To Catch a Fish – Angling Chef
Angling Chef By: Richard Ziert
Send story comments to RjZ
Success tomorrow, starts with attentive work today. As with all things in life the Gumbo (angling success) we make for ourselves is either good or bad depending on the ingredients and the chef.
Keep in mind a thoughtful explanation and definition of the word “pattern,” and how it fits into all this.
A Fishing Pattern is: A combination of water, weather, and environmental conditions such as light penetration, depth, cover, bottom structure, air and water temperature, water clarity, direction, and speed of water currents, even Solunar Tables as well as functional and seasonal aspects of predator fish, available prey species and their habits, which produce greater “catches” at specific locations in a body of water. Keep in mind that some locations on some lakes will have altogether different patterns than other locations on the same lake. Also, know that the higher altitude of your lake alone can have the same affect – shortening what is thought to be “NORMAL’ in another lake at lower elevations.
Patterns change! A pattern that’s good now might be terrible tomorrow, and there could be several successful patterns existing at any one time on any body of water — especially a giant reservoir or lake. When conditions are stable, a successful fishing pattern can last a long time. When conditions are changing rapidly, a successful pattern may evaporate in minutes.
Here’s a power recipe for winners:
Start a Weather Log to include 3-5 days before your outing. Include wind,
rain, warm or cold fronts speed and direction of movement, etc. Keep in mind that the location of your lake North to South/ East to West/ Higher Elevation to Lower, can have specifics related to same that other lakes do not. An example of this can be if your lake is in the northern half of the country your weather will “normally” come out of the West/Northwest, in the lower half of the country the weather (again “normally”) comes out of the South/Southwest.
Yes, there will be variances to these normal and seasonal weather paths, but on average they will apply as stated. The direction of the weather will provide you with a key to what part(s) of your lake – the lay of the land, the lake bottom contours – will receive and deal with that weather most often; After reading further in this write up about water dynamics, species habits, flora specifics, lake basin make up, what parts of the lake will receive the most warmth of the Sun, dissolved oxygen content, and so on, those factors can tell you the more productive parts of water to explore for greater success.
Then on the basis, also, include notes on the seasonal angle of the sun in the sky and length of time the sun will shine on parts of the lake, and if those parts have shallower or deeper bottoms than some others. Shallower water and darker bottoms will warm faster and hold heat longer later into the day. Keep in mind and eliminate common Cold Front Myths.
Solving myths are sometimes just matters of bringing two or more known things together in a new, more understandable way. Cold Fronts and their add-on changes in atmospheric pressure – thus, an alleged exaggerated bite and shutdown of fish activity, is one such common myth.
Barometric pressure alone does not change quickly enough, nor have primary effects, to practically turn bass or any other fish on or off. However, it is one of the ingredients in the overall process of fish location features. Associated air and water temperature, time of year/day, cloud cover, wind direction and speed, humidity and yet to be confirmed effects of the dew point also affect fishing conditions. The rate and amount of change in barometric pressure is insignificant compared to what’s going on below the surface because of secondary relationships.
Depending on the geographic altitude and location North to South as well as East to West on a nationwide basis of the lake(s) you key in on there will be changes big and small. Because water is thicker/denser, than air, average water pressure at the 32-foot depth is equal to the pressure of two Air Atmospheres at the surface. Higher altitudes, etc. will change the depth noted. That means in part, that if atmospheric pressure were to play a role affecting that first 32 feet of water the effect is greater at the surface than it is at its bottoming out point.
Consider for a moment that an average normal value for barometric pressure is about 30 inches (mercury). Normal strong high pressure is about 30.70 inches. The powerful atmospheric lows of hurricanes, can reach down to 28 inches or less. The difference between these two “normal” conditions (2.7 inches of barometric pressure) is equal to about .09 atmospheres. The barometric pressure difference from a simple passing cold front is only about .06 atmospheres. That .06 atmospheres of pressure, based on the 32-foot example to double the surface pressure, amounts to a depth just barely over a foot and a half from the surface downward, and that is the only layer of water that can reasonably or practically be affected by normal cold fronts. The dynamics of all weather and all temperatures, all locations, etc., can again nullify/change the exact effect.
That reference to “all temperatures” includes the temperature of the entire water column. Colder water is denser, therefore the denser or more viscous the water the harder it is to move it. Early and late in the year water is colder at the surface. Throughout the remaining seasons, until the lake turns over, water is colder as it goes deeper. During the spring of the year lake water warms from the top down. The nationwide average water column gets colder at approximately 2 degrees per foot of depth. Again, depending on the location of your lake and its overall properties those numbers can be different.
