Barbs and Backlashes


Dog Days of Summer by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
July 16, 2009, 3:16 pm
Filed under: Fishing

In the last blog entry I mentioned that we are in the middle of the summer now and fishing usually gets a little bit tougher.  There have probably been 963,412 excuses made for the fact that fish usually are harder to catch during July and August.  One of the most popular excuses is that the fish become lethargic during the heat; it is hot and uncomfortable and they just do not feel like feeding.  BALONEY.  Fish are not humans; they do not “feel” or respond to their environment in the same way we do.  Yes, on a hot, humid July evening all I feel like doing is sipping on a lemonaide while sitting in some air conditioning, but that does not mean the fish behave the same way.

Hang on, I am going to throw out a big, pointy-headed fish biologist word here, you have been warned.  Fish are poikilotherms.  That big word means that the body temperature of fish is the same as their environment.  Now, that may not be entirely true for some large ocean species, but for the fish we pursue in Nebraska waters it is true–they are poikilotherms.  Most people would just say that they are “cold-blooded”, but that does not really make sense when the water temperature is 82 degrees F.  Regardless, the temperature of the fish is the same as their environment and for the most part that means the metabolism rate of the fish increases as the water temperature increases.  Again let me digress for a moment and mention that different species of fish “operate” at optimum efficiency at different temperatures.  That is why we group fish into groups like cold-water species (e.g. trout and salmon), warm-water species (e.g. flathead catfish and largemouth bass) and cool-water species (e.g. muskellunge and walleye).  Each fish species metabolism increases with water temperature to the point where water temperatures exceed what those species can tolerate.

Fish DO NOT feed less during the summer because they are uncomfortably hot.  In fact their metabolism rates increase with the warmer water temperatures and they actually feed as much or more during the summer than they do in any other season of the year!  So, if they are feeding more during the dog days of summer than they do at any other time, why are they so hard to catch?  Which one of those other 963,411 excuses explains slower fishing during the summer months?

Fishing gets tough during the middle of the summer because of the abundance of natural prey that is available to the fish.  With warm water temperatures, the entire aquatic food chain is operating at maximum capacity and zooplankton, aquatic insects, small fish and a host of other fish food organisms are at their peak abundance during the middle of the summer.  It is almost so easy to get a meal that all a hungry fish has to do is swim around with their mouth open!  On many Nebraska waters there are millions of young-of-the-year (YOY) baitfish available for predator fish to eat right now.

In this time of abundance, there are some strategies that can be used to increase your chances of catching fish during the summer.  Specific strategies will vary from species to species and perhaps from one water body to the next, but there are some general strategies that will help.  With an abundance of natural prey, feeding periods may be short; they can be intense, but typically do not last long.  Try to identify prime areas where the fish will feed and make sure you are fishing those areas during prime times.  Dawn and dusk are prime feeding times for most species of fish and are times when you should do everything possible to be on the water, on one of your best spots ready to take advantage of a feeding frenzy.  Another prime feeding window may be just prior to the arrival of a summer thunderstorm (just make sure you are safe, watch the lightning and wind!).

Fish usually become most selective in choosing prey items when there is an abundance of natural prey.  Fish are not smart, they have a brain the size of the end of your finger; I believe when there is an abundance of prey they become so “zoned-in” on feeding on that abundant prey item that the do not recognize other things as potential prey.  When there are a billion 3-inch gizzard shad to feed on, all they are looking for is another 3-inch shad.  A 3-inch shad matches their search image.  So, I believe it may be most important to “match the hatch” during times of prey abundance.  Try to use baits that match the abundant prey in size, shape, behavior and color.

Having said that, what I am about to say may seem contradictory, but follow along.  You want to “match the hatch” when prey is abundant, but then you want your bait to stand out from the crowd.  You want your bait to look particularly vulnerable; you want your bait to look like a meal easier to catch than the other 999,999,999 YOY shad swimming around out there.  That may be accomplished by using a slightly different color or perhaps adding a contrasting color to a bait that generally resembles the natural prey.  It is probably easiest to make your bait look like an easy meal by making it behave differently.  Speed is one good way to make your bait stand out in the crowd and predators will strike at a bait that appears to be blindly fleeing some perceived threat.  Erratic and sudden movements are another way to make your bait stand out in the crowd.

It may be hot and miseable at times, but whatever you do this summer, do not forget to GO FISH!

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[…] Daryl touched on this in his blog not too long ago: Dog Days of Summer Barbs and Backlashes […]

Pingback by Question Too Hot to Fish? - Nebraska Fish and Game Association

[…] A month or so ago I talked in general about summer and why it can be a tough time to catch fish, https://barbsandbacklashes.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/dog-days-of-summer/ .  Now let me be a little more specific about some fishing that really heats up in summer and here […]

Pingback by Feeding Frenzy! « Barbs and Backlashes

[…]  I had some thoughts about that last summer, and you might want to go back and take a look, https://barbsandbacklashes.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/dog-days-of-summer/ […]

Pingback by Some observations, June 28, 2010 « Barbs and Backlashes

[…] go through this every year; if you want here is a blog post from last year that you can refer to, https://barbsandbacklashes.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/dog-days-of-summer/ .  Let me emphasize some things I said in that blog post by sharing a few observations from my […]

Pingback by Some observations, July 13, 2010 « Barbs and Backlashes




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