Jigging for Lake Torut

An excerpt on Lake Trout jigging tips from an experienced jigger…

Braided Line: Personally I feel this is the way to go, and I won't go back to mono. It must be my newly discovered love of fly-fishing- I really like having a main line with a leader attached. This style of setup, from fly-fishing to deep jigging, allows you to fully customize your fishing line. I'm using 15 lb Stren SuperBraid as my main line, it has the diameter of 6 lb mono and is dark green to blend in with the green water. (Update and note: Stren has changed their SuperBraid- they now sell 14 lb test line, with a diameter of 4 lb monofilament. Just as good, if not better. To make sure I wasn't crazy, I checked, and the old spool was 15 lb test- not available anymore.) Any high quality braid would work- but 30 lb test would defeat the advantages gained. I think the 10-15 pound range is perfect. The only time I've lost the end of it was in a trolling motor!

This is an excellent way to maintain contact with your jig, cut down on water drag, and ensure solid gold hookups. The braid has zero stretch, so when you're bouncing your jig off the bottom 100 feet down and a hungry laker grabs it, not only is it easier to feel, but as soon as you lift the rod you are exerting maximum pressure on the hook point. It's a little more expensive to set up your reel, but the braid lasts a long time and you'll bring more trout into the boat.

Reels: Baitcasting reels have the advantage of the free spool- that is, line will continue to come off and puddle on the surface of the water when the lure stops. This aids in detecting strikes on the drop and thumbing the reel enables you to simply increase thumb pressure and lift the rod to set the hook. It's a definite advantage over the spinning reels "on the drop" but these strikes can also be detected with spinning gear- it just takes a little more attention. What style you choose should be a matter of preference- use what you are comfortable with, or already own.

Rods: This is a little more important. The deeper you are fishing, the stiffer your rod needs to be. I have two rods that I use- both are 6' 6" bass rods. One is medium action, and the other is heavy action. I would prefer a 7' rod. The medium rod I use in water under 70 feet, and the heavy rod in depths up to 150 feet. The two most important things to think about are stiffness and sensitivity. Sometimes these go hand in hand with fishing rods, but not always. You ALWAYS want a very sensitive rod- you're trying to detect (sometimes very light) strikes in water up to 100 feet deep or more. Match the stiffness of the rod to the weight of your lures and the depth of the water. Deeper water requires heavier lures, too, in addition to the added weight of the line. If your lure is on the bottom of the lake and your rod tip is soft and mushy, you are going to miss most of the strikes you get. The rod tip needs to be able to support up to several ounces of weight. I also believe a slightly longer rod is better- 7' 0" or even possibly 7' 6", for better hook setting power. Again, you are fishing deep water… think of it as light-tackle saltwater fishing, but for trout in freshwater. (if you are a salt-water fisherman and that actually makes sense, I'll consider myself lucky.) Don't overdo it, either- an inch-thick stick of a rod won't give you the sensitivity to feel the strikes. It's probably worth spending a little money on a decent rod.

Terminal Tackle: With braid, I do use a swivel. I don't want to cut line off all the time! I use a tiny barrel or ball bearing swivel that fits through the rod guides. Tie this on to the braid, and on the other end, a 6-12 foot fluorocarbon leader of 6-10 lb material. This helps the line disappear in the water, and the swivel is small enough that it just reels right up through the guides and on the spool. Fluorocarbon leaders are well worth the expense for all types of fishing, from jigging lakers to fly-fishing small brown trout. If you have a large fish near the boat and it dives, the swivel can pose a problem (though it's never lost me a fish) as it bangs through the guides. To prevent this use as short a leader as the fish will allow. Most of the time 6-8 feet for leader length is fine. This setup works beautifully! Rock solid contact with the jig at all times, it maximizes your feel and hook-setting power.

