It's June and many anglers are wondering where the fish have gone.
The sixth month of the year is a major transition period for most of the fish species in northeastern Ohio. Trying to stay in touch, anglers who found their favorite species in certain areas last month now are forced to fan out in search of new haunts.
Their hunting will be easier if they understand the two most significant influences in the fish world: food and reproduction.
Why spawn: Spawning occurs when a species' optimum water temperature coincides with the proper lunar phase. For fish like walleyes, northern pike and muskies, spawning occurred months ago. Most of this area's largemouth bass and panfish just recently completed their nesting activities. Catfish typically are summer spawners.
What that means, basically, is that food is the driving force in June. All other factors are secondary.
It is not uncommon to hear anglers say, "The fish have backed off." What really has happened when the fish "back off" is that they have moved in response to the new locations of their preferred food.
Pattern prevails: That pattern prevails regardless of species and geography. A walleye in northern Ontario will follow ciscoes' movements and a bass in a Louisiana Delta marsh will stay close to the Cajun bream and shrimp.
Closer to home, we find the walleyes are scattering from their cool-water feeding grounds. The bass are no longer locked onto the shoreline nesting sites and the crappies are less prolific in the willows than they were several weeks ago.
So where are they? The answer is they are following their prey, which are, of course, following their own preferred food.
Game fish adjust their locations by selecting places where their hunting styles intersect with their prey.
Walleyes, for instance, will hang around a deep hump or ledge in the summer, and zoom out in small packs to snatch shad from schools that swim over the hangout. A bass is an ambush feeder, preferring to lurk in a shady spot where it is camouflaged. A baitfish that gets too close or a crawfish that flits into range is doomed.
Weather influence: Weather certainly influences the fishes' behavior, but the impact tends to be more on the bait than on the game species. Baitfish, shad primarily, usually are found around algae and plankton.
On a cloudy day, the baitfish may suspend and gamesters like bass and walleyes will roam in search of them.
Windy days position the bait more predictably; plankton blows to the windward side of the water, and that is typically where the bigger fish go hunting.
When the sun is strong, bait will either move deep to hide or toward the shallows to munch on algae. Anglers can then catch bass on a diving crankbait or on a well-placed jig or plastic worm.
Study sonar: Fishermen can find the bait by studying their sonar readout. It's often called a fish finder, but it's better used as a bait locator. A flasher will light up when you idle over a school of bait, while an LCD unit will showbait as clouds of pixels.
Those who learn to pattern their fishing by keying on the best baitfish locations, where cover or structure intersect, will score the highest, day in and day out.