These 20 fishing secrets will help you catch trout, bass, bluegills, cats, walleyes, and more—and have the time of your life—all season long.
1. Catch Smallies With Salty Flies
When rivers heat up in late summer, smallmouths can get downright lazy. The same fish that charged fast-moving streamers and poppers earlier in the season often take to feeding at night, and if your river is loaded with late-summer shad or herring fry, getting bass to eat fur and feathers becomes even harder.
Delaware River smallmouth guide Joe Demalderis (cross current guide service.com) gets around this by leaning on bugs tied with synthetic fur and fiber for the salt, such as a Mushmouth. Flies tied with Angel Hair or Puglisi Fiber retain more buoyancy and a wider profile when wet compared with flies using feathers, bucktail, and rabbit fur, which take on water and sink faster.
Demalderis casts those artificials on the outside of bait schools or in the deeper, slower runs summer smallmouths frequent, and lets them fall broadside with the current. Whereas a Zonker or Clouser would sink away quickly, these synthetic baitfish imitators flutter down slowly, presenting a more accurate representation of a dying baitfish—and an easier target for lazy bass. Even if you don’t want to use saltwater flies, incorporating some synthetic fur geared for the salt into your favorite smallmouth patterns can up your dog-day catch rate. —Joe Cermele
2. Crappies: Float-Shoot a Jig to Slabs
Crappie fishermen describe the slingshot cast as shooting because it shoots a tiny jig far under boat docks or pontoon boats where crappies seek some summer shade. Crappies typically nab the jig as it sinks and swings like a pendulum back to you. At times, however, they won’t react quickly enough to catch the jig, such as after a cold front.
The noted Ohio crappie tournament team of Mike Walters and Rick Solomon have a simple but effective shooting trick to coax bites from these temperamental crappies: Add a bobber to the rig.
After much trial and error, their go-to combo is a simple foam flyfishing strike indicator and a 1⁄32-ounce jig dressed with a Southern Pro Lit’l Hustler Pro Crappie tube.
The strike indicator can be pegged for a set depth, but float-shooting works better if the float is allowed to slide down to the jig. Then the combination can be “shot” as a single unit. Walters and Solomon fish 5-foot 6-inch B’n’M SharpShooter spinning rods with 4-pound-test monofilament for this technique. “If the line is heavier than that, the light jig can’t pull the line down through the float,” Walters says.
Set a bobber stop on the line above the float at whatever depth the crappies are holding. After the float has been shot under a dock, it suspends the jig in a crappie’s face as long as needed to coax a bite. Jiggling the float between short pauses encourages strikes. —Mark Hicks
3. Trout: Deliver a Wounded Dry Fly
Still-water spots like lakes, ponds, and glassy spring creeks can offer epic summer dry-fly action. They can also be terribly frustrating. You can match the hatch perfectly, tie on what you think is the right bug, lead the trout just so…and still get refused. When this happens, most anglers are quick to change patterns, yet almost nobody thinks to do the right thing—which is to change the character of your bug, rather than the bug itself.
In flat, calm water, trout have ample time to scrutinize your fly and are inclined to go after the easy pickings whenever they can. They key on natural bugs that are struggling at the surface—the ones that are unable to spread and dry their wings or shed their shucks. These insects are most vulnerable, and the smartest anglers always turn to cripple patterns—which float high enough for the angler to see but leave a tantalizing chunk of body suspended just below the water surface.
Just about every fly shop will have cripple variations of the most popular patterns, such as Hendricksons, Green Drakes, and caddis flies. Of course, you can tie your own. Tie the dry as you normally would, except wrap the hackle at a 45-degree angle, so when the hackle rides flat on the water, the tail end of the fly drags below the surface. —Kirk Deeter
4. Landlocked Stripers: Feed Cows Sushi
On hot days, big landlocked stripers retreat to deep river holes and the cool channels of slack-water reservoirs. These fish are lethargic but can be tempted by fishing cut bait—or what I like to call striper sushi—on the bottom. Rig a stout baitcasting outfit with 20- to 40-pound mono. Thread a 1- to 3-ounce egg sinker onto the line, then tie a big barrel swivel to the tag end. Attach a 3-foot mono leader (same test as main line) to the opposite end of the swivel with a 6/0 to 9/0 circle or octopus bait hook at the business end. You’ll need fresh-caught baitfish. Use a cast net to snare gizzard shad, or catch skipjack or blueback herring with a small spoon. Cut the bait into chunks or fillets, thread a couple of sushi pieces onto the hook, cast, and then chill for a spell with a cool beverage. It shouldn’t be long until a cow striper loads on. —Don Wirth
5. Trick Pickerel on the Surface
Finding a pickerel that won’t take a shot at a small stickbait is pretty hard, but not as hard as working that stickbait through the shallow weeds and grass where these fish hang in summer. When the salad gets gnarly, I switch over to a topwater approach for these aggressive pond dwellers. Although you might not think of pickerel as surface feeders, remember that a stickbait is only running a few inches under the surface, so there’s not a huge difference in the presentations, and surface commotion gets a pick’s attention fast.