A Note on Drag: With this setup, it's important to have your drag set properly. Actually, with either braid or mono it's important to have your drag set properly! For this style of fishing, I crank it down tighter than I normally would. Lake Trout have bony mouths and it takes a lot to force a hook through. Sometimes if I've hooked a brute I quickly dial it down so the fish won't break off. If you have a bait casting reel, keep the drag medium-tight, and thumb the spool on the hooksets for extra power. I set the drag about 1/2 to 2/3 of my leader's breaking strength. With a big fish on, I turn it down to around 1/3. Keeping the drag tight can help get the fish "up and out" quickly and prevent a few lost fish. Take care though, if it's set too tightly you'll lose fish that either pull free from a hooked lip or break you off. It's a balance point, but there's a lot of wiggle room to find a drag setting that is comfortable for you.

The Jigs: Ah, the jigs. Without a doubt one of the biggest questions of every outing. What to put on the end of your line? There are two answers to that question: jjigging spoons and lead-headed jigs. First, about weight. Most of the time, I set my lure weight by the depths I'm fishing. In water under 60-70 feet, a 3/4 oz jig. For 70-100 fow, 3/4 works on a calm day but often I'll go to 1 oz. In water over 100 feet, 1-2 oz lure are the ticket. Pretty simple, until it gets breezy, and you start drifting down the lake with your jig in tow! If I'm drifting fast I'll use heavier jigs.

Jigging Spoons: Sometimes spoons work wonders. Favorites: The Bomber Slab, in white and silver. Luhr-Jensen's Crippled Herring in large sizes works great as well. The Buckshot Rattle Spoon is awesome, especially in glo-perch. The Hopkins Shorty, for when heavy lures are needed. Any silver generic 'jigging spoon' will catch fish! I've caught them on Bass Pro Shops Strata spoons, and have just received (thanks Mike!) some of Cabela's spoons to try. Weights 3/4 to 2 ounces will cover all your needs. I've found most often a short, squat profile is best. Experiment- lakers are voracious predators and will attack almost anything at times. I've made them out of sinkers, and Bob showed me how to make "jigging chunks" out of lead wheel-weights! In my opinion, the spoons are best when the fish are short-striking. This happens mainly on two occasions- cold water, and spawning fish. When the water is cold, lakers are lazy, and often just nip at a passing bait. Using a jigging spoon, which features hooks at the rear of the lure, you are more likely to hook a fish that just takes a passing bite at it. Spoons also work well on smaller fish that don't inhale the lures the way big lakers do! In the fall, spawning Lake Trout can be caught with spoons too. On the spawn, the lakers don't actively feed, but they will strike at perceived threats- and a baitfish looking for laker eggs is definately a threat. For spawning fish, I found it virtually impossible to hook lakers with lead jigs- the best lures by far were the spoons. On the other hand, aggressive lakers will take the spoons too deep, and "catch and release" becomes a lot harder. If you catch a few that are hooked deeply, it's a good sign to switch to the lead jigs. I also cut one of the barbs off of my spoons and make them double hooks. As soon as you buy your jigging spoons, immediately remove the hook it came with. Sometimes it's a #6, or a #4, which you don't want, but always the hook needs to be upgraded. Replace all hooks with quality #2 or #4 trebles (I favor Gamakatsu hooks, both round bend and EWG) and cut one barb off of half your lures.

