Summer Fishing Almanac

Endless Summer Fishing
Something about summer makes us forget about jobs and responsibilities and get lost in the truly important stuff-"like fish. In the coming months you'll care more about your outboard than your lawn mower. You'll spend more time with your tackle box than with your spouse. And when your boss asks you to give him the latest, you'll whip out a photo of your last monster catch. The fish are acting strange, too, and it's not necessarily good news. As water temperatures rise, many species abandon the shallows that were so easy to work in spring. The fishing can get tough, but we're here to help. We've created a species-by-species guide that gives you the best tactics to use in June, July, and August, including specific lures and spots. It's a foolproof plan to catch more fish all summer long.
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Trout
Flyfishermen are fond of reading calendars and published hatch charts. Bugs and trout, however, are not just illiterate but inconsiderate, too. Things don't always happen when they're supposed to, the best-laid vacation plans notwithstanding. Nationwide, trout fishing patterns vary enormously by region in early summer. Major rivers in the East and Upper Midwest usually have settled flows and major evening fly hatches by mid-June, while many Rocky Mountain rivers are sometimes high and flush with snowmelt until late in the month. By mid-August, though, regional fishing conditions have caught up with themselves. In late summer, you'll be catching Wyoming trout with the same techniques that anglers are using in upstate New York. But there is good fishing to be had almost anytime. You just need to pick the right spots and tactics.
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Trout
Flyfishermen are fond of reading calendars and published hatch charts. Bugs and trout, however, are not just illiterate but inconsiderate, too. Things don't always happen when they're supposed to, the best-laid vacation plans notwithstanding. Nationwide, trout fishing patterns vary enormously by region in early summer. Major rivers in the East and Upper Midwest usually have settled flows and major evening fly hatches by mid-June, while many Rocky Mountain rivers are sometimes high and flush with snowmelt until late in the month. By mid-August, though, regional fishing conditions have caught up with themselves. In late summer, you'll be catching Wyoming trout with the same techniques that anglers are using in upstate New York. But there is good fishing to be had almost anytime. You just need to pick the right spots and tactics.
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July
Big Flies After Dark
Flows are further subsiding in July on Eastern freestone rivers, and water temperatures start to become an issue. If they rise much over 70 degrees, don't even bother to fish. The action will be slow, and those trout you do catch and release in the warmer water will have a greatly reduced chance of survival. But there are some bright spots. Giant Hexagenia mayflies hatch early this month on upper Midwestern rivers, as well as on trout ponds and lakes from Labrador south through the Appalachians nearly to Georgia. This, again, is late-evening or after-dark fishing with the promise of very large trout. For the best daytime fishing in July (other than in cold tailwaters), take a hike. The small, headwater tributaries of major trout streams almost always have cooler water than the main rivers, and trout often migrate to such places. Water levels are also of concern now in some Western rivers, as ongoing drought coupled with irrigation withdrawals may cause some rivers to warm much too rapidly. Otherwise, this is the perfect time for casting a size 14 Royal Wulff (above) upstream in the tumbling, high-country pocket water of rivers in Idaho and Colorado, for example. This is probably the world's bestselling dry fly simply because its bright white wings make it very easy for anglers to see on the water. The trout can see it, too.
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August
Trico Time
Tricos, tricos, tricos. These diminutive mayflies (above) are hatching from flowing trout waters nationwide in August. It's some of the year's best fishing, but you'll have to get up in the morning to catch it. The spinner fall is most important and usually happens when the morning air temperature reaches 68 degrees. Check the weather forecast the night before. And note that a stiff wind will prevent the spinner fall entirely. Imitative fly sizes range from 20 down to 28 fished on tippets from 6X down to a cobweb 8X. Such fragile tippets spook many anglers, but this tip will help: Using a rigged leader and fly on your rod, hook the fly to a branch. Step back, letting out 20 feet of line, then start pulling as if you're fighting a fish. Increase the pressure until the tippet breaks. You'll then learn-"and be surprised by-"just how hard you can actually pull with a fine leader. Tiny tackle can land some really big fish. When the day's trico activity dwindles, switch to terrestrials. Grasshoppers, ants, and small beetles all peak in activity along stream margins on hot, muggy August days. Keep in mind there's a lot more to fishing terrestrials than just plunking a giant hopper next to the bank. On heavily pressured rivers, including many in the West, it's better to go smaller. A size 10 or 12 hopper will often outfish the bigger foam-bodied versions that the trout have seen more often. Time of day can make a big difference also. As a hot afternoon fades into a cooler evening, terrestrial insects become less active along the stream banks. Trout feeding patterns will thus change, too, and a dry caddis or mayfly imitation will typically start to outproduce terrestrial flies as the sun drops to the horizon.
