Why Fish Move: How to Stay One Step Ahead

Why Fish Move: How to Stay One Step Ahead

Prime fish locations, and the transitions among them, are driven by a set of species-specific factors. (Shutterstock image)

To be successful on the water, you must understand where and why fish move.

As a fishermen, all you have to do is find fish and then get them to bite. That simple statement encapsulates everything that we do on the water. Yes, we must pick a destination, a target species, and the equipment we’ll use to pursue them, but ultimately, once we’re on the water, we have to locate our finned adversaries before we can make them bite.


Fish move. Even an angler with limited experience will soon recognize the seasonality, and the predictability, of fish movements within their favorite lake, river or reservoir. Statements declaring, “that bay is terrific for springtime bass, but by the Fourth of July, they’re out on this weedline,” are commonplace. But why do fish move and how do we stay one step ahead of them?

Prime fish locations, and the transitions among them, are driven by a set of species-specific factors, each revolving around particular biological requirements. For any fish we chase, these are (1) reproduction, (2) forage availability and (3) environmental factors, such as water temperature. Understand these needs from the perspective of your target species and you will be able to quickly locate them wherever you fish.


Fish will engage in spawning behavior once they reach reproductive maturity, with annual movements dictated by this primal urge. Water temperature, length of day and moon phase all work together to trigger predictable transitions of fish to their eventual spawning grounds.

Consider the reproductive behavior of bass as an example: both largemouth and smallmouth will be in a breeding mood once water temperatures stabilize above 60 degrees but their preferred habitats will frequently be quite different. Smallmouth will fashion a nest in a hard-bottomed area, one comprised largely of sand, gravel and rock.

On the other hand, largemouth are willing to spawn in soft-bottomed, vegetated areas. Once you appreciate these species-specific habitat preferences, you’ll be able to locate spawning bass.


Now, let’s eat and stay comfy: once the next generation has been created, fish movements will be largely dictated by forage availability and environmental considerations. These two factors are tightly coupled with the movement of prey items (and the predators that follow them) resulting from their own reproductive cycles, forage needs and environmental requirements.

Consider the movement of bass once spawning is complete: largemouth will remain in shallow, weedy areas for some time because these areas are brimming with prey options, especially juvenile panfish and baitfish. Summer heat will drive these smaller fish into two areas that provide shelter from the sun and from predators: deep weedlines and shallow slop. Because their prey is abundant there, finding summer largemouth in the thick stuff should come as no surprise.

In contrast, smallmouth bass will slide onto rocky flats and deeper, hard-bottomed areas. These movements are again coupled to the distribution of their preferred forage items: crawfish, small baitfish and, where present, gobies. On larger bodies of water with populations of soft-finned forage (smelt, alewives and ciscoes), smallmouth bass will notoriously suspend off cover, especially in summer and fall. In these instances, baitfish relate to the thermocline to accommodate their own temperature requirements, grazing on concentrations of plankton moving up and down within the water column, and smallies are never far behind. Frequently, these suspended fish are the largest.

Fish are simple creatures. During any given year, they need to reproduce, find plenty to eat and avoid getting too hot or too cold.

Understanding these fundamental biological requirements, and how your favorite targets will move to address them, will help you put more fish in the boat all year long.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Walleye

How to Fish Bottom Bouncers for Walleye

Mark Sak - May 23, 2019

While misunderstood by some, fishing bottom bouncers can be a very productive technique for...

Fishing How-To

Why You'll Lose Your Next Big Bass

Larry Larsen

Now that you know you might screw it up the next time a big fish bites, let's fix it.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor Hoody

John Frazier of Simms Fishing Products helps OSG's Lynn Burkhead understand the new features of the new Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor sun protection hoody.

13 Fishing Inception SZ

Florida angling pro Jessie Mizell knows that the saltwater found in Sunshine State coastal fisheries can wreak havoc on even the best fishing gear. But with 13 Fishing's new feature laden Inception SZ saltwater baitcasting reel, tackling inshore and light tackle saltwater game fish just got a whole lot easier!

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

Fresh off catching the biggest bass in ICAST Cup history, 13 Fishing pro Jessie Mizell shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Big Squirm soft plastic worm and the company's unique Pathfinder topwater walking bait that is totally weedless in design.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Catfish

Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

Catfish

Catfish Night & Day: How to Catch 'Em Both Ways

Terry Madewell - April 04, 2018

Catfish tend to be found in shallower water at night, but they are still active during the...

See More Stories

More Bass

Bass

How to Find Bass on Strange Water

Gary Lewis - July 01, 2019

Learn to tackle new lakes like MLF pros.

Bass

MLF Pros: What's With the Moon?

G&F Online Staff

We're told to pay attention to the lunar phases. What do bass pros think?

Bass

Topwater Lures, Tactics for Summer Bass

Ronnie Garrison - June 24, 2019

Here's how you choose the best topwater baits and where, when and how to fish them.

See More Bass

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.