Small poppers can get it done, but not nearly as well as a Spook, because like their pike and muskie cousins, pickerel love to track a lure that moves with a steady cadence. Measuring only 3 inches, Heddon’s Zara Puppy is the perfect size. To get the best action out of this tiny walker, I’ll throw it on a slow-action 6-foot spinning outfit spooled with 6-pound mono. Concentrate on open-water holes between grass mats, or along the edges of shallow weedbeds. The trick is to draw a pickerel out of the cover and get it tracking in cleaner water. If you see a swirl or flash behind the lure, don’t stop; speed up the retrieve while maintaining a steady walk.
When the fish hits, swing gently so as not to pull the hooks out of the fish’s thin, bony mouth. I’ve found that the softer rod and light set plants the hooks better than a fast rod and a hard set. —J.C.
6. Dupe Crappies in Gnarly Cover
Nashville crappie guru Harold Morgan has perfected a rig that lets him probe deep, snaggy cover where summer slabs lurk—without constantly hanging up. He attaches a heavy bell sinker to the tag end of his line and stacks two 6-inch dropper lines 18 inches apart above the sinker with double clinch knots. “The secret is using stiff, springy mono for your leaders,” he says. “I get cheap 30-pound catfish line from the tackle shop’s bargain bin. When rigged with either a small tube jig or a live minnow, the stiff leaders will stand out from the main line, which looks mighty enticing to the fish.” Morgan lowers the sinker straight down until he feels it tap a stump, then he begins to reel the rig up slowly. “You often catch two fish on each presentation,” he says. “And with the hooks located above the sinker, hangups are infrequent.” —D.W.
7. Bass: Land Hogs in a Strip-Mine Lake
The 24-inch lunker I caught from the Swimming Hole when I was 15 still stands as my biggest bass ever. Each mine lake had its own name, but we Kentucky kids called them stripper pits. Left behind by massive surface-mining equipment, thousands of strip-mine lakes are dotted throughout coal country. Some are teeming with bass that rarely see a lure. Accessibility ranges from public to lock-and-key, but all the best pits have similar characteristics.
Fish What You See Strip-mine lakes are long, slender, and usually deep. Cover abounds in the form of aquatic vegetation, laydowns, and beaver lodges. This is basic bass fishing. Drag a boat from pit to pit, cast to what you can see, and hang on.
Go Early Many pits are gin clear, and the shallows warm fast in summer. As a result, there is often a pronounced early-morning and late-evening bite for bass cruising the bank. My buddies and I used to start walking in the dark to catch that morning bite. We never tried it after dark, but we always wanted to.
Gear Up The mere chance of an 8-pounder blowing up on a Pop-R makes it worth throwing early and late. But given that you’re targeting cover and the water is clear, soft plastics and light tackle rule the day. Try a weightless jerkbait or Senko around the laydowns, and a Texas-rigged worm in the deeper cover. —Will Brantley
8. Trap a Load of Blue Crabs
Crabbing is something I’ve done in the bays of New Jersey since I was old enough to walk, and back in the day, my grandfather taught me that if you wanted huge blue claws, you’d better bait your handlines and traps with chicken necks. These greasy poultry pieces work well but not quite as well as a spin-off I concocted a few years ago.
Here’s how to make what I like to call the Italian Stallion of crab bait:
Buy a pack of chicken thighs and put them in a zip-seal bag. Add a quarter cup of vegetable oil, three tablespoons of garlic powder, and—the secret ingredient—a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese. Just use the cheap stuff in a plastic shaker, not the good kind from the Italian market. Seal the bag, shake it up, and let it sit in the sun for a day.
When you open the bag to bait your lines and traps, you will gag, but tough it out, because by the end of the day, you’ll need a giant pot and gallons of beer to steam all of your summer bounty. —J.C.
