Seasonal fishing patterns do not necessarily coincide with seasons of the calendar. In fact, it would be odd for fishing patterns to change with the seasons. We are going into a time of fishing pattern changes right now. These are changes that few anglers recognize.
Late summer, just before the water temperature starts dropping, some fishing patterns change for no obvious reason. I expect that one reason for changes is that natural food supplies are starting to get relatively low after several months of being eaten. Closely related, some forage, notably fish that were spawned during spring, may be growing too large to be eaten by some sport fish.
Phototrophic period, the average amount of sunshine each day, is a signal for animals and plants. Days are getting shorter now. This is something that happens each year just before temperatures start dropping, and it is a reason that temperatures drop. Shorter days mean less energy from the sun.
One of my favorite fishing pattern changes that happens during early September or late August takes place at Lake Erie. Now the anglers who are trolling deep water for walleye are starting to catch more and more steelhead. This, I surmise, is related to phototrophic period. I doubt very much that water temperature has anything to do with it. That will come into play later, once the steelhead are at the tributary mouths.
I have usually noticed this while fishing out of North East Marina, outside the Mountain. The Mountain as it is popularly called, is more accurately termed the Dunkirk Escarpment. This is a lake bottom feature that stretches roughly from Dunkirk to Shade's Beach. It is called the Mountain because in some places the bottom comes up before dropping, but really it is just a huge drop-off.
Depths on the inside of the Mountain in the area off North East Marina are as deep as 65 feet in some places, then the bottom comes up to about 55 feet before dropping into about 110 feet very quickly. Depth continues to increase, but at a slower rate out to a maximum depth of 210 feet in one small area. More commonly, 180 feet is maximum.
Mixed schools of steelhead and walleye commonly can be found in depths of 115 feet, or deeper. During the past few years we have found them between 115 feet and 135 feet. We trolled in a north to south direction between these depths, between North East Marina and the New York border. The fish may have been deeper also, but for no reason other than to limit our trolling pattern, we turn at 135 feet and head toward the Mountain until we get to 115 feet, then turn again.
It is not unusual to catch both walleye and steelhead on lures running off downriggers at 115 feet, while at the same time catching both on Dipsy Divers that probably were running down 45 feet to 55 feet. Sometimes we even caught then on lures run from planer boards. There is just no rhyme nor reason to it.
Supposedly steelhead prefer to be at the upper edge of the thermocline, which is typically 70 feet to 75 feet in the Eastern Basin of Lake Erie. They like that area because the water temperature is right. Maybe there is some truth to this, but it does not explain why we catch steelhead close to surface, even see them chasing bait fish right at the surface, when the water temperature is 70 degrees.
Usually we troll a mix of spoons, stick baits and nightcrawler harnesses. Everything is trolled in pairs, unless a pattern leads us to use even more of one lure. I was taught to troll lure types in pairs when I was first taught about controlled depth fishing. Maybe it is pointless, but I have stuck with it.
Spoons usually are the most effective lures for mixed catches. When I want to concentrate on steelhead I run spoons that are predominately red. Otherwise, I am not very confident that lure color makes much difference. Stick with blue/silver or green/silver patterns and if the fish are hitting you should catch your share.
The best way to avoid steelhead once a limit is in the cooler is to troll only nightcrawler harnesses. I have not seen many steelhead caught on nightcrawler harnesses.
For some reason unknown to me, fishing typically improves for walleye, bass and muskie right around the first of September. Maybe unusually warm water might push this back a while, but I doubt it. It seems this also is related to phototrophic period.
If nothing else, all of this is a good excuse to get out and do some fishing.