When Does Fishing Season Start?Published on 07/14/2023 · 8 min readFishing Expert Adam Fox shares his answers to some of the questions he runs into most frequently as an angler in terms of when and when not to fish.
Photo by Afanasiev Andrii
“When does fishing season start?” This is one of the most important questions that anglers will need to ask before heading out on the water. Maintaining a healthy fishery can be complicated. Largemouth bass are hardy and can handle changes to their environment, but some species, like trout, are more finicky. Catching trout during the spawn could upset a fragile ecosystem that might take years to recover. In most areas, the late spring will be when it's safest to catch trout. The rules and regulations that designate fishing seasons are meant to ensure that fish will remain healthy and that anglers will have opportunities to fish year after year.
This is why it's so important to check out the guidelines before fishing any body of water. It is especially important for new anglers or those who have just moved to a new area.
Fortunately, I’m going to put together the straightforward answers to some of the questions we face most frequently as anglers, in terms of looking at when and when not to fish. There are many different rules and regulations, so what I am giving you is a general rundown of the best and worst times to put lines in the water. Since most places will require anglers to purchase a fishing license, When I cannot provide specific answers, I will do my best to point you in the direction of the quickest route to answering your question.
When does fishing season start?
Traditionally, the first Saturday in April is known as the beginning of the fishing season. Waking up early on opening day to head out and catch your first trout of the season is a rite of passage for many anglers. By that time, trout have usually spawned and it's safe to fish without disturbing that process. However, there are other factors that go into determining the beginning of the fishing season.
Fishing season’s opening depends on your fishing situation—where you are and the type of fish that you are looking to target. The fastest way to find out what fish are in season in your area is by searching online or contacting the local fish and/or game commission. Fishing seasons and regulations can change, so staying updated on the guidelines of the specific waters that you're going to fish is very important.
There are other important fishing regulations that anglers should know about before fishing in a new area. Wild trout streams often feature fragile ecosystems, even during trout season. In order to maintain healthy fish populations, some areas will be designated for catch-and-release fishing only. Often these same special regulation areas will require that anglers use barbless hooks which make it easier to quickly and safely return fish to the water.
Fishing licenses are usually very affordable, and the proceeds are used to maintain healthy fisheries. In places that stock trout, a trout stamp will often be necessary for anglers who want to take home their catch. Many areas will have free fishing days throughout the year where hobbyist anglers can enjoy fishing without needing to purchase a license. Creel limits will determine the size and number of fish that anglers are allowed to harvest.
When does fishing season end?
The “end” of fishing season is just as varied as the beginning. Most fishing seasons end in the fall or winter, but some take a hiatus in the middle of the summer. This is based on the fish’s spawning patterns. The best way to be safe is to check the local laws and regulations.
Can you catch fish all year round?
For many, fishing season ends when the fish stop biting. Catfish, for example, can be caught and harvested throughout the year in most places. While some fish are able to be caught at any time, that can be easier said than done, as most fish become more-or-less dormant in the winter in cold areas, and their activity goes way down.
While largemouth bass are most active in the warmer months, smallmouth bass tend to be more aggressive when the temperatures are a bit cooler. Walleye and northern pike are also active in the cooler months, leaving anglers in areas with diverse fish populations with fishing opportunities throughout much of the year.
In January and February, when the surface of the water is frozen, many anglers will enjoy ice fishing. However, it is important to make sure that the ice is safe enough to support the weight of anglers and their gear, so talking to seasoned ice fishermen and doing your research before hitting the ice will be essential. But yes, it's possible to catch fish year-round.
What is the best time to go fishing?
In most places, for most species, the summer is the best time to go fishing. Generally, warm water and more baitfish activity promote more movement and feeding for the predatory fish that we anglers so fondly love to target. In hotter climates, the water will lose oxygen when it gets too hot, so spring and fall are optimal fishing times.
In stocked trout waters, the fall is a great time to catch fish. Rainbow trout are stocked in many rivers and ponds in order to maintain balance in the ecosystem and provide fishing opportunities for local anglers. Usually, this happens in later September or early October. Since farmed trout aren't as easily spooked by seeing humans, this makes the fall an excellent time for beginning anglers to catch some of their first trout.
What time of day is best for fishing?
One of the key factors of successful fishing is knowing that the mornings and evenings are the best times of day to go fishing. The coolness of the surface water brings more fish into the shallows to hunt, making them easier targets for bait and lures. More on night fishing below!
Are fish more active at night?
I told you I’d tell you! The answer is YES; most fish are nocturnal feeders. That being said, it can be harder to cast accurately at night, and tying knots can be difficult in low-light situations. Minus the innate issues from darkness, the fishing at night is very worthwhile!
Having the right fishing gear can make night fishing more enjoyable and productive. Having a headlamp and well-organized tackle can allow anglers to have a successful night fishing trip. Having fishing reels with an audible drag can also alert anglers to the fact they have a fish on the line.
When should you not fish?
The absolute worst time to be fishing is during a big storm. If there’s lighting around, you’re holding a rod, you’re soaking wet, and you’re surrounded by water...you can see that this is a pretty bad mix. After large storms can sometimes be just as, if not more, dangerous due to unpredictable water levels, plus cloudy water can make fishing unproductive.
In July and August when water temperatures are consistently above 85 degrees, it is important to be careful when deciding to fish. In the hottest parts of the summer, many game fish species will become sluggish and it can become more challenging to safely release fish back into the water. The heat and overgrown vegetation can deplete the oxygen from the water, so catch-and-release anglers should take precautions to ensure that fish are safely returned to the water.
What weather is best for fishing?
The weather has a huge effect on how fish move and eat. For sight predators, clear sunny days are the best days to fish with flashy artificial lures. Overcast or partly cloudy days are often the most productive for ambush and scent-based predators. Low-pressure systems (right before storms) create some of the best fishing situations to put yourself in. The low-pressure systems make fish feed more actively because they cannot tell how big the storm is, just that one is coming. They prepare by eating more to help them survive if the water becomes inadequate for them.
Do fish bite when windy?
While it is not optimal for us anglers, the wind can actually improve the fish bite by increasing the current flow and putting extra oxygen in the water, making fish more active. Fishing away from the wind greatly improves casting distance, but it can tangle your line more easily.
Do fish bite when the temperature drops?
I mentioned earlier that cold water slows fish activity. That is true in many cases, but as the temperature is falling the fish activity goes up in a few ways:
- Bigger Food: Fish will be hunting larger prey to fatten up for the colder weather ahead.
- Deeper Water: As the water temperature becomes uncomfortably cold, fish will go deeper where the temperature is more consistent.
- Slower Movement: Although fish will be hunting larger prey, they are not trying to burn calories, so they will go for easier, slower targets.
Hopefully, the answers that I’ve put together for you can help guide you through your decisions when planning your next fishing trip, whether it is in a few hours or in a few months. Timing is a huge part of fishing, and it is super important to know when you can legally and successfully go out. Your wallet and your freezer will come to appreciate this!