When fish aren’t biting
Every fisherman has days when the fish just won’t bite! You try your best places, baits and techniques, but you can’t get a nibble. It’s as if the fish don’t exist. So, what do you do? Give up and go home? Hardly! On some days fish are just less active and more difficult to get to bite. But there are still tricks to try to get some action. Feeding patterns change from day to day, or even hour to hour. One thing is for sure, if you give up and go home, you’re certain not to catch anything. But if you stay and keep experimenting with different baits and techniques, you’ve still got a chance of hitting on the right combination and making a good catch. If fish aren’t biting, don’t give up. Instead, start changing all the variables you can like places, baits, methods and hopefully you’ll hit the right combination.
Factors that Affect Fish Behavior
The fish’s world is an ever-changing one. There’s always something going on beneath the surface. Weather, water and food conditions are constantly shifting, and this has a strong effect on a fish’s mood and activity level. Some sets of conditions cause fish to feed. Others turn them off. This is why fishermen must be alert to condition changes and versatile in terms of adapting to them. They must analyze conditions when they get to their fishing spot and then make a logical decision about where fish are holding and the best bait and presentation to catch them. Following are factors that affect fish activity levels.
How Weather Affects Fish
Weather is one condition that affects every fishing trip. It may be hot or cold, sunny or cloudy, windy or calm or dry or rainy. It may be a period of stable weather, or a time of changing weather. Sometimes weather will help (cause fish to bite), and sometimes it will hurt (cause fish to quit biting). Fish are sensitive to weather changes, such as a sudden shower, a passing cold front, rising or falling barometer, etc. Here is how they react.
Air Temperature-Water temperature is mainly regulated by air temperature. The warmer the air temperature, the warmer the water. Fish are cold-blooded, so their metabolism is controlled by water temperature. In warmer water, fish use up their food faster and feed more often. On the other hand, in cool or cold water, a fish’s metabolism slows down, and they don’t have to feed as often. This is why fish are usually more active in warm water than in cooler water. (One exception is when very warm water is cooled by rain or a quick drop in air temperature. In very warm water, fish sometimes slip into a semi-active state, but a sudden temperature drop can trigger a feeding spree.)
Sky Condition-Sky condition plays a big part in where fish are located. On cloudy days fish are more likely to be in shallow water and roaming around weeds, brush, docks, etc. But when bright sunshine penetrates the water (especially during mid-day), fish will usually retreat back into deeper water or shady areas. Rarely do fish stay in shallow, open water during bright sunny conditions.
Precipitation-It’s an old saying that fish bite better when it’s raining. There is some truth in this if the rain is light. A light to moderate rain creates positives: cloudy sky, surface disturbance, runoff washing nutrients into the water, new color from mud, sudden cooling of water and a fresh infusion of oxygen into the water. All can stimulate feeding. Wind-Wind makes fish more likely to bite. Wind driven currents push baitfish into predictable feeding areas. Waves stir up mud along shorelines, adding color and dislodging nutrients. Waves break up the surface and add oxygen to the water. Like rain, these things all cause fish to feed. This is why it’s usually better to fish the wind-exposed side of a lake rather than the sheltered side.
Barometric Pressure-Fish have a keen ability to sense changes in barometric pressure, and they respond by becoming more or less active. Fish are usually more active when the barometer is dropping, or when it’s been high and steady for a couple of days. Fish are typically less active right after a sudden rise in barometric pressure. One of the best times to go fishing is right before a storm or cold front passes. In these situations, the barometer may drop rapidly. Fish sense the rapid drop in pressure and sometimes go on a feeding binge. After the front passes, the fish usually quit feeding.
Light plays a key role in fish location. In overcast conditions (above) fish are likely to move into shallow water and move around in weeds and brush. Occasionally they will remain inactive near the bottom. In bright, sunny conditions, (bottom) light penetrates the water and fish will usually retreat into deeper water or shade.
