Late-summer fishing a challenge
Oh, the dog days of summer. Hot, dry weather, low reservoir levels, and fish that have less interest in feeding than they do in, I don’t know, hanging out at the bar drinking frozen drinks with umbrellas in them.
Fishing in late summer is almost like work.
There’s no doubt that fishing at this time of year is tough, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting.
The key to late summer fishing is knowing what the fish are eating, knowing where they’re staging, and knowing when the fish are most likely to be on the feed.
Concentrating on the bass and other warm water species in the reservoir, the first thing to understand is that their lives are all about the next meal.
Virtual eating machines, these fish will feed non-stop as long as the conditions are right.
But once the conditions change, as they will nearly every day in the summer, the fish will shut down as if someone just flipped a switch until the conditions change again.
So to begin figuring out the puzzle of late summer, the first thing to look at is the food source.
Right now shad fingerlings are balling up and it’s not unusual to see huge black clouds of hundreds or even thousands of shad minnows cruising around over open water.
The idea of safety in numbers isn’t lost on the shad, but in this case these large schools are excellent fish attractors.
Warm and cold water species will feed voraciously on shad.
High in protein and available in numbers that make catching a meal a bit easier than trying to root a crawdad out from under a rock, shad are the number one forage for late summer.
It’s not uncommon to see these huge schools of shad swimming in open water at the mouths of coves, around large rock structures, or hugging rock walls.
What I find interesting about these schools of fish, though, is that they are typically found gathered up over deep water.
And that brings us to the fish.
Bass, wipers, walleyes, and other fish won’t typically stray too far from their food source.
Find the minnows and chances are very good that you’ll also find bigger fish nearby.
It’s not unusual to see these schools of bait fish show up on your electronics, and to also find the larger signatures of bigger fish suspending down below them.
Knowing that these large schools of minnows will be over open water and usually close to some type of visible structure, that’s where I start my search.
Water that is 15-20 feet deep and combined with steeply falling bluff walls or chunk rock banks are my favorite locations for late summer and anytime I’m within 10 yards of a gravel bank, but my boat is sitting over 20 feet or more of water, I’m going to treat that spot like a potential honey hole.
Shad minnows are a primary food source, but I’ve never met a fish that will pass up a lobster dinner, so crawdads are also high on the list of summer favorites on the menu.
Steep gravel banks provide the deep water that shad fingerlings school over, but also have the added bonus of being outstanding crawdad habitat.
The second part of the summer fishing equation is that the bigger fish will feed like crazy during parts of the day but will seem to shut down completely at other times.
Unlike what is usual in spring and fall, when it seems like the fish are up for a fight all day long, water temperatures in the summer have a lot to do with the activity levels of fish.
Cold blooded creatures, a fish’s body temperature is equal to the water surrounding it.
Now think about that for just a moment.
As humans, we can function ok under hot temperatures.
We can venture out into the yard, pull weeds under the blazing sun, and wear ourselves completely out, and then run right in and eat a full meal, right?
But as we step indoors and spend a little time under the climate controlled environment of refrigerated air, we are energized and food starts looking a little better to us.
Now getting back to fish, they don’t have A/C, but they do have the ability to regulate their body temperatures by seeking out cooler or warmer pockets of water to adjust the temperature to their liking.
Under a blazing sun, chances are slim that you’ll find many bigger fish cruising the shallows in search of a meal.
The heat reflecting off the rocks and the intense sun drives surface temperatures up in a hurry, so the prime time to catch fish in the summer is before or well after the most intense period of sun exposure.
Mornings are typically the best times to catch fish in the summer.
From the time that the sun comes up until the time that the shadows have receded to within just a couple of feet of the bank, the fish will be active.
This gives most anglers who get up early and get an early start about six hours of prime fishing time before things will slow down.
Spinner baits, small crank baits, and tube jigs are the go-to lures for this type of fishing and if you drop that lure right in the skinniest water you can find, right next to the bank, and work it back into deeper water off of those steeply falling banks, you’ll probably find the fishing to be very spring-like in the number of hook ups that you get.
The dog days are here and the frustrations of the fishing puzzle are here with them.
Find the food, though, and fish at the times that are going to be most productive for you, and you’ll probably find that the fishing will be less like work and more like fun.
Pueblo West resident Bill Claspell is an avid outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman who also enjoys writing about his adventures. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org