Waves in and of themselves alter shallow water column water pressure with their peaks and valleys. The combination of surface chop and or waves then can sometimes completely offset any atmospheric pressure changes as they might apply at or beneath the surface.
Meteorologists and Biologists know how fish seemingly respond to these day-to-day barometric changes. They haven’t quite hit the nail on the head yet – but “deep down” (pun intended), they know.
At some time in the late spring or early summer the surface layer of water biologists call a Littoral Zone fully matures as to water temperature. This Littoral Zone will be affected by wind and rain near the surface to change many things there. In that case that layer is pretty much uniform as to temperature. Deeper than the Littoral Zone the temperature gets colder and colder as more depth is added until the development of the thermocline (if any) comes into play. Through and beneath the thermocline rapid cold temperature changes occur. You will note how it all works as depicted in the following chart (upper right side).
32-33 feet is the reasonable deepest level at which most anglers target their “clear” fresh water quarry. The term Clear Water is subjective to where you fish. But for our purposes clear water is when a white lure disappears when dropped overboard at about 16-17 feet. Note again that in this example that 16-17 feet is the Littoral Zone. That 32-foot marker depth is also where direct, penetrating light diminishes greatly (but not completely). Those 32 feet down from the surface represents where Thermoclines set up shallower and progress deeper; reaching their average deepest point in our examples clear water column during the height of summer.
From the surface, down, the first 16-17 feet of water, or the average depth at which weeds bottom out mid lake in clear water (again a light penetration condition) is scientifically known as the Littoral Zone mentioned earlier and the most productive, most overall stable layer of water for fishing; season to season. While influenced by natures influx of elements to momentarily change this statement, this layer is stable in terms of water temperature and the early signs of fish reaction to the essentials for life. As lake water becomes stained all reactions appear shallower. Also keep in mind that different species of fish have even deeper and/or shallower ways of living and reacting.
Some weeds grow deeper or shallower depending on how, where, and when– Lake Specific – photosynthesis can occur. Photosynthesis can occur deeper than the Littoral Zone, but the deeper photosynthesis, thereby dissolved oxygen process is more plankton related rather than weeds. Depending on light penetration, various forms of plankton and their associated oxygen production and transport can sink from near the surface to beneath the thermocline as well as move laterally due to current and wind.
Biologists have observed underwater fish movements during cold front weather exchanges. The result is and always will be open to doubt. The reason for this involves The Universal Law of Large Numbers. That law states: To get an accurate or finite picture of the outcome, you must first have a very large number of test cases which are the same in detail to draw information from (thousands). Unfortunately, biologists can only measure a few fish at a time, one body of water at a time, and one location within that one lake; precision or anything near it cannot be achieved (please refer to Matt Straws comment on this near the last page of this seminar). For our practical on the water purposes, it’s safe to say active to inactive fish during cold front conditions is likely no better than 50/50. But what we can conclude for sure is the known movement of predator / prey relationships coupled with associated light penetration.
Active fish, all fish will not feed at the same time. Some fish are full of food “in the moment”. Fish are in fact responding to natural urges, earliest formed instincts, coupled with experience, determining where they can be located during and around such times? While some fish may be digesting a full meal, with few exceptions, given the slam dunk opportunity, hungry, healthy, and eager fish, like all other opportunistic predators, eat/strike, lean toward becoming foodies at some times and in some places.
There should be very few practicing anglers among us that don’t know the effects of an approaching cold front. Just to make it crystal clear to everyone, here’s a short version of all the goings-on.
Just before the front is upon us the sky is usually clear and bright. Then suddenly, air pressure changes. If we are quite enough, attentive enough, we can feel the change in the pressure on our ear drums just like it happens when we gain or reduce altitude in aircraft. On the water, I’ve experienced this ear drum fact to where a half hour passed before the visible storm was overhead. Then, well out in front of the approaching clouds the wind picks up and darker sky’s follow. The preceding, heavier wind, growing stronger and stronger, provides more and more exaggerated surface water chop and waves. That
surface chop in turn makes for an intermittent/fluctuating darker underwater environment; a greater underwater flicker and wave effect camouflaging underwater fish movement. This source signals what is to come and fish everywhere are vitally aware of and conditioned to that opportunity.
