Following are some tips for anglers who are trying to figure out how to best tackle hot-weather fish and hopefully not get heat stroke in the process.
Fish at night
The most obvious of the solutions to the problem of high temperatures during the day is to avoid the daytime altogether.
Summertime night fishing is about as good as it gets, with fish becoming more lethargic during the hot days and then feeding heavily at night. Many species are perfect nighttime targets, including but not limited to catfish, crappie, walleye and even bass. Fishing is great from the shore, as species of fish move into the warm shallows to feed. If you’ve ever been night fishing, you’ll know that catfish can often be heard splashing and grunting right next to the shore, where they feed on crayfish and other invertebrates, as well as small baitfish.
Worms, cut bait, liver or even frozen shrimp make for excellent channel catfish bait, and I especially like frozen shrimp as it thaws while in the warm water and gradually releases a nice fishy scent that draws the catfish in. For larger species such as blue catfish or flathead, switch over to shad or cut bluegill, and you’re still likely to find them near the bank, especially in rivers or large creeks. Many catfish tournaments take place at night during the summer, including many held by Catfish Chasers Tournament Series.
“During daytime hours, I choose to fish deeper water and structure with smaller baits,” said David Studebaker, organizer of the Catfish Chasers. “Catfish become lazy during the heat of the day and much more nocturnal in the height of summer. They become much more active at night. Start deeper at sunset and move shallower throughout the night up until sunrise. Then reverse the sequence by moving steadily back into deeper water and structure.
In shallower bodies of water such as ponds, smaller lakes and creeks, you need to look for overhanging trees, rocks, etc. Anything that is creating shade will attract the fish. They still may be less aggressive during the hotter parts of the day.”
Crappie are another species that really tend to take off at night, with the shallow bite beginning to pick up around sunset and continuing late through the night into the morning hours. People generally think of crappie as a deep-water species during the summer, but they will come in shallow to feed in good numbers, as will walleye. Hitting a lighted boat dock at night can lead to great fishing for crappie and especially largemouth bass, which use the light to silhouette fish and bugs from below and ambush them.
Walleye can generally be found near the weeds while fishing with minnows or shiny jigs that reflect moonlight, while catfish prefer the rocks and rely more heavily on their sense of taste and their olfactory sensors in their whiskers to locate food. Walleye also get really active during windy days when the waves start hitting the shoreline and will move in quite shallow to feed.
It may sound counterintuitive, but dark-colored lures are actually a great choice for night fishing because their profile stands out more, especially when using topwater lures for bass. All of the light that fish get comes from above, so the hard silhouette of a black lure falling is super easy for them to spot compared to a white jig, for instance, which may blend in with the light from the moon or from a dock. Using some sort of lure flavoring, such as Berkley Crappie Nibbles or Pro-Cure, also helps fish to locate lures in the dark, as do lures that create extra sound. There are a variety of “glow” lures that are supposed to stand out really well in the water, but I haven’t noticed a huge advantage from using these types of lures compared to darker colors. I mean, how often do fish see glowing food in the water, honestly?
While the night can be ideal for many species, however, there are some fish that don’t bite as well at night, such as bluegills and perch.
Another great time to fish that helps you avoid the heat of mid-day is during the early hours of the morning, right when the sun is starting to rise and the fog begins to roll over the lake.
Smallmouth bass, white bass, bluegill and freshwater drum all become quite active during this time of day, and summer time is no exception. I recently hooked into a beast of a smallmouth bass when fishing during the early morning at Lake Shawnee. I was tossing a Z-Man Micro Finesse Jig with a TRD CrawZ trailer when the big bronzeback slammed my lure. The fight was pretty epic, as I was using a Fle-Fly ultra-light crappie rod and reel at the time, trying to get a bite from the white bass that could be seen feeding on recently hatched fingerlings in the shallows.
I previously had a smaller bass come off in the thick vegetation that lines the banks at Lake Shawnee, so this time I went out onto a rock and maneuvered the fish as best I could. He kept making runs toward the vegetation, but I kept out enough line to keep him at a distance until the fish was completely tuckered out. I lifted the smallmouth onto shore, and just in time, as after a couple of flops the 6-pound trout line I was using as a leader snapped and the fish fell at my feet. I quickly snapped a couple pictures and got him back in the nice, cool water.
For crappie, professional angler Joe Bragg, of Lawrence, says he likes to let the sun get up a bit, rather than trying to get out before the sun rises.
