By Mark Fike
In the Southeast the weather has definitely entered what country folks call the Dog Days of Summer. It is so hot that by late morning even the shade can be a bad place to be. We humans have become intolerant of high heat and humidity. Just take a look at the news. Much of it during this time focuses on the heat index, dangers of the heat etc… I wonder what farmers and the farmhands did back before we had AC?
Just because it is hot does not mean that fishing has to stop. Pond water is like bath water and fish can be sluggish. However, that does not mean they won’t eat. Because many ponds are shallow and may not have much of a thermocline in them, the fish may be dealing with low dissolved oxygen levels.
That said, they won’t aggressively chase food unless they have to do so. These types of conditions mean that working a plastic worm slowly around structure is one way to get strikes and catch Dog Days Bass.
If your pond has lily pads in it, bass will often lay in the shallowest water under a lily pad leaf. This may seem odd as you figure the water is very warm in the shallows. However, catching food in such places is as simple as opening their mouth and making one quick move.
A frog hops off the bank and becomes an instant meal. The same goes for a snake, mouse or even a duckling. If a bluegill or baby crappie gets too close, they become supper in a hurry and all at the flick of a tail or twist of the body by a big bass.
So, I find success by fishing lily pads and casting or pitching to the banks. I have caught bass in one foot of water during the dog days. There are a few keys to doing this.
First, you have to be quiet. Some anglers line the bottom of their jon boats with carpet to deaden sounds. Pole along and be quiet doing so. A trolling motor cutting lily pads is super noisy and spooks fish.
Start at the outer edge of the pads and pitch frog plastics, worms, or creature baits into holes and slowly jig them up and down. Finesse worms work well for this too. I prefer no weights when fishing lily pads. In shallow waters you want the bait to look as natural as possible as the water is likely to be fairly clear. A jig or weight sends the worm or bait straight down. That is not natural.
As you work into the pads, move slowly so the wake from your boat does not push water and spook the fish. Patience is the key here. Sometimes I only work a cove before it gets too hot and I head home. Later I may come back and fish another chunk of water and cover.
If your pond has other vegetation on it, try to go with as little weight as possible. Sometimes you need weight to punch through a grass mat though. If you use weight, it has been my experience that hopping the plastic bait along the bottom a little more than you would with the above technique will often draw strikes more often.
A weedless mouse, rat or frog bait is good in either types of vegetation. Cast to the back of the cove or near the shore and barely pull the lure along and stop frequently to allow the fish to slam it. See our article Fish In the Jungle for Bass for details on that technique.
Hard cover such as logs, rip rap or other structure can be fished with soft plastics too. Long casts to avoid spooking the fish with the boat is a great idea. Position your boat parallel to such structure when possible so you can work along the structure. If the structure is a tree, consider casting along large branches to work the bait.
You are going to get hung up from time to time so be sure you have some extra baits. Sometimes it is better to break off and retie a new bait vs going in and ruining the spot. Each angler has to make that decision.
If you decide to keep your fish for supper, ice them immediately. Fish from cold water taste much better but that does not mean a summer fish fry is a bad tasting affair. Iced down fish clean easier and taste better.
Any fish you are going to release need to be released quickly so as not to stress them. It is easy to stress fish in hot weather and hot water with less dissolved oxygen. Take a moment to work the fish back and forth in the water to get it going again after the fight.