Seasonal variation in activity of enzymes involved in polymer degradation, including chitinases, has been observed previously in freshwater environments. However, it is not known whether the seasonal dynamics are due to shifts in the activity of bacteria already present, or shifts in community structure towards emergence or disappearance of chitinolytic organisms. We traced seasonal shifts in the chitinase gene assemblage in a temperate lake and linked these communities to variation in chitinase activity. Chitinase genes from 20 samples collected over a full yearly cycle were characterized by pyrosequencing. Pronounced temporal shifts in composition of the chitinase gene pool (beta diversity) occurred along with distinct shifts in richness (alpha diversity) as well as chitin processing. Changes in the chitinase gene pool correlated mainly with temperature, abundance of crustacean zooplankton and phytoplankton blooms. Also changes in the physical structure of the lake, e.g. stratification and mixing were associated with changes in the chitinolytic community, while differences were minor between surface and suboxic hypolimnetic water. The lake characteristics influencing the chitinolytic community are all linked to changes in organic particles and we suggest that seasonal changes in particle quality and availability foster microbial communities adapted to efficiently degrade them.