Lead-Head Jigs: Any heavy enough jighead will catch fish. I fished all last summer with BPS brand round 3/4 oz jigheads. They work, but aren't ideal. Your ideal jig has a baitfish-shaped head and a thin, strong, sharp hook, and 1 oz. in weight. Basic white and silver work great, and don't be afraid to dip some in paint- flourescent white and black. These four basics will cover all your jigging needs. For head style, round heads are fine, but I like something with a baitfish shaped head. Tube jigs and tails also work, but fall slower-better for shallower water. To get the perfect jig head I started pouring my own 1 oz jigs. These have great hooks on them, stand up on the bottom of the lake, and have a great baitfish look. Heavy jigs can be hard to find in freshwater fishing stores, but look around. It's worth it to find a good jig. That's why I started pouring! Also, The Storm Swim series is great in shallower (<70 fow) water- these are packages of very lifelike ready-rigged jigs. Buy a Striper bucktail and judiciously cut out about half the bucktail. Not shorter, just thin it out. This helps the jig fall faster. Flukes are the most common style of soft plastic I put on the jigs. Tubes also work, as will anything you can down 100 feet and is roughly the right shape! Bob catches them on wheel-weights he pounds into shape with a hammer. That's a spoon, but it makes the point. Zoom Flukes are my favorite- they're what I learned on and I've never seen a reason to switch really. I have tried other brands and they all work. Key here is movement- you want something that will be flapping a 'tail' around as you drop, jig, and retrieve your lure. Most of these plastics are also imbedded with scent, which definitely helps with catching Lake Trout. Just plain old 'fluke' is fine- nice slim profile to help get deep fast. Super-flukes can produce well at times too, but they are better in shallow water, as are the Storm Swim series I mentioned earlier. Bite (or cut) the front 3/8 - 1/2 inch off of the head of the fluke before threading it on the jig. This integrates the jighead with the tail, and brings the hook point a little closer to the end of the lure.

Common Flukes and Colors: Bass Pro 2-toned tube, cut black fluke, Baby Bass fluke, Fin-S Shad, and Zoom White Ice super-fluke. Sometimes lake trout are selective and it's good to have a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.

Colors, while key, aren't nearly as important as you may think. Lakers looking up see everything against the sky, so it's all about contrast. White is a consistant producer, as is silver. When it gets really bright out, I'll switch over to darker colors such as green, pumpkin, or black. Try to visualize what the background looks like that day, and choose your color accordingly. Lakers are most sensitive to two very similar shades of green (halfway between 'green' and chartreuse), which makes sense when you think about their enviroment. Green light penetrates the furthest in the deep water where lake trout live! If you need empirical evidence, green spoons have long been a favorite of trollers and copper guys. Depth is a factor- past 30-50 feet there really isn't much color- most fade quickly in water, and appear as black anyway. Your choice of lure colors should also reflect the color of the water you are fishing. In the Finger Lakes, the water ranges from fairly clear in winter to green (algae) in summer. Most US lake trout waters are similar mesotrophic lakes except for some Western reservoirs, and most Canadian lakes are clear and oligotrophic (high levels of nutrients and high levels of dissolved oxygen). Regular fishing rules apply here- you want to attract the fish but not scare them off! Brighter lures in deeper, more colorful water, and more subdued and natural colors in shallower or clear water.

Dealing with Wind: The wind influences your day on the water in several ways. A stiff breeze will blow you along at a good clip, and this makes it next to impossible to keep your jig on the bottom, where it belongs. The choppy lake surface can also make it hard to detect some lighter strikes, and those that occur on the drop. A little drift is good, though, as you will cover a swath of water, effectively trolling along at a very slow rate as you bang your jig on the bottom, kicking up mud, flailing like a dying sawbelly, and in general causing a disturbance the lakers love! There are several ways of dealing with the elements that will get you an effective drift yet keep your lure in the zone- right on the bottom. The ultimate goal is a perfectly vertical presentation. In practice, being vertical enough that you can feel your jig on the bottom is your working goal.

