By Billy Pryor
We are all aware that any given summer day in Iowa is pretty much unpredictable. It may be a breezy 72 degrees with light fluffy clouds floating past or it may be a wildly windy day that you would not attempt to use a baitcaster. More often than not, it is a sweltering, humid, and almost unbearable sunny day that will probably be even worse once you are out on the water. You might think to yourself that the fish would not be biting on a day this hot. Actually, the heat does not mean that the fish will just be relaxing in the shade and napping all day. It simply means that you need to change your tactics to find those fish that have moved to the cooler, more comfortable spots. First and foremost, while fishing in the intense heat you need to make sure that YOU stay safe. You cannot stay out on the boat or on the shore for long if you are not prepared for what the sun is capable of. Before you head out to the lake, make sure you pack plenty of water and sunscreen so you can stay safe and focus on catching big summertime fish without getting “burnt out”!
Suddenly it seems as if the fish have just stopped biting all together. You have pulled every trick out of the bag that you can think of. Whether you are switching from your usual day to day fishing styles or to a completely different fish species, your tactics are usually just modified with a simple change of lure color or maybe something a little flashier. Despite these challenges, if you are dealing with the pounding summer sun and the mysterious missing fish…you may just need to completely relocate to a new “cool down” spot.
When it is hot out and the sun is beating down, most game fish will venture away from their wide open spaces and head to cover. A majority of game fish are ambush predators and will use this cover to hide as well as to stay cool. Once sufficient cover is found, they will tuck themselves in and suspend waiting to feed by looking out into the open water as the possible meals are swimming right past them. Fish will seek out this aquatic cover because it is not only cooler but it allows them to get the meal that they are after without having to raise their body temperatures due to a chase. The cover that I focus on finding consists of fallen trees, docks, trees hanging low over the water, or vegetation in the water. Basically, anything that can cast a shadow providing a cooler place for them to wait for the next meal to present itself. The shade from this cover will cool the water a few degrees and it will attract smaller bait fish who are more susceptible to the dangers of the heat.
Most areas where bait fish are gathered are the same areas where the larger game fish will be found. Speaking of bait fish, you can also check out the shallow waters near the bank. The natural current and the wakes from the passing boats will be constantly hitting the shore and stirring up nutrient rich soil, shad, and other attractants, which will bring the larger predator fish to the cover in that area.
It’s not just the shallow shore areas that need to be focused on though. If you are ready to crank things up a notch, then take the boat out and be prepared to have the sun, not only beat down on you but reflect up at you as well.
Once you have the boat out on deeper water, try to find some vegetation that is growing tall and strong from the bottom. With the water being deeper, the fish will tend to stay closer to the dark bottom for the cooler temperatures. If the water you are fishing is more on the shallow side- no worries. The strong midday sun will cause this aquatic vegetation to start photosynthesizing, and will produce scents that will attract a wide variety of insects. These insects will then lure the smaller bait fish into feed. Like I said before, where there are bait fish-there are game fish.
On those hot days, another promising location to be on the lookout for are the areas of faster flowing waters, such as a runoff or a spill way. If you can find where the water has a stronger current, the fish that you are after are sure to hold there due to the cooler temperatures and more oxygenated water. A lot of anglers will fish smaller lakes and farm ponds that do not seem to have any flowing water or waves unless it is a windy day. However, water without wind is not completely calm. Any body of water will have moving currents for a variety of reasons.
The main and most obvious being wind. However, a current can be affected by inlets, outlets, temperature change, and even pressure changes. These currents can sometimes be easily seen on top of the water or even hidden under the surface. When looking for faster flowing water that is not apparent, head to areas of the lake where the shore drastically changes size. If you can locate a branch or a channel jetting off of the shoreline, the pressure will change where the land squeezes the water. If cover is not necessarily an option, this may just be the answer.
Once these areas of the lake are discovered, it is time to really focus on presentation. Active game fish that are feeding heavily are still surprisingly picky. Using plastics with a lot of motion in the body is sure to get the attention of any hungry fish. I prefer Texas-Rigging also known as weedless rig or skin-hooked rig, a 6 inch or slightly longer plastic worm. To do this place the worm onto the hook with the point of the hook pushed back into the body of the worm making it weedless and add a ¼ ounce bullet weight on the line ahead of the hook. What I have found to be a solid summertime finesse is to present the bait in a flick and fall motion. I retrieve my lures quickly but not necessarily fast.
While doing so, a flicking motion of the wrist will give the lure a much livelier appearance. If you feel a sudden stop or slack in the line then quickly give it another flick to get the bait rising and falling again. Of course, different skills and tactics will always have to be used depending on things like the weather, your surroundings, water clarity, and even the current under the water that isn’t visible to the naked eye. On that hot summer day when you are surrounded by loads of late summer vegetation, there is still plenty of hope if you have the knowledge to find those lurking lunkers. But getting out on the water is the first step towards catching the big one. If you can stand the heat, then do not give up until you have tried all of the cover that you can find. Of course, there is no guaranteed way to catch fish all day long (especially while Iowa’s summer sun is trying to cook you), but that is why they call it fishing and not catching.