The hardest part of being a fishing guide is scheduling a trip around the optimal fishing conditions. A lot of time on the water is spent to learn the nuances of a fishery and the patterns that fish follow. Over the many years of doing this, I have learned there are many variables in fish feeding habits. Those variables have a direct impact on the optimal time to fish. So, when is the best time to go fly fishing?
The best time to go fly-fishing is first light in the morning and 2 hours before sunset. Fish naturally feed more at day break and right before it gets dark, increasing your chances of getting bites.Depending on the fishery and water clarity, there are times when fishing in the middle of the day will make sense.
While sunrise and sunset are generally your best chances, there are situations where the feeding habits of fish will differ. Additionally, depending on the type of fishing you prefer, the time in which you fish will vary. Things like weather, the time of year, tidal movement, and water clarity will have impacts on the number of fish caught. Below we will review each of these in detail.
What is the best weather for fly fishing?
Fish are extremely sensitive to weather conditions. This is particularly true regarding pressure changes and fronts. A fish has a swim bladder that feels these pressure changes and will respond by staying in deeper water during low pressure and shallower during high pressure.
Despite what type of pressure change is occurring, fish will tend to be less active as they sense the change approaching.
It is incredible that these fish are able to determine that pressure is changing and will actively feed before and after these fronts pass. Paying attention to fronts will help you capture some of your best fishing days. Being that these fronts can approach at any time, the feeding time before or after a front may not always be in the morning or evenings.
That said, a stable pressure for a prolonged period will have the fish comfortable and eating in normal patterns.
In addition to changing weather, fish are also sensitive to general weather conditions. Obviously, fish are cold blooded; therefore, the temperature of the water will change how active they are.
Does hot weather affect fishing?
Like us, fish get extremely lazy when it is hot out. The mid-day heat will cause them to retreat to deeper water where the temperature is cooler. They will become stagnant and not move around a whole lot to conserve energy, making this not exactly the best time for fly fishing. These are the prime opportunities to fish early mornings and late evenings. Fish will gorge themselves early, then relax all day, and eat again before the sun goes down. Having good weather in the morning during these times can make for some really great days on the water. The low light conditions of early morning and evening will allow you to approach fish easier without being seen. Additionally, this is the time to capitalize on those top water explosive eats as the fish are looking for wakes and shadows from below.
Do fish bite in cold weather?
When temperatures drop and the water becomes cold, fish seek warmth. The warmest water will be the shallows during mid-day. Fish will often sun themselves as they wait for food to come swimming by. During periods of cold-water temperatures, fishing mid-day will make more sense for fly-fisherman as we often target fish in shallower water.
One thing to note. This will hold true when the water temperatures significantly drop for long periods. During the first few cold fronts, fish are often aggressive as they are happy to have reprieve from the heat. During the first few cold snaps of the year, the morning and evening bite will still be your best bet.
Keep in mind that if you are going to fish in colder than normal weather, you’ll want to make sure you dress appropriately.
Does rain affect saltwater fishing?
Although fishing in the rain is uncomfortable, it can be productive. Rain in the middle of the day during summer months will increase the bite, as the rain will provide a cool off. Too much rain however, can change water levels and salinity when saltwater fishing. The bite will suffer when we have prolonged rainy days. Generally speaking, on days of light rain, the bite will be best right after the rain stops.
Do fish bite when it’s windy?
Wind is every fly-fisherman’s kryptonite. If it is too windy, it is probably best to stay at home. If you really want to fish however, there are some times that may be best.
Gusty winds are often associated with passing fronts. Take advantage of the peak eating times during fronts by fishing before or after the front occurs. As mentioned before, fish can feel the coming fronts and will feed as the front approaches. Battle the wind on the beginning of these fronts to capture the best bite.
In southern coastal states, wind ramps up due to the daily sea breezes during warmer months. Like clockwork, when the temperatures hit peak heat, the wind will come rushing in off the ocean. This will make the evening fishing tough, and since mid-day is hot, the best bite will be in the mornings.
What if I want to sight fish?
Personally, I enjoy casting to fish that I can see. Fly-fishing for me is all about presenting a fly to a fish. There is no greater adrenaline rush than being able to watch the fish eat your feathers.
For sight fishing to make sense, there are two necessary ingredients: Sun and clear water. Without sun, seeing into the water is nearly impossible. If the water is not clear, you can pretty much forget about sight fishing. Dirty water and clouds will end a good day of sight fishing before it even starts. Therefore, the best time for fly fishing by sight fishing is mid-day.
Sight fishing is typically done in tropical places such as the Bahamas and the Florida Keys. What makes these destinations so prime is the clear water year around. The types of species in these environments thrive on warm water and are unbothered by the mid-day heat.