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What's the forecast? Muggy
Brown trout are most active at night during the hottest part of the summer, July and August. After dark, toss large flies that push water (such as a size 2 Muddler Minnow).
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What's the forecast? Windy
Windblown terrestrials collect in the lee of cutbanks. Fish small ants, or a hopper dry with a size 16 Hare's Ear nymph on 12 inches of 5X tippet tied to the hopper's hook.
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What's the forecast? High Pressure
Mayflies are often active on cool days with little wind. Check for spinner falls between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., then fish a nymph in the riffles.
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What's the forecast? Storm
Trout feed aggressively during the initial increase in stream level, when the current is washing prey downstream. Run to catch the first rise of water and throw a streamer.
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Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouths have busy spring schedules. Ice-out means it's time to build energy for spawning, which begins when the water temperature hits 60 degrees and occupies two weeks of a bass's life. That period generally encompasses some part of June, depending on the location of the particular water. There's a nest to construct, the actual job to be done, and finally the resulting progeny to protect from the panfish hordes. After spawning, smallmouths disperse, but in a few weeks the schools begin to re-form. Their feeding intensifies as the summer deepens, their movements a part of the natural rhythms of a north country that first welcomed vacationing anglers in the decades following the Civil War-"and continues to do so today. Beneath a high summer sun, surrounded by bright blue water, the angling could not be more delightfully complicated: Read the lake or river. Find the bass. Ultimately, key the presentation to the structure and the forage.
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June
Cover water
This month, smallmouths are not unlike the vacationers that fish for them. Work is over. With the kids out on their own, it's time to kick back, drift off to deeper water, and chill. This is the toughest time of year for anglers. Postspawn smallmouths, particularly those of any size, show little interest in searching for food. Instead they spread out along shores, rest on protected bottoms, or suspend in deeper water-"and wait for things to come to them. The most productive angling tactics involve a minnow presentation that covers the water. One way to do so is to drift and cast (above). Follow, however loosely, some sort of structure, beginning in 5 to 10 feet of water and moving down to 10 to 20 feet if you fail to turn up any fish. Try to locate a mix of rocks (boulders preferably) and weeds on a dropoff. In calm, clear water, start with a topwater popper or chugger like a Pop-R, Chug Bug, or floating Rapala. Work it slowly. Once the midday breeze slaps a chop on the surface, go to a subsurface jerkbait like a Rattlin' Rogue or a Bomber or another shallow-running crankbait. Soft-plastic minnow imitations like Slug-Gos and tubes also work very well. If these don't produce, try drifting a live shiner or nightcrawler, or trolling a crankbait. The key is to stay close to structure. Postspawn smallmouths aren't big on dining out.
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July
Find the Crayfish
Now it's really summertime, and the living is easy. Smallmouths in lakes orient to rubble structure in the 15- to 35-foot range, which is where they find crayfish, their chief summer forage. River flows drop and find channels, and temperatures warm. Here, too, crayfish are the favored food. Melon-copper tube jigs are effective in either situation. The difference is that river smallmouths can't be choosy. Still-water smallies can move from one shoal to another until they find enough crayfish to make a meal. River fish, at least those on the smaller waters, don't have that luxury. They pick good stations and take what they can grab. A productive river approach begins with locating current breaks with gravel bottoms (above). Midstream glassy slicks are great candidates. Whether you're wading or in a small boat, flip the tube jig upstream and twitch it through the current break, just ahead of the flow, so that it dribbles along the gravel. Nearly every type of river forage (crayfish, hellgrammites, stonefly nymphs, darters, and sculpins) has a mossy green-brown look, a cylindrical shape, and a soft texture, and hovers or scuttles over the stones-"just like your tube jig.
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August
Start Early, Fish Late
The same locations that attracted bass in July still draw them now because, as Willie Sutton might say, that's where the crayfish are. The trick is to hit the feeding locations when the bass are there, which is often at first and last light. First-light bass move up on the shoal, but they also head close to shore. Cast a live crayfish or a Yamamoto worm to the edge of a dropoff (above), a weed border, or even a dock. The key is to minimize the weight, which slows down the descent. Be ready for a take on the drop. Regardless of your method, you may find as I have that the morning hours are more productive on lakes, and evening is superior on rivers.
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What's the forecast? Windy
Surface chop diffracts sunlight, which means smallmouths can safely move around to feed. Drift with the wind, fishing live bait 3 to 5 feet off the bottom. Keep adding split shot until you hit bass.