9. Trout: Drown a Grasshopper Fly
Grasshoppers are like double cheeseburgers for trout—fatty, juicy, and packed with tasty protein. A languid hopper strike by a rising monster brown is always a thrill, but sometimes the fish just won’t gorge themselves on a surface smorgasbord. When naturals are jumping off the banks but trout won’t look at your fly, it doesn’t necessarily mean the fish aren’t eating hoppers. The smart trout—often the biggest—will wait for hoppers to sink below the surface before taking a bite.
To fish the hopper season most effectively, you must learn to fish those patterns dry—and wet. And by wet I mean drowned.
Apply sinking grease to the hopper, and dead-drift it down a seam where you think trout are holding low. You won’t need a strike indicator; when a fish grabs it, you’ll feel it. Or let that waterlogged pattern swing out at the end of a run, a good foot or so below the surface.
The best secret for fishing drowned hoppers, however, is to weight your leader with enough split shot so you feel steady tension as your rig drifts through deeper, more turbid runs. Pinch on the amount of weight needed to have it drop like a rock, then add an extra BB. Tie a gaudy hopper on 18 inches of tippet below the weight. As you make the drift, when you feel the tension hiccup or lift, assume that a trout has inhaled the fly, and set the hook. It’s an acquired feel, but this technique usually turns the biggest trout—-especially during bright days in the middle of hopper season. —K.D.
10. Crappies: Score Slabs With Swimbaits
Long-line trolling is a favorite summertime crappie tactic, and standard procedure calls for pulling jigs or crankbaits. But I always have a 2-inch swimbait—like a Storm WildEye Swimshad or Creme Spoiler Shad—in my spread, too. Fished on 6-pound monofilament, they run 7 to 10 feet deep at crappie trolling speeds of 1 to 1.5 mph, and they’ll run deeper if you add a split shot or two. Swimbaits rarely get big numbers of bites, but when they do get bit, it’s often by a slab. They’ve accounted for more 2-plus-pound fish for me in the past two seasons than everything else combined.
Bonus Tip! This is the easiest—and one of the best—fish recipes I know: Dredge your big crappie fillets in melted garlic butter and place them in a grill basket. Liberally apply seasoned salt, pepper, and a bit of Cajun seasoning. Grill on low heat for five to six minutes on both sides. When the fillets flake apart, they’re done. And delicious. —W.B.
11. Bowfish a Summer Flood for Carp and Gar
Bowfishermen love a flood. Gar and carp swarm newly inundated banks and bushes in search of food, often slithering along in inches of water with their backs exposed. It’s the best shooting of the year—if you know how to take advantage of it.
Calm After the Storm: Wait for the Sun
Stay home during the initial torrent. Even if rough fish do immediately move shallow in a raging river, you can’t see them in muddy water. Besides, it’s dangerous. Instead, wait for the sun and watch the river tables. Runoff will keep rivers on a slow rise for days after a major rainstorm. Expect to see fish until the water begins receding.
Find Shallow Grounds
Wear polarized sunglasses, put the trolling motor on low, and pry apart every inch of shallow cover. A grass carp could be tailing in the branches of a flooded willow tree. A fat gar will look like a log bobbing in the shallows. Train your eye to look for parts of the fish—a flash of scales, a gill plate, or a tail. Don’t be shy about shooting. Shallow fish are spooky, and shots are free. —W.B.
12. Find a White Bass Blitz
Coastal anglers aren’t the only ones who can experience the rush of an epic striped bass blitz. Like their saltwater cousins, white bass go on summer feeding frenzies, too, driving shad and other baitfish to the surface. A blitz can happen at any time during the day, but your best bet is before sunrise; late afternoons are a close second. Set up shop near dams, points, or other submerged structure where baitfish stack up. Blitzes often occur near the bank when frantic baitfish have nowhere else to go but up, so shoreside casters can easily get in on the action. When the surface starts to boil, move into position quickly. A gathering of gulls and other birds is another sign of a feeding frenzy.
Spunky white bass fight well above their weight class, and a 2- to 3-pound fish will give you all you want on the right tackle. There’s also the chance of hooking into bonus species such as hybrid stripers or walleyes, so rig up a medium-weight combo with 8-pound monofilament.
