Northeast Kansas received its first heat advisory of the summer this weekend, with heat index values hitting between 100 and 105 degrees in the afternoon.
One of the best ways to beat the heat and still fill up a stringer of fish during the dog days of summer is to forego the day fishing all together and hit the water after dark, when the air has cooled, the lake has calmed and the fish move in shallow to feed.
Catfish anglers know this tactic all too well, as many don’t consider the fishing to be good until midnight or later during the summer. Channel cats will generally move in shallow starting around dusk and remain there until morning, when it isn’t unusual to see some big channel cats swimming near the surface feeding on bugs or vegetation.
During the night, channel cats like to come into the rocks to look for food that has been stirred up by the waves throughout the day as boaters fly past the banks. An incredibly effective setup can be running a circle hook with live or cut bait about 2 to 3 feet under a glow bobber. As an added bonus, the glow of the bobber can attract bugs and smaller baitfish, which can help attract more catfish to your spot.
I tried this setup recently at the Shawnee State Fishing Lake, using a Team Catfish Jackhammer circle hook on a leader about 18 inches under a swivel, to help prevent line twist. The main thing to remember with a circle hook is to let the fish start running with the bait until you feel it pulling on the line, then keep pressure on the line and start reeling it in at a quick pace to set the hook. Don’t try to set the hook by jerking it or you will lose the fish.
I ran the glow bobber about 12 to 14 inches above the swivel, and baited the hook with some medium-sized cooked shrimp, which you can pick up in the frozen foods aisle at your local grocery story. For those who prefer to bottom fish, cast out and let your bait hit the bottom, then attach your bobber to the line between the first and second eyelets on your pole and let it pull the line down. If a fish is on, the bobber will start to rise up as the line is pulled out, giving you time to remove the bobber and get ready to start reeling. Glow tips work, too, but the glow put off by the bobber means you can watch it from a distance.
Chicken livers, nightcrawlers and cut baits all work for this setup, but I like using shrimp because it’s not very messy, it doesn’t have a super strong smell and you can refreeze the bag and use it later. I keep it inside a Ziploc bag to keep the shrimp somewhat fresh, and because it’s frozen, the fishing gets better the longer you’re out there because the shrimp thaws and gives off a nice fishy aroma. Shrimp also stays on the hook pretty well, even after getting hit by a catfish or bluegill. Just be sure to take the hard tail off and throw it in the water, as that prevents smaller fish from being able to pull it off the hook by the tail. I caught several smaller channel cats using this method over two days of fishing at the lake while fishing in a rocky cove.
I noticed smaller fish would occasionally start taking off with the bait, as well, so I took my crappie pole and tipped a small jig with the meat from the tail of one of the shrimp and threw it into the rocks under a crappie float. I tugged it a few times to get some action out of the jig and soon had a black crappie measuring about 6-7 inches on my line. It wasn’t super long, but it had a big head compared to the rest of its body that made me think it still had quite a bit of room to grow into a decent crappie. This is a good way to target multiple species at the same time, though when I tried it again at the heated dock at Lake Shawnee, all I could catch were baby channel cats.
Most of the catfish I caught at the state lake were small eaters, about a half-pound up to maybe 1.5 pounds. It’s not unusual to hook into some 2-3 pounders and even an occasional 5- to 10-pounder at that lake, but I was having fun catching the small ones all the same and I’m sure the bigger ones will go after the shrimp, as well. There are spots on that lake where I can pretty much guarantee you’ll catch a bigger channel cat, but it was fun having the smaller cats toying with my bait within seconds of me throwing it out. I had a solid three hours where something was constantly playing with my bait, and that makes fishing fun.
Smaller crappie and bluegill can be caught pretty easily by the rocks, as well, and you can tip crappie jigs with either shrimp meat or wax worms to get a ton of bites.
Nightcrawlers on a crappie hook will work fine, too, but they seem more aggressive on waxies and shrimp — probably because they’re not as used to seeing them in these parts of the country.
Walleye are another species of fish that are perfect for targeting at night, as they’ll often come in shallow to hunt at night.
Teenager Parker Still, of Topeka, has been cleaning up on walleyes from the bank during recent night fishing trips and offered some tips for those interested in chasing the toothy creatures.
“Usually bite starts to turn on right when the suns going down,” Still said. “After the sun goes down, there’s a little window where they really start to feed and get aggressive, and then for the rest of the night it’s kinda slow. You’ll pick up a few here and there, and then it will start back up when the sun starts to come up. Like before, there’s a quick little window in the morning just like at night when they will bite real good, but after that sun gets up it typically slows down.”
Still, a tournament angler on the Kansas Crappie Club and Kansas BASS Nation High School tournament trails, said he typically will fish rocky points at night to find big walleyes. He caught a 5-pound, 12-ounce brute at the end of last month while fishing with teammate Connor Brees.
“I throw a quarter-ounce or an eighth-ounce jig head with Top Secret Jigs on,” Still said, referring to the Top Secret Jig Company owned by Topekan Brandon Manis. “Black/chartreuse, red/chartreuse. Anything that has a little bit of brightness or shine to it.”
Another option is to use a nightcrawler or leach on a worm harness, especially one with a silver or golden blade that can pick up and reflect any extra ambient light you may have at your disposal.
Many people assume the largemouth bass bite dies off after sunset. Typically, the bite will heat up as the sun goes down, then shuts off immediately after the last glimmer of sunlight disappears behind the horizon.
The reason for this is that bass’ eyes have to adjust to the dark, which takes between 30 minutes and two hours depending on how much ambient light there is in that particular location. However, bass fishing can still be great at night using topwater baits on calm water, especially in overcast conditions, with a full moon or if fishing near a lighted dock, as the baits become silhouetted against the backdrop of the sky. In lighted conditions where bass are feeding on bugs at the surface, consider throwing a dark dry fly on light line with a float attached about 2 feet up the line for casting weight.
Color choice for baits is somewhat counter-intuitive, as you’ll want to go with something dark-colored for contrast so bass can see the silhouette of the bait better. If you’re fishing during a full moon or near bright dock lights, consider throwing a spinner bait or something that can reflect that light well. A Rat-L-Trap or ChatterBait can do really well on bass at night, as well, as they are both designed to vibrate heavily and the bass can pick up that vibration using its lateral line rather than needing to rely on eyesight.
There are also a handful of glow baits and UV baits that claim to show up really well at night. Tightlines UV has several soft-plastic offerings if you’re going to throw a bass jig or worm, as well as a few hard-body lures. Many crappie jigs also come in glow colors that you could use at night to imitate baitfish. And, of course, a plain ol’ nightcrawler will do the trick on just about any fish you’re targeting.