Strategies for Tough Summertime Conditions

Strategies for Tough Summertime Conditions
Author’s summer pattern wade box.

It’s raining, and I cancelled my charter. Rainfall is nearing sixteen inches for this three-day event; good news for Aransas and surrounding bays. I will gladly take a day off, or even three, for summertime rain that benefits the bays. Fresh water will displace trout in some back bay areas but that is another story.

It’s been super-hot along the Middle Coast. Afternoon water temps are approaching 88° in the shallows. At sunrise I’m recording 84 to 85° crossing the bay, with shorelines showing 82 to 83° in many places. This may not seem like much of a difference to us but very significant to fish.

During my seminars I ask for a show of hands from attendees that have water temperature gauges on their boats. I follow by saying, “If your hand is not in the air you need to have one installed.”

As the sun rises through the morning hours, so goes water temperature. If we have a falling tide between noon and early-afternoon, the water leaving backcountry marshes and entering the bays via drains will be noticeably warmer than the bay shoreline. Deeper waters, outside these drains, become my go-to pattern on hot days. I will try to provide a good visual of the fishing strategy I have developed over 40 years.

I started young with the “fish smart” mindset and it began with a comment from my dad. “I’d rather be lucky than good,” was the topic of discussion. My dad suggested that luck eventually runs out and, if I was going to depend on luck alone, I was going to have a tough go in anything I pursued in life.

“Be good and strive to become great at what you do; luck will be a bonus,” he said. “The harder you work, the luckier you will appear to others with less motivation.”

The fishing smart mantra was born that day and was heavily influenced by dad’s biology education. He held a master’s degree and loved discussing biology. He taught high school and coached athletics for extra income. He was a great coach but teaching was his greatest passion.

While fishing, we would discuss WHY something occurred and WHAT the conditions were that likely caused it. I learned quickly to record these observations in a journal to enable my recall and apply them to future situations. I eventually got better electronics, better polarized glasses, and literally better everything else, but the full mental picture of patterns and learning to utilize them has been a work in progress for 40 years.

So what are we to do when our pre-dawn run to our favorite shoreline or reef results in a bust?

I look to the marsh drains along the miles of our barrier islands. I see them as river mouths, very small, but with the same hydrology at work. Satellite images reveal how water fans out as it flows from the mouth of a river. Quite often we see distinct color changes associated with that water movement. This correlates perfectly with runoff from the marsh to the bay.

We need also to visualize the bottom structure and depth changes present in the drain mouth that direct the flow of water. In many of my favorite areas, the deepest water will be 5-feet or less, but still deep relative to the surrounding water.

Next we have to understand current direction. Noticing the direction that off-colored plumes are moving or readings on your water temperature gauge help identify this. Strong wind can overcome or enhance tide flow. Watching current seams where moving water collides with water that is not moving is critical in the development of the mental picture.

Where color changes and current seams meet water of greater clarity or water that is not moving, bait and predators will congregate on that line. This will be especially true when bottom structure creates ambush points.

The ability to envision the complete picture beneath the surface depends on your knowledge of how baitfish and gamefish position themselves in these situations. I have a creative mind in this department – not so much in singing, dancing, or other things. Most every good angler I know has this same ability.

So – when, where, and how do we position ourselves? First let me say that I use this pattern quite often during the hottest months. I feel that super-heated water exiting the marsh and entering the bay, flowing across ideal bottom structure that lies in deeper zones, has the possibility of concentrating good numbers of fish. With mostly small windows of feeding activity occurring during daylight hours in summer, it becomes extremely important to be in the right place at the absolute right time.

Drain mouth patterns can allow us to recover from an early-morning mistake along a shoreline reef or point where singular small structures concentrate fish. Miss that bite and you’re in for a struggle - yours truly included. The deeper drain mouth pattern typically peaks during the noon to early-afternoon hours.

A substantial bite can occur when numbers of fish are present in a small area. Fish tend to be greedy and will often grab a lure simply to prevent another fish from getting it. This behavior can lead to a short feeding frenzy. Patience is huge, actually bigger than huge, to fully exploit this pattern.

Position yourself as far as possible from the target area. The ability to place long casts accurately is of great importance. Never wade into the strike zone. I lock my feet and try to move as little as possible once bites are received. I often remind clients how far they have moved forward after landing a fish. “Look where I’m standing; you allowed that fish to pull you toward the strike zone,” I tell them.

Two or three fish later, some anglers will be standing way too far forward. They then declare the fish are gone. They’re not gone, you’re just standing where you need to be fishing.

It is hilarious to me when a guy gets pulled by bites or yields to wind and waves and ends up in the strike zone. “This one hit right at my feet!” he yells. Actually, she ate right where she’d been sitting the whole time. The exact spot he’d been fishing, ten minutes and twenty-five yards ago.

The good news is that we can back off and the area will reload and catching can resume.

In the repositioning process, I recommend a slow, wide angle out and away from the line where fish were being caught. Stepping backward out of the area is a great way to step on a stingray as drains attract rays as much as they attract fish. Billy Gerke with ForEverlast makes a great stingray guard and boot which I recommend highly. I don’t always wear mine but don’t let my stupidity be your reason for getting hit!

In the lure department, I depend heavily on 5-inch rattail soft plastics. I can cast them great distances on light jigheads and have confidence in my ability to impart erratic action throughout the presentation. While I like lures with chartreuse tails, piggies and other baitfish play havoc nipping at the brightly-colored tails. If you feel you need the chartreuse advantage, try a chartreuse Bass Assassin Spring Lock head with a solid-colored bait.

I use 5-inch Bass Assassins, MirrOlure Provokers, and Lil Johns in a variety of colors depending on water clarity and the amount of sunlight. It would be unrealistic for anyone to think successful anglers use only one type, color, or brand of lure. I have been fortunate to be able to choose lures that meet my seasonal, daily, and hourly needs.

I am also a big fan of the new Texas Custom Double D by MirrOlure. This hardbait combines the old 7M MirrOlure technology with a new body shape and custom colors. Presenting this lure aggressively in areas holding not-so-interested fish can draw surprising reaction strikes. It swims down about 14-inches when retrieved aggressively and floats to the surface during a pause. Early morning, I like to swim it slowly just below the surface, where it wobbles enticingly across shallow grass near drain mouths.

I have tremendous confidence in the lures discussed here. They have paid huge dividends and saved many a day over my fishing career, especially during tough summer conditions when the early-morning bite didn’t pan out for us.

May your fishing always be catching.-Guide Jay Watkins