This is speed fishing. Go-to lures include topwaters, jerkbaits, flukes, and propeller cranks about 3 inches in size. A suspending crankbait or spinner-equipped jig will get below the surface where the bigger fish lurk. Cast just past the fray and pull your bait through it as often as you can. Blitzes don’t last long. Typically, once the sun hits the surface, the party is over. Hopefully by then you’ll have enough fillets for lunch—followed by a nap before you head out for round two at sunset. —David Draper
13. How to Skip a Bass Bait
When summer’s sun sizzles, bass lounge beneath boat docks. The biggest seek low docks with decks, boat slips, and garages because they provide the most shade. But the bass typically lie far under a dock, where they are off limits to conventional casting methods. To catch one, you need to skip a lure—a daunting challenge for many fishermen. Fear not: I’ve developed a system that allows any angler to skip far below docks.
What’s My Line?
Fill the spool of a 61⁄2- to 7-foot medium-action spinning outfit with 12-pound Berkley NanoFil. I’ve found this line skips much farther than any other line and causes fewer tangles.
Attach a 10-pound, 6-foot fluorocarbon leader to the line with a double Uni knot tied with six wraps of fluorocarbon and nine wraps of the main line. Fewer wraps and the knot could fail.
Tie the leader to a 2/0 Gamakatsu Wicked Wacky Hook, which has a hand-tied nylon weedguard. Run the hook through the middle of a fat 5-inch Senko worm. This keeps the worm sideways and makes it extremely skippable.
Hold the rod parallel to the water and let out 2 feet of line. Swing the rod tip up and around backward—as if you were drawing a loop with the tip. Release the line when the worm circles past the bottom of the loop where you started. It will shoot inches over the water.
Make the worm kiss the water 3 to 4 feet in front of a dock and it will skip 15 feet or more under it. This is easier to do than it sounds, I promise. Sometimes I amaze myself with this setup. —M.H.
14. Beach a Summer Flounder
You don’t need a boat (or a trip to the grocery store) to enjoy fresh flounder fillets during summer. From New York to Florida to Texas, the hot months are the best for finding big flounder—or fluke if you’re from the Northeast—just a short cast from the beach. These fish are ambush predators, and the troughs that form in the shallow wash provide perfect hiding spots that let flounder strike forage disoriented by the roiling surf.
I like to chase surf flounder with an 8-foot medium-action spinning rod and reel spooled with 15-pound braided line. This length gives me more distance than a standard 6- to 7-foot rod, but it’s not so heavy that it won’t deliver lighter baits and lures. To the end of the main line I tie a small three-way swivel, then a 6-inch length of 20-pound fluorocarbon to the second eye, and a 2-foot length to the third. The short trace gets a 1⁄2-ounce bucktail jig tipped with a squid strip. To the longer length I tie a 2/0 octopus hook and thread on a 2-inch Gulp! Shrimp in New Penny.
The key is covering lots of water. Walk slowly down the breakline while making long casts into the wash; reel back steadily and gently pop the rod tip. Make sure you keep contact with the bottom at all times. Though the bucktail will score some fish, its primary job is to kick up a sand cloud that gets the flounder’s attention so it can hit the shrimp bringing up the rear. Always work the rig right back to your feet, because big flounder could be sitting a rod’s length away. —J.C.
15. Hook Big Catfish at Night
There’s just something about casting for catfish after dark that defines the perfect summer night. It could be the campfire camaraderie, but more likely it’s the thrill to be had not knowing what kind of monster is sniffing your bait. Catfish are warmwater fish, and by midsummer they’re feeding heavily to gain back the weight they lost during the spawn. Prime time is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. when fish move out of the deep to feed.
Just before dark, find a 5- to 15-foot-deep flat just off a river channel or dropoff that holds cats during the day. If it’s loaded with downed timber or brush, even better. You’re targeting big fish in snag-infested water, so size up your rod to a medium-heavy action and spool it with a minimum of 20-pound-test braided line. No expensive lures here—just a simple Carolina rig with an egg sinker above a 3/0 circle hook tipped with cutbait, shrimp, or a homemade blood bait for the more adventurous. Once you’ve cast this out into the dark, sit back and steel yourself—for you never know what may go splash in the night. —D.D.
16. Make Glow-in-the-Dark Flies
Many of the best mayfly hatches happen after dusk, when it is difficult for mere mortals to actually see trout eating their flies. To avoid missed strikes, organize a dedicated late-night fly box. Set aside some of your key patterns, and use a fine-point paintbrush to dab the tips of fly wings (or the posts of parachute patterns) with glow-in-the-dark paint. Be conservative, so as not to add extra weight to the flies, and only treat the top sections (where you’ll see it, but the trout won’t).
Paint your flies at least 24 hours before fishing them, and before you hit the river, spend a good five minutes or so shining a bright flashlight beam into the box, so the paint absorbs the energy. If the glow-in-the-dark spot on the water disappears when you hear a slurp, set the hook. —K.D.
