Fishing in Spring

By Aleksei Morozov

Spring is in the air! Astronomical spring in the Northern Hemisphere begins on the Spring Equinox – March 20, give or take a few days. Meteorological spring starts a little earlier – around March 1. That means, if you’re one of the 88% of humankind that lives to the north of the equator, you’re already seeing that the days are getting longer, the air is getting warmer, and the drive to go fishing growing stronger. Where to go and what to catch in the spring? 

The answer to this question depends on geography. Spring is about the dynamics – of longer and longer days, warmer and warmer water, different food opportunities – and these dynamics depend on the latitude. While in Florida or Texas May is T-shirt and swimming suits time, in Alaska it’s only the beginning of the spring salmon season.

A flyfisher on a river
“The coming of spring is especially dear to fly fishing enthusiasts.” Image credit (c) Canva

In the tropics, the difference in daily temperatures is nonexistent, and the life of the fish depends on other climatic factors such as winds and rains. So is the migration pattern of such pelagic fish as marlin and sailfish. In subtropics the effect of the change of season is already noticeable. Spring is where the action starts in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys, and in fact many guides would name May as the best time for fishing there. There are great numbers of tarpon, mahi-mahi, and mutton snapper, as well as the beginning of the grouper season. Not to mention that it’s excellent time for swordfish, blackfin tuna, and sailfish.  

As the water is getting warmer, many fish species begin to move northwards, and the exciting time begins. Anglers await impatiently the arrival of each species to their area, not just because of the understandable desire to be the first to catch this or that fish, but also because with any migratory species the first days after arrival are usually best – the creatures are hungry after their trip, and, not yet knowing where to expect danger from, less careful.

The closer to the north, the more dramatic the seasonal variations in water temperatures, especially in rivers and lakes. With the water getting warmer, the fish begins to be more active, and requires more food. The food, in turn, becomes more available, as the plants grow and invertebrates hatch or awake from their winter slumber. Often there is a kind of a golden time when the fish can eat more than the environment is ready to provide them, and those moments are cherished by angling enthusiasts. But some moments of spring can be bad for fishing, too. 

“Many bass fishing enthusiasts swear by March as the best month ever to catch record-sized bass.” Image credit (c) Canva

Where there is stable snow cover in winter, melting white stuff will cause rivers to rise and flood the neighboring areas. This affects fishing, as flooding completely messes up everything about the river or lake. The bottom-depth structure effectively changes, the fish finds more cover and food (mostly invertebrates) on flooded areas, and so will not likely to still stick to the usual sweet spots. The water is muddy with earth, so the fish that feeds on sight can hardly see your bait – forget about most forms of spinning and concentrate on bait fishing. With many species using this period to spawn, protective measures may be in place. In short, spring flood in the snow belt is usually not good for fishing.

Spring is the spawning time for many if not most species of fish. Typically, during spawning the fish is more aggressive, more conspicuous, and less careful, so it’s easier to catch. But at the same time fishing during the reproduction season may have a negative effect on the numbers. This is why many wildlife authorities take measures to protect some of the vulnerable species. The most valuable hatching areas may be closed for angling, the fishing season may close altogether, or switched to catch-and-release. Other spawn protection measures include temporary bans on motorboat use, where the wake can disturb the roe, and limiting the number of hooks an angler is allowed to use. Be sure to double-check which regulations are in place where you want to go. 

Northern pike is one of the first fish important for recreational angling that begins to spawn. It doesn’t very well take the bait during reproduction season, but is highly vulnerable to fish traps and spearfishing, because it usually spawns in very shallow water where it is easy to spot. In most areas it’s illegal to catch northern pike in spring. Catfish, by contrast, spawn late, almost in summer, and the behavior of flatfish catfish during spawning lead to the development of a peculiar method of catching them by hand: catfish noodling.

Learn more about catfish noodling from our blog.

Many largemouth bass fishing enthusiasts swear by March as the best month ever to catch record-sized bass. Spring is the great time to schedule a trip to one of the renowned bass lakes in the South – such as Fork Lake in Texas, Seminole Lake in Georgia, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, and other destinations.   

Bass spawn rather early in spring, when the water is still somewhat intransparent, and the bigger the bass, the earlier they spawn. In early spring, the bass seek warmer water, and as the sun can warm the water better in shallow areas, that’s where the fish will be. After spawning there is usually a short lull as the fish take a rest, but then the bass begin baiting with extra vigor, especially around as the spawning period for smaller species such as crappies begins.

Diana Rupp offers some tips for catching crappies and bluegills here.

The coming of spring is especially dear to fly fishing enthusiasts. As the water is getting warmer, the trout is getting hungrier, and is looking at the surface for the first insects of the year to fall in. Here is your chance to seduce them with your artificial fly or nymph, and of course there are the hold-your-breath moments like the hatching of the mayfly, a few short days of frantic feeding of the one-day living insects that could give you a year’s worth of excitement. April is the month when fly fishing season really starts, and where anglers begin to flock to such well-known locations as the White River in Arkansas, the Yellowstone River in Montana, the Shenandoah in Virginia.

As the spring progresses, other good rivers closer to the north and high up in the mountains begin to open. To complement the river trout and landlocked salmon, steelheads, other species of salmon and anadromous trout enter rivers to spawn in spring. The best timing depends, as usual, on species and locations. While steelhead fishing begins in March and peaks in most rivers of the Pacific Coast in April, the king salmon in season doesn’t really go in full swing until the second half of May. Many fishing lodges in northern Canada and Alaska do not even open until May. Prime time for fishing different rivers may wary, so it’s best to talk it over with your guide.  

Spring is often unpredictable – the warm weather comes on different dates in different years. This makes it hard to plan ahead. Yet, planning ahead is essential. Unless you’re booking a fishing trip with a guide or charter who will provide all the equipment for you, the sooner you do a thorough revision of all your fishing gear the better. Chances are, there is something that needs to be done, fixed, or replaced, that has been there from the previous season, but you put off until the winter. The earlier you do it, the better, to avoid the situation when you remember you need a couple of new lures the day before the fishing trip. In the current market situation, chances are you’ll discover your favorites have been sold out and new delivery is expected in two or three months. 

Booking your trip in advance is a good idea too – with covid restrictions no longer in place, lots of people are going to be making up for their travel opportunities they’ve missed during the pandemics. If you haven’t yet made your fishing plans for this spring, now it’s high time to do so. Make a reassessment of your fishing dreams – where would you like to fish, for what species, by which fishing technique – and see what the world of angling can offer you. 

And don’t forget that it’s not all spring and sunshine everywhere –  and that can be good news. When the Northern Hemisphere has spring, it’s autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. An angler with a “have rod, will travel” attitude can find a whole lot of opportunities on the other side of the globe. Use the possibilities of to discover fishing opportunities worldwide and book them directly from trusted captains, charters, guides and lodges! 

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