When is the best time to go? This is a question I get a lot. My answer is that it depends on a lot of things. It depends first of all on what you want. Are you out for quantity or quality? Would you rather catch your fish shallow or deep? Do you want to catch them on topwater or would you just as well slow roll a spinnerbait or pitch a jig? Does extreme heat or cold bother you? Do you like fishing in the rain? Is night fishing an option? Do you have the flexibility to fish during the week? Could you decide today to fish tomorrow? Are you a bank beater or a structure fisherman? Would you rather catch a hundred white or yellow bass or a handful of black bass... the list goes on and on.
My short answer is that if you are out for a giant, go in March or April or as close as you can to those months. In the winter, the fish are huge - but don't bite as often.
If you are out for numbers or want to take a kid or beginner, go in October or November.
If you want your best shot at big numbers of quality fish, go night fishing in June or July - or pre-spawn fishing in late February/early March - or post-spawn fishing in May.
Rules of Thumb
I believe that the more you are on the lake, the more and bigger fish you will catch. Therefore, I think the best time to go is whenever you can. However, most people don't have the flexibility to fish often, so they must plan their trips. Here are some things to consider in planning a trip.
- Seasonal patterns
In my opinion, there are 8 distinct seasonal patterns - winter, pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn, early summer, mid summer, late summer, and fall (I have articles on each). All of them have their advantages and disadvantages. These patterns differ so much that each one needs its own article and should definitely be considered when planning a trip.
- The right time of day
Fish will bite better at different times of the day. The most consistent action year round is the first hour of light and often the last hour of light. Different times of the year they will often be on somewhat regular feeding schedules. It pays to know what time of the day to fish.
- Moon phases
Moon phases are worthy of consideration. I think they play a role of when (and sometimes how well) fish bite. I do a lot of night fishing in the summer time and have noticed a difference during different moon phases. I have read articles that state that the majority of world records were broken close to a full moon. Also, many of the popular outdoor magazines publish solunar tables, so they are at least noteworthy.
- The right water temperature
Bass are somewhat fair-weather creatures. They favor water temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This is when they move in the shallows to spawn in the spring and this is also when they go into a feeding frenzy in the fall. I try to fish when or where the temps are closest to that range. During the summer, I fish mostly at night. That is when the shallows are closest to that temp. If I fish daytime in the summer, I fish deeper. That is where the cooler water will be. Fall through spring, the daytime water temps will be closest to the favorable temp, so I primarily fish daytime.
- Consistent weather
Fish tend to bite best after several days of consistent weather. They often bite best just before (and during) a major change in the weather.
- Rainy days
Rainy days often get the fish on the move in search of food in the shallows. It is hard to beat the action on a warm, rainy day. You can throw topwater baits with confidence all day long. Rain also washes nutrients into lakes and gets the fish looking for new food sources. Another positive is that a little rain will drive away a lot of boat traffic.
- Light wind
I have found that having a light wind is an advantage. A ripple on the water helps to keep the fish from seeing the boat. Too much wind doesn't really affect how the fish bite, but it does hurt your ability to fish a lure correctly. On days with a strong wind, I will get out of the wind. The calm side will usually still have a ripple on those days.
When not to go
- Cold fronts
Cold fronts have the most negative effect when the water is already fairly cold and the front makes it even colder. The fishing is not usually bad until the first sunny day after the cold front. Often the fishing will get even better as the front is going through, so don't throw in the towel just because the front hits. Just don't expect much the next day.
- Dropping water
I haven't heard a good explanation why, but for some reason the fishing slows down when the lake is dropping in water level. This can be due to gates running, evaporation, or dropping levels due to nearby water usage.
- Blue bird days
Beautiful, calm, sunny days are usually the worst fishing days. However, sometimes the early and late bite can actually be better on these days than on cloudy days. Also, blue bird days are great days for sight fishing during the spawn. You can avoid the blue bird blues by fishing at night.
- East wind
You've probably heard "fishing is the least when the wind is from the east" and "fishing is the best when the wind is from the west". There is definitely some truth to that. However, I've had some awesome days with an east wind and I've also had some poor days with a west wind.