“I been in the right place…but it must have been the wrong time.”—Dr. John. Dr. John must have spent a fair amount of time in the boat, because his lyrics apply remarkably well to summer fishing.
In summer, being “there” when the bite occurs is huge.
It’s not simply a case of, “You should have been here yesterday.”
It’s more like, “You should have been here a few hours ago.”
Think back to blistering 100ºF summer days spent fishing Missouri River reservoirs in the Dakotas, with the weather calm and the walleye bite slower than slow. Until finally, the wind comes up in mid-afternoon. Gently at first…then moderate…then roaring into a big blow, sweeping 4-foot waves down the reservoir, furiously pounding the shorelines.
As the melee builds, mudlines begin to form along the downwind shore: Particles of dislodged shoreline shale disperse into the surrounding surface waters, forming a dark canopy that cuts sunlight penetration into the water below.
Fishingwise, it’s like flipping a light switch. Formerly inactive walleyes react to the surging currents and sudden lowlight conditions by moving shallow, feeding ravenously beneath the cloudy water.
For anglers in the right place at the right time, quick limits come aboard as the frenzy builds. Until eventually, the wind subsides, and walleyes slide back into deeper water, hunger abated, to await the next ring of the wind-generated dinner bell.
In effect, wind often trumps bright, sunny, midday conditions for walleyes, be it bottom-bouncing spinners & crawlers along reservoir mudlines, or slip-bobbering leeches atop shallow, windswept reefs in natural lakes.
However…it the wind doesn’t blow, look out below. It’s time to shift your tactics into the adjacent deeper water, perhaps patiently livebait rigging with leeches or ‘crawlers to tempt bites from deep schools of fish. Walleyes using these areas tend to be most active in midday, making it prime time to target them there with subtle, tempting, vertical fishing tactics. The bite is more likely to be steady than intense, but that’s what the conditions dictate.
In natural lakes, it’s common for independent groups of fish to live at different depth levels, relating to the available structure and cover options. You have weed walleyes. Rock walleyes. Walleyes along drop-offs. Fish relating to midlake humps. Roaming the basin. Even suspended. Each group is best targeted at the prime time of day when they are most likely to be aggressively feeding. And by using the most efficient means of catching them, depending on their depth, location and mood.
Other species show similar timing tendencies. Crappies, for instance, are notorious lowlight feeders, lying low all day, until biting ravenously for 45 minutes at sundown. Hit the short window of opportunity, and you hit it big.
Groups of largemouth bass inhabiting different weed zones also tend to feed at different times of day, all else being equal. Fish the lily pads early morning and late evening; the weed flats, mid-morning and late afternoon; under docks on sunny afternoons, when bass lurk there in the shade; and the deep weedline during the midday hours, again targeting the most active groups of bass at times and places where they are most vulnerable.
In the end, summer fishing is all about timing. There’s nothing better than being in the right place, at the right time, to maximize your catch.