Everything's bigger in the dark
Last updated 8/11/2020 at 8:22pm
By starting later in the evening and staying out after dark anglers can greatly improve their odds during the summer.
How many times have we seen it happen, it seems like the whole fishing world is crying about the wind and wishing that it would stop so we can get back to the business of enjoying our favorite sport. Well guess what, all the wishes came true and now we have a new enemy as the daytime temperatures are just plain going through the roof. It has just been hot as a family of rats in a wool sock and we are just now really getting to the tough summer months. Excessive heat like we have experienced so far means that fishermen will have to do some things differently in order to catch fish on a consistent basis and be safe while on the water.
Now some of the obvious precautions that come to mind are taking care of you before, during, and after any trip out on the water. The blazing sun can take a toll on your body if you aren't prepared and no fish is worth jeopardizing years off of your life. Make the effort to protect yourself by dressing right and wearing some quality sunscreen. The newest fishing clothing out there will keep you safe from the harmful rays of the sun as well as allow you to fish comfortably. There are plenty of great clothing manufacturers out there and they have some really nice options for the fisherman who wants to be safe. I have fallen in love with the long sleeve pullover Guide Skiff T shirt from Columbia, it's light, dries fast, and isn't bulky which makes it nice when I'm on the poling platform all day. Another addition to your wardrobe needs to be a hat that covers your ears and the back of your neck; the old ball cap won't cut it for protection from the sun. I have seen many of the Florida and Caribbean guides use the Buff which is adaptation of the neck gaiter that many snow skiers wear and became famous when the contestants on Survivor began wearing them. The buff can be wrapped around a hat or your neck and face to give incredible protection from harmful UV rays and it stays on much easier than a bandana ever could. I recently got a couple of them and they are a nice addition to your sun block.
Now that we are properly clothed and protected we can get down to the business of actually catching fish. The ultra hot temperatures will do just as big a number on the fish as they do on the fishermen, feeding windows become a little smaller and fish just tend get a bit more lethargic when the mercury climbs. I have seen redfish in the shallow marshes almost look up at the boat and beg you not to spook them because they are resting or are having trouble finding enough oxygen to make moving around an option. These fish are often difficult to catch because they just don't want to expend the effort to move in those conditions. Give the same fish a little overcast or summer shower that brings the temperatures down as well as rejuvenates the water and you have a whole different fish. That wonderful feeling of relief that we all get after a much needed rain is just what the doctor ordered to get those fish moving and eating again.
Speaking of fish eating, how many times in the summer have you seen fish just come up and nudge a topwater plug? It seems like they just don't want to commit to coming all the way up to the surface and close the deal. Several years ago while spending time with Jim Leavelle in his booth at one of the fishing shows we had a conversation about just this very subject. Leavelle, who spent years as one the best guides in the Galveston complex, had begun to take many clients down south to Baffin at various times of the year. During some of those summer trips he had encountered the same situation, fish just not wanting to come all the way to the surface to eat a topwater plug. Leavelle's remedy to the problem was weighting down the back hook with either a piece of solder wound around the shank of the hook or a small pinch on sinker in the same place. The weight on the back hook would make the back of topwater plug sink down when it wasn't being worked across the surface of the water. The plug actually sat like a cork in the water instead of floating on top. That small little bit of plug under the water was often just enough to get those fish to take the bait, it worked like magic. I still use the technique on occasion to this day and I always give Jim credit for sharing that little bit of knowledge with me.
Now for many anglers at this time of the year the best way to escape the summer heat is to wait until dark and then pursue their favorite fish. Night fishing is an altogether different animal compared to fishing during the day. I personally will not take clients at night due to the fact that so many things can happen and they are multiplied in the dark. For my own personal fishing this is a different story, you can have an absolute blast under the cover of darkness. A calm night and a vicious topwater strike are what many fishermen's dreams are made of. At night you get the benefit of several things, one being the heat is much less and that makes fishing a whole lot more tolerable. Another benefit of fishing at night is the reduced traffic on the water; fish are much more likely to move around in the calmer conditions. If you plan to be out at night please remember to do a couple of things that will help to ensure your safety and make your trips more productive for years to come. First and foremost be sure to let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be back. In the dark it's awful hard to flag someone down and get help. Two, be dang certain you have a PFD on and some sort of signaling device like a whistle attached to you. Three, be careful of exploring new water in the dark. Nobody likes surprises and they are magnified in the dark.
Now that you have the safety stuff out of the way you can get down to the business of fishing. A good quality light or Q beam will help you locate bait. A quick scan across the surface will send baitfish fleeing and give exact locations to where the best concentrations of bait may be ganged up. Different anglers have varying theories on which moon phase is better for night fishing, I like the days around the full moon and I know others who swear by no moon at all. Either one will work if you have a plan and set up accordingly. Some anglers like to use lights in order to draw fish to them while others will opt for a more traditional approach and fish know pieces of structure. Again, both methods will work and only you can pick your favorite.
The summer heat will be upon us for at least a couple of more months so be prepared to deal with it. The fishing will change with the weather but the patterns we discussed earlier should at least help you along the way to locating and catching fish at this time of the year. Please be safe if you go out in either the heat of the day or the dark of night, no fish is worth a big risk and I am sure there are plenty of folks who want to be around for a long while. Enjoy the summer, take a kid fishing, and by all means be safe.