Note the direction of the waves and/or flicker. Ask yourself would a lure presentation stand out more running with or against the direction of the underwater shadow cause by those conditions? Considering all other conditions which may be present, do we want our lure presentation to stand out, or do we want it to be subtle
The closer the front comes, the more frenzied the feeding spree. Sometimes into the edge of the storm and marginally beyond, hungry fish continue the blown-up bite. At some point fishermen get off the lake in fear for their lives in that rough weather. That doesn’t mean the bite stops. It means we are smart enough to not risk our lives in catching fish.
During and after the storm front the sky is usually dark with clouds and the wind is much stronger than before. While exceptions exist, typically the cloud cover/winds peter out over an average of 1-3 days; returning weather conditions to not unlike those before the storm. What are left is blue bird clear skies and depending on the time of day and year, glaring/direct light penetration. The greater the cold front storms size in territory covered and the faster the movement, the greater the effect is squeezed into narrower parameters.
Let’s look at “Light Penetration” cause and effect on fish during these times. From experience, Sunny, Clear Sky’s, little or no wind, tell us not all but most bass are either, on or near the bottom, or within cover, and/or at a depth or place where light penetration is less. When clouds approach, many fish including prey rise in the water column to one degree or another, suspend in the water column, or gradually approach the edges of cover from the inside out. Evidence for this is found in part when we see that calm water surfaces bites occur best in low light especially early and late in the day.
Bass eyes use rods and cones much like humans. Like you and me, bass cannot adjust their pupils to varying levels of light quickly. Think about the old Navy Submarine Movies you have seen where the U-Boat surfaces at night and the lights in the sub are changed from white to red for some time before the outer hatch is opened and crewmen go above. They did that change to have their eyes adjust quickly to the dark.
Biologists have found bass take as much as 15-20 minutes to adjust to changing light conditions. If Bass are positioned in darker places before the darker parts of the storm gets to them, little or no adjustment at all is needed. Some smaller prey fish species take longer than bass to adjust to abrupt low light conditions; giving bass an advantage; heightening search and capture effectiveness.
If hungry fish are found more on the move, higher off the bottom, more near the surface and/or at the edges of structure or cover during those dark times, they are camouflaged there to have a better sight and vibration advantage at capturing prey. Prey fish are there because low light hides their movement. That and the prey also are conditioned to know the flow of food elements (plankton or what have you) is increased; more on the move laterally and vertically. The longer the sky stays dark, the more predator/prey directional movement occurs. With a natural need to use penetrating light to photosynthesize, plankton, rise upward in the water column with darker skies– plankton then sink with brighter skies – plankton eaters (bait fish and most minnows otherwise) follow the source of their food.
If we are good enough anglers to know where our target fish are during times of plenty, and what happens when a cold front moves through, we are then able to pinpoint objective spots to fish. Knowing the average time, it takes for conditions to get back to “normal” we then can pick out the areas and depth levels to explore and increase our catch.
To possibly make this clearer, the following illustration may help. The Orange Ovals, Black and Blue Rectangles below show the real effects of cold front movement.
Check out the existing pool level of your intended lake. High or low, keep this in mind for the next ingredient. Remember, with low pool levels you may be looking at entirely different underwater lake bottom contours than if it were at normal or even higher pool. An example of pool levels can be found as following: Google “Cal Gove Department of Water Resources” – once there, click the heading of “Reservoirs”.
See if you can get information on the force and/or flow of the water entering the lake. Some state agencies have this available on the internet for rivers/tributaries spilling into a lake. Water entering the lake can come from upstream, snow melt, underwater springs, and heavy rainfall. In an associated way, heavy boat traffic in any area, will tell you what to expect for surface to slightly deeper water current (faster/slower/ direction/bait movement) at any given spot. Again, please keep in mind all the other changes that can occur with various influxes of nature.
Knowledge of water dynamics, your depth finder, bottom contour and topographic maps, at least 6 marker buoys, and submersible Ph, and temperature meter will change your fishing adventures for the better. As time goes by and you become familiar with the process, you will greatly increase effectiveness.
Some Examples of Water Dynamics:
It takes 2-3 days for an average large lake and its incoming water to reach the lakes outlet(s) (some shorter or longer time may be present). Watch the wind and/or rain. Heavier wind – heavier downpours push surface water and down to a depth of 15 or so feet, faster through the cycle. The current is always faster through “The Narrows” or any constriction in land or bottom contours (“Pinch Points”) – it slows back down to normal as it is released from those areas about 200 yards or so downstream. If you like, you can test current speed using a bobber while anchored . . . at least it will give you an idea of water surface speed. If you were to use a “Slip Bobber”, weighted at various depths, you would get an idea from the slant of your line how various depth water moves at what speed.