Water Conditions and Fish
Water conditions are frequently tied to weather. These include water temperature, darity, water level, amount of dissolved oxygen and currents.
Water Temperature-Fish seek areas where water temperature is most comfortable to them. This comfort zone varies from species to species. Warm water species (bass, sunfish, catfish) prefer a range of 70-85°F. Cool water species (walleye, pike, muskies) like a range of 60-70°F. Cold water species (trout, salmon) prefer 50-60°F. These ranges are preferences. Depending on time of year and prevailing water temperatures, fish are often found in water that’s outside their preferred zone. However, they’re usually more active when they’re in their preferred range. In many lakes and reservoirs, water temperature will change from the surface down to the depths. Water temperature near the surface changes faster than deeper water. Surface water warms faster in the day and cools off faster at night. So, how does this help you find and catch fish? Say you’re a bass fisherman on a lake in the middle of summer. The local fishing report gives the surface temperature at 80°F. You would expect most fish to be in deep water or in heavy, shady cover, since these areas would be cooler and more to their liking. But at night, as the surface temperature cools off, bass might move up to shallow water where they’d be more accessible to anglers. On the other hand, in early spring, water surface temperature might be 55°F at dawn, but on a sunny day it might warm into the 60°F range by mid-day. In this case, the bass would be more active during this warmer period. Then their activity level would drop off as the water cools at dusk. Many expert anglers use thermometers to check water temperature. Be aware that water temperature plays an important role in where fish are and how active they’ll be.
Water Clarity-When anglers talk about water color, they mean water clarity. Some lakes, reservoirs and streams are clear with good underwater visibility, others are dingy, and still others are muddy. Water clarity changes frequently when it rains (mud is washed into the lake) or when strong winds stir up mud along the shore.
In clear water, fish usually hold deeper or tighter to brush, docks, rocks, etc. than fish in dingy or muddy water. This is because when visibility is better, fish are more vulnerable to predators. In muddy water, they’re hidden by the water color and stay shallower, and feel safer away from cover. As a rule of thumb, the best water to fish is slightly to moderately dingy. The fish will be shallower and not so spooky, yet there’s enough visibility for them to see to feed. Extremely muddy water hampers a fish’s ability to find food (and baits)! Only scent-feeding species like catfish are active in really muddy water.
Water Level-Water levels in lakes, reservoirs and rivers may rise or fall, depending on rain, water discharges from dams, or seasonal fluctuations. As a general rule, fish follow a rise (i.e., go shallow when the water is rising), then they move out deeper when the water level is falling. In lakes and reservoirs, rising water makes fresh food available. Also, in rivers and streams, rising water washes new food downstream. Falling water levels have the opposite effect. Fish pull back into deeper areas. If the water drop is gradual, they may continue to feed normally. But if the drop is fast, they may quit feeding.
Current-A good way to think of current is liquid wind. Current pushes food in the direction it’s moving. Predator fish know this, and rely on current to carry food to them. Currents in rivers and streams are continuous, though they may increase or decrease depending on water flow. Also prevailing winds will push water onto shore or through narrow areas between points or islands and fish move into these areas to feed. This is why fishing on the down-wind shoreline is often better than on the upwind shoreline. Many times, fishing in windy areas is better than in calm areas.
HOW THE MOON AFFECTS FISHING
Many media fishing forecasts list “best feeding times” or “solunar periods?’ These are calculated according to when the moon exerts tidal pulL Here’s the theory. The moon’s pull causes tides in the oceans, and saltwater anglers know that when the tide is running, the fishing is better. The same thing happens on freshwater lakes and reservoirs, but on a much smaller scale.
Many experts believe that these gravity changes influence feeding behavior. The charts usually list two “major feeding periods” and two “minor feeding periods” each day. I believe these moon times may have some merit, but may be secondary to other factors in determining whether fish will bite. I think fish feed better during major and minor periods than they do between these periods. Fishing records also show that during the four-day period around the full moon, big fish are definitely more active. The days of the month between the full and new moons are the least productive.