General Fishing

Where and When to Catch Fish for Beginners

Where and when to catch fish is asked by beginners to fishing. What knowledge is needed? Where are the fish at what time? This can vary throughout the year. There are three items fish rely on no matter the time of day or year. The items are the structure, cover, and food source. Fish have one thing on their mind, which is survival. You need to find these elements and then apply the other variables such as water temp, the life cycle of species, and the time of day. This information determines where they will go throughout the year. 

Morning or Evening

These two times of the day have low light conditions giving the predator an advantage. There is less visibility in the water, so the larger fish hide in cover waiting to ambush their food.

In the morning the water comes alive. The various aquatic insects hatch in the morning. Many of the smaller fish species gather and spawn at sunrise.  Phytoplankton and algae photosynthesis ramps up with the sun’s energy triggering the feeding cycle, dissolving oxygen into the water. The oxygen helps the fish become more active, increasing the feeding activity.

In the evening, a few species are more active. These fish tend to be nocturnal being active at night most of the time. As a beginner, you need to take the time to study each of the species. Learn the time of day they prefer to be active for better success.

Fish Act Differently During the Day

Where and when can change throughout the day. In the evening hours, the water temperature is likely a little higher, increasing the fish’s metabolism. A higher metabolism is conducive to feeding as they use more energy. The light levels have dropped allowing them to come out of the deeper water or heavy cover.

The majority of fish will seek shelter from the bright sun and retreat to an area to hide. When the sun goes low they come out of hiding and feed.

One other factor to monitor is barometric pressure. If the pressure is dropping, fish will become more active. When the pressure is rising, they will shut down and seek cover. You may still catch fish during increasing pressure but work the heavier cover in those instances. A stable barometric pressure has a reduced effect on fish, as a result, time of day will become the major influence. 

Where and When to Catch Fish in the Spring 

This time of year is the spawning time for most freshwater species. The fish will congregate near the spawning areas. The spawning areas vary by species but are usually in a shallower area of the body of water. The common element is the cover and a lot of it. Some fish will choose weedy areas while others like gravel and rock-strewn territories to deposit the eggs.

Tributaries and coves are two examples of prime spawning grounds.  You need to study the species to know their preferred spawning environment. Your state’s fishing regulatory body will have publications online to help with this information.

Where and when to fish, tributaries have fish congregate in the spring
In the spring and fall, tributaries have fish congregate. These areas can be productive all year.

The spawn will have some species more aggressive, making them prone to hit anytime. Some species will not feed during the spawn cycle. A few examples are, muskies will not bite during the spawn, while bass will hit almost anything coming near its nest. Also, some fish will feed heavily before spawning. 

Spring fishing is productive. You need to target the fish at the right time and places. Do not just go out fishing without a plan. Look for areas that hold fish such as tributaries and other shallows suitable for spawning. Fish will be in those areas and deep water close to the spawning areas.

In many states targeting fish on spawning beds is illegal. The vast majority of anglers find it unethical. This information is intended to understand where to find fish before and after the spawn.

Where and When to Catch Fish in the Summer

The fish have moved away from the spawning areas by this time of year. The available food supply near the spawning areas is depleted. They will be more spread out in search of food. The cover and structure are still important elements in finding the fish. The fish will follow structure to cover in the deeper water to find food. The water may only be a couple of feet deeper.

where and when to fish depths
In summer on lakes, the water separates into different zones. Some water is too warm or bright. Also, some contain low oxygen and toxins from decaying plant matter.

In the shallows, during the summer the insects will be active on and around the water. The presence of weeds along the shoreline makes the insects gather in larger numbers.  Fish will be drawn to the insect activity and feed. The frogs and other amphibians are active in feeding on insects also. This is an added food source for fish. Since all fish are curious, the splashes get their attention. The use of surface lures can be productive in these situations. 

If there are cover and structure near the mouth of tributaries or coves, it is the first place the fish will go to feed. After feeding in these areas, they may roam in search of food. All species act differently in this regard with some covering miles of water and others staying within a few acres.

Where and when to fish, river bends with logs or brush hold fish
On the outside of bends. Streams and rivers tend to be deeper and collect brush and logs. This creates cover for fish.

You need to know their tendencies. The morning and evening will yield the best catches of the overall species. If you are fishing for catfish or walleye, go at the start of the night and fish into the dark for the best results.

Catch Fish in the Fall

This is the time of the year fish will feed to put on weight for winter. The majority return to shallow water. This is because the prey they eat will have rebounded in sufficient numbers. The prey spawns also, during the summer they grow and become a great food source. A lot of minnows and other bait spawn several times a year, greatly increasing the numbers. The bigger fish know this and take advantage. 

Fall feeding is heavier to put on weight, the fish will have more feeding windows. Morning and several times throughout the day and into the evening you can catch fish. This is a good time of the year to do an all-day fishing trip. The fall is the best time to catch a trophy or a personal best with the activity level up. The fish have fed and grown all summer. They are going to weigh more with the increased feeding. 

Winter 

In the winter, fishing will be tougher. The water has cooled down and the fish become lethargic. They are cold-blooded creatures, their metabolism slows down. The majority of anglers take this time off to pursue other hobbies. If you are the hardcore type, winter does have something to offer. Where the water does not freeze, you still need to find the fish. They will still seek cover and structure, but it has to have a stable temperature. 

The majority of fish will school up in deeper water or near a discharge supplying warmer water. They will not be eager to chase prey. The presentation must be slow or stationary as they will not waste energy at this time of year. You will find patience is needed in the winter. The bites will likely be fewer, but the fish tend to be the larger ones. It is a trade-off, do you want to catch a few big fish or wait for warmer weather.

Where the water freezes to ice thick enough to support you and your gear, ice fishing is an option. I do not and never have ice fished so I cannot help you with that facet of fishing. I suggest you find someone who ice-fishes and has the gear. That way you can try it out before spending money on equipment. I do know many anglers enjoy the sport of ice fishing. It is not practical in my region due to a lack of places to ice fish.

Conclusion

This is general information on when and where to find and catch fish. The region you live in will make the seasons vary. The fish although will behave basically the same everywhere. Bass is still a bass whether in Florida or Minnesota. Your reading about the target species will greatly help in catching more. If you want more information on the structure and cover, read the article on the site that is more detailed.   

Keep fishing simple for tight lines and bragging rights.

John McIntyre


Related post