Trolling Motors: Trolling Motors are nearly a necessity. Or an awfully long anchor cable, preferably one with a winch! (just kidding… but in shallower water anchoring may be the answer if precise boat control is impossible but necessary.) Better yet, a trolling motor with a foot pedal, as you have both hands to fish with. These do come at a significant price increase over hand-models but if you can afford the outlay it's totally worth it. I have one that requires my hand on it at all times, adjusting the boat position. This means most of the time I'm fishing with one hand, which is possible but not ideal. Left a foot, into the wind ten feet, slip sideways a little- when I'm jigging the motor is on a very high percentage of the time. A good, strong trolling motor that can move your boat around in 15-20 mph winds is going to help your jigging experience immensely. If you don't have access to one, there are ways to slow your drift and still be successful, but it is very helpful. This subject covers a lot of ground and I'm not tackling it here- hopefully if you have a trolling motor you know how to use it. If so, to summarize, you want, no, need, to be as vertical as possible. There are exceptions to this but they are few and far between. If you aren't vertical, your lure is NOT on the bottom and in the zone. You may catch a few fish here and there, but you also lose a lot of sensitivity when the line moves off of the vertical. If you start drifting sideways, your line moves too- but your jig wants to stay where it is. As you slide off to the side, a bow develops in your line that adds a lot of water resistance, which in turn adds perceived weight to your rod tip, and your sensitivity and ability to detect strikes is drastically reduced. One trick I've learned to free up both hands is as follows. Drop the jig overboard. Starting with this step greatly increases your chances of catching lakers. Actually, your chances increase a thousandfold if you remember to tie the jig to the line first! Keep track of it on the way down- either on the fishfinder or simply by counting down to your last depth. While the jig is dropping, stay directly on top of it, and as it approaches the lake bottom, give yourself a little forward (into the wind) boost on the trolling motor for a few seconds. Turn off the motor, and start jigging- depending on the wind you can maintain contact with the bottom for 5-30 seconds. If you lose it, jog forward again, in front of your jig location, and repeat this process. By a combination of jigging and jogging you can stay in one spot or slowly drift as conditions dictate.
Drift Bags are ditto a necessity- or at least very strongly recommended. Don't have one? Use a 5 gallon bucket- punch or cut some holes in the bottom, tie a rope to the handle and throw it over. Holes in the bottom allow a slow current to pass through and it provides more resistance than a whole bucket, I use a drift-bucket all the time, even when I'm using the trolling motor intensively. Often two, if I want to drift broadside to the wind, by attaching one each at the bow and stern. You'll save your trolling motor battery and drift closer to water speed, not wind speed.
Heavier Jigs are a simple way to combat the wind. They fall faster and get to the bottom in much less time. I'll go up to two ounces in deep water and high winds. I haven't founds a two ounce jighead, but the spoons (Hopkins Shorty for example) are great producers under these conditions. A one ounce head in 50 fow isn't out of the question. This also give you the option of dragging your jig across bottom, which can result in violent strikes! I've had success in high wind by dropping the lure, drifting until it hits bottom, dragging until it lifts off of the bottom, dropping it again, and repeating… this can run a lot of line off of your reel in a hurry in a stiff breeze. Still, it can be effective. Your final "reel in" then pulls your jig at a low angle back to the boat. This is a good technique to try if you find the wind is blowing you quickly down the lake, but there are also times the Lake Trout will prefer this presentation. If you're marking a lot of fish but are unable to raise them far off bottom, this is a good option- it provides swimming movement to the lure without immediately lifting it out of the strike zone.

Casting Ahead of your boat is another way to keep up with the wind. Instead of dropping the jig directly into the water, cast in the direction you are drifting. With a little practice you can time it so the jig hits lake bottom just as you drift over it. This depends, of course, on drift speed, water depth, and falling rate of your jig. Chances are, it's a lot further than you think! When I first tried this I lobbed the jig 20 feet ahead of the boat- by the time the jig hit bottom it was 20 feet behind the boat and I had to reel in and start over. This can be a good searching pattern, too- cast, drift, jig until you lose bottom, reel, repeat.

If all else fails, a straight drop to the bottom and retrieve will produce some lakers. These techniques may work in adverse conditions, or if you don't have a trolling motor, but keep in mind the "vertical ideal" as it really makes a huge difference in landing lake trout.

