Environmental conditions are pivotal to providing good fishing. It’s a known fact, but describing what makes good vs bad environmental conditions can sometimes be misconstrued. Some of the most common things I hear, and my responses from Captain Obvious would include some of these:
Q: “When it’s hot out, doesn’t the fish go deep?”
A: Air temperature and water temperature are not the same. Lake Ontario is a deep lake, and yes the fish will at times go deep, but the air temperature is not the reason to go deep. Although Lake Erie is shallower, it also has enough depth to provide its own levels of water temperature comfort.
Q: “Don’t fish come up to the surface to feed during a rainfall?”
A: Sometimes, but it’s likely not the rain that brings them up in the water column. Low light conditions, a low pressure barometer and the benefit of less anglers around (fair weather fisherman) will make the fish rise in the water column. I use the word rise rather then come up to the surface. The surface water might not be what the fish want to be in if the water temperatures are too warm.
Q: “Why are the fish deep when the baitfish are seen near the surface?”
A: The large expanse of open water of the Great Lakes, fish can't hide for safety or hide to ambush. it’s a tug-of-war between baitfish (prey) and the Salmon, Trout or Walleye (predators). Some conditions provide baitfish with the advantage to avoid being eaten; other conditions provide the predators the advantage over prey. Where prey have the advantage, predators usually prefer not to use energy and rather wait for conditions that put them in the advantage. If baitfish can see the predatory fish coming, they have the advantage. If predators can sneak up on them without being seen, predators have the advantage. Low Light conditions, made by early mornings or late evenings, overcast conditions, or waves to break up the sunlight penetration, can provide salmon, trout or walleye with the advantage over baitfish.
Q:“Wouldn’t the fish prefer the clear water over dirty water?”
A: Building on the previous question, predators will usually find the advantage over baitfish when they are disguised in colour (turbid) water. In the spring, coloured water is literally the most important location factor to find catchable hungry fish. Clear water is also most often the colder water and sometimes called lifeless since most anglers will see the SONAR graph display empty and void of any life. The need for coloured dirty water becomes less the scenario in the Summer months since coloured water is less prevalent miles offshore. Instead the benefit to find green water is the goal. Green water is nutrient rich with phytoplankton (microscopic plants) to provide the foundation for a productive food chain, making it full of life as opposed to the clear lifeless water aforementioned.
Q:“The sun is out, the fish should be up sun bathing.”
A: It’s like an urban myth that seems to circulate. Unless we are talking about Carp, I don’t think I had ever seen a fish swim just beneath the surface to soak up the sun. Its not a situation on Lake Ontario or Lake Erie for salmon, trout or walleye.
Q: “How can there be currents in the lake with no river or inlet for many miles?
A: The Great Lakes are much different than a small lake or pond. We are talking about massive bodies of water with a lake surface that can be influenced by winds. Winds and waves move the water and localized winds can influence the currents of other areas not subject to winds. Three other factors are added to creating currents. 1.) Water temperatures will create variations of where the currents will move. Cold water is more dense and often slower moving. Cold water can be imaged in exaggeration as thick molasses where warmer water would have to move around it and slip past it. Vertically we see this between the warmer water above the thermocline vs. the colder water below. Horizontally you may see the smooth surface water with debris gathered alongside the colder wavy water that it meets. 2.) Point sources to add current into the lake. Niagara River for Lake Ontario is the largest catalyst to currents in the Lake Ontario. It is often referred to as the engine that turns currents in the lake in a counterclockwise direction. Lake Erie has the Detroit River at one end and the Niagara River at the other end. In three years the volume of Lake Erie is changed over. 3.) tides are minimal in freshwater but have a slight current created. It is more of a factor during the full moon in September and fishing for salmon staged to move up the river. Tides will move the water around the piers and night time glow spoon chucker’s will see the currents moving when there isn’t any wind. Less a concern for current changes in the main lake, but the tide times or Solunar gravitational pull can influence the times fish feed. Winds, water temperature differences, river water point sources and the effects of the tides are all examples of how the Lake currents are always moving.
Q: “If there’s a current, do fish like the current?”
A: They like the current to bring them food. They don’t like to spend energy fighting the current. The question can instead be asked what is the current bringing to the fish. Is the water rich with baitfish and warmer coloured water, or is it cold, clear and lifeless? Will the current not only move the water, but also move the fish to your area or away? As a fisherman, what consideration would you have to combat currents? Is your trolling speed at the depth of your presentation correct? Are there differences in bottom structure that will change or deflect the lake currents that will provide predators with an advantage to prey on baitfish that might pass by in the current?
Q: “Has this year’s high water made the fishing better?”
A: Yes and No. I think. ?!? Fishing has been exceptional this year, but its hard to say its entirely because of the higher water levels. Certainly the rising water of the Great Lakes has changed the scenario that fisherman have had to adapt. Some might say the fishing is good if they could actually get out fishing. Some boat launches are/were closed and limited fishing pressure in some areas. Some bigger boats were/are waiting for lake levels to subside to gain access to docks that are left submerged. The increased volume of water from runoff might have added a greater amount of nutrients in the lake that will generate a good growing environment for plankton and provide more fuel to the food chain and sustain more baitfish. There is also the thought that the warm winter we had in 2016-2017 along with the increase in water levels has added lots of warmer water to help the lake’s productivity. Localized fishing success as a result of higher water levels might be linked as well. The higher water levels and increased flow from the Niagara River might have changed how the Niagara River has continued to be a draw for fish into the start of Summer. When the river water usually draws fish in May and then warms too fast and fishing slows in the area, the river water still continues to draw fish well into July (thus far). That might be because of the increased water levels and water volume. Areas that seem to be great fishing spots in July have struggled to find consistent fishing, namely Grimsby has seen a slower summer start for reasons unknown to me. The fish are still subject to where the water goes and the baitfish follows. Higher water levels don’t seem to change off shore locations of fish. Whether the water is 210 feet or 214 feet in the same spot has less concern for the salmon swimming 50 feet down.
Describing how good the fishing is from one season to the next is not usually related to the current weather, but the overall climate of the season and past seasons. Cold winters and summers are bad for fishing for Lake Ontario Salmon and Trout and less concerning for Lake Erie Walleye fishing. Water levels as high as they are this year, might or might not be the reason for this year’s great Lake Ontario fishing. There are likely many other similar environmental conditions that tend to be confused with how it might make fish react and how good the fishing will be.
If the fishing is good, Make Hay while the sun shines. If the fishing is slow, When handed Lemons make Lemonaid. Environmental conditions and fishing success have very confusing outcome interactions. Get out fishing and find out if the old sayings are an urban myth.