At this time of year, I am all about the changes that are taking place on our area waterways. As water temperatures drop rapidly with the cold nights and shorter days, fish are definitely in a transition. In fact, entire lakes are in a transition, from the aforementioned temperature changes and available sunlight, from the size of the baitfish and prevailing winds placing said baitfish, as well as insect life. Local lakes are going through their pre-winter changes, and we as anglers can take advantage of that.
Many fish species relate to “edges” all year long, but that is especially true at this time of year. Edges can mean many things, from a simple depth change, to an underwater channel, or the edge of a weedbed or other natural or manmade structure. Even the suns shadow can cause an edge where fish will gather as they ambush prey. Why are these edges important to an angler? There are many reasons.
Edges most often give fish a structure to relate to. Maybe it defines a travel path that fish use to transition from one end of a lake to another, much like the “center bar” on Flathead Lake does. Or it can be a sharp depth edge of an underwater point or cliff that fish use to push bait into an area where they will patrol and feed for days. Edges of weeds can also be a huge factor at this time of the year, especially when targeting big predator fish like Bass and Pike, to name a couple.
Weeds are where bugs and small baitfish hide all year long. As weedy areas get choked out during the peak of summer, they get harder to fish and therefore more fish find sanctuary in them. But when the weed beds begin to thin out during this transition, we as anglers can once again fish them effectively. The edges of the thicker areas can really be a hot spot, and if these spots are closer to deep water, or another structural edge, they can really produce.
Locating areas where weeds are above water is easy, obviously, and many of these areas are great places to start your searches. Finding where underwater weed edges are in any particular lake is made easier with today’s excellent sonars. Many lakes in NW Montana are fairly clear, and weeds will grow out into about 20-24 feet of water, so start there. On any particular lake, the edge should be in a fairly consistent depth and this will help you in your search. In lakes that are fairly stained, weeds may stop growing at 12-15 feet, or less.
Next is to figure out what types of food are living in these weeds so you can match what the fish are eating. Are there young of the year baitfish such as Perch and Sunfish? Maybe it is mostly bugs and emerging invertebrates (bloodworms, mayfly larva). Studying with an underwater camera makes this easier to Identify, or simply gutting a fish you catch and looking at stomach contents will help.
This time of the year, baitfish are at their largest before they become predators on their own, and fish are looking for the biggest bang for their buck as they pack on calories for winter. Larger crayfish patterns or whole night crawlers are preferred over smaller offerings, on most days. Young of the year perch (a staple in almost all local lakes) are one and a half to two inches long now, and sunfish are about the size of a quarter, so match your offerings to not just the color and shape but the size as well.
Living on the edge? The fish are, and you should be too! I’ll see you on the water.