31 Ways to Have the Best Summer Ever
Fish, eat, and be merry
1. Catch a Shark From the Shore
So many shark species cruise within a cast of the water’s edge that you can hook a toothy beast from almost any beach on the east or Gulf coast. A late-summer night is the best time to find one. Here’s how: Start with a stout 10- or 11-foot spinning or conventional surf rod, and make sure your reel is big enough to hold at least 200 yards of 60- to 80-pound braid. Slide a 4- to 8-ounce egg sinker onto your main line, and then attach a 2-foot length of biteproof wire with a barrel swivel on one end and a 10/0 or 12/0 circle hook on the other. Fresh chunks of bluefish or whole mackerel or menhaden are prime baits. Target the deeper pockets and troughs that give sharks access to deeper water. If possible, fish an outgoing tide, as the water’s pull will draw the smell of your bait out into the depths. When a shark strikes, let the circle hook plant itself as the fish runs. Use the waves to drag the shark to the surf’s edge where it’ll beach itself. Always approach a shark from behind. Gently but firmly apply pressure on the back of its head with one hand, and remove the hook with pliers. If the hook is too deep, clip the line. Gently drag the shark backward by the tip of the tail until it reaches water just deep enough to kick away and swim off. —Joe Cermele
2. Live-Line a Lunker
Nothing catches big fish like big bait. Live-lining a minnow, shiner, or chub (where legal) will land you everything from monster pike to trophy trout. And it’s simple: Hook the baitfish under the skin behind the dorsal fin with a bleeding-red octopus-style hook, or a wide-gap circle if you intend to release your catch. In deep water, let it swim freely with an open spool. In shallow, use a float to keep it just above weedbeds and out of snags. Tailor the bait to your quarry, as follows:
- Bass: 4- to 5-inch shiner.
- Pike: 8- to 10-inch chub or sucker.
- Walleye: 4-inch fathead minnow.
- Trout: 3- to 4-inch shiner or minnow. —Lawrence Pyne
3. Make Up a Fish Slam
Maybe the Royal Slam—all the billfish species—isn’t in your summer budget. So, make up your own, such as:
- The Surface Slam: Five different species on a topwater plug.
- The Trash-Can Slam: Five different species of rough fish.
- The Four-of-a-Kind Slam: Four fish from the same genus or family (salmon, bass, or sunfish).
- The Fry-Pan Slam: Four different species of panfish—that are all bound for hot oil.
- The Slammer Slam: Five trophy-size fish from the same lake or area. —L.P.
4. Fish Like Huck and Jim
Nothing says summer like floating a lazy river for smallmouth bass (and anything else that bites). Soak up the sun, drag a toe in the water, and catch fish around every bend. All you need is a canoe, kayak, or johnboat; a rod and reel; a cooler; and a box with:
- Some 3-inch tubes and curly-tailed grubs to be dragged and jigged.
- A few jerkbaits and topwater plugs to cover water and find fish.
- A few stickbaits and swimbaits for good measure.
- A couple of Mepps Aglias if there might be some trout in those riffly sections. —L.P.
5. Be the Fish
Grab a snorkel, put on a diving mask, and swim with the fishes. You’ll cool off, see your quarry like never before, and learn valuable angling lessons like observing how, what, and when they eat. If you move slowly, limit arm and leg motions, and work from deep to shallow, you can get close. Why? Because those fish do not instinctively react to a bubble-blowing blob like you. —Kirk Deeter
6. Catch a Mess of Cats
How many is a mess? Depends on how many mouths you need to feed. Regardless, there are five must-have elements to a summer night of herding cats.
Campfire: Forget that you’re already sweating in short sleeves. A full-on blaze is required, to help keep bugs away if nothing else.
Forked Sticks: The original rod holder still excels and can be repurposed as a prop for roasting marshmallows. Want high tech? Dangle a bell from the rod tip.
Kids: The only thing better than tangling with a 5-pound catfish in the dark is watching a kid do it.
Cast-Iron Fry Pan: Don’t wait. Eat them now, as fast as you can catch, clean, and fry them.
