The best time to go fishing can vary quite a bit, especially depending on if you’re saltwater fishing or freshwater fishing (and whichever type of fishing you enjoy most, be sure to read Fishing Tips: Freshwater & Saltwater Fish to gain some insight). Before we dig into the details, however, we can make one blanket statement: fish just about everywhere are almost always active at sunrise and sunset. These periods of changing light levels trigger feeding behavior in all kinds of predatory fish.
Best Time for Saltwater Fishing
Saltwater fishing will be affected by countless variables, but the major ones are:
- Tides and Currents
- Light Levels
The weather impacts saltwater fishing in many ways. Wind is a major factor since it can drive bait up onto a shoreline, create lots of ambient noise water-noise (which helps you remain stealthy), or make some areas churned up and muddy. Cloud cover is another factor, which we’ll cover more in the section on light levels. Weather’s effect on water temperature is an important consideration as well, since it will affect the places and depths the fish are most comfortable at. And as fronts pass through the changes in barometric pressure can also have an effect; with many species feeding increases immediately before a cold front, but slows during and after a storm or front hits. Fishing after a front pushes through is then sometimes poor, and continues to be poor for a day or two.
Tides and Currents
Tides and currents have a huge impact on success in saltwater fisheries. They affect water level, and a shallow area that holds fish during a high tide might be a bare mud bank during low tide conditions. Conversely, depressions in the bottom or a channel that remains deeper than the surrounding waters can have excellent fishing during a low tide. As a general rule of thumb, a changing tide and moving currents are best while static or “dead” tides with little moving water are commonly slow fishing times. Since tides and currents are predictable, it’s possible to look up a tide chart and determine what time of day might be best to try fishing before you ever leave the dock.
Read The Secrets of Tide Fishing to learn more about fishing according to the tides.
One thing you have to remember about fish and their relationship with tides and currents: it can change with time, and the other variables we’re discussing. The fish in any given spot may feed best at the end of an outgoing tide for days, weeks, or even months, and then change their pattern to feed best at the beginning of an incoming tide for one reason or another. Determining the patterns fish establish and tracking their changes is one of the great challenges of this sport, and there’s only one rule you can count on: the moment you have those fish figured out, they’ll probably change their ways!
We already mentioned that daybreak and sunset are a great time to fish, and this is in no small part because of the changing light levels. Many anglers believe that the changing conditions makes it tougher for prey to spot and evade predators. But the position of the sun isn’t the only variable in play. Heavy or intermittent cloud cover also has an effect, as does rainfall. Fish often feed strongly in low-light conditions, and light levels can also determine what color lures are most effective at any given time. While there’s no perfect way to predict how the fish will respond to color choice, remember this rule of thumb: look at the water, and match your lure’s color and finish to the water color. When the water condition and sunlight make the water look green, green color lures are often effective. But when they make the water look brown, root-beer colors are often a better pick. And when the sun’s high and bright in the sky reflective lures often work well, while in lower light conditions, lures with a matte finish often do the trick.
Best Time for Freshwater Fishing
Since there aren’t tides in freshwater lakes and rivers we can remove this variable from the equation. However, there still may be currents to deal with. So the major issues to consider as you choose the best time to go freshwater fishing include:
- Light Levels
The weather impacts freshwater fishing much as it does in saltwater environments. Wind can still push bait one way or another, waves still creates noise and can churn the water, and clouds still affect light levels. However, the effect of fronts and changes in barometric pressure are often much more pronounced.
Rain (or a lack thereof) also has a bigger impact, since it can have a huge effect on water levels in lakes and ponds, and lots of runoff can roil streams and rivers. When choosing a time to go fishing it can even eliminate some options, as rivers that would otherwise be great for fishing are turned into muddy torrents. A light rain, however, can help you hide from the fish since the rain breaks up the view that the fish has through the water’s surface. This is true whether shore, wade or boat fishing. Rain also washes insects and bait into the water, with this extra food creating a feeding binge for freshwater fish.
Currents in freshwater vary quite a bit depending on if you’re fishing in a moving body of water like a river, or one that’s more or less still like a pond or lake. As a general rule of thumb interruptions in a moving current (like an eddy in a river) are good spots to fish, while areas of current in bodies of water that don’t have much movement (like around a spillway drain near a dam) are often hotspots. As you decide when to fish, remember that the wind can create currents in bodies of water that usually don’t have them and you can use this knowledge to your advantage as you choose where and when to fish.
The position of the sun and cloud cover have similar effects in freshwater as they do in saltwater. There’s one more significant variable to consider in freshwater though, and that’s shade. Quite often on sunny days freshwater fish look for shaded areas, whether it’s under a dock, a fallen tree, or branches that overhand the water.
When To Fish?
Taking all these different factors into consideration, you’ll probably still be asking yourself when to fish. There are so many variables coming into play that the decision can be a tough one. But we do have a simple answer that trumps all else: go fishing whenever your schedule allows. Sure, you’ll probably catch more fish at daybreak and sunset. Yes, you’ll have better success if you time your fishing with the ideal weather and the peak tides. But the truth of the matter is that everyone has hectic schedules, a list of commitments, and limited time. So fish whenever you can fish—and always remember that time-honored saying, the worst day of fishing is better than the best day of work.
When is the best time to fish?
Any time you can go fishing is the best time to fish!
What is the best time to go fishing from a boat?
Any time you can go fishing from a boat is the best time to go fishing from a boat! If you don’t own a boat but you’re interested in fishing from boats—and you should be—check out our Boat Finder Tool to see which one might be best for you and the areas you’d like to go fishing.
Do brackish water tides matter?
Yes, absolutely. Tides and currents have the same effects in brackish water as they do in saltier waters.
Hooked on fishing? Interested in buying a fishing boat of your very own? Read...
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in June 2010 and updated in September 2019.