Water temperature has a profound effect on the general movement and feeding habits of all cold-blooded creatures. As a general rule, always try to target your fishing times during that part of the day when the water is the warmest.
Warm Water Periods
Typically the warmest water of the day will occur in the afternoon in the summer. In July, for example - in the northern states, we try to put in around 3:00pm and fish through dusk. Normally we will see the best top water action during the three hours or so in the late afternoon to early evening hours.
We have often noticed a reduction of surface activity in the last hour before dusk. I know others will disagree, but I’ve seen it too many times not to take notice. On most summer trips (June through August), the peak action will occur generally between the hours of 3:00pm and 7:00pm.
All things being equal, my favorite time to fish for river smallmouth is right smack dab in the middle of the hottest weather of the summer. Extended periods of hot weather, uninterrupted by cold-fronts, will really get the fish cookin’. When the “dog days” of summer hit the lakes, a siren should go off, directing smart anglers to the nearest smallie river - this is the time!
In the spring and fall the “hot water” times may be the middle of the day when the fleeting sun rays weakly do there thing to heat up the cold water. The angle of the sun is canted, reducing the penetration and resultant warmth provided by El Sol.
A thermometer is a great piece of equipment to have along. Checking the water temperatures throughout the day will offer keen insight to help you better plan your trips. Over time you will be able to judge intuitively the best times to fish. If you’re looking for top-water action, make sure to be on the water during the period of time when they’re most likely to be “lookin’ up”!
Certainly you can catch fish anytime of day using subsurface techniques.
Q: The best time to fish?
A: Unquestionably - when you can make the time. Notice I said make the time, not find the time. If you wait to find the right time, you’ll go much less than if you plan ahead and schedule set trip times or a specific afternoon each week when it’s YOUR TIME.
Remember our motto: Fun Waits for No One!
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Cold Water Periods - SLOW and DEEP
During the cold water periods, as seasonal climactic change limits sun penetration (reduced photoperiod) water temperature begins to fall out of the summer 70’s and 80’s, into the 60’s. Fishing cam still be excellent during the warmth of the day. Below about 55 degrees all the way down into the thirties, fish movement slows dramatically.
Again try to put the odds in your favor by fishing the warmest water of the day, usually midday to early afternoon. Fish SLOW and DEEP. Remember those two maxims and you’ll do OK. The fish, while congregated in holes and slow water eddies, will not chase. They simply hang close to the bottom and wait for an easy meal to come by.
I have observed largemouth bass under the ice - on lakes. I have seen nice bass come through the area and take a halfhearted swipe at a minnow on a line. Several of the fish missed the minnow and kept right on going, ignoring the easy meal. In the dead of winter, bass feed very little. In late winter - early spring your will start to see increased activity. I believe this owes more to increased day length than water temperatures.
Where to fish in the fall and winter months? Look for a power plant or other such factory emitting warm water into a smallmouth river, this is ground zero for winter smallmouth! Most of the winter smallie hunters I know target these warm water plumes that provide decent to spectacular fishing for quite a distance below the discharge area - sometimes as much as several miles downstream.
The effluent may be emitting 70 degree water or higher.
This warm water attracts all kinds of critters and an artificial ecosystem is created. There may be local restrictions on fishing these areas, so ask some questions. (Don’t be surprised if the fish have a special iridescent green color to them.) Also, wading isn’t too bad, since the water is relatively warm.
Focus on days above freezing to avoid pesky ice forming in the rod guides.
More on this phenomenon to follow.
Beyond the “manufactured spots” Any large corner hole or eddy will nearly always hold fish. Fast full sink weighted fly line is preferred method for getting down quick and staying there. Dead drifting is the most natural, but a little slow imparted motion may trigger a lethargic micropterus.