When is the best time to go saltwater fishing?
Perhaps you’ve wondered how some fishermen can be so “lucky”? Luck in fishing is a synonym for planning and preparation. Experienced fishing captains and anglers don’t just blindly jump on their boats and drop lines. Instead, they plan and prepare in advance of every fishing trip, taking into consideration the crucial factors (listed below) that most influence the behavior of their targets and their chances of yelling “Gottemondood (Got him on, Dude)!”
The most important factors that influence when you will catch saltwater fish are:
Above all other factors, your best chance to catch saltwater fish is to drop a line when they are spawning. This is when the fish are most aggressive, and you can almost drop a hook without any bait and catch them. Experienced captains and anglers research specific fish spawning cycles and locations. As just one example, Yellowtail snapper spawn during mid-summer (late June to Mid-July) along natural and man-made reefs. You drive to these spawning areas and drop anchor in about 50 feet of water with this specific information. Then, put out chum, drop a baited hook, and reel them in.
Time of Day
There’s an ‘ol saying in fishing – “you’ll catch ’em fo’ sho’ – the earlier you go!”
Generally, the best time of day to go saltwater fishing is either at dawn or dusk simply because these are the times that most fish feed. Fishing when the fish are feeding is arguably the most crucial factor in fishing success, entirely because you can’t rely upon being able to fish spawning cycles year-round.
Let’s take a look at the factors to consider for the different times of day:
Early Morning (Pre-dawn)
Water temperatures are at their lowest in the early morning, right before dawn. This can make it an excellent time to fish in the late spring, summer, or early fall when the daytime temperatures rise significantly after sunrise and the fish stop aggressively feeding. Of course, your specific geographic location will dictate the length of each season. However, generally speaking, the winter season is more forgiving on temperature, and therefore fishing can still be productive well past dawn. The dawn bite is one of the most effective times to drop a line as most fish are aggressively feeding.
Late Morning – Mid Afternoon
The time between late morning and early afternoon can present difficult fishing, especially in the warmer months because it’s hot, hot, hot! Most fish will swim deep in search of cooler water avoiding the blasting sunlight and warm waters. Wind, rain, and overcast conditions can improve your chances of catching fish during this hot time of day. These conditions tend to reduce the amount of sunlight as well as temperature. If you are fishing in the cooler months of the year, this time of day is a good option, if not THE option for a successful fishing trip. The sun will warm the cool/cold water when the fish become more active and move around searching for food.
Late Afternoon – Dusk
Similar to the early morning, dusk can also be a productive time of day to fish during the spring, summer, and fall. Once the sun is low in the sky and the water has cooled off, the fish once again start becoming more active in their search for food. Dim lighting is also favored by many predator species. The afternoon will unfold in reverse of the morning. The temperatures and light levels will be dropping instead of rising. The earliest afternoon parts can remain productive in the winter months, but the action slows quickly when the sun begins to set.
Dead of the night (circa 8pm-3am, depending on the time of year & location)
Fishing at night has many advantages for fishermen, including no sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, or excessive heat. Plus, it’s hard to beat the tranquil serenity of a calm ocean, twinkling stars, and cool ocean breezes. Aside from your targets, you will essentially have the whole ocean to yourself.
Fewer fish feed heavily in the middle of the night, but the most important reason for fishing in the dead of night is that quite a few trophy fish bite better at night. For example, in Florida or the Caribbean - predator species like snappers, sharks and barracuda are great nighttime targets. In warmer climates, some prized game fish feed aggressively during the first half of the night and are closer to shore - so night fishing is an excellent opportunity to get in on the action, around 8pm-3am. The action will slow down as the night turns into the early morning, and the water temperatures drop.
In general, fish feed more actively when the moon is less than full. However, some fish species like the Wahoo are actually more aggressive with a full moon. Experienced captains and anglers check the moon phase charts and target specific fish species. The best way to know is to learn about the species you’re targeting and then check the appropriate moon phase chart for your area.
Tides are influential, more so for inshore fishing, where the direction of the water flow affects the way the bait schools are running and which fish will eat them, and for reef fishing, you have to anchor up in a specific direction to make sure you find your spot correctly. The best way to figure out the tides is to use tide charts for your local area. Some of the best sources of information are associated with your local weather stations, or simply enter the google search “local tides near me.” We are also fond of apps for your phone, such as Tide Charts.
The migration of fish also affects fishing patterns. While most fish species stick around their habitats year-round, a few species migrate either due to water temperatures or spawning habits. For example, Cobia and Tarpon are migratory species that move hundreds of miles on migration runs every year. Sailfish are an example of temperature migratory fish that move north as the water gets warmer – and back south as it starts to cool. Mahi-mahis are an example of warm water fish migrating across to the Bahamian Islands; as the water begins to cool here, they also spawn. Here is an excellent resource on migratory fish patterns, but verify this information for your specific location.
Luck is When Opportunity Meets Preparation
In conclusion, if you want to be a “lucky” fisherman, take the time to plan and prepare for every fishing trip. First, decide if you’re going to pursue the highest probability targets? If this is the case, then seek fish in their spawning cycles. Know the feeding habits of your targets and plan to be on the water when they are feeding. Be mindful of the moon phase you will be fishing and the associated tidal patterns. Again, match these patterns to the behavior of your chosen targets. And last, be mindful of migration patterns, especially for many game fish. Don’t leave things purely to chance – stack the odds in your favor – and you’ll be yelling “Gottemondood”!