Electronics: Modern fish-finding technology has taken the guesswork out of a lot of fishing, and jigging lakers is no exception. Incredibly useful in locating pods of bait and lakers, today's electronics can make a day on the water the best fishing game in the world! To explain, everyone likes to know how deep the water is and if there are any lakers around. For this, I recommend a decent FF for everyone. Depending on your angling preferences, you can also watch the jig on the screen. This can make for some heart-pounding tension! You can track the jig as it descends to the lake bottom- and with luck, witness several lakers rise to meet your lure…

The Jigging Game is a lot of fun, and a deadly way to catch lake trout. As stated, you track your jig on the screen, and when you see reactions from the lakers, you can usually get one to grab the jig- fish on! There are several approaches to this. The simplest and often most effective is reeling like mad. Wait, as you see the laker's streak approach the falling jig. When the two lines nearly intersect, start reeling! The trout will follow it up and within seconds you'll feel a mighty pull on your rod. If this fails, and you reel up thirty feet without getting a strike, immediately drop the jig back down again. At this point it's a good idea to watch for strikes on the drop- if you didn't get a take by reeling, often the lakers will grab it on the way down. I think they feel cheated- I imagine the fish thinking, well, that was a waste of energy for nothing… and just then, your jig goes flashing past on the way down again. Chomp!

Play around with the retrieve- start fast, then slow down. Or start slowly, and accelerate your retrieve. Stop halfway up and jig that spot a few times. Watch your screen to see what the lakers want. Certain days they are very agressive and will chase your lure almost to the boat before hitting. Other days, you're lucky to raise them more than five feet off the bottom. Then, it's time to focus your jigging energy on the very bottom. Whack those rocks, stir up mud. Sooner or later even the laziest, most inactive lake trout will come by for a look.

Jigging By Feel, however, is how I learned and what I prefer. Maybe because every strike is a surprise! First, it helps to have a fishfinder. I didn't at first, and this leads to a lot of searching the water, but it's still possible. Use your fishfinder to locate lakers on the bottom. Ideally you'll see a pod of suspended fish underneath a big cloud of bait- this is where your jig looks just like an injured baitfish falling out of the school. Most of the time, though, this won't happen, and you are looking for fish holding tight to bottom. Many depthfinders won't register bottom-huggers at rest, but will pick them up while moving. Slowly motor in a likely area until you find marks, but don't be disappointed if the screen looks blank when you stop- it's not! At this point it's time to focus on your rod.

Strikes can take many forms. The easy ones to detect nearly rip your rod out of your hand, though most of them do require you to pay attention. When I'm on the water, everything I do is designed to increase the amount of time the jig is on bottom, decrease the amount of drag on the line, or maintain light contact with the jig. Jig contact is very important- if you pull it three feet up and drop it, many times lakers will hit the jig as it falls again. Will you be ready? Raise and lower your rod with the jig, don't just yank it upwards and let it fall again. If you feel anything different- anything at all- set the hook.

The main disadvantage to fishing blind is "on the drop". If I have a monster laker rising from the depths to take my jig, I won't know it- and it's probable I never will. The fish could rise, strike, and be gone, all while my jig is falling and I'm picking my nose. There are things you can do to help with detecting these hits- baitcasting reels help, and pick your nose later. Watch the surface of the water for changes in your line. You may see a loop or two of line form on the surface- set the hook. You may think, "huh, did that just speed up a little?" Set the hook.

Given the limitations of not seeing the lakers chasing, I've developed very bottom-oriented techniques. I don't try to catch fish on the drop, it's too frustrating without watching the fishfinder. It's also not necessary, spend time working the bottom and you'll be able to catch fish just fine… forget the drop for now and focus on "the jig" until you've got that down. Don't sneak peeks at the screen either, it just divides your attention. If you want to use the fishfinder, do so wholeheartedly! But trying to combine the methods has not worked well for me in the past.

The Jig in Motion: Here is where it all comes together. Properly equipped, a pod of feeding fish located, and with the boat at rest (or nearly so) it's time to bring lakers to the net! It starts above the water, in your mind. Remember, the task is to imitate a baitfish in motion- ideally an injured or dying one. With few exceptions, your jig, either spoon or lead-head, should act accordingly, every moment that it is underwater. Lakers will occasionally follow your jig all the way to the boat before striking- so be prepared at all times!