Where you have current, even if it’s slow current, structure that juts out or up from the side or bottom of something else. . . I.E. rocks, weeds, land points, underwater points, and humps on the bottom, even underwater spring discharges, you will also have current breaks sometimes partially and sometimes top to bottom in the water column. . . as the current bumps into and passes by that which it runs into. . . just like fishing a river. You want to fish the slower and/or darker water edge at the water break. Sometimes you will run into current at depth where a layer above – and/or below it travels/moves at a different speed and direction. A verification can be seen in circumstances where you have both high and low riding clouds. Clouds, being essentially moisture (water), with a given of – stable and one way wind conditions, the lower level clouds move faster than those above them (it’s just the opposite with lake water layers). The reason is the same as with lake water. The lower clouds as the same as higher lake water. The lower clouds closer to the reflective warmth of the earth/ the lake water upper level is closest to radiation from the Sun, and therefore move faster because they are less viscous because the warmth. Those water column speed and temperature lake differences are also current breaks and all current break information should be applied accordingly.
Depth can make a difference in faster or slower water flow areas as well as in combination with bottom contours and other current breaks. It may not be much of a difference in some cases but sometimes it’s often the key to catching fish where nobody else can.
Underwater shadows on current breaks or even underwater flicker cause by wind/wave action (be aware of the angle of the Sun) also makes a difference and are holding areas no matter how small the shadow is for predators.
Sometimes “Things” hide in plain view. Just a few things to think about if you haven’t already done so. Depending on the time of year, water color, water temperature at depth, the weather for three days prior plus the day you fish, type of and color of lure selection along with its action, common prey availability, current, flora/fauna, bottom contours, cover, etc. – if the wind causes top water chop, albeit underwater flicker, do you ask yourself “Should I retrieve may lure with the flicker flow or against it in order to make it stand out. Should I stop and go, or burn it home?
Cold water holds more oxygen than warm water and is thicker than warm water – therefore it moves slower – as you go deeper, the water gets colder (even if it’s marginally different). that can be a current break as well under the right circumstances. With the big change in temp at the thermocline, then the thermocline acts as a current break almost like faster moving water hitting something in a shallower area.
Note: The diagram on page 14. There is an Oxycline below the Thermocline where oxygen content diminishes; where there is oxygen theirs is life. Also, refer to the note on The Scientific Fisherman following here. Not all fish species and sizes require the same amount of oxygen. Even larger fish which move slower because of the state of their metabolism at the place and time, need less oxygen. An alternate view of diminishing dissolved oxygen is that like the air in automobile tires it “Shrinks” during cold temperatures – it doesn’t go anywhere, it condenses; requiring more air to bring the tire back to normal pressure. Simple proof of this is seen when the temperature warms up – oxygen expands and so do those automobile tires.
Oxycline – the path of least resistance:
As mentioned above, all living creature cannot live without oxygen. Finding oxygen rich parts of a lake will, in part, lead to catching more and bigger fish. Think about the Dinosaurs in their super rich oxygen environment- they became larger because of the effects of more oxygen from algae and such from oceans/inland lakes, and the unrestrained/naturally unpolluted flora at the time. Dissolved Oxygen moves by the forces of nature and under pressure as well as current of its own. D.O takes the path of least resistance, and/or when it is pushed in specific directions. When looking at lake bottom contour maps and without interaction with otherwise moving water, that path amounts to the least amount of water pressure from above and toward a volume of warmer, less viscous water; these “volumes” are above the thermocline, at or in, parts of the lake.
We need to find the Thermocline on our depth finders by turning up the instruments “Gain”. The Thermocline will look like a darker fuzzy horizontal line on your screen. The Thermocline level can change, appear and disappear from spot to spot. Once found mark/note the depth and look at your bottom contour map to see the closest, wide, flat, relatively shallow shoreline and closest contour lines where they (more, or less) suddenly drop off to meet the Thermocline depth previously marked (there can be more than one area that fits this description).
As other proof of this phenomena simply boil a pot of water. Remember, cold sinks and heat rises. In the early stages of boiling water watch the bubbles of dissolved oxygen/air rise to the surface. Some oxygen rises in the middle of the pot but more oxygen rises along the sides of the pot than in the middle.
