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Wave Theory: Understanding Fish Movements

Anglers are always trying to find ways to target and catch the biggest fish they can. While there is a lot fo great information out there to help make a plan once you hit the water its all about decision making. Depending on your gameplan and if the conditions align you may find yourself ahead, behind, or right where the fish are. We like to think of fish movements as waves where different populations will move into or out of areas at different times. By realizing what wave is in the location you are at anglers can adjust to target the population they want to be with a few simple changes. We discuss this method in more detail below:

Let's start off by identifying the different populations of fish in a body of water. We think each body of water has 3 distinct populations; trophies, bulk, and laggers.


Typically the biggest fish in a body of water. They know their requirements and ways to optimize growth. They are the most picky about where they are and the first to make movements away from spring spawning sites. These are the fish you want to target if you're trophy hunting or in a tournament. The overall size is high but the amount of these fish are low so action will be slow.

fish movements how to find big fish seasonal movements

Bulk Population:

This is the largest concentration of fish. These will range in sizes but be the average size in your body of water. This is the population you want to target for the most action. There will still be big fish mixed in but this population will offer the most action and highest number of catches.


This population can still be high but laggers are typically the smallest fish in a body of water. These fish are not comfortable moving away from spawning sites and prefer the protection and lack of big predatory fish. We often call fishing spots full of laggers as "nursery" as they are full of small fish. This can still be great action and lots of fun but if you are in a nursery the chance of catching a big fish are very rare.

Fish Gap:

The fish gap is a wave of fish that we have identified as being non-existent. In other words if the trophies hit a spot first, then the bulk population, there will be nothing in this spot for a while until the laggers show up

wave theory fish movements seasonal habits find fishing spots

Now that we have identified what populations there are in every body of water we can assosciate them with seasonal movements and make changes to target one population over another. If we consider spawning sites as ground zero or the starting point all fish populations will be nearby. As the season progresses and fish begin to move towards summer haunts and then to wintering areas the first wave of fish to move will be the trophies! The trophies are the first fish to spawn, first to leave spawning sites, and first to show up at summer haunts. This is because of how dialed in to their requirements and optimizing growth! After the trophies there will be multiple waves of the bulk population beginning to move. Typically they will follow the same movements to the same or similar spots! Eventually the wave of laggers will begin to follow these same movements but it is typically much later than the bulk population; creating the fish gap! The image above shows this progression with smallmouth bass but the theory applies to all species.

Knowing this information is extrmely powerful in making good decisions while on the water and anglers can use it to adapt to the fish they want to target! If you are fishing a spot and not getting any action there are a few possible reasons:

1. You are ahead of the fish - try moving closer to spawning sites until you start to contact fish. They will likely be trophies if this is the case!

2. You are in the fish gap - This is often a situation where anglers struggle especially in late spring and fall. When fishing in the fish gap you may catch a few small fish and still not find any more action as you move back towards spawning sites. In this case the fish have already moved on and you are actually well behind them! In this case you need to take a few big steps along their season movement patterns to target the trophies or get on the bulk population.

If you are fishing and not having much action but the action you are getting is from quality fish you are likely in the right spots for the wave of trophies. You can experiment by moving further along or back in seasonal movements to find more fish but remember there are a lot fewer trophy sized fish in a body of water so action will be slow. Moving closer to spawning sites will increase action but the size of catches will go down. Not a bad thing but it all depends on your fishing goals!

If you are fishing and having great action but only catching small fish you are in the wave of laggers. Anglerss often make the mistake of trying to move only one or two steps ahead in the seasonal movements only to not catch anything and return back to the small fish. This is because of the big lag between the waves and the fish gap! If you find yourself in a wave of laggers you need to make a big move to catch up with the bulk population or trophies.

The wave theory is something that all anglers are likely aware of or have experienced but may not have given it the importance it deserves. Using this theory the next time you hit the water will help put more fish in the boat! To learn the specifics of seasonal fish movements for Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Walleye, Musky, & Lake Trout be sure to check out our courses as part of the Zero To Hero Fishing Masterclass at the link below:


To experience a day of fishing on the water with us be sure to check out our YouTube channel at the link below.

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If you or someone you know is looking to get into fishing or you just want to become a more successful angler be sure to check out our "Zero To Hero Fishing Masterclass" for courses on everything fishing! The masterclass is built to help you learn how to find and catch fish like the pro's by providing all the information you need and a clear development path! Don't miss out check it out now at:

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