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If you were asked to picture the classic fisherman what do you think of? The old salt getting up with the sunrise or the father and son loading the truck at 5 AM to hit the river? Notice similarities in those two examples? They’re both getting up early.
The saying goes the early bird gets the worm and while fly-fishing in the early morning hours is traditionally a great time – it’s not the only time, and it’s not always the best. Let’s figure out the best time of day to fly fish including what to consider and questions to ask. You don’t always have to go out at dawn for the best bite.

A Note on Water Temperature: It’s not the actual time of day that sends fish into a feeding frenzy but water temperature. Popular fly-fishing species like trout are fickle and will feed when their grounds are at a comfortable temperature. Learning the ideal water temperature for the species you’re targeting can help you catch more than by watching the clock.

Best Time to Fly-Fish Factors

Which Species?

Are you going after fish that wake up and hit the shore or are you targeting fish that like to hang out at the bottom until it gets warmer? Knowing the habits of the fish you’re targeting is a great way to time out your fishing windows. The good news is there’s a wealth of online information for every popular fly-fishing species in the world including when they’re most likely to be hungry during different times of the year.

What Time of Year Is It?

The time of year and how it affects water temperature plays a large part in determining your schedule. In the U.S. summer, months are the warmest and the most popular for fly-fishing while winter brings the coldest temperatures. During the summer most fish species are hungriest at dawn and dusk with dawn being the most advantageous for a bite and dusk hours being the second-best time of day. During colder months the fish are found during the warmer parts of the sun’s cycle including the middle of the day.

Where Is the Sun?

A hot summertime sun will have most species dashing for shade and protection – use this to your advantage. If the summer sun is out the best time of day to fish is whenever the sun isn’t directly over your spot. A nice protected shady spot can produce great fish on a hot day.

Think About Depth.

Are you fishing a deep river with cold waters or a shallow warm pond? Again, water temperature plays one of the largest roles in deciding when to fish and water depth plays a big factor in water temperature. The deeper the water, the colder it will be. If you’re fishing deep, or at least nymph-deep, you should consider warmer parts of the day but if you’re fishing shallow waters like most fly-fishers do dawn and dusk are your best options.

Let’s break the day down into four distinct parts and look at the advantages of drawbacks of fishing them during different times of the year.

Early Morning

In the summer it’s difficult to go wrong with classic early morning fishing. Early morning brings cool waters that allow large amounts of fish to move to shallow areas without being stressed. Whether you’re fishing into the middle of ripple or in the brush, early morning presents the most ‘hot spots’ where fish are active and hitting flies. Fish will start moving to deeper waters once the sun gets above the horizon and begins heating the shallows.
In the colder months of spring, fall, and winter fish are less likely to be feeding during the early morning due to cold water temperatures. Even cold-water species like trout tend to only hit well after breakfast hours during winter.

Morning to Afternoon

During summer, shallow water warms up in the middle of the day sending most fish to deeper, cooler water. When fish are deep in the river or lake, you’re not going to have much success with fly fishing.
During the cool months, the morning to afternoon presents better fishing. Morning to afternoon might be the only period you can catch fish during winter.

Afternoon to Evening

During the summer fishing will begin to heat back up once the sun is setting. As the water cools fish will move back into shallow water turning those same hot spots from early morning back on. You can fly-fish for most species well into the dusk hours.
In the shoulder and winter months, the afternoon and evening period is not great for fly-fishing. Most species run back to deeper waters after the heat of the day is over.

Night Fishing

Several fish species do the bulk of their hunting at night -, especially during the summer. Popular species that continue eating throughout the night include trout, catfish, bass, and several others. If the sun is too hot during the day toss out a line at night to see what happens. Night fishing is one of the most unique angling experiences, you must try it at least once.

Finding the Time

Deciding on the best time of day to fish depends on water temperature, fish species, the time of year, and more. There are some general rules for when to fish during which time of year, but you can use the advice above and further resources to make the best determination. With the right knowledge, you’ll be on the water at just the right time to reel in some lunkers.