At this point in the process our recipe needs to include other nearby water current. Then, follow the junction between the two on your map to find conventional structure or cover, including possible “Pinch Points” (where contour lines come together before or after a widening of those same contours) in the overall path of least resistance. By doing this we will have found honey holes used by all living organisms including prey and predator. The reasons they are there are because of the increased dissolved oxygen in the area, as well as some form of bottom feature they can relate to and/or hunt or evade capture while having ease of entry; the fish also need the right directional water current, light penetration, and specie(s) preferred water temperature crossovers. The preceding is another way of looking at why underwater points are generally more productive.
The deep side of the lake and structure has fish also, but depending on the species, they will not be as deep or shallow, abundant, or large, and they more than likely will be shallower than deeper because of wave and wind action infusion of oxygen; this can also mean the fish are suspended over deep water and/or will move to the oxygen rich areas at another time during a 24-hour period.
When the water of the Littoral Zone is warm enough a larger quantity of dissolved oxygen will most likely rise closet to shore. This is so because lake basins are warmer than the water abutting with same, which makes the water closest to it warmer than that which is some short distance mid- lake from the basin. Again, warmer water is less viscous, making the dissolved oxygen present in the water column there, rise faster and move faster horizontally with any water flow. (“Shallower”: See “The Littoral Zone” Page(s) 4. & 5., and described elsewhere)
Important: Google “The Scientific Fisherman” for such things as preferred temperature ranges of various fish species and Lake stratification oxygen content at various times of the year. You should adjust what is there to correlate with the lake you are fishing and to the geographic latitude/altitude of same. While there please note that water mixing through various means will bring more oxygen to lower levels.
As an example of water flow, if lake current seems to flow from the West to the East in most cases, the humps on the bottom will have a current break on the east side of them. There are two exceptions to the West to East flow. Bays with water inlets can flow in another direction until it hits the main lake and then the current is added to the main flow. The point is, current will have a slack water edge on the downstream side of the hump.
When taking Ph Readings in a area it is important “where” the probe is reading in the water column. The “where” is noteworthy as to depth and spot to spot.
The Ph meter will not only tell you what the Ph is, it inadvertently tells you about oxygen levels. Oxygen gets a low rating when the Ph swings wide from neutral one way or the other on that meter. Weeds and vegetation as well as vegetable plankton give off oxygen during the day. At night and/or prolonged days without bright sunshine, they give off carbon dioxide. Fish will avoid places without enough oxygen – that’s why fishing the edges of heavily concentrated weeds at early morning and night is good.
This diagram, along with the one following here, should bring “some” things together for you by the time you finish this seminar.
It’s a partly cloudy day/late afternoon, mid-summer, with the “clear” water flow coming out of the top left corner (North West) of the diagram and exiting to the bottom right (South East). The Thermocline is at 32 feet. Can you pick the best possible seasonal spots to investigate?
Carbon Dioxide in water is acidic. So, when the needle of your Ph meter swings too far to the acidic side, oxygen is depleted and fish won’t stay there long, or at all. However, little fish need less oxygen than bigger ones. Little fish may stay where bigger fish don’t. Once again however, big fish may shoot in and out of those areas grabbing a meal in the process.
Most clear water lakes are good on Ph throughout the lake except in late summer where parts of the bays choke with weeds (dying weeds are worse) and/or where you find slow moving water. Moving water often cleans itself over a relatively short distance and mixes dissolved oxygen as noted earlier.
The depth temperature meter probe will not only tell you precisely where The Thermocline is at depth and its temperature (fast drop in temp per foot), it will give you a reading throughout the water column of where to find the preferred temp ranges of the fish you are after. If you research the abundant prey for the time of year, that targets preferred temp, and then add the known predators preferred temperature range(s), as well as mixing in what the movement of what the prey eats, along with reasonable oxygen/Ph levels, you will zero in on probable areas of the lake (at the time) and catch fish more consistently. Keep in mind faster moving water (I.E.: “The Narrows”) won’t necessarily thermocline – but it will generally have more dissolved 0xegyn content).
Study the spawn/hatch water temps and what the newly hatched young may eat at the time. You will then have another ingredient to add to the pot and a starting point to follow young and old fish movements throughout the year. Example: Plankton blooms and their movement in current will generally occur 3 to 10 days before arriving at better spawning sites – in time for the newly hatched fry to eat.
More Ingredients to Your Recipe:
Check out “Google Earth” on the internet to find and enlarge the satellite photo of your lake. Carefully go around the shore line of the satellite photo noting any changes in water and earth configurations. You are looking for edges, changes from one thing to another. Surface Chop, shadows, overhangs, geological – flora and rock changes in shoreline; rock, bush, and tree size, shape, and kind. Also, look for what appears to be lighter colored water representing shallower areas — off shore sunken islands, shoreline points and so on. Note where the boats are located, the launching the direction they are going and the size of boat wakes. Note manmade structures such as piers, breakwater walls, floating outhouses. Note narrow water passages, and the presumed direction water current will travel and how it may affect what you have found.