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What's the forecast? High Pressure
Cast a lightly weighted Yamamoto worm or tube jig to the edge of shade. Expect a strike as it sinks, then work it slowly along the bottom.
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What's the forecast? Dropping Pressure
As the sky darkens, smallmouths venture mid-river and to the tops of shoals. Cover water horizontally by ripping a Rattlin' Rogue jerkbait across the water column.
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What's the forecast? Storm
Drop live bait, especially nightcrawlers, close to cover on the bottom, where bass hunker down until the weather turns.
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Walleye
Anybody can be a hotshot walleye fisherman in the spring, when walleyes swarm in shallow and tepid waters rife with baitfish. These are the glory days. Then comes summer. The sun shines longer, the water heats up, and the walleyes don't like it. These light- and temperature-sensitive predators migrate to deeper and darker climes and open spaces, where finding them and catching them gets tougher. But you can still have terrific days on the water-"you just need to fish harder and smarter. The following tactics will take you through the season, from the shallows to the weeds to the deep-water basins. Master them and you'll have earned your walleye Ph.D.
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June
Get Into the Weeds
It isn't really summer yet, in that fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk sort of way. In fact, many anglers consider June to be unparalleled. The shallows teem with forage, and water temperatures range through the 60s to the mid-70s, which is optimum to livable for a walleye. Weeds come up, lending protective cover and shade, and the walleyes take notice-"and residence. Certain weeds are better than others. True broadleaf cabbage establishes in 6 to 12 feet of water over sand, gravel, and marl. Walleyes prefer thicker, forestlike stands, but if those are not an option, a fistful of plants in a pasture of single weeds can draw them in like a magnet. Coontail is another gem, with its lattice of Christmas-green whorls. In its most dynamic form, coontail grows in dense mats in 5 to 9 feet of water. Nothing outshines the jig-and-minnow here. It perfectly mimics what the fish are after, and you can fish it many different ways by varying speed and your stroke. My preference is a long-shank jig with a shiner (above). Thread the minnow on the hook to foil short nips. Use the electric trolling motor to crawl along, and pitch the jig to weed edges or into a field of short vegetation. Swim and hop it back, bumping weed stalks and the bottom. Keep your line taut and the bait in constant motion. Weed-dwelling walleyes are aggressive fish; they'll catch up.
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July
Hit the Edge at Dusk
When it's time to slather on the sunblock and don the mesh baseball cap, you might think that you should abandon the shallows. Yes, but not at dusk. After the heat of the day diminishes, walleyes move to the deep-water edges of weeds, some from the depths, others from inside the weedbed. Either way, they stack up here at sunset. Locate the edge by day using GPS-enabled sonar, which will let you follow it in total darkness. Or you can place marker buoys wrapped in reflective tape on crucial inside turns and points. Hit them with a flashlight to troll effectively. To cover water and trace the weedline, pull crankbaits with the electric trolling motor or a hushed four-stroke kicker. Stickbaits, like the Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue (above) and Cotton Cordell Ripplin' Red Fin, work best. They wobble nicely at slow speeds and run in that 6- to 18-foot range where you'll find most weedlines. Your specific situation might call for deep divers, so carry those too. Because nighttime walleyes are often spooky, troll 60 to 100 feet behind the boat with a stiff 6- to 8-pound mono, like Berkley Trilene XT. Superlines make baits dive too fast. On a good bite, you'll troll long into the darkness. Full and new moons can mean supercharged action.
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August
The Walleye Basin
Normal people have quit fishing or switched to bass by now. To me, though, it's the month to test your deep-water skills, or cut your teeth. Grab a hydrological map and look for the basin-"the intimidating depths, 30 to 80 feet down. Identify the widest swaths. Then locate spots where the basin meets structure, like an offshore reef or gravel bar. Call these contact points. It's where deep-ranging, wandering walleyes cater to their inherent need for structure. Out on the water, identify the thermocline, the thin and volatile layer of water between the warm upper water column (epilimnion) and cool lower water column (hypolimnion). At the thermocline, temperatures drop a degree a foot. Consequently, walleyes use it to find that happy place. You can detect thermoclines on most LCD graphs as funky hazes or "false bottoms-¿ 30 to 80 feet below the surface. Thermocline-graphing might reveal actual walleyes, too, as well as baitfish. The simple 50-50 formula says to let out 50 feet, attach the weight, and let out 50 more (see above diagram). Variations abound from there, but that's enough knowledge to make you dangerous. Because the snap-weight gets you down to around 20 or 30 feet, it achieves most of the necessary diving. Consequently, shallow stickbaits, like the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow, get the nod. Engage the motor at 1 to 2.5 mph and set the cruise control. Now pass me a beer... A deep-diving crankbait is the best tool in the box. Models like the Rapala Down Deep Husky Jerk (above, top) or Reef Runner Deep Diver can push the 30-foot mark when rigged on a skinny superline like PowerPro 8/1 or Berkley FireLine 8/3. But if traditional deep divers won't get there, add a snap-weight. As their name implies, these readily attach to (and detach from) the line, providing downrigger-like service at a fraction of the cost and hassle. Snap them on the line after the lure is in motion.
