The best time of day to fish may not always be the time you think it is! There are so many variables affecting the fish bite, not least of which are the bait, hook, line, presentation, where you're fishing, and how you're fishing! The tides, the weather, and the seasons of the year can all affect whether you're going to get slammed when you go out, or get skunked.
We all have an idea in mind about the best time to fish, but the problem is that we generalize it to cover all species, all the time. It just isn't like that, as you'll soon see. As simple as fish are, they are rather difficult to figure out quickly. It takes time and experimentation to learn the best time of day and all the other variables we'll talk about below.
Read this one for sure. It will help give you a better perspective on what all is involved in fishing and what factors may be more important than others for your fishing success. Let's go learn something about our favorite topic!
In This Guide
- Best Time of Day for Fishing by Season
- Best Time of Day for Fishing by Species
- Best Time of Day for Fishing by Weather
- Best Time of Day for Fishing by Moon Phase
- Best Time of Day to Ice Fish
- Best Time of Day to Fish Saltwater
- Final Thoughts
Best Time of Day for Fishing by Season
The best time of day for fishing can change based on what season of the year it is. It also depends on where you are located in the world because factors such as temperature, how much direct sun the water is getting, rain, snow, ice, air pressure, and the amount of prey available to the fish all affect the fishing.
RELATED: Best Time To Fly Fish In All Seasons
In this article, we're talking mainly about fishing in the United States and Canada, but a lot of it will apply all over the world.
The best time for fishing in the spring can vary based on a number of factors. If it is early spring and the water hasn't heated up much yet, the fish may be cold and sluggish until the water temperature rises and warms their blood. In this scenario, fishing in the late morning and early afternoon may be a better plan.
In late spring and approaching summer, the water temps may be quite warm and fish are ready to feed at daybreak. In this case, fishing at sunrise and sunset may be most productive. Keep in mind the species of fish you want to catch also. You can see more info below.
The early morning and late evening tend to be good times to fish during the summer months. This is because the water is cooler during these times, and many fish tend to be more active when the water temperature is more comfortable for them.
During the daytime, fishing may slow down due to the heat and the fact that fish may move to deeper water to escape the warmer surface temperatures. However, fishing can still be productive during midday if you are fishing in a shaded area or if there is cloud cover.
It is also worth noting that some fish, such as catfish and bass, might be more active during the night in the summertime, so night fishing can be a good option as well.
RELATED: Summer Bass Fishing Tips
During the fall season, the water temperature starts to cool down, and many fish species become a bit more active and move closer to shore. This can make fishing productive throughout the day. The best times to fish are during the early morning and late afternoon when the water temperature is still relatively cool and comfortable for the fish.
As the sun moves across the sky it will warm up the water and fish may become less active or move to deeper water to avoid the heat. In this case, fishing in shaded areas or near deeper water can still be productive.
It's worth noting that fall is a popular time for trout fishing, and trout tend to be more active during the early morning and late afternoon hours. Not only that, but many fish species will be actively feeding in the fall to prepare for the colder winter months. The fall can be a great time to target larger fish.
Fishing during the winter months in North America can be challenging due to the colder water temperatures and reduced fish activity. The best time of day to fish lakes, streams, and rivers during the winter depends on several things including the type of fish you are targeting, the weather, and where you're fishing.
When winter days are cold, the best time to fish is when the water temperature is at its warmest. This is usually in mid-afternoon around 3-5 pm. The sun takes time to warm up the water and fish will become more active during this time. Not to mention, the large number of insects in the air above and water below that will be more active at the warmest time, giving fish a better opportunity to feed.
Fishing during the early morning and late afternoon hours can also be productive, especially when a warm front has arrived and given you a few days of warm weather. If the water has warmed up, fishing will get better until it gets cold again. Sunny days are always best in the winter.
Remember, during the winter fish will be much more sluggish and unwilling to chase after lures or bait. They want to move as little as possible. Using live bait dropped in the perfect spot, and very slow-moving lures, will ensure more strikes during this difficult time to fish.
RELATED: Must Have Winter Fly Fishing Gear
It may take a long time to not only find the fish but to place your bait or lure in exactly the right place so you get a bite. Be patient during winter!
Best Time of Day for Fishing by Species
We can try to guess the best time of day for fishing but it really depends on the species of fish as well, doesn't it? Some fish like catfish will remain on the bottom throughout the day and are not as affected by temperature or weather variability as fish that prey on food at the surface or in the middle of the water column.
Another factor that is in play is that the depth of water affects how fast it will warm up during the day. A shallow pond or stream with direct sunlight exposure very quickly warms up in the early morning hours. A deeper lake or a river will take much longer to warm up and probably won't reach peak temperature until around dinner time.