Ralph Manns: “The direction of the wind and where it has been blowing can be more important than where it is now blowing, If the shift is recent (within an hour or two). also, shade, light dispersal, and underwater colors vs time of day can be important. In early morning and evening twilight, shade becomes less important, bass tend to look up rather than out (silhouettes become more important) and because the Sun’s rays and/or the Moon for that matter are penetrating more atmosphere at the time. Sunlight and Moonlight and their beams become orange/red as the sun sits on a reasonable angle and near the horizon”.
Ralph Manns: “Measurements of light underwater indicate that the sun in the sky doesn’t change the maximum depth of light penetration until the rising and setting sun is within about 30 minutes of the horizon”. Authors Note: Leading up to shortly before these times however fish are on the move shallower or moving up/suspended higher in deeper water. Natures influx of other ingredients can change Ralphs comment.
Mix in knowledge of consistent and/or newly developing emergent and or submerged cover such as weed beds, rock piles, drop offs, inside and outside turns, river channels, sharp turns in those channels adjacent — closest to other features, etc. Some weed beds are thicker than others, some green-up earlier and some stay that way later in the year. Finally, some are rooted or grow deeper than others. Some stained lakes won’t have weeds at all. (some of this won’t be known until we get to the lake).
When you get to any spot on the lake you intend to fish, mix in water color and adjust that with the other ingredients to this recipe. Example: With wind blowing to a shallower bottomed shore or shallow flat, you might expect the water to be clouded up when you get there. Generally, with cloudy/stained water fish shallower — clear water fish deeper.
Depending on atmospheric conditions — clouds and surface chop while you are there, you will adjust to fish deeper or shallower. Fish deeper or more inside shadow of cover under bright conditions; fish the shadow side of stick ups, rocks, or rock piles for example. Fish more outside that cover but still in relative proximity to it if conditions are cloudier, or if what you see is stained water, imagined or real shadows, etc. In heavily stained — near muddy water fish right up against the shoreline or other cover. Fish will be on the edge or just outside the edge, but still relating to the cover close by as a security anchor point or escape route — in some cases and for practical purposes, the “cover” can be the shoreline itself.
Stained and/or shallow water (don’t forget those dark bottoms) warms faster and holds onto that warmth longer. Fish metabolism and activity levels rise in warmer water. Mix in fish specie niches, or seasonal characteristics — where they go, when, and why. Mix in the habitational and seasonal aspects of other non-fish prey. How one species might affect/attract another? Who’s eating who and why, as well as where and when? Do the research. Plankton Blooms and flow, spawning timing of various species, and shad migration are good examples as well as mayfly or other insect hatches, or crawdad molting – these things and more are natural predator attractors.
In waters where smaller fish are the primary quarry for larger predators the sequence and timing of Solunar Periods can be an important planning factor.
The Solunar Theory is a suggestion that animals and fishes move according to the location of the moon in comparison to their bodies.] The theory was laid out in 1926 by John Alden Knight, but was said to be used by hunters and fishermen long before the time it was published.
Solunar Tables are tables that fishermen and hunters use to determine the best days of the month and times of the day for catching fish and hunting game. Knowing the time of the tides, sunrise, and sunset help fishermen predict when fish are going to bite. For hunters, the tides are not a factor. Hunters use the alignment of the sun and the moon to determine when game are likely to be moving the most. Other conditions not being unfavorable, fish will feed, land animals will move about, birds will sing and fly from place to place, in theory, all living things will become more active, more alive, during Solunar Periods than at other times of apparent equal value. “…anglers have found that it is a guide to the best fishing of each day.
Using these tables, a fisherman and/or a hunter can tell when the moon is directly underfoot or overhead. The strongest activity occurs when there is a full moon or a new moon, and is weakest when there is a quarter moon or a three-quarter moon. This is because the combined gravitational force of the moon and the sun is strongest when both are directly above or directly below our heads. The secret, to solar/lunar influences daily is knowing when the sun and moon rose and set on a 24-hour basis. If you keep a fishing log you will find over time that your log reveals that fish are active during a 90-minute window surrounding each one of these daily influences.
For those who fish Tidal Waters the closer the earth, moon, and sun line up, the greater the tidal surge. Greater surge moves fish to find edges where the current is reduced I.E. bottom outcroppings that block the surge to a degree or deeper into weeds or heavier weed beds. This will also apply to inland lakes but to a lesser degree – still something to keep in mind.
