We are well into summer now, and most anglers will tell you that the fishing gets tougher during the summer. As a pointy-headed fish biologist I will tell you that is true, but it has nothing to due with the fish feeling uncomfortable in “hot” water. Yes, we have some cold-water and cool-water species of fish in Nebraska that do not prefer the maximum temperatures of summer and for some of those species, trout for example, they simply cannot survive the peak water temps. in many of our waters. But, other than that, fish do not respond to warm temperatures the way we do. Fish do not sweat and in fact are “poikilotherms”–their body temperature is the same as their environment. Most folks just say that fish are “cold-blooded”, but in the middle of August, well, that blood ain’t cold.
The truth is fish found in Nebraska waters are feeding as much or more right now, in the warmest water of the year, than they do at any other time of year. So, you might wonder, if that is the case, why are they so hard to catch? Fishing gets tougher during the summer because the abundance of natural prey is also at a peak now. Depending on the body of water, species of fish, and prey that fish pursues, in most cases a fish may not have to do much more than open their mouth to get something to eat this time of year.
You probably noticed that the title of this blog post is “Go Deep”. However, after what I just told you, I hope you do not think that fish go deep during the summer just to get out of the sun and heat. They do not. However, some fish do move off-shore during the summer to take advantage of the abundance of prey that occurs out there, and believe it or not, panfish, especially large panfish, are some of the fish most likely to set off for open water during the summer. Small panfish can be found near shore, typically in and around shallow water cover, all summer long, but after the spawn, many of the biggest bluegills, crappies and yellow perch head offshore. Those large panfish are large enough to avoid most predator fish even while they are away from cover, and they find a plethora of aquatic insects, crayfish, leeches, and young-of-the-year fish to eat in open water.
Any angler will tell you that fishing deep, open water is more challenging than fishing shallow, near-shore waters. Walleye anglers are some of the best at the off-shore game and have learned to cover deeper, open water by trolling or drifting. Those same techniques can be adapted to panfish simply by tackling down to lighter gear and smaller baits. For example, there are a number of small panfish crankbaits on the market now that can be trolled to cover water and locate large summer panfish. Bottom bouncers or three way rigs can be down-sized and fished with bait or panfish-size spinner rigs. Even drifting with live bait rigs or jigs can be an effective way to cover some water and locate some big, off-shore panfish. Another excellent technique can be borrowed from bass anglers–drop-shot rigs can be adapted to catch panfish too.
If you want some more in-depth information specifically for summer, off-shore crappies, take some time to read this, http://www.in-fisherman.com/2013/06/11/open-water-crappies/ .
Crawlers or more specifically portions of night-crawlers are the bait most often used by summer panfish anglers, but there are lots of other options available. One of the absolute best baits for big panfish would be live leeches, but the leeches I prefer for panfish are usually a lot smaller than what the typical bait shop sells. If you ever find a bait shop that has sorted off some of the smallest leeches because they cannot sell the small ones, make an offer to take them all off of their hands. Peeled crayfish tails are another very effective alternative bait for summer panfish–try tipping jigs with those tails.
Take some time and watch these videos if you want some more summer panfish presentation ideas. Notice you do not necessarily have to mess with live bait.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruANoYh2jqk&feature=share&list=PL7B1FEC38537DE5ED[/youtube] [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXkeBxO4gM4&feature=share&list=PL7B1FEC38537DE5ED[/youtube]
I hope you non-boating anglers are still reading this. Remember, I fish without a boat much of the time, and please DO NOT think what I have written so far applies only to boat anglers. Yes, I said those big panfish are likely to move off-shore during the summer, and yes that can make it much harder for shore anglers to catch them. But it ain’t impossible. If you are a boatless angler, consider getting a float tube of some kind. Float tubes are an excellent way to get off the shoreline and they work great for summertime panfish (besides that, sitting in the water while you fish is a nice cool down on a hot day!).
Another strategy that will help if you do not have a way to get to off-shore waters is to bring those waters to you. What? How can that be? Target smaller bodies of water, pits and ponds. Big panfish in those waters will still move off-shore, but in pits and ponds “off-shore” can be close enough to cast to. I have caught some really nice bluegills on 100 degree days by fishing the deep water at the end of the branches of fallen trees in Nebraska pits and interstate lakes. On larger bodies of water fish steep drops where deep water can be found near shore. Points that drop quickly into deep water can be great spots to catch late summer panfish, even if you are stuck on the shore.
Cooler days are ahead of us, and this summer we have already had a taste of that weather. But, even if we have a hot spell or two in the days ahead, do not think that the fish are not biting or that some big fish cannot be caught. They can, but you sure cannot catch them sitting at home on the couch.