The best time of day to fish for bass in a big lake is usually in the early morning and late afternoon, even at night. The seasons, weather conditions, and the availability of food can all affect bass behavior.
RELATED: Best Bass Rods
Early morning is often considered the prime time to fish for bass as they tend to be more active during cooler temperatures and low light conditions. As the sun rises and the temperature increases, the bass bite can shut off. If you want to fish for bass in the daylight hours, make sure to head out for sunrise. If you just want to catch as many as possible, go at night when they are even more active!
Late afternoon to early evening can also be productive as the sun starts to set, and the water begins to cool down again. Bass may become more active during this time as they start to feed before nightfall. We usually go about 5 pm. and stay as late as is reasonable to catch bass in our favorite Florida lakes and rivers.
Can you catch bass in the middle of the day? Sure you can. We rolled up to a fishing lake at noon and caught fish for a couple of hours and returned home with dinner for us and our neighbors. It doesn't frequently happen like that, there are noticeably less bass bites from the hours of around 11 am. to 5 pm. where we fish. Your spot may be slightly different. Learn about the bass fishing spots around you so you can be productive most days!
Bass are fish that actually like cloudy water. The decreased visibility is a plus for them, so if the skies cloud up and get darker, this might be a good sign to get out there on your favorite bass lake or river and see what you can do.
RELATED: How To Catch Peacock Bass
Freshwater trout are delicious fish to catch, and they're not too difficult to catch your limit and get back in time for lunch. The best time of day to fish for freshwater trout in a lake or stream in the USA or Canada can vary with the time of year, weather, and the specific species of trout you are targeting.
Trout tend to be more active during cooler temperatures and low light. Like most fish, the early morning and late afternoons can be the right time to catch them when they're not on the surface grabbing flies.
If you are fly fishing, then anytime there is a hatch of aquatic insects is the best time to fish for them.
In streams and rivers, the best time to fish for trout is often in the morning or evening when the water is cooler and the fish are more active. Trout can also be more active during periods of cloud cover or when the water is slightly murky.
RELATED: How To Fish A San Juan Worm
In lakes or ponds around midday, if you see a lot of insects buzzing around in the air, this can be a good time to float some surface lures for trout. If you don't see them there, assume they're close to the bottom.
RELATED: Best Spinners For Trout
There are a number of trout species in the freshwater of North America and they have slightly different preferences. You'll find that brown trout are more active during the evening and may be found near the surface for flies and small baitfish, while you may see more rainbow trout active in deeper water during the mornings.
Best Time of Day to Fish for Stocked Trout
Stocked freshwater trout have been raised in small pools where they are fed food pellets in the early morning when the water is cool. They are typically fed once every couple of days.
Because the trout were feeding on a forced schedule, you can fish for them in the early morning hours when they are expecting food. You can also use the same type of food - fish balls, eggs, pellets, and PowerBait on the bottom to replicate what they ate all their lives.
What color of PowerBait works best for stocked trout? Brown works best for stocked trout because their food pellets are also brown.
In a freshwater lake, when the sun goes down is considered to be one of the best times to fish for catfish. These voracious and always hungry predators are equipped for low-light surroundings with bait-detecting barbels (whiskers) and large, vacuum-like mouths to compensate for their relatively small eyes and poor vision.
It's well known that the best way to catch catfish is with something smelly. The more foul smelling, the better in some cases!
The best time of day to fish for catfish in a lake varies, but basically, you can assume they are more active during low light conditions and cooler temperatures. So, the best times to fish for them are often early morning, late evening, and at night.
If you want to fish during daylight hours, the early morning is a good time to fish for catfish as some of them will still be actively feeding from the night before. As the sun rises and water temperature increases, catfish will become less active and seek out deeper, cooler water.
Late evening and night can be the absolute best time for catfish fishing. Using baits with strong smells, such as cut bait or stinky bait can be effective for attracting catfish because the smell attracts them.
The best time of day to fish for pike in a large lake river can vary a lot. Pike prefer low-light conditions so they can ambush prey. That means early morning, late evening, and night can be ideal times to try catching them.
Because pike like low light conditions, using a lure that vibrates and makes noise like spinnerbaits or topwater lures, can be effective at attracting pike strikes.
During the heat of the day, pike may grow less active and seek out deeper water, especially with some cover like plants, fallen trees, rocks, or other structure. If you're fishing during the afternoon you can try using soft plastic baits or trolling with deep-diving crankbaits to get down to the depths where they are resting.