17. Trout: Catch Holdover Stockies
In April and May, stocked trout streams are running high and cold and are perfectly suited to hold trout. Come June, though, they’re running lower, slower, and warmer—and don’t look so trouty anymore. Most of them, however, are great smallmouth streams, and through the years I’ve learned to catch holdover trout later in summer by fishing for them like smallies.
Stocked streams don’t often have the prolific bug life that makes native trout streams thrive—but they do have crayfish, and any trout that survive into the warmer months will be preying on these morsels. When I’m wade fishing, I lean heavily on 23⁄4-inch Strike King Bitsy Tubes in Watermelon Copper Craw and Trout Magnet Trout Slayers, which are small soft-plastic crayfish imitations rigged on a shad-dart jighead. These lures allow me to target trout and smallmouths simultaneously. Pitch them to the head of deep runs with stronger current—which will provide more oxygen—and let them tumble across the bottom on a taut line.
Stocked trout may not be as aggressive as smallmouth bass, so feel for the subtle bump of a holdover sucking the lure off the streambed. A 71⁄2-foot light spinning outfit makes strike detection easier, as you can high-stick more effectively to keep better contact with your lure. If there’s no trout holding at the head, move down to the tail and aggressively jig the lure to trigger a smallmouth take. —J.C.
18. Bass: Fish the Lunker Flats
Most bass pros target deep reservoir points and offshore ledges in midsummer tournaments, but Louisiana’s Greg Hackney has a different game plan up his sleeve. “A deep reservoir will often stratify in midsummer, resulting in superheated surface water with a dead zone of oxygen-depleted water below it,” Hackney says. “After weeks of hot weather, there may no longer be sufficient dissolved oxygen in the lake’s deeper areas to maintain healthy populations of bass and baitfish.” That’s when Hackney does a 180 and motors toward the shallows.
Skinny coves and flats can hold surprising numbers of big bass during the dog days. “This pattern is especially strong on hot, windy days,” Hackney adds. “The wave action oxygenates the shallows quickly and roils the water, providing enhanced concealment for big fish.” He targets shallow flats, shoreline pockets, and the upper reaches of tributary arms—areas his competition abandoned months ago—in his quest for a heavy limit. “I’ll comb shallow water with a horizontal search lure like a lipless crankbait or spinnerbait, then hit any isolated wood cover I encounter with a jig,” he says. “The rewards can be huge. I’ve caught 9-pounders in a foot of water when the surface temperature was 98 degrees.” —D.W.
19. Toast Your Catch
Deciding between a margarita and a beer after a day on the lake doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. In a pitcher, stir together a half pint of tequila, a bottle of Corona, and a can each of 7-Up and frozen limeade concentrate. Pour into frosty mugs full of ice and chill out for the rest of the afternoon.
The Real Daiquiri
The secret to a perfect daiquiri is to stay as far away from those slushy fruit-syrup dispensers as possible. In its purest form, the sweet-and-sour combination of a teaspoon of simple syrup and 1 ounce of lime juice balances the kick of 2 ounces of light rum. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass to soothe sore muscles caused by battling blue-water bruisers.
A Bitter G&T
Sitting on the dock catching bluegills will work up a powerful thirst. The best way to quench it is with a gin and tonic, but even this classic drink can get boring after a while. My secret ingredient? Two drops of Angostura bitters to spice up an otherwise lazy day. —D.D.
20. How To Fire the Curve Cast
The curve cast is a useful trick when you want to drop a dry fly in a specific spot but a boulder or overhanging tree branch blocks the straight line between you and the rising trout. It also works where heavy currents or obstacles make a downstream presentation impractical. I’ve also heard this called a hinge cast, because the idea is to shoot the fly line forward with power, then stop the line abruptly so the leader connection hinges and kicks the fly to the side.
Get within 20 to 50 feet of your target. As you start casting, move the plane of your rod from straight overhead to 45 degrees—or even sidearm—so the path of your line is nearly parallel to the water surface.
Accelerate the forward cast to generate line speed, but stop the rod abruptly as the line straightens. When the line is almost fully extended, flick your wrist so the reel curves (A) toward the direction you want your fly to land.
Stop the line by pinching it against the grip with the index finger of your casting hand, or by pulling taut with your line hand if you’re double-hauling. As you see the leader cock sideways, drop the rod tip and let your fly fall gently to the surface. —K.D.
From the June, 2013 issue of Field & Stream