Movement is key. But how to impart movement to your jig in such a manner as to drive fish absolutely nuts? Sometimes it's a no-brainer, and the trout are hitting hard and often. Aggressive, hungry lakers love a simple retrieve. Drop to the bottom, and start jigging. If you haven't gotten any takes within a short time- 30-60 seconds- lift your lure off the bottom, give it a final pause, and start reeling- fast. If you've gained the attention of a fish or two (or six!) they will give chase and strike your jig. These hits most often occur within the first 30 feet or so, but can, and do, happen at any depth, especially when the water is cold throughout the water column. When jigging, a gentle up and down motion with a range of 1-3 feet is all you need. Don't rip the jig up and let it fall back, this doesn't look natural and you will lose contact with it.

Nearly every tactic is a variation of this basic technique. When the fish aren't actively feeding, they will need a little coaching from you. Vary the speed of your retrieve- try slowing down a little at first. Pause between jigs, leaving the lure laying on the mud and rocks. Sometimes lakers will pick a lure right off the bottom, so if you feel a little resistance when lifting the rod again, set the hook! Change the height of your jigging motion- instead of working the bottom foot, work the bottom three feet. If your fluke is two-toned, put it on upside down to imitate a dead, belly-up baitfish. Try a more horizontal jigging approach, drifting off the vertical before reeling in. Change size, color, or style of jig… in short, try everything!

Guiding Principles to Locating Lake Trout:

  • Find bait schools
  • Find the thermocline, if it's in place
  • Find underwater lake structure
  • Find currents within the lake

If you can locate baitfish in the right water temps you'll have almost certainly found some lake trout. Whether or not they are active is another matter and you'll have to test this by jigging. If you find fish but they aren't biting: MOVE! It can be hard to leave fish but if they aren't active it's probably a good idea to relocate, even a few hundred yards can be enough sometimes. Who knows, maybe the lakers just finished a feeding binge, whatever, if the fish you are on aren't hitting, it's wise to find another pod.

Finding the thermocline can be a little tougher without expensive electronics. In general, in the Finger Lakes region, lakes will set up a thermocline between 30-50 feet in early summer. By fall it will have deepened to around 80-100 feet and the lake trout follow. Seasonal variations in weather dictate individual features of each year's thermocline. A fast hot spring results in a shallow thermocline- the water warms quickly and forms a pancake on top of the colder deep water. A cool long spring means a deeper, wider thermocline (and possibly tougher fishing). Daily local variations are due to the wind, as the breeze pushes the warm surface water up and down the lake. Big variations occur with individual lake size and structure as well. In general, the wind mixes the water of the smaller lakes less and they develop shallower thermoclines. Midsummer in Cayuga it may be at 90 feet, on Keuka, 50 feet.

Underwater structure is best found with a combination of good maps and spending time slowly cruising the water with your fishfinder. Look for drops, flats, points, holes, cutouts, and deeper flats. All structure is important and will hold fish at some time of the year. Early spring, shallow flats are good. Midsummer, drops and points. Winter, deep flats. When searching for lakers, check different kinds of structure at the same depths. If they aren't at 90 foot flats, maybe they're at 90 foot points.
Currents, too, are best found through old-fashioned time on the water, though these can be somewhat inferred by paying attention to the wind before you go out. Knowing what the wind has been doing for the past few days will help you find currents, eddies, the thermocline, and larger numbers of lake trout. For example, a South wind will stack warm summer water on the South side of a point, pushing the fish deeper in that location and possibly moving them out entirely. The effects of wind and climate on the lakes is covered in detail in the "Water" section. (Not up yet! Link to be added when it is.)

Late Spring: Oooh baby yeah! Here's when laker jigging shines! When the thermocline begins to set up and the alewives invade the shallows, the lakers follow in droves and can be caught in very shallow water. Just fantastic fishing can be had, find a school of bait and hold on! Look in 25-50 feet of water at first, a little deeper if need be… 'nuff said, this is the best and easiest laker fishing there is. The lakers will still be near their winter habitat, generally in the northern half of the lakes, though some remain lakewide all year.

