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- Over the years, I've had plenty
of time to ponder about fishing. Lately, I've been re-thinking some of
the old fishing theories, for example, there's one that says warm water
holds less oxygen, therefore it forces fish to go deep in summer. I don't
know who was the first to expound that theory, but it doesn't seem to hold
water, no pun intended. If it did, there'd be no summer wade-fishing.
- Red drum, cobia, trout, snook, permit, pompano, and a host of other
fish along the Gulf, can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures. That's
why you can catch so many species of fish in the shallows, even when the
water temperature is over eighty-five degrees. I have a strong hunch the
position and intensity of the sun has more to do with fish location in
summer than the temperature of the water.
- When summer begins, the sun is located quite a bit further north than
in the dead of winter. You can check this with a comparison of the length
of your shadow at noon in winter and in summer. The winter shadow is much
- I needed a couple of eye operations to remind me how sensitive our
eyes are to light. We wear large brimmed caps or dark, polarized glasses
to reduce glare, but what about fish? They have no eyelids. Without eyelids,
can you imagine how hard the sun is on a fish's ability to see in the summer,
especially in shallow, clear water?
- The deeper the water, the less light, even on bright days in clear
water. It makes sense, therefore, that fish seek deeper water to avoid
bright light even when they're getting all the oxygen they need in shallow
water. If that's true, fish also seek out shallow, shaded places where
bright sunlight doesn't affect their vision. Those are places available
to wade-fishermen, and those are places I fish.
- Like many a fisherman before me, I used to head for deeper water when
the water temperature rose above eighty degrees. Now I head for shady shorelines,
back bays, boat channel edges, and grass flats where the grass is tall
and is liberally sprinkled with sandy potholes or numerous snags deposited
- Don't expect to find fish in all shaded areas because the best are
still those which contain a good food supply. The obvious places to fish
on bright summer days, then, would be shady locations with a plentiful
supply of baitfish or other food nearby.
- Mangrove shorelines, from Tampa Bay to Key West, are great places to
fish all summer. The same fish can be seen under the same mangroves time
after time. Find mangroves and you've found fish havens.
- Red drum, being bottom feeders, are found even at midday in extremely
shallow water as long as there's an ample supply of bottom food, and if
the fish aren't disturbed by some boater testing to see how shallow he
can run before his lower unit is demolished by an oyster bed.
- The red's favorite foods are young crabs, newly hatched horseshoe crabs,
spotted or blue crabs, or stone crabs. I caught one red that was feeding
on baby slippers, a shellfish. Reds, like other bottom feeders, don't seem
to be disturbed by the sun when they're feeding head down.
- Sight is the most important sense we have to determine distance. It's
also true for fish. We've all had days when sea trout killed a lot of our
live baits in clear water without becoming hooked. I feel certain that
bright sunlight affects their ability to see the bait clearly, and to judge
the exact distance to the bait. They're probably homing in using sound
or scent to locate the bait, senses less accurate than sight. Fish the
same locations when it's cloudy and trout seem to hit the bait harder and
become hooked more frequently.
- I've experimented to check fish reactions to bait placement when the
sun is well overhead and when it's at various angles. I have greater success
catching fish when I place the bait on the same side of sandy potholes
in grass flats as the sun, especially when the grass is fairly long. That's
equally true when fishing the sides of drop-offs like boat channels. The
implication is that shade is on that side, and fish are lying about where
you would expect the shade to be, given the angle of the sun and the location
of the top of the grass or channel.
- That also holds true for large trout which feed along the bottom edges
of grass. I use pinfish for bait around midday in summer when I'm fishing
for reds and trout because pinfish head directly for the bottom, giving
the fish a clearer target.
- Those who fish flats with the sun at their backs know how frustrating
it is to see fish scatter in front of them as they move along. When fishing
away from the sun, make sure your reel is loaded to the spool rim with
fresh, light line. Full spools and light line allow longer casts. For optimum
success, cover all fishable water in front of your shadow before moving
because on a bright day fish are extra cautious.
- When the sun is very low at your back in early morning or late afternoon,
you'll cast a long shadow. Fish instinctively are wary of any moving shadows.
They're on guard and flee at the slightest excuse, especially when the
water is clear and shallow. If you have no choice but to wade in that direction,
try to do so when the sun is high. That reduces shadow length considerably.
I often catch a good stringer of fish at midday knowing that my shadow
is short and isn't likely to disturb the fish as I wade.
- When fish are working the shallows, you need to pay attention to the
fact that they can see better looking away from the sun. Learn how to make
use of that information.
- I was fishing grassy potholes in mid-summer when I got a hard strike.
A few minutes later, I reeled in an eighteen inch speck. Before I left
that pothole, I'd caught five specks between eighteen and nineteen inches
and a keeper flounder. All of the fish were lying on the same side of the
hole as the sun, very close to the grass. I had to cast to within a foot
of them before they made a grab for the bait. When they did hit, they hit
hard, leading me to believe that they had a good bead on the bait before
striking. A few days later, I had to shift the bait placement to catch
fish in the same hole because I was fishing earlier in the day.
- On bright summer days, fish those narrow little bays and tidal rivers
that have grass, trees and brush shading the water. Toss your bait right
up to the shoreline where there are gaps in the brush and work it back
out, or cast parallel to the shore at the edge of the shade and slowly
work it back to you. Be prepared for some explosive strikes. Few fish will
allow a choice bait to go by in plain sight.
- Nights, big fish hang in the shadows of lighted docks, jetties, piers
and bridges. These locations give them advantages. They are invisible to
any baitfish attracted to the light, and they are in position to grab any
baitfish that swims within their strike zone.
- I've found that fish need more time to decide whether to strike a baitfish
close to the surface on bright, sunny days. This seems to indicate that
they may be unsure what they are attacking.
- Even with the abundance of baitfish in the summer, many of the fish
I catch at midday have little or nothing in their digestive tracts. It
seems to indicate that they have trouble seeing and may prefer to feed
when the sun is at a lower angle. In my experience, however, most fish
won't allow a well-presented bait to go by.
- Reds are mainly bottom feeders, but I tease many to the top with lively,
free-lined baitfish. Reds make almost as much noise as snook when they
suck in the bait with a loud pop. I get far more misses from reds when
I fish on top during bright, summer days, and they seem to follow the bait
farther before striking it. I add a number 5 or 7 reusable splitshot to
the leader when this happens. This is enough weight to sink even a lively
baitfish below the surface where the reds can now get a better look at
what I'm presenting.
- Early morning, late afternoon, cloudy days, or shady shorelines are
best for topwater plugs in summer. If you're fishing topwaters on bright
days, give the fish plenty of time to look over the plugs. In other words,
slow the plugs way down, and if they're missing, slow them down even more,
or switch to underwater plugs or jigs once you have their attention.
- Placement of bait on bright days is important to cruising fish. Bait
tossed directly over fish usually spooks them, whereas one tossed a foot
or two to the side draws strikes. Tossing the bait away from the side of
the fish where the sun is located will immediately attract its attention.
- Always check that summer sun angle. If you have to squint or shade
your eyes when you look up, those fish aren't able to see too well either.
Keep the fish-eye point of view in mind and you're on your way to better
summer fishing success.