Where Did All The Fish Go?

Summertime is here!  It’s hot for us humans, and it’s hot for the fish too.

For us two-legged critters, we can seek the comfort and cooling of indoor air-conditioning.  For fish, that’s not exactly practical, so they have to look for cooler water temperatures that deep water can provide. 

First, let’s get down to the basics…from a fish’s perspective.   For the most part, fish have four priorities.  And they all center around survival. The first three are the ones to consider in the summertime.

#1. Food – Just like us, fish have to eat to survive.  And their natural food sources are going to usually hang out where the water temps are comfortable to them too.   An active striped bass will eat almost half its body weight in food every day. 

 #2. Oxygen – Fish have to breathe, even though it’s through their gills.  Cool water can hold a higher concentration of dissolved oxygen than hot water.  So fish will naturally go to depths that are cooler than the warmer surface temperatures.

#3. Safety – In the world beneath the waves, it’s eat or be eaten.  Top-of-the-food-chain predators like striped bass will consume just about anything that represents a tasty meal, including smaller stripers.  So bait fish spend the majority of their lives hanging around cover, or schooling up because there’s safety in numbers. 

#4. Make babies – Although the preceding three items have the highest priority, there are times when all that goes out the window in order to propagate the species.  Just before the spawn and just after the spawn are the times when most gamefish get really hungry because they know it could be a few weeks before their minds return to eating again. 

So, in the hot summertime, you should shift your fishing gameplan to locating the top two items…  Oxygen and Food.  That can mean fishing deep, or it can mean fishing early (or late).   A cool night can cool down the surface water temperature and encourage the baitfish to move shallower humps and creeks.  So fishing just before dawn, or after sunset can be good times.   Nighttime fishing around dock lights that attract baitfish is also a good bet.  But by the time the sun touches the treetops, most big fish are headed to deeper water, where they can take it easy and get plenty of oxygen. 

Fish are cold-blooded critters, so as the water heats up, they will become a little more sluggish and not as eager to chase a fast-retrieved bait.   The same holds true for extremely cold water in the wintertime.   So slow down your presentations a bit.   If you have access, try using live bait or cut natural bait, and fish it on a downline, or very slow retrieve.   A big striper or bass that’s trying it’s best just to survive is less likely to expend a lot of energy to dart after a fast-trolled spoon. 

In our deeper reservoirs, like Lanier, Murray, Hartwell and others, if you adjust your sonar sensitivity up higher, you should be able to see the thermocline.  It will look like a thin line that’s kind of ‘fuzzy’, somewhere between 25 and 40 feet down.  This actually a layer of water that sets up in the summer months in our local reservoirs, separating the warm water above, from the cold water below.    Above the thermocline, the water is warm and doesn’t hold as much dissolved oxygen.   Below the thermocline, the water is much colder and there’s virtually no oxygen.  So, the thermocline becomes the ‘sweet spot’ where most fish will find comfortable temperatures and more oxygen.  This is the case for both the baitfish and the gamefish.   And that’s the thought to keep in your mind regarding depths to fish. 

The moral of this story…the fish haven’t left the pond, although at times it may seem like it.  They haven’t gone on vacation for the summer.  They’ve just relocated to places where they can survive.  Keep this in mind on your next fishing trip, and you’ll probably put a few more fish in the boat.

Tight lines and smooth seas,

Capt. Cefus & Buck the Wonder Dog

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