Summer: Nothing beats a hot summer day like jigging up a handful of lakers! Early Summer is an excellent time to go jigging. Lake trout will be just below the thermocline, and your target is structure and flats in the 40-80 FOW range. Find the 'cline! If the fish aren't anywhere to be seen, chances are the thermocline is doing something odd and you should look in both shallower and deeper water. I've found lakers in 30 FOW in August- it just depends on how the water is sloshing around in the lake basin. Often the thermocline is wider and/or deeper on one side of the lake or the other- this can change your local fishing conditions too. By late summer (July and August) conditions are tougher and the lake is loaded with warm water. The end of August, early September can have more activity as the fish prepare to spawn.

Light Related Habits: Lakers often feed by sight, and understanding how they react to different conditions can help your fishing. In a nutshell, too much light is bad, and too little light is bad. It gets a little more complicated when you take into account the season of the year, the angle of the sun, the water temperature, how cloudy it is, how cloudy it has been recently, whether the moon was out the night before, how windy it is, the relative humidity, the turbidity of the water, how hungry the fish is, and perhaps even how hungry you are. All the above and more affect the movements and activity level of lake trout.

The angle of the sun is easiest to figure out, and makes the biggest difference. In spring and summer, the sun is high in the sky, with long days. The fishing is often poor on a bright sunny day at high noon. That same morning, though, the light levels may have been perfect, and fish were feeding heavily. This "high sun effect" plays less of a role on cloudy days. In fall and winter, the sun is low in the sky and fishing is often best at midday. High noon in December is equivelent to 9:00 AM in June as far as the sun angle goes! The lower the sun is, the lower the percentage of light that penetrates the water's surface, and it's not a direct relationship. Comparing 20 degrees to 40 degrees, for example, far less than half of the light penetrates the water.

So figure the sun angle as your starting point, and all other factors either build from it or are related. A cloudy summer day could be good, while a cloudy winter's day just too dark. If the fish are in deeper water, you need more sunlight to penetrate the depths. Is it hazy outside? That really cuts the intensity of the incoming sunshine. A light chop on the water increases the light below, heavy waves decrease it. A glassy calm surface reflects the most light. If it's been cloudy for days and the sun appears, the fishing may turn on, and the opposite can also be true.

The amount of suspended sediment and algae plays a large role in light penetration. No matter how high it is in the sky, the sun can't get through "thick" water as easily as clear water. In Cayuga Lake, water clarity corresponds very nicely with water temperature. June, July, August and September have the cloudiest water, mostly due to algae and phytoplankton, with July and August being the worst for water clarity. The organic organisms responsible live in the warm water, so during the summer stratified period, the warm surface layer is a "light-cap" that filters much of the available light, while the deeper water remains at a fairly constant and low turbidity ("cloudiness") year round. This effect is somewhat countered by the height of the sun during this period, but note there isn't a perfect overlap- the sun is highest in May, June, and July.

If the moon was high and bright, most likely the lakers fed at night and won't be particularly hungry at dawn. Under these conditions, late morning is often better, though by then it's often quite bright out. Your best bet during the high sun, bright moon periods will be late afternoon (it will be full moon the week are there), as the fish will be getting hungry again. The moon may also be underfoot at this time, adding it's allure to your lure.

The alewives play a role too, they are light-sensitive as well and their movements should be considered. They are found closer to the surface at night, dusk and dawn, and on darker days. Most of the time you are trying to target active, hungry lakers, and they'll most often be near the alewives. At peak alewive spawning time, around June in the Finger Lakes, they may remain near the surface all day, especially with overcast skies. A bright sun will quickly drive schooling alewife into the depths, and active lakers will follow.

That all said, there are exceptions. Some of my best fishing last summer was during pounding rainstorms, near-twilight conditions in the afternoon. High noon on a sunny day can also be very good at times… this is where it gets tricky and experience is the best teacher! In general, though, the above principles apply and can help you decide when to fish. Don't forget the alewives, either, they are light-sensitive as well and their movements should be conside .

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