Hardly anyone noticed the change from spring to summer when the Summer Solstice occurred Wednesday, June 20th. Had I not seen it on my calendar, I may have wondered when it happened. It was the longest day of the year, in terms of daylight hours. Along with summer comes heat. When we get too hot, some of us start the outboard, run for a while and cool off, or have an icy cold beverage. Surely whenever we can, we head for some shade to try and beat the heat. So, how do the heat and harsh sun’s rays beating down on the water change our game plan when it comes to fishing? Fishing can be tough, hard work, unless you understand where and why fish do what they do. Let’s take a look at some of the obvious and not so obvious things that can ultimately affect your fishing, and your catching.
During warm months, fish are more active when water temperatures are the coolest. As a rule, that would be in the early hours around sunrise, and during those around sunset and later. Of course, on overcast days with a drizzle, fish get very active. Cooler water surface temperatures caused by the rain water may trigger a surface bite, calling for use of topwater lures. Topwater lures fished during these times can provoke heart-stopping blasts from fish. Fish knock lures out of the water as they aggressively hit them for the kill. For some fish, like snook, the fish may not even be hungry when they strike a topwater lure, but due to the territorial nature of this fish, linesiders will guard their space and hit the lure in an attempt to chase the invader out, resulting in a hook up.
Fish like tarpon, permit, and mangrove snapper thrive in warm water and will still feed. That’s not to say that they won’t feed at night, because tarpon and mangrove snapper are notorious for their nocturnal dining preferences. Most other species can get pretty lethargic and don’t feed as actively during the heat of the day. So, by starting early or waiting until close to sundown to head out, you can be on the water when most fish feed.
Location- Location- Location
Fish have certain habitats where they prefer to spend their day. Three ingredients for their habits include 1) shelter from the direct sunlight, 2) cool from the heat, and 3) food for whenever they get hungry. Direct sunlight makes for extremely bright conditions that can hurt a fish’s eyes. They have no eye lids to protect their eyes so they head for some shade where it’s more comfortable for them. A place out of the sun is where they look to hang during the bright hours of the day. These spots may be prime for surface lures, since the fish are unaffected by surface light in the shade, but usually these spots are difficult to get a topwater lure to.
On sunny days during the high tide, snook and redfish will head for mangrove islands or shorelines encrusted with oyster bars or for other structure such as boat docks, submerged cover, or for deeper water. The best scenario is one where there is structure overhead, such as a dock, overhanging tree or limb, and some good moving water with good depth. The overhead structure will shade the fish’s eyes and cool the water.
Prior to sunrise, gator trout may be found up very shallow on the flats feeding or resting away from predators like the dolphin in a foot or so of water. Wading anglers or anglers with kayaks or other extreme shallow drafting boats can take advantage of this situation, but stealth is the key here since in these shallow depths these fish spook very easily. Fly anglers have the perfect scenario for fishing these quiet waters with surface poppers, sliders, or gurglers. Potholes on these skinny waters are prime spots for big fish. Light tackle anglers can toss lures like the weedless Eppinger Rex Spoon. Shallow running DOA Baitbusters are excellent lures for wading the shallows for fish like big trout, reds and snook. The MirrOmullet XL from MirrOlure resembles a finger mullet profile with a small rattle that is just loud enough to get the attention of nearby fish. Working these skinny water depths early can get big results. Of course, for live bait anglers, freelining a live shrimp or whitebait will get you all the action you can stand.
As the sun gets higher in the sky, the angle of penetration of the suns rays makes for better penetration into the water, increasing brightness and water temperature. As the rays of light penetrate the water, they are refracted or bent, lessening their severity. Because of this, deeper waters are inherently darker and cooler toward the bottom. So as the sun rises in the sky and water temperatures climb, look for fish to go deeper. Think about this when choosing lure color. In soft plastic lures, I like the night glow color that emits a glowing chartreuse color that imitates a natural bioluminescense that is found in the water. Tiny organisms in the water that give off this glow feed on protein found in the blood of wounded fish and crustaceans. They attach themselves to the wound to feed. This glow is like a signal to predators looking for an easy meal. Since wounded animals are much slower than healthy ones, they are more likely to take less energy to feed on than a fast healthy baitfish. Lures with a fluorescent chartreuse and gold color that sink to depths of 6-feet and greater could be good choices where water is dark or deep.
Size matters, but the majority of fish will eat lures 4-inches in length with no problem. If hesitation is noted, or water clarity is very clear, scale down the size of your lure. The big bait- big fish theory will always be bantered around, but to a degree, I do believe in it. Using larger baits will definitely limit the size of fish you catch to the larger of the species. So, if you want action, smaller lures in the 3-to 4-inch size range will get that for you.
Summer; it’s a vacation time, a laid back, easy going time for relaxation, but if you want action in your fishing, use that lazy attitude to your best advantage and make it work for you. Don’t work harder at catching fish, just work smarter.