Why Season Matters

The last few months have been pretty hectic. In May I turned up to work at Zup’s Fishing Resort and Canoe Outfitters, located just on the Canadian side of the Ontario/Minnesota border. Situated on Lac La Croix; tucked away on the western edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (USA) and Quetico Provincial Park (Canada); I was starting out as a bare-faced beginner when it came to fishing for the iconic freshwater species that call this part of the world home. I’m only now getting the chance to think about what I’ve learned so far.

One thing that has really hit home with me since being in Canada is the importance of seasonal changes and their effects on fish and fishing. I realise now that I often overlooked the importance of seasonality back home, or at least never paid real attention to the progression of seasons and the fishing patterns these cause. It’s fairly common knowledge that the four arbitrary seasons don’t accurately represent the Australian condition, and definitely mean very little to a fishes calendar. That is the calendar we need to key in on.

Sure, we are all aware of the broad seasonal patterns that are apparent for several species during the year, but that’s not what I’m getting at. I’m referring here to the constant changes occurring throughout the year and during each ‘season’. How often do we think about environmental variability on a week-to-week basis? By this I mean the regular annual variability; the ‘in the first two weeks of February water conditions are x-y-z…’ and so on. Do we talk about those trends in Australia? I’m guessing that paying attention can only make you a better fisherman.

Back in Canada, early spring on Lac La Croix found us hooking up on everything, all in the same place. The turmoil caused by the thaw had fish everywhere and anywhere. In a single afternoon and in a single bay we were catching smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, whitefish and lake trout on consecutive casts of diving lures and chatterbaits. It was a lucky dip. But before we knew it, the different species began to move off towards their summer haunts, and the summer turn-over (when the uniformly cold lake water warms to the point that it stratifies into an upper layer of warm water separated by a distinct thermocline under which sits much colder water) set the summer pace.

Casting shorelines in Spring is a lottery - you never quite know what you'll hook next
Casting shorelines in Spring is a lottery – you never quite know what you’ll hook next
Bass fishing for walleyes in Spring
Bass fishing for walleyes in Spring

Trout went deep in search of cold water. Big pike all but disappeared, seeking the cold and a reprieve from summer heat stress, while the small ‘hammer handles’ invaded the shallow bays and fed with a vengeance. Smallmouth went shallow to spawn in sandy bays, then began to move deep again when things got warm. Walleye moved back onto the reefs after the spring spawn held in rivers.

A typical warm water pike - good fun and very cooperative during the summer
A typical warm water pike – good fun and very cooperative during the summer

For a while there we could pick up decent bass without much of an issue, but as late summer wore on the big ones went even deeper and held on reefs where a jig and live minnow were the most practical way to find them. Lakers turned off (for us at least) in early July and none of us could find them again until the beginning of September when I stumbled upon stacks of them feeding on young perch in 35 feet of water. Now, with water temperatures dropping and the fall definitely upon us, some better than average pike are lurking the edges of weedbeds.

Mid-summer sees weed growth at its peak - the ecosystems created attract predators and prey alike
Mid-summer sees weed growth at its peak – the ecosystems created attract predators and prey alike

 

The heavyweight bass like deeper reefs when things get warm in the shallows
The heavyweight bass like deeper reefs when things get warm in the shallows

I’ve been chasing my tail all summer trying to get to grips with what the hell goes on in these lake systems. I’ve caught fish for sure, but have had no idea what I was doing most of the time. Now, as things are winding down, I’m starting to fit a few pieces of the puzzle together and realising what I was missing earlier in the season. That’s the fun of it though. What a learning curve!

The point I’m trying to make here is that everything hinges on the progression of the seasons. Smart folk in North America know this and act accordingly. There are some amazing resources available to the freshwater fisherman here, I’ll say that. The work undertaken by such organisations as In-Fisherman (www.in-fisherman.com/) is pretty astounding – after reading through a couple of their classic publications; Walleye Wisdom: An In-Fisherman Handbook of Strategies; and Pike: An In-Fisherman Handbook of Strategies; I was struck by how important seasons are to freshwater fish in North America. To find good fish consistently, you have to be always thinking of what is going on in the fish’s environment. Keeping in touch with annual patterns is one step towards making this process easier.

Knowing what the fish should be doing at a given time of year goes a long way towards catching them
Knowing what the fish should be doing at a given time of year goes a long way towards catching them

We all act on the yearly progression of seasons subconsciously as well as accidentally. Think about it. Early season Australian bass, still hanging in brackish water, take advantage of the first runs of school prawns as the weather warms in September, and I’ve capitalised on this using prawn imitations as well as live prawns to pin my first fish for the season. Colder weather sees more big mulloway turning up off the beaches and river mouths, which no doubt has something to do with seasonal movements of prey. I can’t explain the exact details here because I simply haven’t put the effort in to find an explanation yet. But I guarantee that finding out what brings big mulloway to the beaches in June will make me more likely to catch them.

If you’re serious about learning what makes your favourite species tick, it is worth researching the finer points of their seasonal behaviour. While I’m not aware of any one place that contains the wealth of Australian fishing knowledge related to seasonal behaviour and movements of our favourite sportfish, there are a few publications that might be worth looking at for a start. I know I will be picking a few books up when I get back.

Of course, you may be one of those people that have learned the hard way – by fishing for it. Spend enough time on the water and keep notes, and you will be able to start piecing together some information yourself.

For now, I’m going to start thinking about when and where I’ve had success on different species. That will be a good place to start asking questions. The next step will be finding the information that will tell me why I was successful or otherwise. Fishing is definitely a science. Getting the ‘fishing’ side of things down – the cast, the retrieves, the knots – is one thing. Getting the ‘hunting’ aspect of things – the questioning, the understanding, the putting yourself in the right place at the right time – is what sets the good fishermen apart. So what are your fish up to this week?

A fine Fall afternoon - good weather to look for bigger pike
A fine Fall afternoon – good weather to look for bigger pike
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