As respects to water clarity, a common view may be in order. When you drop a white lure overboard and lower it into the water column, if it disappears at:
- 15 feet or more you have “Super Clear” water.
- If it disappears at 10 feet your water is “Clear”.
- At 5-10 feet, the water is Slightly Stained.
- At 3-5 feet, the water is “Stained”.
- At 1-3 feet or; Heavily Stained.
- At 1 foot or less, you have Murky or Muddy Water.
Mentally mix all ingredients thoroughly with a search of the lakes bottom contour map to find likely areas affected greatest by the weather log and water levels, water color, current, warmth factors, the time of day which may be most effective for a spot, what cover is available in any area and the reactions to all the other actions noted.
Bait Selection: Tend to select baits, colors (the red, orange, yellow, chartreuse end of the color spectrum for shallow stained water, or where water has less light penetration; this includes early morning and twilight. Then swing toward green/blue/purple for the deeper clear water) and always mix in subtle contrasting colors (black, white, shades of grey or other colors) at any depth. In clear water use subtle contrast, for stained water use a more dramatic difference in color. Changing from daytime colored lures at critical times makes a difference.
Red Orange Yellow Chartreuse White Grey Black /Green Blue Purple White Grey Black
While not perfect, the following may help further with color choices.
This one would cover many different situations.
Then look at bait actions (wider wiggle for warm or shallow water— narrow wiggle for cold or deep). Look at lure/bait running depths to reach the intended area depth where you think he fish are holding. Finally look at slow or faster reel winding presentations to match the conditions of the other ingredients to the recipe (dark water/ deep water/ stained water/shadows – move your baits slower with longer pauses. In clear bright water — move them faster with jerky fast pauses.
With both color, actions, and rate of movement, remember to imitate the applicable forage for the time it is chosen, in size, shape, contrast, and so on for the place, time of day/year and depth you intend to use them. Remember some colors (the high-end reds, orange, yellow chartreuse, etc. will turn into shades of grey or at least be less vibrant in less light and more depth.
The following is a repeat from an earlier statement; done so because of its importance. “Sometimes “Things” hide in plain view. Just a few things to think about if you haven’t already done so. Depending on the time of year, water color, water temperature at depth, the weather for three days prior plus the day you fish, type of and color of lure selection along with its action, common prey availability, current, flora/fauna, bottom contours, cover, etc. – if the wind causes top water chop, albeit underwater flicker, do you ask yourself “Should I retrieve my lure with the flicker flow or against it in order to make it stand out. Should I stop and go, or burn it home?”
In fresh water trolling, use 1&1/2 ounce for depths to 30 feet at 1 MPH speed or less. As you go deeper use one ounce of weight for every 30 feet, plus half again that much for every 30 feet thereafter – while trolling I.E: 60 feet = 2 ounces plus 1 ounce while trolling – if you troll faster use more weight (I don’t recommend this) . . . (look out Lake Trout – you are in trouble now – slow your presentation down the deeper you go at any depth – it’s all about predator reaction time deeper/colder/darker.) . If you think freshwater fish including Walleyes, Northern, Muskies, and Bass don’t go that deep you are misinformed. It depends on the flow of water, Water temp, food available at the time, and plankton – or otherwise – reproduction of oxygen. North and South, East and West, there are key spots and times in every lake where that kind of thing occurs. Hang with me and you will find those spots plus more than you ever dreamed beyond what the magazine/rags and T.V. shows will give you. Those rags only try to sell you stuff – I want you to catch more and bigger fish. When “that” happens please don’t forget to pass it on to those who are less fortunate than you.
Matt Straw: “Due to environmental differences Humans can’t see things the way fish do – but do they? Bait color and type selection can be difficult as different fish may see diverse things in their various environments which prompts either aggression or avoidance” (Authors Note: again, refer to color selection, movement, size, shape piece earlier in this write up. With all due respect, Matt may be hung-up in his unimaginable state! “Every fish is a separate individual with its own traits” – as cultural aspects go, Matt is wrong again. even among animals with “pea-sized brains”—there are some constants that drive them through their lives.
Matt Straw: “All outlines such as these can and will be proven wrong from time to time, as fish are still individuals and environmental indications may mean one thing in one lake, and another thing in the next”. But unlike Matts broad statement, YOU can figure them out.
