It’s hot out. Really hot. Like searing western dry heat, hot. My lawn died because I prefer water in the lake, not on the lawn. Danger, my old Labrador, is just layin’ around in the shade, which I suppose is where the term “dog days” of summer originated. Or is it “dawg days” – since we’re fishermen talking here? Let’s not digress with semantics.
The midsummer bite for many species is not exactly ideal. In fact, many anglers taper off their time on the water right now. Fine with me, but it doesn’t need to be that way. By changing a few things in your angling, you can keep catching fish and sometimes they can be caught easier now than at the more glamorous times (namely spring and fall) anglers ply their trade.
Being originally from South Florida, fishing in the heat is not new to me. Personally, I dig it. In fact, my friends will tell you I fish the best with the least amount of clothes on. No, not like that, they mean no shoes, no shirt, no problem. If I have six layers of wool and a Gore-Tex shell, I’m not nearly as efficient - or as happy – as an angler.
That means that I’ve found a few ways to keep me consistent when the mercury tops out. Some have to do with when I fish, where I fish, how I fish; and perhaps most importantly, how I maintain my physical stamina in the heat. Let’s take a look at each.
When is perhaps the easiest and most obvious key to summer fishing. In a nutshell, fish when it’s the coolest out – even if that means it only cooled slightly from the day’s high temp. First-light is my favorite time in summer. And I do mean first-light, like needing to have the lights on in the boat, or perhaps a headlamp to get safely down the trail to the water’s edge. If I can, I’ll start fishing an hour or so before there is any sign of light, just when the first robins start their pre-dawn squawking. That’s because the water temps are as low as they’ll be for the day after having cooled overnight. When temps approach that which make fish uncomfortable, they will be like Danger; just layin’ around in the shade. Last-light can be good too, especially for bass, but early is more consistently good.
Night fishing is also a good option if you can handle being out with things that go bump in the night and can take the next day off work. Walleyes feed very well in the dark of night, as do trout; especially browns. For night fishing, less moon is better than more moon, and stable weather seems to help too. The bite seems to get better a couple of hours after dark, or as dawn nears, as I already noted.
Another good time to fish is on an approaching storm. As the morning heat and calmness gives way to afternoon wind and rain, a minor feeding period often occurs. Just before, during, or after a rain shower can be great time to catch almost any kind of fish in any kind of water.
Where is a little more complicated and is more species specific. In reservoirs, where usually means deeper and/or with direct access to deep water. Deeper water is cooler and more temperature-stable; preferable if you’re cold blooded. The fish may move shallow to feed at night or early morning, and then move out deeper as the sun gets on the water. Hence, the proximity to deep water is key.
Cooler water holds more dissolved oxygen, which is a clue. Running water helps oxygen to dissolve better, so inlets and outlets can be great places. Even running culverts and very small springs will hold fish. In rivers, fish areas with tumbling water or immediately downstream. Leave the frog water for springtime.
Shade can be another key as to where. Classic vegetation mats are a blast for bass, and overhanging bushes/trees/docks are prime too. For trout, a deep pool with overhanging bushes and a small waterfall at the head is ideal. For walleyes and other warm-water fish, consider mud lines formed by wind or boat traffic as shade and therefor a great summertime feeding spot. They’ll hang out in adjacent deeper water and then move up and under the mud to feed when the time is right. Mud lines are at their best, at least for bigger fish, when they first form. This is one of my favorite summertime patterns in western reservoirs.
How is even more complicated. Basically, I fish either really fast or really slow in most summertime cases. I prefer really fast if I can because I can get my lure in front of more fish. If I’m fishing very small areas or specific pieces of cover, then really soaking a bait will do it. If I’ve got room to work, I always start with fast or erratic in an effort to get fish to react rather than feeding them. Ripping spoons, stroking heavy jigs, burning lipless crankbaits or really slapping a jerkbait are good possibilities for all the species I mentioned above. Using the flash of chrome in bright conditions can trigger bites too.
When fishing in the dark, a very rhythmic retrieve is usually best. All the species I mention are sight feeders, but they will use their lateral line to “feel” the lure’s vibration and hone in on it. Incidentally, I prefer very dark colors and larger lures at night.
Topwaters can be fun and productive for bass and wipers at night. Try them on flats adjacent to channels or drop-offs, or along very steep banks. A large walking-style bait is my first choice here. Hang on, because the strikes from either species can be stout. We’ve caught quite a few walleyes doing this as well, but not enough to call it a walleye technique. The ones we catch are always big though!
Managing your body during the heat of the day, or fishing all night for that matter, is crucial. If your body or brain can’t perform at its peak, you won’t do well and you’ll physically feel like crap after your done fishing. One key word: water! Drink lots and lots of water. On guide trips, I force my clients to drink water. Not soft drinks, not energy drinks, plain old water and plenty of it. I drink 16 ounces per hour when fishing in the heat. If you wait until you’re thirsty, it’s too late; your body is dehydrated, which leads to loss of focus, headaches, and other bad juju. Foods high in refined sugar are also bad in the heat.
Keeping sun off your skin can help a lot of folks too. On guide trips I find that most do much better by covering up exposed skin with thin, airy clothes. On really hot days, wetting those clothes with lake water is very invigorating; the occasional dip is even better.
Perhaps the most important article of clothing is a light colored and thin hat. Even with my much higher than average tolerance for sun and heat, a hat is always on my head and I wet it often in real heat. Sun shining directly on your scalp is a sure-fire way to ruin your day. My Costa shades are equally important!
Don’t let the dog days of summer keep you off the water. Instead, keep these tips in mind and enjoy fishing success regardless of the heat. I know I will!