How, when to fish more important than where to fish

The last few weeks I wrote about some things to help you catch some fish now that the weather is telling us that open-water season has arrived. I am receiving emails thanking me for the tips but questioning why I haven’t given any tips as to where people should be going fishing.

Let me explain upfront that I will never tell you specific places to go fishing. If I mentioned that walleyes were biting like crazy on a specific lake, it could get overfished by the hordes of fishermen who read this column. I’m not bragging, just being honest.

The Fox Chain O’ Lakes or Lake Geneva or Lake Delavan are huge enough to withstand the pressure, but smaller lakes cannot. You won’t hear me name small lakes ever. I prefer to talk about fishing spots more generically.

If you learn how fish behave in general and learn why they bite, you can adapt that information to any lake or pond that you are going to fish. Streams and rivers are different animals and fish very differently than lakes and ponds.

Right now, fish are awakening from their winter doldrums. They don’t have a lot of energy and aren’t swimming very fast and don’t travel long distances. They are hungry and getting hungrier by the day. They are looking to eat but aren’t willing to expend all their energy to fill their bellies.

For bait, you ought to be using small offerings, both in live baits and artificials. Big game fish like bass, pike and muskies will get caught in the spring on baits that you’d never think of using in the summer. Right now, tiny lures catch big fish.

Fish are turning on because of warmth. Those swimming creatures are looking for warm water. Smaller lakes and ponds warm up faster than larger, deeper bodies of water. Areas that have dark bottoms warm up faster than areas that are composed of white sand. Dark bottoms heat up faster than light bottoms do.

Time of day is a big factor for spring fishing. When I fish, I love to make a day of it. I hit the water at the crack of dawn, and I need to be dragged off the water when darkness arrives.

Not in the spring. The fish tend to start to bite as the water warms up. There is no need to hit the water before 10 a.m. these days. Stay in the house and have that extra cup of coffee. The fish get active closer to midday and usually stop by our dinner time. Right now, there is no reason to make your fishing outing a marathon.

Objects in the water attract sunlight, therefore causing the surrounding water to heat up quicker. Casting toward a log in the water is a great idea because the water around that log will be warmer than any other area near it. Even an old shopping cart that some litterbug has pushed into a pond will attract fish because the cart has made the water around it get warm.

The north side of a lake or pond will get warmer than any other area, so that should help determine where you will fish.

Fish rely on oxygen to thrive. Weeds in the water are just beginning to sprout. These newly emergent weeds offer areas where the oxygen levels are highest, so this is a key to selecting a fishing spot. Even though you can spend a lot of time getting untangled from weeds, these weeds are your friends, not your enemy.

Now get out there and enjoy our beautiful spring.

• Daily Herald Outdoors columnist Steve Sarley can be reached at

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