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What's the forecast? High Pressure
When the air is heavy, fish are sluggish. Go small and slow at dawn and dusk. Try a leech on a 6- to 12-foot snell with a light sliding sinker.
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What's the forecast? Muggy
Find deep offshore structure, like a rock reef that peaks at 20 or 30 feet and cascades down to 60, 70, or more. Attach a 3- to 6-foot spinner snell and a jumbo leech or large minnow to a bottom bouncer. Troll it on a short leash, keeping the rig as vertical as possible. Pound the flanks in low light, then work the base by day.
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What's the forecast? Windy
A good roil hurls plankton and baitfish toward shore, and walleyes tumble in after. Fish fast, strafing large areas with jigs, plastics, and shallow-running crankbaits. The more days of constant wind, the better the bite.
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Crappie
Remember how awesome the fishing was last month? Crappies were spawning, bunched in the shallows thicker than fleas on a hound. You were catching slabs off stake beds and brushpiles in every bay, cove, and flat. Then suddenly, just like somebody pulled the plug, it was over. Now you're figuring it's time to stash the crappie tackle until next spring. Hold on. Even though the spawning bonanza has passed, there's still plenty of great crappie action out there if you change your tactics. After the spawn, crappies follow submerged creek channels out of reservoir tributary arms toward the main body of the lake. Although they're unlikely to be packed together now as they were during the spawn, they're still in predictable places and respond eagerly to live bait and lure presentations. Here's how to find these summer hangouts.
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June
Troll Crankbaits
When lake temperatures reach about 75 degrees, postspawn crappies will be scattered along the first dropoff they encounter adjacent to their bedding areas-"12 to 18 feet deep is typical. These fish will be suspending now rather than holding tight to the bottom, so your best approach is to cover a lot of water by slow-trolling small crankbaits like the Bandit 100 and Bomber Model A. Target the deep ends of gravel flats, major points at tributary mouths, and creek-channel drops (above). First scan these areas with your sonar and put marker buoys along channels and ditches to chart your route. Using soft-action baitcasting rods and 8-pound abrasion-resistant line, troll between 1.5 and 2.5 mph in a lazy S pattern, alternately sweeping the open water over the channel and banging bottom on top of the drop with your lures. When a fish strikes, don't grab the rod and set the hook--crappies aren't called "papermouths-¿ for nothing, and a hard hookset may rip out the hook. Instead, pick up the rod and just start reeling. The strike is usually sufficient to bury the hook. Don't forget to take along a plug knocker to retrieve crankbaits that hang up in brushy cover.
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July
Probe Channel Cover
With the lake now topping 80 degrees, crappies will most often be hanging around deep creek and river channels. Look for them to be suspending near, or holding tight to, stumps, brushpiles, and flooded standing timber adjacent to channels in 20 to 30 feet of water. Mark channel drops with buoys, then probe for crappies using a Kentucky rig (see next slide). Use cheap 30-pound mono as leaders off of the main line. The stiff, springy leaders will keep the two lures from tangling. A bow-mounted sonar with the transducer attached to the trolling motor will help you stay on target. Lower the sinker straight down into bottom cover and s-l-o-w-l-y reel it up, repeating as you progress along the channel (above). July crappies often suspend in a tower formation, and this presentation will catch fish from 30 to 10 feet deep.
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August
Drag Offshore Humps
Even though the lake temperature may exceed 90 degrees now, you can still catch crappies by keying on offshore humps (submerged islands). Target those no shallower than 15 feet on top, especially if they rise out of deep water near a flowing channel. Crappies gravitate to the peak of the hump to feed on baitfish when current is being generated from the upstream dam, then drop back to suspend off its deep sides once the turbines shut down. Idle over the structure, marking it with buoys. Move to open water, let out about 40 feet of line with a Kentucky rig (above) on the business end, and head back to the spot with your trolling motor, dragging the rig behind your boat. When you move across the hump and feel the sinker hit bottom, speed up slightly; if you haven't felt the sinker drag for several seconds, slow down until you do. Crappies suspending in hot water can be maddeningly slow to bite. When you spot a school on your sonar, you may have to approach it from several different directions to entice a strike. A sudden change of speed can also trigger a bite. As the rig passes near the school, either speed up your trolling motor to quicken the presentation, or kill it so the rig sinks. Find the right combination, and you can get two hookups at once.
