times for fall fishing will be during the early morning hours and the late evening, especially during the early fall months. Water temperatures will still be high from the summer months and game fish won’t be as active.
As autumn moves on and gets closer to winter, fish will become ravenous and will be aggressively feeding throughout the day in an attempt to pack on calories for the winter. In the late fall months or weeks, you will have very good luck at almost any time of day from dawn to dusk.
Most fish species will become much less active as water temperatures start to cool down. However, there will still be activity during the late morning through the late afternoon. In the northern areas where ice starts to form on lakes and ponds, fish may not be active until mid-afternoon when the water is at its warmest temperatures.
If you are ice fishing throughout the winter, you’ll see a reasonable amount of activity in the early morning hours, and late evening before dusk. Fish will not be very active throughout the mid-day hours, and may not generally be very active through the night either.
Weather: Rain, Snow, Clouds
There are a variety of weather patterns that can alter how active fish are. Regardless of the time of day, fish will usually change their behavior just before a rainstorm or snowfall starts. When clouds are covering the sky and the sunlight is subdued, many baitfish will become active which in turn brings in the target fish you want up from the deeper water.
Fish will usually be much more active during the summer if it is right before a light rainstorm. The change in air pressure and the lower temperature will put fish into an active state as they look for food giving you the best chance to catch fish immediately after tossing your lure in the water.
Another benefit to rain is that it helps add oxygen to the water, especially on warm days. As well as stirring up the bottom of the lake and providing a range of small microorganisms for fish to find and eat. You can enjoy good fishing just before and during a rainstorm, but after it passes the fish will go back to being sluggish and uninterested in your bait.
Many anglers will pay attention to the moon and how it changes throughout the year. The different phases of the moon can alter how fish behave, as well as how active they are when it comes to feeding.
When the moon is big and bright, either as a full moon or a new moon, fish that do not have good night vision will be much more active. This includes bass, trout, muskies, pike, and more. With the brighter moon, these fish are able to see their prey and will be more active at night than usual.
When fishing at night, take advantage of the brightness of the moon and cast your bait into the water. It might take a few tries, but you will soon locate the fish and will likely get a bite or two as well.
By the Species
Different species of fish will react differently to the times of day and weather conditions. If you’re specifically looking for a certain fish, be sure you are tossing your line in the water during their most active fishing times.
If you are planning on doing some largemouth bass fishing, some of their most active time is in the early mornings at dawn. You’ll likely be receiving bites a few hours past sunrise, but in the late morning and early afternoon, they will become much less active.
Bass activity will pick up again during the late evening, a few hours before sundown. If the weather happens to turn rainy, bass will most likely be active before and during the storm. After it passes, largemouth bass will disappear to the deeper waters and will ignore your bait.
Trout are active throughout the early morning hours up to two hours past sunrise. They are extremely active when there is indirect sunlight on the water from overcast or cloudy days. Once the sun gets above the treeline and shines on the lake or river, trout will become much less likely to take your bait since they prefer cooler temperatures for active feeding.
If you are still wanting to make an entire day of fishing to catch trout. Use bottom lures that don’t require the fish to look up towards the surface. They would much rather strike your bait when it is near the bottom of the lake rather than in the midwater or near the surface.
If you’re interested in trying nighttime fishing, walleye are an excellent target. They are extremely active at night and will not hesitate to strike your lures even in shallower water. Additionally, they are most active in the late evening just before dusk, however you will also see a lot of feeding activity in the early morning hours around dawn.
Walleye will stay in deeper water most of the time, and generally speaking, when they do enter shallow waters they will remain close to vegetation and structures. Try tossing your line in near a dock or pier, sunken log or weed bed to see if they take notice.
Very similar to bass, crappie will be the most active in the early morning hours. Plan to make it to the water around dawn and you can get a couple hours of decent fishing action. Crappie will be actively feeding around sunrise but will start to slow down before early afternoon.
As the afternoon cools off, crappie will again become active in the late evening where they will feed aggressively until night falls. At this time they will take cover near structures, logs and weed beds until morning light.
One of the benefits to Northern Pike is they have excellent low-light vision which means they will be active when the morning or evening is still dark. Pike will be active in the early morning when the water is still cool and the sky is still dark, so get to the water early if you want to land some pike.
Additionally, pike will be extremely active when a rainstorm is coming, so keep an eye on the forecast. A gentle drizzle to a full downpour are both equally acceptable. The silt will be washed up, the water will be cooler, and pike will be much easier to land with a variety of baits and lures.
Similar to pike, musky will be extremely active in the early morning hours. Try tossing your lures in the water around dawn, and up to two or three hours afterwards. Once the sun has risen, musky will slow down in activity until the mid evening.
In addition to the early morning hours, musky will aggressively strike your bait in the mid to late evening. They use this time to hunt for smaller prey fish before taking cover for the night. You will have decent luck getting a musky to strike a wide range of bait and lure types.
Catfish are normally actively feeding throughout the entire day, however large flatheads and blues will be most active in the late evening around two hours before sunset. They don’t use their vision as much as other fish and instead will rely on their whiskers to locate food.
As a result, if you want to catch catfish, try getting out on the water in the dark morning or evening, as well as on heavily overcast days. If you are interested in night fishing, catfish are an excellent target to test your fishing skills and will take a variety of live or artificial baits including shad, clams, frogs, and more.
Best Time of Day for Ice Fishing
Throughout the winter, fish are normally not very active due to the cold surface water temperatures. However, on sunny days when even a small water temperature raise is noticed, fish tend to start moving around for active feeding in an attempt to keep their weight up in the winter.
Ice fishing is a very viable way to catch a variety of bigger fish. While big fish might be slightly slower than usual due to the much lower body temperature because of the cooler water, the late morning and mid-afternoon will show a bit of feeding activity from many fish.
The cooler surface temperature of the water not only makes your target fish slow but makes insects and smaller prey fish slow as well which in turn makes them easier targets for larger fish to hunt. When ice fishing, try using larger and more robust lures and baits. The larger profile will entice hungry fish looking to keep their weight up throughout the winter, though you may need to toss the lure into deeper water to catch fish.
Final Thoughts on Best Times to Fish
Throughout the year, an avid angler knows the general best time to fish for a wide range of species is the early morning and late evening. When planning your fishing days, it’s best to get out on the water around dawn, or up to three hours before sunset.
Additionally, more fish will be highly active before and during rain, whether it is a light drizzle or a heavy downpour. It normally won’t matter what time of day it is, as the change in air pressure and drop in temperature will help stimulate feeding activity in feet.
Lower light, such as on cloudy and overcast days, are also very good for fish activity. Extremely bright sunlight normally sends most fish deeper in the water and makes them less active in general. Also keep in mind the moon controls how well your fishing today may be. Pay attention to the full moon and new moon to determine the best time to fish.