By Scott Leeth
Scioto Voice Writer
As the heat of late summer sets in many anglers struggle to find success with more sought after fish. Bass will still bite in the early morning and late evening, and the river predators like Smallmouth will still be on the prowl, but the bite can slow dramatically and can be maddeningly inconsistent. For the angler with a challenging schedule, or just a heavy sleeper, there’s still excellent fishing to be had in the summer—even in the midday heat of August. It’ll require a little bit of homework, and willingness to broaden your horizons, but the reward might change how you feel about targeting other species.
The first is channel catfish. In June these hardy fish feed heavily after spawn and fishing is excellent until fall. In rivers and large streams channel cats’ are easy to find and 50 catch days are possible, if not common. Good angling for channel cats’ doesn’t just happen at night, either. Channel catfish will begin to feed when “activated” by strong scents in their area. Some of my best catfish outings have been midday ventures with air temperatures well into the 90’s and water temps approaching the mid-80s’.
Like most fish in streams, channels catfish can be found below riffles in the heads of pools feeding at every level of the water column. The Head of a pool, particularly where the water slows around wood laydowns or undercut banks, are top producing areas for numbers of channel catfish.
Prepared baits, such as dip and punch baits, work extremely well in these situations. Fresh cut bait, such as bluegill or shad, can be deadly for medium sized channels, however. Simply catch some fish out of the stream, descale them, and cut it into four sections: the head, two middle sections, and the tail. The action is a little slower, but the fish are usually bigger.
Rig a simple slip bobber setup on a medium spinning or baitcasting reel and cast into the tail end of the riffle near cover—don’t overthink it! Also, do not use “spin casting’ reels, as their drags are very weak, even smaller channel catfish are tough fighters and you’ll lose a lot of fish with these reels.
Channel catfish are excellent table fare, particularly those in the 1 to 5 pound range. There are endless ways to prepare catfish, Google is your friend.
The second species is the indomitable rockbass. Perhaps the most overlooked fish of the Midwest, rockbass are one of the most prolific panfish in streams, large natural lakes, and rivers. When temps get into the upper 90’s around midsummer these spunky fish are always game.
The best place to catch rock bass will be rocky streams with moderate flowing current. They prefer shaded areas next to deep water, especially if there’s wood and rock structure. They’re light sensitive, meaning they school tight during midday around these areas—but will readily strike the right presentation. Where you catch one you’ll normally catch a dozen, so cast to the same area. Logs and laydowns in rocky pools are always the best bet.
The best rock bass baits and lures are usually crayfish and crayfish imitations, their most important food source. Four inch watermelon, purple, and black twisty tail worms cast on a light spinning outfit are also effective. For fly anglers a #6 through #10 black or olive woolly bugger is the ticket. Good secondary patterns are minnow imitations, small cranks and clousers. Rock bass have huge mouths, comparable to a small black bass, surprisingly large lures can be effective. I find a medium-small presentation works best though.
Like the Channel Catfish, the numerous rock bass is excellent eating and can be prepared much the same as bluegill.
Don’t overlook the rough fish.
Two other species also still bite in the summer heat, carp and drum.
Freshwater drum are the inland version of the legendary Red Drum. Their habits are a bit different, but drum can reach very large sizes. Because of their sub-terminal mouth, many freshwater anglers look down on the drum as a “trash fish,” but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Drum are the easier of the two to catch, often congregating in the tailwaters of dams, but can be found in most large streams and rivers in their native range. They feed subsurface, close to the bottom of the water column. Though primarily a nocturnal feeder, in the evenings and mornings drum can often be located in 4-15 foot of water rooting around rocks and vegetation for crayfish and other invertebrate. This makes them a prime target for sight fishing. I battled a 30 inch drum in four foot of water one early summer morning using a simple bead head black woolly bugger and a 6 weight fiberglass rod.
Smaller drum are considered good eating and can be prepared just the same as their saltwater cousins. A friend of mine likes drum blackened on a grill and served on a kaiser roll.
Carp are perhaps the most challenging of all the fish on this list. They’re ferocious fighters and particular about what they eat. Carp feed heavily in the shallows during the summer, often making them easy to locate. They’re usual haunts are shallow flats with vegetation and stream refuse, but you can find them about anywhere in streams they inhabit.
For these heavyweights you’re going to need a good stiff rod medium-heavy to heavy with a proper drag system, as carp are legendary for their straight line runs. A tough fiberglass or composite rod paired with 30 pound line, I prefer braid with a fluorocarbon leader, is probably best. Remember, Carp can exceed thirty pounds and the bigger they are the harder they seem to fight. Most anglers fish for them by drifting bait under a slip bobber rig—so the channel catfish rig mentioned earlier can work for smaller carp. A quick Google search will render thousands of bait ball recipes for carp, but I like to keep it simple and usually go with a classic cornflake dough ball recipe.
The ultimate challenge, though, is fly fishing for carp. Using the fly for carp has developed into its own industry over the past few years, with many professional guides taking seasoned fly anglers out for what they have humorously dubbed “the golden bonefish.” On many hot August days I’ve found myself out on the local flows casting to tailing carp in the shallows. Hookups are difficult with this method, but the experience of battling a 15 pound carp on the fly will stick with you forever.
Remember to bring plenty of water and food. Fishing in hot weather is physically demanding and without preparation you’ll be packing it in early, or worse taking a trip to the hospital. If you feel like you’re overheating, sit in the shade and sip water. Make sure to eat something with a fair amount of salt to help you retain water.
So if you’re schedule doesn’t allow you to hit the water before sun-up, or you just like to sleep in, remember there’s plenty of fun to be had in the sunshine. Don’t be afraid to mix it up—tight lines!