Here in the upper Midwest, we’ve arrived at that time of the year anglers dread. We are smack in the middle of the mid-summer lull. This is the time when the bite significantly slows and only the diehards endure the harsh sun and sweltering heat of mid-day on the lake. The months of July and August can be extremely frustrating to those looking for either a meal of panfish or a battle with a bass. Yet fish need to eat and warmer water temperatures equate to increased metabolisms. Follow these three tips to achieve success when fishing the dog days of summer.
Cool It Off
Where do you like to be when in the summer sun is high in the sky? In the shade of course. Well, the same can be said for fish. When the water temperatures climb, fish will generally seek the comfort of cooler water. One tried and true location is down deep. Here not only are the temperatures cooler but the water holds a higher concentration of oxygen. Use your electronics to locate deep holes, sharp drop-offs, or a river basin. Lake survey maps are also available at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website to help anglers locate these areas.
Large bluegills will gravitate to deep mud basins and feed on emerging insects. Specifically, look for areas of transition between rock and mud. Deeper gravel and rocks attract bass and walleyes who feed on crayfish and minnows. Crappies will school and suspend over deeper waters and can often be caught trolling small crankbaits. Vertical jigging can also pay dividends.
“Deep” is a relative term and relates specifically to each individual body of water. It pays to understand the waters you are fishing. Darker stained lakes will also heat more quickly due to an increased attraction of the sun’s rays. However, even subtle changes in water temps may attract fish during the summer months. The shade of a dock, submerged structure, or vegetation creates just enough of a cooling effect to draw in those fish who have not moved into the depths. Even the shadow of a wooded shoreline may be just enough to collect baitfish, and thus the larger fish will follow.
Finally, moving water does not collect heat as readily, thus look to target river or stream inlets. Rivers also contain more active fish due to the general scarcity of forage. These, of course, can be greatly affected by current and turbidity. Look for inside turns to hold game fish who station just outside the current, waiting for an easy meal to float past. Points and humps hold fish as well, especially on the downstream side. Bottom bouncers with a nightcrawler and stinger hook can entice walleye. Bass can be found hanging around in weedy shorelines and submerged vegetation and may fall prey to a Texas-rigged worm.
Slow It Down
Slow and subtle presentations can be the key to success when fishing the dog days of summer. While natural bait, such as nightcrawlers or minnows, are always in play, plastics can be highly effective as well. Clear bodies of water favor a more natural color. Stained water calls for bright colors and flash. When targeting deep fish, use a vertical presentation with a small jig. An eighth ounce or quarter ounce jig head provides for more realistic action and the ability to reach the bottom more quickly. Maintaining contact with the bottom is essential with slow deliberate movements to entice the bite. Dropshots, with plastics positioned up the line, can lay the bait right in front of a suspended fish.
If casting is more your style, choose a crankbait or jig and plastic. Again, bottom contact is crucial. Bouncing off submerged structures may create that erratic movement in your lure which can trigger a strike. To cover large amounts of water, trolling deep-running crankbaits is effective. Anglers will often use this technique to first locate fish, then move to a more deliberate method. And remember, the bigger the lure, the bigger the fish. Experiment with your speed, starting at 1.0 to 1.5 miles per hour and increasing to up to 2.5 miles per hour or faster. Speed affects the depth of your lure, as does line diameter. Also, watch your rod on turns as this can trigger a strike from a trailing fish.
Find the Time
You’re not going to like to hear this but the most effective time to fish the dag days of summer is early in the morning or late in the evening. This means no sleeping in and staying out on the water late if you want a shot at fish in the live well. Dusk and dawn provide an active feeding window, generally in more shallow water. As a bonus, the wind is usually not a factor at this time of the day and temperatures are much more bearable. Plus, you may not have to contend with the recreational traffic as well.
Your onboard electronics can locate clouds of baitfish. Focus on weed lines and shallow water close to drop-offs. Cast perpendicular to the weed lines, or run a lure over the top to attract that fish lying in wait. Early morning and late evening can be prime time for topwater lures as well. A JitterBug or buzz bait cruising a lilypad field can result in a bass suddenly exploding out of the glass-calm water. If you’re really fortunate, you may even tie into a muskie lurking in a back bay or on a rock bar. They say the early bird gets the worm. In this case, the early (or late) worm gets the fish.
July and August bring fun in the sun for many who enjoy Wisconsin’s waters. However, for the angler, success requires adjustments and experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques. Begin your search in deeper or moving waters, or shade resulting in cooler water temps. Presentations should be slower and more deliberate, most effectively placing the lure in an ideal position for an easy strike. Dusk and dawn are the most productive times of the day and open feeding windows when fish are most active.
If you’re not one to endure the sweltering heat of summer, you’re not alone. Fishing the months of July and August in Wisconsin, anglers can be productive if you understand the fish patterns and the characteristic of your chosen body of water. The spawn is over and fish have moved into their summer patterns. Time and patience are the keys and with both, you can achieve success fishing the dog days of summer.