Over the past three weeks, the average high temperature in Southwest Florida has been about 94 degrees. Even for a Florida summer, that’s hot. Compounding the situation, much of this time we’ve been under a high pressure system, keeping us sunnier and less rainy than usual.
Naturally, this has led to some pretty high water temperatures. Some of the reports we’ve had lately have been from 88 to 90 degrees on the flats in the morning, rising to 94 by noon. Gulf surface temps haven’t been much cooler – 84 or 85 at dawn, pushing 90 in the afternoons.
Of course, this isn’t the first time it’s been hot in Florida. All of our native species are adapted to high temperatures and have ways of dealing with the heat. Now, the question is, are you willing to adapt as well, or would you rather just quit fishing for the next four months?
Hotter on the water
Heat-related illness is no joke. It can be minor — headaches, cramping, having a tough time concentrating — or it can kill you. To avoid it, stay as cool as you can, and don’t get dehydrated. In a typical half-day fishing trip, I’ll down a bottle or two of sports drink, with lots of water in between. Avoid alcohol, which will cause you to lose water faster, and caffeine isn’t particularly helpful either.
As for keeping cool, dressing in moisture-wicking microfiber will help quite a bit. It needs to be tight to work. So will staying in the shade as much as you can. I keep a couple rags or buffs in the cooler. They can be wrapped around your neck to lower your core temperature. I also find an ice cube under the hat while fighting a big fish is nice (just one, though — don’t need a brain freeze).
Go early or get surly
When we talk about the right time to fish, we often focus on tide — but when it’s really hot, a couple degrees cooler can be more important. In summer, the ideal time to be out there is from first light until 10 or 11 a.m. After that, it’s just too roasty. Go have lunch, maybe take a nap or get some indoor chores done. If you want to try another option, the hour or two between our afternoon storms and sunset can be a pretty amazing time to be on the water.
Daily rain is a pain
Another reason to fish early: The near-daily afternoon thunderstorms, which can gather much faster than you think. If you’ve jumped out of your skin when lightning crashes near your house or car, just imagine how much worse it is when you’re in the boat. You’re not only open to the sky, you’re also the tallest thing around. Terrifying.
Even if the rains stay away, the afternoon seabreeze will make for rougher conditions out on the water. Do not underestimate how nasty Charlotte Harbor can be.
The fate of your bait
Hot water doesn’t hold much oxygen, and you put a lot of effort into getting live bait. Keep it healthy by not overloading your well. A few dozen pieces is plenty. Set your pump to recirculate when you’re on the flats so you aren’t pumping in hot water. An aerator also helps. Other good options are dead baits, which are attractive to overheated lazy fish that don’t want to do much chasing, or artificial lures worked very slowly.
Revive to survive
This time of year, a prolonged fight can take a lot out of both man and fish. I suggest using heavier tackle so you can get it done quicker. Less sporting, you say? More important to release them alive, I argue. Save the ultralight gear for winter, when a fish can breathe better.
Even if the fish you’re releasing seems spunky, take an extra minute (or two, or five) to revive it. Keep the fish as low in the water as you can; temps are a bit cooler down deeper. Remember to have the fish facing into the current or moving forward as much as possible.
So nice kept on ice
With fish that are going to be going home, I want them in the cooler and in a brine slush right away. If you’re the type who prefers to keep fish in the livewell (lots of folks from up north prefer this method), check your fish frequently. They can die quickly and without much warning, and dead fish in warm water will start to go bad quickly. Ice is the safer bet, and as a bonus, they’re stiff and easy to fillet when you get back to the dock.
Now if all of this is just too much for you, then maybe you ought to look for another hobby to hold you over through the summer. Perhaps crocheting or flower-arranging, or some other activity which can be done indoors. The rest of us will see you on the water come October.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.