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Tips for catching fish: trout bass fishing depth | The Old Farmer's Almanac

The Four Fundamentals of Successful Fishing

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Harold Blaisdell
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Here are tried-and-true fishing tips from an expert fisherman. Think of this as the “four fundamentals” of fishing—from when to fish for what to using the right bait for the right fish. 

A fishing rod is a stick with a hook on one end and a fool on the other.
–proverb

1. Be at the right place at the right time.

General rules regarding the right time are as follows: 

  • Trout are abundant when water temperatures are between 50ºF and 55ºF. For fly-fishermen, this is when mayflies are hatching and trout are feeding at the surface, usually from dusk to dark during the summer. For bait fishermen, the right time is early spring, when stream levels rise.
  • Smallmouth bass are abundant during spawning season (late May to early June) wherever the law allows. Cast to the shoreline with fly-rod lures.
  • Largemouth bass are all-season feeders, with depth more important than time. They will cruise the shoreline after dark, so use a flashlight sparingly.
  • Northern pike, pickerel, and panfish are all-season biters as well.
  • Walleyes can be caught during spawning runs where legal (late April and early May). After spawning, look along shorelines, where they tend to cruise in schools.
  • Landlocked salmon are ready from ice-out until surface temperatures approach 60ºF.
  • Bullheads feed most actively at night. 

2. Fish at the proper depth.

Determining the right depth is of critical importance, especially in lake fishing.

  • Shallow depths are tolerated by northern pike, pickerel, largemouth bass, and panfish. They can be caught throughout the season in water bordering weed beds, around sunken brush, and in the shade.
  • Thermocline-level fish dwell approximately 20 to 35 feet below the surface, and include trout, walleye, and smallmouth bass. They are attracted to hot spots such as drop-offs and sunken reefs. Once you’ve found them, fish natural baits within inches of the bottom.

3. Use the correct bait or lure.

Most species have a particular preference:

Baits

  • Nightcrawlers are preferred by trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, bullheads, small catfish, and eels.
  • Crayfish are preferred by trout, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass.
  • Minnows are preferred by trout, northern pike, pickerel, smallmouth bass, and walleye.
  • Smelt is preferred by landlocked salmon.

Here are some unbelievable bait stories!

Lures

  • Streamers attract trout, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass.
  • Plugs attract smallmouth and largemouth bass.
  • Popping bugs attract northern pike, pickerel, panfish, smallmouth bass, and largemouth bass.
  • Wobblers attract landlocked salmon, walleye, and trout.

Pictures of streamer, plug, popping bug, and wobbler

See what to put in a fishing tackle box.

4. Use the proper presentation.

Even if you follow the three steps above, you can still come home empty-handed because of faulty presentation.

  • Remember, natural baits appeal to fish hunger. Lures draw strikes by exciting fish to attack.
  • Use the smallest hooks, lightest sinkers, and finest lines and leaders that are practical. This will avoid causing alarm and suspicion.
  • The secret of success with lures is erratic retrieves. Experiment with different variations.

Following these tips will improve your chances of a good catch but will not guarantee it. On some days, the fish win. Remember, only a poor loser begrudges a worthy opponent his share of victory.

See the Almanac’s Best Fishing Days—and lots of great comments from anglers.

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