One thing to note about pike is that they like bad weather. They can become more active after a cold front or during overcast and rainy weather. They can also become more active during periods of higher water flow, like after heavy rainfall or during the spring thaw. These situations can be prime-time for pike as they become easily accessible in shallower areas and feed more aggressively.
Full moon nights are a great time for walleye fishing. The best time of day to fish for walleye in a river or big lake can vary with weather, season, and available prey. Like pike, walleye become more active in low light, so the best times to fish for them are around sunrise, just before dark, and after dark.
Again like pike, sunrise can be a good time to fish for them because they can still be feeding from the previous night. When water temperatures rise, they seek cooler and deeper water and wait for the evening to feed.
Walleye typically move into shallower water around late evening and feed into the night. Loud lures with vibrations can be perfect during this time. Crankbaits or jigs tipped with live bait can be really effective as well.
When walleye do retreat to the depths to escape the heat of the day, you can target them by trolling or jigging the deeper sections of the lake or river and drop-offs around river bends.
Pike can be found behind any structure that breaks the current, much like trout in a stream. They can also be caught during harsh weather when the water volume increases and cloudy runoff from streams enters the lake or river you're fishing at.
The best time of day to fish for crappie is the time of day you're out there! They also like low-light opportunities occuring in day and night but can be caught anytime with some frequency.
Like nearly every fish in rivers and lakes, around sunrise and in the hour or so afterward crappie will feed on insects and small minnows around the surface. When the water gets too warm for their comfort, they head for deeper water with cover.
Like pike, walleye, and bass, crappie love the near dark and nighttime conditions and can be caught well into the night. Loud, vibrating lures like jigs and crankbaits can work, as can live bait.
Crappie prefer freshwater temperatures of between 55°F to 65°F. They are also fish that enjoy inclement weather and can become much more active in rain.
Bluegill can be caught throughout the day, but they are generally more active during low light conditions, such as early morning and late evening. During these times, bluegill may move into shallower water to feed on insects or small baitfish that are active in the cooler water.
Bluegill can be caught all day in water that isn't too hot on small live baits like red worms, crickets, or very small floating lures or flies. If you can find some submerged rocks or a fallen tree, this is a prime spot for bluegill in a lake of any size. When they're feeding, they can be voracious and attack anything that moves. Little Gulp crickets are really effective for bluegill, but so is virtually any small spinner cranked through the water.
During hot summer days, bluegill can be quite active. They are most active when the water temperature is between 70°F to 85°F.
Carp can be caught at any time of day, but for the best experience fish them during the early morning and late evening when the water is cooler and there is less activity in and around the water.
During the early morning as the sun is coming up, carp move into shallower water to feed on insects or small baitfish that are active. As it gets too hot, they retreat for deeper water and cover.
In the late evening, you can catch them again as they come into shallower water to feed. Catch them using bait that catfish enjoy - smelly, tasty, oily, etc. Dough balls and corn can also catch carp.
Carp increase their activity the closer the water is to their ideal range of 65°F to 75°F. They are also another fish that doesn't mind the rain and overcast conditions.
Specifically, the importation and interstate transport of live snakeheads is prohibited in the United States. Many states prohibit the possession of snakeheads, and several of those states have done so for decades.
Snakehead can be caught at any time of day, but they are generally more active during early morning and late evening when the water is cooler and has less activity.
During the early morning, snakehead fish may move into shallower water to feed on insects or smaller fish. With sunrise and increasing water temps, the fish moves to deeper and cooler water with some cover.
In the evenings and night, you can fish for snakeheads with small live bait - minnows, shiners, or any small fish. They also often hit frog lures. Don't be afraid to use a big one because they have large mouths.
Believe it or not, many people eat snakehead fish and say it is really good.
Best Time of Day for Fishing by Weather
While saltwater fishing is more affected by tides and time of day, freshwater fishing is most affected by the time of day and weather. Below we cover some common weather conditions and how they relate to your chances of fishing success.
Direct sunshine can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's great because it can heat up the water to a level that makes fish active and in feeding mode. However, in summer direct sun can be so hot that it bakes the shallows and makes them too hot and undesirable for fish that prefer to feed on topwater.
All fish have a preference for water temperature and the key temperature they become most active at varies considerably between species, especially saltwater species.
Typically it's best to fish in the morning when the sun is shining bright and heating up the water from the overnight lows. If the area has had too many very hot days in a row and the water never cools down enough to allow the fish to come to the surface to feed, then any sunshine is not good, and you are much better off waiting for rain or a cool-spell to cool the water down.
