For daily wit & wisdom, sign up for the Almanac newsletter.
Here are tried-and-true fishing tips from an expert fisherman. Think of this as the “four fundamentals” of fishing—from when to fish to how to use 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.
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:
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.