As spring turns to summer, the heat that coats us like a wet blanket begins to creep into our days and nights. It's hard to escape it and those of us without central air better hope to have a window unit or two.
The "dog days" of summer or the "summer doldrums" are rapidly approaching. Folks typically associate this as a very difficult time to fish. I just think back to frigid 10 degree days of January sitting in my den tying flies dreaming of warm days and open water and I become reminded of the opportunity that I have now. This is not the time to make excuses like oh it's too hot or muggy.
When targeting bass it's all about the early morning hours and the end of the day, the last hour or two of light. This is top water time. Foam popping flies ranging from size 2 to 8 in a variety of colors work well. Black, white, grey, tan and green should cover most everything. I also prefer a deer hair fly with rabbit tail. This fly is deadly on shy smallmouth and largemouth. I use it primarily as a night fly for large brown trout, but quickly found out how deadly it was for bass as well. I don't bother trying to tie terrestrials to match the hatch for bass. But it's a good idea to have beetles, ants, hoppers, and dragonflies in a variety of colors and sizes for the more selective trout. There are numerous patterns out there that will catch plenty of fish. I also like patterns that imitate frogs and mice for "mousing" after dark.
I always doubted how much attention a trout paid to mice believing they were primarily feeding upon frogs until one evening while fishing the AuSable river waiting on the Hex hatch. A mouse was working over a particular stretch of bank that I was sitting on. I was in his way and he would disappear underneath the bank. I actually heard him entering the water and observed him fall into the water a couple of times. I realized how close in proximity mice actually get to the lairs of giant opportunistic brown trout. There have been many nights that I've heard fish attempt to feed on the bank. Pushing prey into the shallows or feeding on prey right at the waters edge. It's similar to behavior of bottle nose dolphins that push redfish into the shallows. Frogs, mice and fish are all fed upon in the shallows and are good choices to imitate in low light and after dark.
Large fish tend to feed in the mornings, evenings and especially after dark with the elevated water temperatures. Bass can withstand higher variations in water temperature, but large fish rarely leave shady banks, logjams or shallow spring water seeps that offer a reprieve during the warmest parts of the day. Trout start to seek coldwater reprieve once the water reaches 70 degrees and night offers a drop in water temperature steadily throughout the night and eventually rises again during the afternoon and mid-day periods. There are armies of fly anglers that pursue trout after dark religiously. I have personally caught numerous trout between 15-20" after dark and the opportunity to catch something in the 25" range is common. An explosive eruption on the surface is your cue that the fish has attempted to eat, wait until you feel the fish to set the hook, or slowly sweep your rod tip until you feel pressure ensuring that the fly has driven home into the fishes jaw. In darkness the fish feel much more comfortable exposing themselves and move about freely into feeding lanes. Often times these fish bury themselves in the wood all day long and night is the only opportunity we have to make a decent presentation.
Fishing in the dark takes some getting used to. You have to use all your senses and this is not the time to obsess over your fly landing exactly next to cover. Fish will move for your fly as long as they can see it or can follow the wake it leaves. This is not the situation to worry about drag free drift and swinging down and across and casting quartering upstream is the norm. Sound from gurglers or popping flies can help a fish to home in on your fly. SLOW down and make one cast where in the daylight you might make 5 presentations. Start out casting to areas that you know you can get a drift without snagging any wood or branches and feed more line as you gain confidence in your fly placement.
You should be prepared when fishing at night and it is not wise to wade where you are not familiar with. Fishing with a buddy is advised and they can help you net your fish and take that once in a lifetime photo. You should have bug dope, a thermacel, and any other form of repellent you can think of. A headlamp is a must and an extra flashlight.
Inevitably fishing late means you’re going miss the early morning unless you plan on burning the candle from both ends. That's when afternoon fishing terrestrials to the banks and wood can pay off. Cooler water seeps near shore offer reprieve from warmer water and are often shaded from riparian vegetation. I have made the mistake of fishing to likely seams and feeding lanes in 2-3 ft. of water only to bust a fish behind me in 6"-12" of water with its nose to the bank. It's something that you don't forget very easily. If your wet wading you will feel the temperature changes and often can locate the spring seep. Remember this spot for the next time and make sure to fish it. Long outside bends with shade offer prime targets for hoppers and grassy undercut banks should be targeted as well. Remember to consider how the fish will position itself. Often times they will be positioned with their noses to the bank watching for an opportunity to feed on whatever is at the water’s edge or even flying above the water surface.
After a nice wet wade you can go grab a bite to eat and take a nap before you return to the river that evening. This is not a bad way to spend a couple days of fishing on vacation or on the weekend. Don't worry you'll just be dragging at work for a couple days until you get used to it and by then you'll be thinking about doing it again. Fishing at night offers solace and a reprieve from the norm. I've come to enjoy this time of year and all that it has to offer. Consider fishing outside your comfort zone this summer and reap the rewards!
Co-Owner of The Fly Factor Guide Service located in Southwest Michigan