During winter and the beginning of spring, bright sunshine is always a good thing, as it warms up the shallows where some fish will come up to soak in some warmth.
RELATED: Carolina Skiff Review
Fish will feed anytime they are hungry, and if it happens to be cloudy, so be it! Because so many fish are ambush predators, cloudy conditions can make the water less clear and it becomes an ideal time to fish, even better than a day with strong sunshine.
In the winter, fall, and spring, clouds can block the warming power of the sun and the water won't soak up as much heat. This can put a damper on fishing.
An approaching storm can be a catalyst for better fishing, at least until it arrives and falling temperatures, rain, lightning, and low barometer sends fish for cover.
Fishing conditions in freshwater can be affected by an approaching storm and falling barometer. Some anglers believe that fishing can improve before a storm front moves in, as the changing weather can cause fish to become more active and feed even more aggressively as the bad weather approaches.
Once the storm arrives and the barometer begins to fall, fishing conditions may become more challenging. As the atmospheric pressure decreases, fish may become less active and move to deeper water or seek out cover. This can make it more difficult for anglers to locate and catch fish.
To add to this, falling barometric pressure can cause changes in water temperature and clarity, as well as increased wind and water currents, further impacting fishing conditions.
Fishing in a lake in the USA can be affected by both light and heavy rain. The rain creates a subtle surface disturbance that attracts fish to the surface to feed. Another by-product of rain is that it can wash insects, worms, and other small creatures into the water, providing a source of food for fish.
If it rains too hard, most fishing turns off. Heavy rain can cause water levels to rise, water clarity to decrease, and water temperature to change. Runoff from heavy rain can add dirt and pollutants to the water, decreasing the chances further that you're going to catch anything. All of these conditions impact fishing negatively.
To sum it up, light rain in freshwater fishing can help. Very heavy rain rarely helps.
In saltwater, there can also be an initial increase in strike activity at the surface as fish are attracted to the topwater to feed during the storm. If the rain is really heavy, the rain can impact the saltwater, lowering salinity and affecting fishing for some species that cannot tolerate it like spotted trout and bonefish.
Wind can have both positive and negative effects on fishing in lakes.
Wind creates ripples and waves on the surface of the water which can create a natural chumming effect by knocking insects and other bugs into the water that fish can feed on.
Increased oxygenation can take place with wind and waves over many days. This can be a benefit for some species and make them more active.
Water temperature can change in interesting ways. The temperature of the wind has some effect, but a larger effect occurs when the wind pushes water up against one side of the lake, causing deeper cooler water to rise on the other side. This can significantly affect fishing success.
There are other reasons high wind can affect your fishing success that have little to do with the fish. Your casting accuracy may suffer substantially! Another factor is that wind can blow your line and create slack in it. This inhibits your ability to see bites taking place.
Finally, choppy conditions may be too much for your boat, or spray from the waves may make fishing seem more like a chore than a great adventure.
Falling snow can have mixed effects on lake and stream fishing in the USA.
Falling snow can decrease visibility for you, but this may have the desired effect of decreasing the fish' ability to see you above the water and they may strike more often because of it.
The water temperature can fall quickly with all that frozen water falling into the water as snow. Fish may become much less active and move to deeper, warmer water to thermoregulate.
Baitfish can move slower in the shallows and make better targets for fish that are still feeding during the snow. This can be a good time to drop a minnow on a hook and free-line it to get a bite.
Saltwater fishing isn't affected very much by snow falling compared to its effects on freshwater fishing, as the salinity and vastness of the ocean buffer it from sudden changes in temperature and visibility caused by falling snow.
Water temperature can change in the shallows and that can have an effect on fish that will seek deeper water to compensate for the loss of warmth.
Best Time of Day for Fishing by Moon Phase
The most important thing to remember about freshwater fishing being affected by the moon is that periods of a full or new moon tend to be the best, provided that the weather and water conditions are stable.
There are fisherman that swear by solunar theory, which relies on the position of the moon to predict the best time to fish on a given day.
Although there are no true tides on rivers or small lakes, freshwater fish hunt similar insects and small creatures, like crawfish. A full moon may cause a large increase in the amount of bait in the water. This turns on the feeding response for many species and fishing can be quite good during this time.
Best Time of Day to Ice Fish
The best time of day to ice fish on lakes in North America can vary depending on the species of fish you are targeting and the weather conditions. Here are some variables to consider.
Early morning and late afternoon can be great times to fish because the sun is low on the horizon. This lower light condition can make fish more active. Walleye, pike, and perch are some species that thrive in this environment and take the opportunity to feed during these times.