Chicken Livers: There are less nasty baits. But as a summer icon, a plastic tub of ripe chicken livers is up there with your first summer-camp kiss. —T. Edward Nickens
7. Show Off Your Catch
Want to make a 3-pounder look like a 5-pounder? Follow these tips: Use a wide-angle lens (you can buy an aftermarket one for your smartphone at amazon.com), and have a buddy hold the fish well away from his body. Get close and low so you’re shooting up at an angle, and focus on the fish’s eye. Tell your friend to shake the fish gently so it raises its fins and looks even more impressive. And have him return the favor. —Will Brantley
8. Keep a Worm Bed
Summer is the season for spur-of-the-moment worm drowning; the last thing you want to do is waste fishing time scrounging for bait. So tuck a worm bed between the butterbeans and the zinnias (fancypants folk call it vermicomposting), and you’ll be ready to roll at the first sign of your boss’s sneaking off to the golf course.
This is basic country-boy engineering. Use cinder blocks to outline a shady patch of ground, and line the bottom and sides with landscaping plastic. Punch holes in the plastic, about 2 inches apart. Fill it half full with soaking-wet strips of newspaper and cardboard, and top it off with manure. Mix well, and add a little more water so the matrix is moist but not soggy. Add worms and a cover of plywood. Buddy, you are now a worm farmer. —T.E.N.
9. Cast on a Dime
Want to impress your friends with deadly baitcasting accuracy? First, drop a paper plate on the grass 60 feet from where you’ll stand to cast. The key to an on-target cast is starting off on the right foot, literally. You want your dominant foot forward in your stance and your torso as perpendicular to the plate as possible. Before you fire, stare at your target. Focus. Think, “That’s where the bait is going to go.” Starting with the reel in front of your face, bring the rod straight back over your head to a 45-degree angle.
This position will give you the most consistent accuracy. Stroke the rod forward to just past 45 degrees and use the thumbnail on your reel hand as a crosshair to help direct the shot. That thumb is also your line-speed throttle, which you can use to fine-tune distance. (As a general rule, start slowing the lure down when it’s about halfway to the target.) With practice, you’ll be able to drop a long cast in the center of the plate—and on the fish’s nose—every time.—K.D.
10. Cast the Whole Fly Line
Practical? No. (You probably wouldn’t be able to set the hook.) Impressive? Oh yeah. Plus, it’s a great training exercise. Let’s assume you’ve made a couple of false casts to get 50 or more feet of line in the air straight out in front of you. Now, to toss the whole 90-foot enchilada, make an authoritative back cast. Add a haul (pull the line with your off hand) as you bring the line straight to the rear, running parallel to the ground or water. Shoot a little line backward. Pause a second. Now haul again as you power the rod straight forward and snap it off with a solid stop. Too much oomph will cause a tailing loop. But if you harness the energy and stop the rod precisely, the line will carry. The more line you have out, the longer your stroke should be. No more than 70 feet should be dancing overhead before you shoot the remainder of the line. Keep in mind that a clean, straight fly line really helps. And remember—any more than three or four false casts, and you’re bound to lose it.—K.D.
11. Plan a Fishing First Date
Here are four things you need to know—the rest is up to you:
- A farm pond full of aggressive 12-inch bass and a Pop-R keeps things fun and casual. Just don’t get too competitive.
- Be sure the boat is running perfectly ahead of time. Fighting with a dead motor while adrift leads to awkward conversation.
- Avoid shad guts, rooster livers, and stinkbait. In fact, avoid catfishing altogether.
- For now, backlashes and crankbaits hung in trees are cute. If this goes well, there’ll be plenty of time for yelling down the road. —W.B.
12. Choose Tunes for a Summer Soundtrack
Compiling the perfect playlist for a summer spent on the water is a highly personal (and serious) endeavor. But here are 10 suggestions:
- “School’s Out” Alice Cooper
- “The Fishing Hole” Andy Griffith
- “Fishin’ Blues” Taj Mahal
- “Ask the Fish” Leftover Salmon
- “Water Song” Hot Tuna
- “Chattahoochee” Alan Jackson
- “Fishing Song” G. Love and Special Sauce
- “Bigg Bass Blues” Brown Trout and the Lunkers
- “Too Drunk to Fish” Ray Stevens
- “See You in September” The Happenings —David Draper
13. Paddleboard for Bass
Cripes, just how trendy can stand-up paddleboarding—a.k.a. SUP—get? If you think SUP fishing is goofy, you don’t want to hear about SUP yoga classes and meditation klatches. Gag. Still, mixing a little surfing, kayaking, and casting is the fishing flavor-of-the-moment, and what better use is there for a hot July day than to make a fool of yourself in the name of landing a largemouth? Barefoot, shirtless, heckled by shore anglers—it’s summertime and we’re all in, baby. —T.E.N.