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What's the forecast? Muggy
Minnows fade quickly in the heat, so switch to tube baits. Look for towers of suspending fish at dropoffs down to 30 feet and probe them vertically with a Kentucky rig.
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What's the forecast? Windy
Wave action creates cloudy water perfect for ambushes, and crappies emerge from channels to prey on bait feeding on windblown plankton. Head to banks with nearby dropoffs and slowly swim a small white or chartreuse twister jig.
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What's the forecast? High Pressure
Under clear skies, crappies retreat from piercing UV light in brushy cover near channel drops. Fish straight down into the thick stuff with a Kentucky rig.
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What's the forecast? Dropping Pressure
Before a storm, crappies school up to bird-dog wandering baitfish. Make multiple passes over channel drops until you find them on your graph, then troll crankbaits or slow-drift jigs through the school.
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Landlocked Stripers
The paradox about landlocked stripers is that they are big, brawling fish that can reach 60 pounds and pull like a plow horse, but they are also sensitive, delicate, and fussy. They function well within a very narrow water temperature range: 55 to 65 degrees is ideal. Above or below that, the bite can be painfully slow. And they demand plenty of dissolved oxygen-"5 to 8 parts per million, to be exact. Which brings us to summer. With the temperatures of many slack-water striper reservoirs soaring into the low 90s by July, these fish are forced to go deep to find cooler water-"but the deeper they go, the less dissolved oxygen becomes available to them. This causes a slow bite at best, a striper kill at worst. Therefore, to score a midsummer striper, you need to target river-run reservoirs and the churning tailraces of power dams, where the water is cool, oxygen-rich, and loaded with big baitfish.
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July
Topwaters in Current
Time to move to the fast water below the dam, where the water is frigid and the stripers aggressive (above, large). Be there at first light, armed with beefy 7- to 8-foot baitcasting outfits with wide-spool reels sporting heavy line (30- to 40-pound mono or heavier braided line). Wolf packs of stripers will cruise shallow shoals and gravel bars at daybreak, pounding schools of baitfish with percussive surface strikes. Start with a big, noisy muskie prop bait like a Stidham Probe, retrieving it with loud rips and tranquil pauses. As the fog burns off, switch to a quieter Cordell Red Fin topwater minnow, retrieving it slowly across the surface so the tail sashays back and forth, throwing a wake behind it. By midmorning, move to 5- to 10-foot holes adjacent to those shallow shoals and bars, casting a 10-inch Lunker City Fin-S Fish (a soft jerkbait) rigged with a treble stinger hook. Stripers shun bright sunlight and will hold tight to undercut banks and submerged trees; cast the jerkbait around these spots and skate it rapidly across the surface. August
Planer Boards and Big Baits
The hotter it gets, the more stripers will pack into the upper reaches of cold-flowing rivers. Topwaters will work early and late in the day, but a more productive approach is pulling big live baits-"gizzard shad, skipjack herring, or rainbow trout-"behind planer boards (above, inset). You'll need an aerated circular shad tank to keep your bait frisky. Use 8-foot medium-heavy baitcasting rods and big reels like Ambassadeur 7000s spooled with 40- to 50-pound mono or up to 130-pound braided line. Starting upstream of your target, rig your bait no more than 6 to 8 feet behind the board to keep it from constantly swimming into snaggy cover, then proceed slowly downstream under trolling-motor power, staying just ahead of the current so the board planes toward the shoreline. When your bait gets nervous, hang on and don't get rattled-"a 40-pounder plastering a big shad on the surface sounds like a Buick falling off a bridge.
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What's the forecast? Muggy
Morning fog keeps light-sensitive stripers shallow and on the prowl for groceries. Drag noisy topwater plugs over bars and shoals until the fog dissipates, then fish a big gizzard shad below a cork around submerged trees in river bends during the heat of the day.
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What's the forecast? High Pressure
Under pressure, stripers get lockjaw and hang deep. The best bet is targeting river holes with a Carolina rig and chunks of fresh herring or shad threaded onto a 5/0 hook. In current, use 30-pound line and a 2- to 3-ounce sliding sinker.
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What's the forecast? Dropping Pressure
The change in pressure can trigger a rampage. Use topwater lures and a fast retrieve off gravel bars and tributary points.
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What's the forecast? Storm
Stay ahead of muddy runoff and swim a chartreuse or white 1-ounce bucktail jig with a twist-tail grub trailer slowly past flooded timber.
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