Here we are in the depths of summer. The temperature is in the mid 90s most days, unless there are all-day storms to keep us cooler (but also off the water). Fishing is challenging, but can be rewarding. In an odd way, it’s a lot like fishing in winter — the same, but opposite.
In winter, the fish are cold and lethargic. They tend to seek out water that is a more comfortable temperature. They have fewer food options, since whitebait are scarce and the ones present are small. They aren’t usually willing to chase prey, instead waiting for an easy meal to come close enough to grab easily.
Now, take the word “cold” out of the first sentence of that paragraph and replace it with “hot,” and you have a pretty good description of the current situation. Extreme temperatures at both ends of the scale affect fish in similar ways. But there’s one big difference: Since fish are cold-blooded, high temperatures drive up their metabolism. They might not be hunting as actively, but they have to eat.
How can you use this information to improve your fishing? That’s easy: Figure out where the fish are hanging out and offer them something easy to catch. Let’s start with where to look.
Depth is one of the big keys. Walk out into the water on any of our Gulf beaches. The water will be warm as bathwater at the surface. But as you wade deeper, you’ll notice the temperature around your toes cooling off. It doesn’t always take a huge amount of added depth to make a significant difference in temperature: A couple feet, sometimes as little as 6 inches.
So, places to seek out: Deeper cuts beneath mangrove shorelines, creek mouths, natural channels that run across the flats, dredged channels near docks, dropoffs outside the bars, potholes, etc.
Another thing to look for is current flow. You like a cool breeze on a hot day, don’t you? Even though the actual temperature of flowing air doesn’t necessarily change, it feels more comfortable. It’s the same for fish underwater. Additionally, the moving water often carries tasty tidbits as it flows — perfect for a lazy fish that doesn’t want to chase anything.
Finally, shade provides direct relief from high temperatures. Often you’ll find this in the same places you find greater depth — mangrove edges, docks, bridges, etc.
Naturally, areas that provide multiple things to attract fish are more likely to be productive. For example, a long dock with a boat on a lift near a pass checks all three boxes. It’s not a guaranteed fish attractor — fish make their own rules about that — but chances are good.
Now that you have some spots in mind (or at least know what to look for when you go exploring), you need to figure out what you’re going to get them to eat. Your options are somewhat limited. Whitebait are tougher to find, and the ones we’re seeing don’t have a lot of size to them. There are some threadfins around, but they’re mostly in open water where you need a very large and heavy castnet to catch them.
Bait-size pinfish are starting to show up but aren’t consistent yet. As for shrimp, we’re well into peewee season. A lot of what we’re getting are pinky-size and smaller. They work, but you have to size your hooks down and add some sort of casting weight.
Fortunately, live bait is definitely not a requirement at the moment. Remember — lazy fish. Scavenging takes little energy or speed, and many fish will preferentially feed that way. So a nice chunk of cut ladyfish or mullet will do the job. You can also use cut blue crab or frozen shrimp. Another stellar option: Scented soft plastic baits, which can be fished very slowly or even dead-sticked (just sitting on the bottom like cutbait).
Once you have your bait rigged and cast into a likely spot, patience comes into play. If you let it sit for 20 seconds and then reel up, you’re not giving it enough time. Let the smell do its job. That takes time. I’ll leave a bait sitting for at least a couple minutes, maybe longer. Then, when I finally do reel up, I cast it right back to the same spot. Moving the bait releases a lot of scent, and that will often bring fish to where the bait used to be. On the second cast, I let it soak for only a minute or so. Then I reel it in and cast to the next spot.
Here’s your mantra for fishing in hot water: Low and slow. Yes, I know I stole that from the barbecue guys, but it fits. Keep your baits low in the water column and fish them slow. The waiting can be boring, but keep your ADHD under control and you’ll be rewarded with more fish. Trust me, it’s not a bad thing.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.