14. Eat Walleye Cheeks
Sweet meat it is, the “freshwater scallops” that lie in front of the gills on walleyes 20 inches or better. Use a rotary tool to sharpen the bottom edge of a tablespoon for a cheek scooper supreme. Scoop, skin, then cook like scallops, wrapped in bacon. First, of course, you have to catch a big-headed walleye. When it’s hot enough to peel house paint, bruiser walleyes hunker down in dark, cold shoreline breaks and near deep humps and islands. Get in their face by drifting downwind while dragging a deep-water crawler harness. —T.E.N.
15. Pull a Bush-Hook All-Nighter
Reality shows featuring backwoods savants have turned good-old redneck pastimes like handlining alligators into the Next Big Thing. Thankfully, bush hooking is still out of the spotlight, and where legal it’s still one of the finer uses of a midsummer night’s stream. Get you a canoe, some nylon trotline ($14; basspro.com), some hooks and lead weights and stinky baits. A dozen or so lines tied to limbs and branches should keep you occupied till the sun comes up. —T.E.N.
16. Be Ready With Your Excuses
“Did that storm come through there? Holy crap, I’ve never seen such lightning. Did the power go out? We had to hunker down on the lakeshore for what, like, three hours. Oh, yeah, did you make me a leftover plate?”
“I have been diagnosed with osteomalacia and have been instructed by my physician to seek organic, hormone-free vitamin D therapy.”
“My biggest client is in a bass tournament next weekend and asked me to pre-fish the lake with him during the midweek lull.”
“Honey, Jeb screwed up the reservation b-a-a-a-d. Has us leaving a day later. You wouldn’t believe the fit his wife threw. World War III, seriously. I’m so glad we don’t have their kinds of problems.” —T.E.N.
17. Take a Family Fishing Vacation To:
- Orlando, Fla.: Monster bass and Mickey Mouse—all at the Magic Kingdom.
- Yellowstone N.P.: Cutthroats, plus geothermal funhouse.
- Branson, Mo.: Bass ‘n’ crappies. Country ‘n’ western.
- Wisconsin Dells: Where walleyes and water parks unite.
- Outer Banks, N.C.: Surf cast while your kids build sand castles. —D.D.
18. Join the 20-20 Club
Catching a 20-inch trout on a size 20 fly is just about every fly angler’s holy grail. This season, you’re going to do it—and the midsummer trico hatches that happen throughout the country offer the perfect opportunity. The key to making a big trout eat a tiny dry fly lies in knowing when to drop your bug in the money zone. Wait, and watch the fish feed. Focus on the trout closest to the bank, where the biggest ones love to sip. Usually, you’ll discern a feeding pattern—fish eats left…fish eats right…pauses, then resumes. Sync up with the trout’s rhythm, false cast, and just before the fish should rise, drop that fly in front of him. —K.D.
19. Stringer Enough ‘Gills for a Fish Fry
When I was 8, my dad told me that he once caught so many bluegills from a hot bed that he wore a hole in the water. If you’re planning a fish fry with your buddies, that’s the kind of spawning bed you need to find. All good ones have a few things in common. They’re in water that’s warm (70 degrees is ideal, but they’ll spawn in warmer water) and shallow (2 to 5 feet) with a firm bottom. Look for spawning beds in protected pockets and bays, often near weedline edges. The biggest bedding areas may span 50 yards in any direction. Most are about a third that size. For efficiency, it’s tough to beat a slip-cork, tiny split-shot sinker, and long-shank Aberdeen hook tipped with a cricket, although a fly rod and sponge spider can be nearly as effective. —W.B.
20. Film Your Fishing Trip the Right Way
- Tell a Story: Don’t just film fish being caught. Shoot the sunrise when the boat leaves the dock. Shoot close-ups of lures. Shoot the angler rigging the lures. And after the catch, ask the angler to recap the epic fight—and shoot the interview. With these additions, you’ll end up with a mini feature instead of a random clip.
- Move Around: Nothing is duller than a camera that never moves. Whether it’s a fish fight or someone putting bait on the hook, change the camera angle.
- Get in the Way: Don’t be afraid to get in an angler’s face to capture his or her expression. Work in tight on the reel as the drag spins. Lie down at someone’s feet and shoot up while he casts. These shots add drama and emotion.
- Don’t Blow It: The microphones in most digital cameras do not like wind. Neither will you once you hear it. Use your body to block a breeze as much as you can. Turn your back to the wind and hold the camera lower at your chest. —J.C.
