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When is the Best Time to
Fish for Trout?

No matter where or when you fish for trout you will run into plenty of discussion about the best time to go fishing.

The time of day looms large, so too the time of the moon phases. Some lean on the New Zealand Maori calendar or Solunar Calendars to pick the best time to cast a line. Others lean on local wisdom, legends and myths to build up a guide to their best fishing times.

After a time, much of this discussion and speculation hardens into some kind of conventional wisdom. This conventional wisdom can pertain to the local fishing area, or it covers the whole country. Some of this wisdom even has an international base.

If you distil all this 'wisdom' down, you are likely to come up with the following 'best times' to go fishing for trout:

  • Start before dawn and fish through till sunlight starts to light up the water.
  • Fish from before dusk and fish through till dark.
  • For big fish, fish in the dark, the darker the better.

The list of bad fishing times is longer, but the notion of bad may not necessarily be based on good evidence. In fact the notion of 'bad' fishing times usually means fishing times that are not included in the list of 'best' times.

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Despite conventional wisdom, a good deal of my river and stream fishing is done in the bright of day.

There is a good reason for this - I hate getting out of bed early in the morning! Besides on many of the Taupo area rivers, (central North Island, New Zealand) where I now mostly fish, unless you get up very early and camp on the river bank, you are unlikely to be able to fish the prime lies in the pools without a long wait. On weekends in Winter, anyway.

So I wait till an hour past the time banks open their doors and wander down to fish water remarkably free of anglers; most are back at their accommodations getting in some food and telling lies until they head back to the water in late afternoon.

Fishing in the middle of the day often provides me with enough sport to satisfy.

The notion that fishing lakes under a bright moon is a waste of time has a strong following. But is the notion based on good evidence? My guess is that it might be, but not for the reasons usually espoused.

My fishing diaries reveal that some of my best trout fishing has occurred while under a bright moon.

My best night was over an Easter, which always has a 'big' moon. About a year ago I watched an angler catch his first ten-pound trout in the Rip (The current formed in a lake, where a river or stream flows into it) at Hatepe in moonlight bright enough to tie flies on without a torch.

I have witnessed a number of other big and bigger Rainbows and Browns plucked from the water while the moon glowed brightly. A Rotorua (fishing area containing lakes and rivers in Central North Island, New Zealand) area 'secret' that all know in those parts is using a bright-white Booby fly on bright-moon nights. The list could go on and on.

But what seems on the face of it to be strong evidence to debunk this chunk of conventional wisdom, may not be the last word.

A little further study of my diary, and some discussions with others that have achieved some fishing milestones on moonlit nights, reveals another factor that was present in all cases, mine and theirs. When we fished with some success under a bright moon, we were alone, or there were only one or two other anglers fishing nearby.

The nights that I fished under a bright moon with four or so, and more, anglers in the near neighbourhood, my efforts were in vain. As it was for those around me. Maybe the reluctance of trout to engulf our lures in moonlight has more to do with the number of anglers stirring up the general area with their movements and the movement of their lines, than the moon per se.

OK, let us accept for a moment that trout become shy and nervous on bright nights and too much movement in the near vicinity will send them scuttling into deeper water. If that were true would that same reasoning apply to fish behaviour during the bright of day?

Well if you are a believer in this piece of conventional wisdom, you won't be likely to fish in the bright of day. Pity really, some of my best fishing has been in the bright of day.

Sight fishing for cruising trout in the shallows of lakes is just about my favourite form of fishing. These fish are often not more than a rod length or two from the beach.

Unless the angler does something too quickly, these trout seem oblivious to a human presence so close to it. This is true on very bright days and more especially true on days when there is little or no movement on the surface of the water. Little or no wind makes for ideal conditions.

Fishing the rips (current made by rivers and streams where they enter a lake) is another favourite haunt of mine.

But here things get a little strange. When I first got into rip fishing I would fish any old time of the day except early morning of course. Mid-morning, midday, mid-afternoon, dusk, and dark found me fishing away. And I regularly caught fish, regardless of the time I fished. But the longer I fished the more I tended to fish just the evening and at night.

Just recently I was looking back over my fishing diaries and realized that in fact my catch rates per hour fished in the rip were pretty roughly the same, regardless of the time at which I fished.

Except for a monster 6.3kg (14lb) Brown trout caught in the dark - there was also little difference in the size or range of size of fish caught in the light or dark.

For the sake of good statistics here, I should say that my diaries reveal that fishing very shallow rips during the bright of day has shown to be less than fruitful. But in rips that stream out into deeper water success rates are better regardless of time, and fishing rips that drop into very deep water are shown in my records to be more productive in daylight.

The fact that I have caught as many fish in the clear light of day in rips as I have at night, may actually be tied up with an observation I made earlier.

Mostly when fishing rips during the day there are very few, if any other anglers in the near vicinity. It may just be that angler numbers in any water has a major bearing on fishing success.

As angler numbers go up, individual catch rates go down. That would make sense on the basis of simple arithmetic if nothing else.

So does all this lead to any hard and fast conclusions about the best time to fish for trout?

The danger of using data from a single diary is that the information is already biased towards the diarists own fishing habits. In my case the small amount of early morning data is one such bias.

But diaries, data and bias aside, the thing the does appear to remain true is that regardless of the time of day or night if you do not have a line in the water, you are certainly not going to catch a fish.

For most of us opportunities to go fishing are too few and too far between, so we should make the most of the time we have to fill it with the maximum fishing time.

To limit our fishing time because of some "conventional wisdom" is to me a waste of time. Besides I reckon there are only two good times to go fishing - when it is raining - and when it is not.

Footnote: My aversion to getting up in the early morning is not just laziness, I suffer from a form of night blindness. For me, it is easier for my eyes to adjust to the dark, if I go from light to dark. Getting up pre-dawn means my eyes take a very long time to achieve 'workable' vision.

bead fly

Article written by Tony Bishop


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'Fishing Smarter for Trout'
My first trout fishing book Fishing Smarter for Trout is now up on this site and free to read. Includes regular updates and new stuff.
Read it here.

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