Thad Rains: “There is more oxygen in warmer water than in cooler water. We should know then that the Littoral Zone has the most overall life in any lake, and less wildlife lives in colder/deeper water. To release oxygen atoms from water, you boil it, not freeze it. Freezing doesn’t concentrate the oxygen in the frozen cube, it is disbursed throughout the cube in similar fashion (Organic Chemistry 201). I find more oxygen where there are more plants or plankton as well as more atmosphere infused oxygen by means of wind and other influx such as steams entering the lake, underwater springs, ext. Underwater springs don’t necessarily have infused oxygen in their release, but the force of mixing surrounding water brings DO into their picture – usually down steam from the spring. If you have vegetation in the water both rooted and plankton. Except for dissolving/rotting shore grass, dying weeds, or weeds at night the better the dissolved oxygen is from those sources. This comment makes clear sense because of the photosynthesis is producing the oxygen. We need to ask ourselves – Why fish die during the summer in a live-well, more so than in the winter? It’s because use a lot more oxygen when the water temp is warmer, and without an aeriated source in the live-well they will die. Their metabolism speeds up, being cold blooded creatures, and they require more oxygen during the hotter months of the year.
Thad Rains: I do not know if I agree with your observation that weeds at night put off carbon dioxide. They do put off more CO2, but I have caught a TON of fish fishing the weed beds at night. These seem to live there, year- round, I guess. Never did a tracking study to find out. Ralph Manns and TPWD did the tracking studies, but not me. I have caught 5-7 pounders in the middle of acres of weeds, mostly hydrilla that has covered the water top. When this happens, we need to reflect on what other source of infused oxygen may be present. Plankton moves to where the wind blows it, or where current takes it. it does not decide on its own to go to spawning grounds. The cloudier it is, I have seen fish swim further from cover. When it gets muddy, I have seen fish swim a long way from cover, using the muddy water to their advantage on ambushing prey. I have also seen, if it is bright sun, the fish get closer to the cover more often.
Thad Rains: I have not found the old myth about colder/narrower and warmer/wider wobble to baits to be true; I have found, that if we get the bait in front of them and they will bite it. I have caught fish on DD22s style baits during winter and summer. I have caught fish with DLNs all year found and even tighter, Bandit 200s, all year round. I let the fish tell me how they want it, fast, slow or paused and started or burned or whatever. Once I find what they want, I try to repeat it on every cast. The more natural the bait, normally the slower I reel and still get strikes. The more the bait is colored, the faster movements seem to get the strikes, but not always. I have seen times when retrieving your bait perpendicular to the wind driven water flow dynamic is better because it gives your baits action more erratic movement that way. For example, when using a crank bait it often makes it “HUNT” (term used by Rick Clunn to get the bait move side to side, out of its normal action as if it bounced off of something).
Thad Rains: As far as bait color goes, I am confused as to why a bass would hit a red rat-l-trap style bait ripped through grass. There is no red anything in those weeds, except crawfish, but they do not languish around the tops of weed beds (Authors Note: Crawfish climb weeds at times to hide them there as a sanctuary for them.), but when the bass strike the red rat-l-trap style baits in the weeds they seem to do so with ferocity. Bait color does make a difference in specific situations where the entire ecosystem comes into play. We must figure it out for ourselves with some extra thought at those times.”
As you have seen throughout this piece there are plenty of pages for notes and personal – on the water – impressions to be made by you. One additional suggestion would be to make yourselves one or more horizontal and vertical charts of all the important data headings and join them with others contained herein. When you do this, you will be astonished as to your results. All we need now is a computer programmer to put together a push button guide to that is written here. Believe me however, that would take all the fun and personal growth out what we are trying to accomplish. “the easy way out is not always the best path”.
All of this may seem like a lot of work but after you go through the process a dozen times you will find that it becomes automatic to you. Add your own special ingredients to your taste. Above all else, better fishing – like good cooking, is very much like chemistry — that chemistry includes “YOU”. Have fun. Be creative, and share your recipes with others you trust not to abuse your and their new-found knowledge.
There is a caution here. “Go gently into this good night”. As with all things in nature, change in inevitable. In this case and over time, where more and more people are catching more fish easily, the environment will change for both you and the fish you seek; you must adjust accordingly. Please don’t misuse this recipe to starve yourselves or others in the future by laying waste to the ecosystems.
Send story comments to RjZ
I’d like to thank Ralph Manns and Matt Straw from In-Fisherman fame, as well as another well-educated and experienced fisherman friend of mine Thad Rains for their critique of my work. With their go-ahead, I’ve added important information they offered here.