21. Catch a Snapping Turtle and Eat It
There’s a decent chance you’ll encounter an eating-size snapping turtle this summer. The common snapping turtle makes a fine meal (if legal; alligator snappers are protected in most areas). If you must handle the live turtle, first distract it with a stick and then snatch it by the tail. Kill it with a .22 to the head. To eat it, split the plastron (bottom portion of the shell) away from the carapace (top portion) with a hatchet on both sides, and then cut all the way around the edge of the shell to remove the guts. Skin the legs, tail, and neck, and then trim the meat away from the bone. There are two tenderloins running along the top of the shell as well. You’ll have to break rib bones to get them, but they’re worth the effort. Brine the meat overnight in saltwater, roll the pieces in your favorite fish batter, and deep-fry. —W.B.
22. Make a Shore Lunch Three Ways
Fry It: In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 2 inches of oil. Dip your fish fillets in egg wash and dredge them through crushed crackers. Fry them over a fire until golden brown.
Wrap It: Stuff a cleaned trout with lemon slices and fresh dill. Seal it all tightly in tinfoil that’s coated on the inside with butter. Cook it directly on hot coals.
Grill It: Slash each side of a whole fish three or four times with a knife. Coat it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Fill the cavity with fresh herbs. Grill the fish over a hot flame. —D.D.
23. Fish With Live Hoppers
They’re the quintessential summer bait for trout and panfish. But first you have to catch them. On cool mornings, when hoppers are sluggish, use a butterfly net, or team up with a friend and drag a wool blanket through tall grass; hoppers’ hooked legs get caught in the fuzz long enough for you to grab them. Store in a perforated plastic bottle. Then hook them under the thorax with a fine-wire No. 12 hook, and present them on the surface with a fly rod or casting bubble, or drown them with a small split shot. Odds are you’ll run out of bait before you tire of fishing. —L.P.
24. Gig a Frog
Frog gigging is buggy, mucky, messy, and about as highbrow as picking your toes in public: perfect summer fun for boys of any age. It’s caveman simple, but there are a few tricks you should know. For starters, don’t go too early in summer—give those bullfrogs a chance to lay on the meat. And don’t wait too late—gigging a gigged-out pond is like batting cleanup in a game of spin the bottle. Maybe you’d just better get on with it and go this weekend. And if your buddies tell you to grow up, well, tell them you will…when summer is over. —T.E.N.
25. Start a Life List
You’ll become a better and more versatile fisherman—and have an absolute ball checking off your goals. There are any number of ways to start a life list, including:
- By Species: Catch all the species found within, say, 50 miles of your home, including the overlooked oddballs.
- By Number: Catch 10,000 fish before you drop.
- By Method: See how many species you can catch on a favorite lure or fly.
- By Destination: Make a bucket list of classic fishing locales—and hit the first one this summer. —L.P.
26. Catch a Titty Bream
A titty bream is a trophy worthy of a Facebook posting and a scorching-hot fry pan, and absolute proof that more than a handful is not a waste. Simply put, any bluegill, shellcracker, redbreast, or other panfish so whopping big that you have to slap it up against your chest and pin it down with your forearm so you can twist out the hook—that, my friends, is a titty bream. Your summer is incomplete until you catch one. —T.E.N.
27. Eat Gar Balls
Gar can be really tough to catch with a hook and line, but a 12-inch piece of frayed nylon rope attached to a large barrel swivel will entice topwater strikes and tangle in their teeth securely enough to land them. As for eating one of these monsters…you’ll need tin snips to open a gar’s hide, but the fish has backstraps that are shrimplike in texture. Chop the meat and mix it with mashed potatoes, chopped onion, eggs, parsley, and Cajun seasoning. Roll the mixture into hush puppy–size balls and, you guessed it, fry them in hot oil. (Note: Gar eggs are incredibly toxic to humans. The best way to avoid them is to just release the big females and clean the smaller males for the table.) —W.B.
28. Hike the Headwaters
Solitude, scenery, a little exercise, and lots of wild trout. How can you go wrong? Hit every pool and deeper run as you go, but be stealthy and don’t dawdle; small-stream trout strike readily but spook easily. Your fly or lure box should look like this:
- Flies: Ants, hoppers, Stimulators, Parachute Adams, Woolly Buggers, Zug Bugs, and Prince nymphs.
- Lures: Panther Martins, Mepps Aglias, Little Cleos, a Rebel Crickhopper, and a Rapala Ultra Light Minnow. —L.P.