It is possible to sight fish in other environments as well. Here in northeast Florida, the winter months bring clear water as the drop in water temperatures kills the tannic algae. Being that the water becomes clear in the colder months; the middle of the day will be the best time to sight fish. This conveniently coincides with the optimal sun exposure as well.
One of my all-time favorite sight fisheries is the Louisiana marsh in the winter. When the water temperature drops, the mid-day redfish bite is one of the best fisheries on the planet.
If the water is not clear, or you prefer to blind-cast for fish, then the mornings and the evenings will be the best time to fish barring the water is not too cold.
How do tides affect fishing?
Do tides matter? I wish I could stress to you in writing just how much they do matter. YES THEY MATTER. In fact, tide is the first thing I look at when managing client charter requests. I typically will check NOAA for information to prepare accordingly. Tides will determine access fish will have to certain water. For fly-fishermen, tides are very important as they will tell you the water depth of the fish.
Depending on where you fish, you may have as little as a couple of inches of tide or up to 9ft of tide. The water movement associated with large tides makes it difficult to predict where fish will be. Larger tides also typically require an incoming tide for fish to feel comfortable entering the shallows. In areas where tide is minimal, fish will feel more comfortable being shallower for longer.
Is fishing good during low tide?
Lower water will force fish into less area. If given the choice, a lower tide is ideal for fly fishing areas with tidal movement. As the tide bottoms out low and starts to push incoming, fish will aggressively move up with the tide feeding on food that has been exposed during the low tide. As we feel comfortable moving our boats into shallower water, knowing the tide is coming in, the fish feel the same way.
One of the best time for fly fishing is at low tide in the morning. This is especially true in the warmer times of the year. I look for these to line up often when I am booking fly fishing trips.
The evening can be equally as good if the winds are light. Typically, winds tend to be lighter in the morning, but a calm evening low tide is as good as it gets.
Is it better to go fishing at high tide?
Higher tides are more challenging to fish in areas that have large tidal movement. The fish are able to spread out, requiring more area to be covered in search of fish. In most cases, this is not the best time for fly fishing. If given a choice of a morning high tide or a mid-day low tide, I will take the low tide most of the time with one exception.
Areas along the southeast have a phenomenon where the saltwater marshes are flooded with excess water due to king tide moon phases. In this situation where the water is extremely high, fish will have access to areas not often accessible. This can be exceptional fishing for redfish as they will tail on their head looking for crabs and crustaceans. In the event of a king tide or “Flood tide”, I will opt to fish whatever time of day that occurs.
Do seasons have an effect?
In a roundabout way, we have touched on the effects of seasons through our discussions of water temperatures. Seasons play a crucial role in fishing not only because of weather, but also because of how fish feed in different months. Without a doubt, certain seasons are better than others.
In the summer months, water temperatures are hot and fish are expending less energy. Being that fish are moving around less, they are able to eat less. Fishing the morning and evenings holds true in the summer as it may be the only times of the day fish eat.
With the exception of tropical destinations, fishing in the middle of the day in summer is not productive.
Fall is a transition month. The water is starting to cool down after a hot summer and the fish are feeling a jolt of energy. They also need to start preparing for the cold winter months. In these months, fishing is on fire. Early morning or evening low tides will be some of the best fishing days all year. Fish will be gorging themselves trying to fatten up for the winter.
If I could fish only one season a year, fall would be my pick.
Now that the fish have eaten in preparation for colder water, it has arrived. As temperatures in some areas plummet, fish will move slower and feed less. The morning and evening bites will become slow and fish will feed more in the warmth of mid-day. They will be the most active on days with full sun and often move to shallow water to sun themselves. On the right days where tide, sun, and light winds line up, winter can have some exceptional fishing days.
Overall winter bite is comparable to that of the summer months, with the exception that fish will feed later in the day as opposed to morning and evenings.
Winter is over and things are coming back to life, including the fish. They have been conserving calories in a calculated way and now they see the light at the end of the tunnel. Bait will also be coming back to life allowing fish to eat like they just finished a Naked and Afraid challenge.
In the spring, fish will feed all throughout the day. Tide is going to be your main determining factor for time of day to fish. All in all, spring is a great time to fish.
Although morning and evening fishing is typically the best time for fly fishing, you can see there are a lot of other things to consider that may sway that decision. For the sight-fisherman, exclusively fishing the mid-day sun will be the norm. For other types of fishing, taking into account tides, weather, and the time of year will help you make the decision of what time to fish. In a perfect world, the best of all of these conditions would line up, but in reality that rarely occurs.