Barbs and Backlashes

Some observations, July 13, 2010 by whitetips
July 13, 2010, 2:22 pm
Filed under: Fishing | Tags: , ,

We are in the middle of summer, it has been hot, humid here in eastern Nebraska, and the fishing can get tough.  Of course we go through this every year; if you want here is a blog post from last year that you can refer to, .  Let me emphasize some things I said in that blog post by sharing a few observations from my time on the water last week.

I made a couple of short trips last week, early and late in the day.  My son and I saw some feeding activity both times, but nothing real intense, and we did not hammer the fish.  What I did see was scads and scads of young-of-the-year (YOY) fish.  The fish we pursue are always biting, fish have to feed to survive, and with the high water temperatures their metabolic rates are at their peak.  They have to feed to fuel that metabolism.  The reason fishing gets tough during the middle of the summer is because there is an abundance of natural prey available right now.  Our waters are literally teaming with life!  Throw in the high water levels we now have on many reservoirs that have created acres and acres of flooded, very productive habitats, and there is even more natural prey available for fish to eat.  That is what makes the fishing tough during the middle of the summer, it is not the uncomfortable heat and humidity, it is the fact that about all a fish has to do right now to get a meal is swim around with their mouth open.  It is hard for us anglers to compete with all that natural prey.

To further make my point, take a look at this . . .

What you see in that petri dish is an example of some YOY fish collected from Harlan County Reservoir last week.  Brad Newcomb, our fisheries supervisor for the south-central region, sent us that photo, and it is an example of the plethora of small fish swimming in our waters right now.  What you see there are this year’s hatch of walleyes at the top (possibly both stocked and naturally-produced walleyes), gizzard shad on the right, freshwater drum on the bottom, white bass on the left and crappies in the middle.  Throw in an abundance of aquatic insects and other critters that currently are in abundance in our waters and you get the idea–there is lots and lots for the fish to eat.

Big baits for big fish?

I am a huge believer in “big baits for big fish”.  Predator fish like walleyes, bass and muskies can consume prey items up to 40%, even 50% of their own length.  Basically they will try to eat anything that will fit through their throat.  You see those walleyes in the petri dish?  They are predators!  Those little walleyes are already swimming around eating other fish!  Every non-walleye in that petri dish would be a potential prey item for the biggest walleye at the top of the petri dish.  Suppose that is why that biggest walleye has such a fat gut?

Another good blog post for some other time would be my “speech” on “optimal foraging theory” and why that means big fish prey on big prey items.  But right now, mid-summer, with an abundance of YOY fish, smaller prey may be the optimal prey for all predators.  There are so many small YOY fish available that all predator fish are eating those small prey.

“Match the hatch”?

Fly-fishing trout anglers know how selective trout can be during a “hatch”, when their is an abundance of prey.  It seems that the fish become “zoned-in” on that one prey item during those times of abundance and do not even consider some other prey.  At those times if you do not match the size, shape, color, and probably most importantly behavior of the abundant prey, you may not catch a single fish even though every fish is actively feeding.  I believe that “matching the hatch” can be very important for all anglers regardless of the species being pursued, it is not just a trout-fishing, fly-fishing thing.  And I believe that the times of prey abundance may be the times when it is most critical to “match the hatch”.  I believe in “big baits for big fish”, but this is the time of year when I am most likely to down-size my baits and lures in an effort to match the size of the abundant prey fish that are available now.  Those YOY fish will grow incredibly fast, YOY walleyes will be near 8 inches by this fall and YOY gizzard shad can be 4-6 inches long by this fall, but right now they are small and you might have to go smaller to scratch some fish during these “dog days of summer”.

Let me tell a story . . . I had an evening on Calamus years ago when the wipers were chasing shad to the surface.  There were actively feeding wipers all over tearing up the shad; they should have been easy to catch.  But cast after cast into feeding frenzies got nothing.  Until we started matching the size of the YOY shad those wipers were chasing, we were in the middle of the ocean with not a drop of water to drink.

Fish Prime Times

With all the natural prey available, feeding periods may not last very long.  The fish will feed, they gotta feed, but it does not take them long to get all the prey they need, and then they rest, conserve energy, until the next prime feeding opportunity.  Fishing prime locations during prime times is the best strategy for catching fish during the hot days of summer.  That often means fishing early and late in the day or perhaps after dark.  Thankfully, that is also a good strategy for avoiding the heat and humidity and all the other users on our waters.


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