29. Noodle a Cat
A good day of noodling will leave you bleeding and bruised. Drowning is a risk. But a little danger is half the fun. If the law allows (and it probably doesn’t if you don’t live in the South), start by finding a hole where big flatheads nest. Washouts under concrete boat ramps are choice. Rock ledges, submerged roads, muskrat holes, and hollow logs are well worth checking. Focus on areas with a hard bottom. Never reach into a hole that isn’t completely submerged; that’s where the snakes and turtles live.
When you locate a likely catfish den, take a breath, dive down to it, reach inside as far as you can, and brace yourself. Big, nesting flatheads are aggressive and can swallow your arm to the elbow. There’s no mistaking when you get a bite. Grab the lower jaw and hang on. Don’t try to outmuscle the fish. Instead, run your hand through the fish’s mouth and out the gill plate. Bring in your other hand, lock your fingers together, and pull the fish’s head close to your chest. Lock your legs around its tail to keep it from thrashing, and the fish is yours. Have a buddy ready to grab a stringer. —W.B.
30. Enjoy a Thrill in a Spill
Most man-made lakes have spillways that allow excess water to drain away. These spillways are usually located on the deepest side of a lake, and during spring high water, lots of small gamefish end up taking a plunge. Those fish often thrive in the retention areas below the spill—and some of them will fatten up on the forage continually getting washed over. If you’re fishing a lake on foot, always hit the retention basin below the spillway. In smaller basins, you may find a resident lunker bass. In bigger basins, the crappies may be chunkier than the average fish in the main lake. If you do hook a whopper, consider releasing it in the main lake, especially if the summer is a scorcher. —J.C.
31. Match Your Catch to the Perfect Beer
Miller High Life
Fish: Fried walleye
Profile: Light and carbonated enough to cut through all that oil—what’s bubblier than the Champagne of Beers?
Where to Drink: In your backyard, with friends, while popping fish right from the fryer.
Fish: Blackened redfish
Profile: A full-flavored, hoppy IPA that adds an extra kick to spicy Cajun food.
Where to Drink: Anywhere on the bayou (or anywhere you can find these amazing suds).
Burning Skye Scottish Ale (Empyrean Brewing Co.)
Fish: Grilled trout
Profile: Sweet start with a smooth, smoky finish to match anything cooked over hot coals.
Where to Drink: Next to a driftwood fire on the shore, waders on.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
Fish: Pan-fried catfish
Profile: Easy drinking, and you can get a 30-pack for, like, $9.
Where to Drink: Around the campfire, as in “Catch a Mess of Cats.” Just keep an eye on those kids. —D.D.
We’ve compiled 23 extra tips to inspire your best summer ever.
1. Take your boss fishing: Fun? Maybe, maybe not. Smart? Oh yes.
2. Hit a saltwater blitz: It just might be the most thrilling bite of summer.
3. Carve a bass popper: Then watch a largemouth explode on it.
4. Plan a fishing reunion: Get the high school buds together again.
5. Wet-wade a river: All you need is a pair of old sneakers. And it feels good.
6. Build a canoe: Get free plans at shop.northwestcanoe.com.
7. Camp on the water: Wake up, drink cowboy coffee, start fishing.
8. Rent a houseboat with friends: It’s fishing, it’s boating, and It’s a hoot.
9. Pop a panfish: The best topwater bite now? Fly casting poppers to ‘gills.
10. Eat bait: Fish aren’t biting? Crawfish are easy to catch. And delicious.
11. Catch a salmon within sight of a grizzly: It’s not scary. It’s thrilling.
12. Start a fishing tradition: Show your kid a new secret spot every summer.
13. Hook a new species: Carp, gar, walleye, whatever. Catch a first this summer.
14. Fish with the kids: And let them bring a friend. they’ll have a blast. So will you.
15. Fish your boyhood water: Thomas Wolfe was wrong in some respects.
16. Dunk your fly in stink juice: Because sometimes it’s just more fun to fish dirty.
17. Break in a fishing hat: Summer sweat provides the perfect coat of seasoning.
18. Hire a local guide: Because they deserve your business. And you deserve a break.
19. Use a cane pole: Trust us. It’s a lot of fun—and surprisingly effective.
20. Leave a note, and leave: Now’s the perfect time for an impromptu fishing trip.
21. Bullheads bite, too, you know: So why not go catch a few? You just might dig it.
22. Skip lunch and fish: Just be careful not to get any fish slime on your slacks.
23. Better yet, call in sick and fish: Because summer’ll be over before you know it.