The filamentous cyanobacterium Planktothrix rubescens produces secondary metabolites called microcystins (MC) that are potent toxins for most eukaryotes, including zooplankton grazers, cattle and humans. P. rubescens occurs in many deep and thermally stratified lakes throughout Europe. In Lake Zurich (Switzerland), it re-appeared in the 1970s concomitant with decreasing eutrophication. Since then, P. rubescens has become the dominant species in this major drinking water reservoir, where it forms massive metalimnetic blooms during late summer. These cyanobacteria harbor subpopulations of non-MC producers, but little is known about the environmental factors affecting the success of such genotypes. The non-MC-producing subpopulation of P. rubescens was studied using a quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) assay on the MC synthetase (mcy) gene cluster that targets a deletion on the mcyH and mcyA genes, which inactivates MC biosynthesis. Two complementary qPCR assays were used to assess the total population abundance (based on the 16S rDNA gene) and the mcy gene copy number (based on a conserved region in the adenylation domain of the mcyB gene). The objective was to evaluate the seasonal patterns of the share of non-MC-producing filaments in the total P. rubescens population. The mcyHA mutants were present in low proportions (up to 14%) throughout the year. Their highest relative abundances occurred during the winter mixis, when total concentrations of P. rubescens were minimal. The MC deficient mutants seemed to better survive in sparse populations, possibly because of lower grazing pressure and a consequently reduced need for MC-mediated protection. Alternatively, the mutants might cope better with the sub-optimal, stressful pressure and light conditions during the winter mixis. Altogether, our results suggest that subtle trade-offs might seasonally determine the proportions of non-MC producers within P. rubescens populations.