With summer heat comes warmer water and algae. Algae blooms are a fact of life for many anglers and shouldn’t be the reason for staying home. You wouldn’t be the first person to show up at the boat launch only to turn tail when you see a dense green film of algae coating the lake.
But the thing is, algae and poor fishing doesn’t go hand in hand. It’s possible to fish in algae blooms with great success. In fact, the persistent angler is rewarded with some of the finest summer fishing in lakes with algae. And it’s almost guaranteed that you will be alone. With a few simple changes in fishing tactics, you can adapt and catch plenty of fish.
Of course, if you plan to eat fish from lakes with algae blooms, make sure to follow the recommendations of any health advisories regarding toxic blooms. Otherwise, there is a lot of action to be had fishing through algae. Follow along and we’ll share everything we know to improve your chances.
Types of algae blooms
Not all algae is created equal. Some is highly toxic and others cause only minor impact to water quality. When it comes to fishing, you’re most likely to encounter blue-green algae.
It smells, it’s slimy and it drives most anglers away. Blue-green algae is a bloom of cyanobacteria that infests lakes, rivers and ponds during the summer. If you are fishing in a lake with algae, it is most likely blue-green algae. In some cases, these blooms are toxic. For animals and people who come into physical contact with it, cyanotoxins can be dangerous.
Not all blooms produce toxins though and your local department of ecology will likely have warnings posted if it is. Otherwise, avoid contact with the water and keep pets out of it just in case.
Golden algae is the scariest of freshwater algae blooms. If your favorite fishing spot gets hit with a golden algae bloom, it’s time to start searching for a new lake. Golden algae is extremely toxic and causes major fish kills.
Luckily, it is not as common as other types of algae blooms and has been limited so far to the high salinity lakes in southern portions of the country.
Does algae affect fishing
Algae blooms are just a fact of life for many anglers across the country. Warm summer temperatures combined with higher levels of water contaminants have greatly increased the number and size of algae blooms in recent years.
Yet, ask most experienced fishing guides what they think about algae and they’ll tell you it’s not a problem. People still catch plenty of fish as long as they adapt their tactics and lure colors to match the conditions. I personally catch just as many fish in algae infested lakes as I do in clear water. It just isn’t a big deal.
That’s not to say all algae blooms are fishable though. Thick, nasty blooms in shallow water reduce visibility to zero and actually drive fish away from those spots. Also, golden algae is highly toxic and causes severe fish kills. In those cases, algae blooms negatively affect fishing success.
Timing and conditions to consider
Algae blooms are just that, blooms. They are usually worst during the heat of the day when the sun is most intense. Warm water and sun send blue-green algae into reproductive overdrive.
So what should an angler do? For starters, arrive at the lake early while cool morning temperatures keep algae in check. We’ve noticed that areas covered in algae the afternoon before are often clear and free of blooms the next morning. This is your chance to throw top water baits, swimbaits, jigs or whatever you want without a problem.
Once that sun gets high in the sky, algae rises to the surface and starts blooming all over again. It’s not until sunset that that algae might start clearing up again. You’ll have a short window to take advantage of the increased visibility just before dark.
Of course, the early morning and late evening reprieve from algae blooms only applies when there isn’t any wind. Add in wind and the waves start churning the algae deeper into the water column leaving it discolored longer.
Where do fish go during algae blooms
The majority of gamefish like bass, trout and panfish hardly notice an average algae bloom. They swim and feed in it without a problem. You’ll find fish hanging in the same spots whether the water is clouded with algae or crystal clear.
Algae tends to float to the surface as it blooms which leaves the water a foot or two down free from the majority of algae. While it looks un-fishable to you at the surface, below the fish hardly notice.
Keep in mind though that really thick blooms will send fish in search of deeper, cooler water where blooms are less dense. Not only do dense blooms reduce visibility making prey harder to find, they also block sunlight which causes aquatic vegetation to die over time.
Vegetation die-off forces fish to find new sources of forage in different areas of the lake. Sometimes this causes a higher concentration of fish in fewer areas. In that case, track down spots where the bloom is less severe and you might be rewarded with some good fishing action.
When wind and wave action starts stirring up the water, algae gets pretty well dispersed throughout the water column. Most of the time fish continue to hold in their usual spots. For them, it is no big deal and cool temperatures during late evening and early morning will reduce the bloom enough to encourage feeding once again.
Adapt to algae with lure color
If you are having a hard time catching fish in algae covered water, it isn’t that they left the area. They most likely are having a hard time picking out your lure from the background since algae makes water murky.
The white or baitfish patterned crankbaits won’t cut it when algae is in the water. Instead, opt for lures with chartreuse, orange or pink to draw fish in. Even a little metallic flash will help your bait get noticed.
When throwing soft plastics, avoid natural colors like brown or green shades. Now is the time to break out blues, blacks and purples. Anything you can do to increase the contrast of your lure to the murky color of algae is going to help you catch more fish.
Techniques for enticing fish in algae
Aside from changing lure color, try modifying your usual habits to increase your odds of hooking up. There are a few important tactics we employee when fishing in algae. All help us catch more fish when the bite gets tough.
- Utilize vibration: Once visibility degrades enough, fish begin relying more on other senses. Vibration and movement being the most important. This is especially true for bass and walleye. Tie on something with some extra rattles built in.
- Fish slower: The range from which fish see your bait in an algae bloom is pretty limited. Give them a chance to notice your lure. Take your time and slow down your presentation.
- Add scent: Catching stocked trout in algae infested water is possible but adding a little scent to your bait or lure will help cruising fish hone in on your offering even better.
Is it safe to eat fish from lakes with algae blooms
Even though blue-green algae can be toxic, there is a general consensus that fish do not pose a major health concern when consumed in moderation.
There have yet to be any reports of anglers getting sick from eating fish pulled from water bodies with blue-green algae. However, there has not been any official study about it either.
In general, you may be better off practicing catch and release if you are unsure. If you do intend to eat fish from algae covered water, always remove the skin, fat and internal organs before consuming fish. It has been found that intestines and fat holds higher levels of toxins whereas the muscles (fillets) concentrate very little toxin.
Always rinse fillets well with freshwater to remove contaminants spread by the cleaning process.
Use common sense, obey all health advisories and consume fish in moderation and you’ll likely be just fine.
The bottom line
When all is said and done, algae blooms are not a big deal when it comes to fishing. Sure, you’ll need to change up colors and tactics but more often than not, you can still catch plenty of fish under the scum.
When other anglers avoid the water at the first sight of a bloom, that’s your chance to get the best honey holes all to yourself. Armed with a bit of knowledge and understanding on how to time bloom cycles, you’ll boat more fish all summer long.
And just as important, please remember to completely clean your boat, trailer and tackle of any algae before fishing in another body of water. Please do your part to help stop the spread of invasive species!