By: Chris Horton, Senior Director, Midwestern States/Fisheries Policy
August can be a bit brutal here in the South. With daily high temps hovering near the century mark and relative humidity in the 90’s, it’s sometimes hard to get motivated to spend too much time outdoors. You start to sweat just thinking about it. However, before thoughts turn to cooler weather, hunting seasons and football Saturday’s, don’t overlook one of the best times of the year to go fishing.
Stream fishing for bass or other sunfish is at its best when the typical lack of rain during this time of year has reduced flows in local creeks and rivers and concentrated fish in pools. On top of that, the concentration of predator fish in a smaller area means they’ve likely consumed a lot of the available prey in those pools – which means they’re hungry. Best of all, you don’t need much in the way of equipment. A pair of old sneakers that lace up tight to keep the gravel out, a good rod and reel spooled with 8-10 lb test and a pocket full of soft plastics and you’re in business. Topwater plugs work well this time of year also, but I prefer to fish light and not have to worry about a tackle box to keep the treble hooks safely stored. Trust me, the fish aren’t too picky when stream flow is low and there is little in the way of prey remaining! However, be sure and reserve a pocket for the used or spent plastic lures and do not discard in the streams.
For boat anglers, this time of year can also be good for bass fishing on local reservoirs, provided you fish at night when it’s cooler. You should also expect the fish to be deep. As lake temperatures warm throughout the spring and summer, a condition known as stratification sets up where there are essentially two layers of water with vastly different temperatures and a sharp layer of transition between the two known as a “thermocline”. Above the thermocline is the very warm, well-oxygenated layer known as the “epilimnion”, while the layer below the thermocline is known as the “hypolimnion” with much cooler water temperatures but typically with much less oxygen available. Except for a brief foraging period early in the mornings, black bass, as well as striped bass, tend to spend most of their time near or just above the narrow thermocline layer where the water is both cool and well oxygenated. On my local reservoir, the thermocline can be as shallow as 15 feet or as deep as 30 feet, depending on rainfall, days of sunshine and air temperatures over the last month.
For night-time black bass fishing, I like to use a big Texas-rigged worm in the 10-12-inch range. When water temps are high, so is the bass’s metabolism and they become more lethargic. When they do expend the effort to capture prey, the reward needs to be worth the energy to capture it. I look for brush piles at the depth near the thermocline when we can see it on the depth finder. When it’s not obvious, I’ll start fishing brush in 10-15 feet of water and work deeper until we find the fish. For striped bass fishing on these same reservoirs, again, the thermocline is a good target for trolling with a downrigger.
One thing to keep in mind while fishing lakes and reservoirs in the summer is that, just as with red snapper or other reef fish brought up from deep marine waters, black bass and stripers can also suffer from barotrauma. For fish that you don’t intend to keep for a meal, you will need to either use a descending device or venting tool to make sure they can get back to depth and internal gasses can return to normal pressure levels after release. While a descending device is the easiest to use, venting a fish using a hypodermic needle (no larger than 16 gauge) can be equally effective with a little practice. The key is knowing exactly were to insert the needle, and Barb Elliot of the New York B.A.S.S. Nation provides an excellent video reference for fizzing black bass.
While it may be hot outside in August, fishing action can be equally as “hot”. Just remember to properly dispose of your soft plastic lures and have a descending device or venting tool handy for deep caught fish. As responsible stewards of our fisheries resources, we need to leave the lakes and streams just as we found them and return unkept fish to be caught another day.