“Let the sun get up there and force them into the shade of trees and brushpiles to consolidate them, “Bragg said. “Makes them easier to pick off. Also, for guys that don’t want to beat the boats up in the trees and stumps, trolling open water with jigs and cranks is a very deadly tactic for summer. Curly tails on 1/8th-ounce jigs pulled between 0.8 and 1.2 mph or some XD3, Bandits or Flicker Shads from 1.6 to 2.4 mph.”
For more tips for crappie fishing in the heat, check out a blog post Bragg wrote on the Kansas Crappie Club website at https://www.kansascrappieclub.com/dockside/fish-skinny-for-summertime-slabs/.
Target cooler waters
If you decide to brave the heat in the middle of the day, I suggested hitting any docks you can find and skipping or shooting lures under the docks as far as you can.
Big schools of bass and crappie will sit under the docks during the heat of the day, enjoying the cooler water and shade and even finding an easy meal every now and then.
Skipping lures is a skill every bass angler should learn, and it is fairly easy to do. A good skip can land your lure several yards under a dock, right in front of a suspending fish that will appreciate having the easy meal without having to expend any energy. Shooting lures is a similar method for crappie anglers, where the angler sort of bow-and-arrows the lure under the dock with a bendy ultra-light rod to get back to the back of the dock and find those suspending fish.
Conversely, Kansas State bass angler Zach Vielhauer likes to head to deep, cool water during the hottest parts of the day, while fishing topwater during the morning and evening hours on calm days.
“If I am just fun fishing I tend to try and go either early morning or in the evening to stay out of the heat of the afternoon,” Vielhauer said. “During those times I like to fish topwater baits to look for feeding/active fish. If I am going to fish during the heat I am usually going to be looking deeper than normal. I like to fish the 10 to 25 feet of water zone. It just depends on the lake and what kind of water depth it has.
“I usually take a slow, methodical approach at finding the fish. I use my electronics to locate either brush piles, rock piles or deep dropoffs. I like to use football jigs, 10-inch worms on a Texas rig or a drop shot to fish the areas with the most potential to have a big summer fish. I use these slow baits to try and pick the cover apart.”
If you’re going to fish on extremely hot days, I would suggest doing some bank fishing rather than going out on a boat or kayak.
When you’re out on the water, you’re taking the direct heat of the sun and will likely get fried to a crisp in the process as the light reflects off the water. I know I’ve tried paddling out in an inflatable boat during a hot, humid day and I almost immediately regretted it. Fishing from the bank allows you to sit under a tree for shade or even run to the car to turn on the A/C real quick if you get severely overheated. Of course, if you’re in a motor boat, you can make a nice breeze to cool down by driving around for a bit, but you’re cutting into your fishing time.
It’s a pretty simple tip, but one that can help you fish longer and be safer, even if you’re not fishing in the deeper water.
If you are going to fish from a boat, lather up with sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses and keep hydrated. It may be tempting to jump in the water to cool off, but remember that boat engines put off some pretty toxic fumes that can sit on top of the water near the back of your boat for a long time during hot summer days, especially when there’s no wind to blow it away. Plenty of unsuspecting swimmers have died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning during hot, still days like that. If you start feeling lightheaded, get back on the boat immediately and start driving to get some fresh air.
Another good tip for fishing during the summer is to try fishing in creeks, where the shade of tree cover and constantly flowing water can make for a cooler, more oxygen-rich environment for fish, especially after heavy rains.
Joey Nania, of Sweetwater TV, had a really good article on this and why creeks are often underutilized during the heat of the summer.
“Fishing in shallow creeks is fairly simple because the fish have far less places to hide when they are in these tight quarters,” Nania wrote. “There are three things I really focus on when fishing creeks in the summer, lay down logs, overhanging bushes, and rocks. All of these different options hold fish and are often the most effective if they are in a creek bend where the water is deeper.”
Cody Hatridge, a Topeka resident, recently pulled a chunker of a largemouth and an eater-sized channel cat out of Shunga Creek on a small crankbait.
“Just gotta stay confident, hydrated and keep in the shade,” Hatridge said.
There are a ton of small creeks around northeast Kansas that hold good fish that no one ever thinks to try fishing. If it connects to a river or lake, you can bet it’s got fish in it.
And of course, when a cold front moves in finally and brings rain with it, hit the mouths of the creeks where they feed into larger bodies of water, as the fish will often flood that spot in droves waiting for fresh forage to sweep downstream in the current.