For some lake species, such as lake trout and brown trout, the middle of the day is a productive time for ice fishing. This is because trout tend to move to deeper water during the day where they can be caught using techniques such as jigging or with a salmon egg or PowerBait on the bottom.
The evenings and nighttime can be a good time to go ice fishing. Many lake fish are more active during the low light conditions of dusk and just after sunset. Have you heard that before? It's true for so many fish.
Best Time of Day to Fish Saltwater
For saltwater fishing, the best time of day to fish is almost always related to the incoming and outgoing tides more than any other factor. Almost every species of inshore fish uses tides to bring prey. This is like ringing the dinner bell for fish and their feeding response turns on.
There are major tides that are stronger than minor tides, and generally, it's better to fish the major tide flow movement. When it's in the middle of slack tide, and the water isn't moving, it might be best to grab a bite to eat because many species stop feeding or drastically slow down feeding during these times.
RELATED: Surf Fishing In Florida
Best Time of Day to Surf Fish
In general, the best time of day to fish in the surf for inshore species in saltwater is during a rising or falling tide, particularly around the time of high tide or low tide and just as it changes direction. This is because as the tide changes, it can stir up small animals in the sand, and baitfish and other prey, which in turn can attract larger predatory fish.
Click Here for a comprehensive guide to surf fishing for beginners.
RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rods
As for the best time of day within the tidal cycle, many anglers prefer to fish during the early morning or late evening hours when the water is cooler and fish may be more active. However, this can vary depending on the location and species you choose to target. Some fish will be more active during the midday hours or at night.
RELATED: Best Bait For Surf Fishing
As we've already learned over and over, factors such as weather conditions, water temperature, and season can also play a role in determining the best time of day to fish in the surf. It's always a good idea to do some research on the local conditions and talk to other anglers in the area for advice on the best time to fish.
RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rod And Reel Combos
Best Time of Day to Fish Saltwater Flats
The best time of day to fish the saltwater flats can depend on a variety of factors such as the season, weather conditions, and the type of fish you are targeting. However, as a general rule, many anglers prefer to fish the flats during the early morning or late afternoon hours.
During these times, the sun is lower in the sky, which can create better visibility in the water and make it easier to spot fish. Additionally, the cooler water temperatures during these times can also make fish more active and willing to feed.
It's also worth noting that tide cycles can be an important factor when fishing the flats. Some anglers prefer to fish during a rising tide when fish may be moving in to feed on baitfish or other prey, while others may prefer to fish during a falling tide when fish may be congregating in deeper channels and pools.
Study the fish you want to catch to find out which they prefer. Often fish seem to have a clear preference, incoming or outgoing tide.
RELATED: Snook Fishing In Florida
Best Time of Day to Fish at the Beach
The best time of day to fish at the beach is the time you arrive and start fishing. There is almost always something feeding when you're fishing off the beach if you have the right bait. Stick with live shrimp or bait fish if you can get them. The next best is dead shrimp or bait fish. Next, after that would be squid. Squid just attracts so many undesirables, that you might try that last.
RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Reels
When you use fishing lures, your chances of catching fish at the beach decreases generally. If we're talking about catching any fish, live or dead bait will always work better. If you're targeting specific fish and you know exactly which lure they love, try it instead of live bait.
RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rigs
You've probably noticed a recurring theme in the above information about when the best time to fish for various species and with different weather and water conditions. The best time to fish is typically in the early morning and at sunset for all freshwater bodies.
For saltwater, the best time to fish is when the tide is either incoming or outgoing. The time of day can also have something to do with it, and certain species love the early morning hours and evening hours before sunset, but the biggest driver of fishing behavior in the ocean is the state of the tides.
The fish species that you're targeting may not play by the usual rules. It may feed aggressively at night when you're at home in your bed. Many fish prefer night feeding because they enjoy an advantage over smaller prey and it is easier for them to catch prey.
RELATED: Best Tasting Fish In Florida
Use the information above as a guideline, and then spend a lot of time studying the exact species of fish you plan on targeting and see how it acts in the various conditions above. See if the tides affect feeding. See if a light rain increases feeding or kills it off. See if a rising barometer increases the feeding response. See if the water temperature is a crucial variable and try to get readings on the temperature of the water you're fishing in.
Of course, time of day means next to nothing if you're trying to catch a pompano with a small mullet. Make sure you know exactly what bait and lures to use to get bites.
Become a student of the fish you are trying to catch, and study your favorite species until you know everything about them. There's something really satisfying in being able to out-guess the fish and catch more of them than anyone else!
RELATED: Worst Time Of Day To Go Fishing
Best of luck out there, and you can tell us all of your secrets in the comments!