Rods & Rigs - Dealing With the Dog Days

Summertime can be some of the year’s toughest fishing conditions because high water temperatures can make the fish lethargic and harder to target. Night fishing is your best bet for overcoming the heat, but if you have to fish during the day, I’d offer this advice.

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I like to start early, because fish are really active at first light. The air and water temperatures are at their lowest and the dim lighting has the fish in the mood to feed.

Whenever possible, I’m going to look for current because that means cooler, more oxygenated water. Also, I want to look for shade, whether that’s overhanging trees, docks, bluffs or canyons.

As far as bait selection, you really have to keep an open mind because I’ve seen the fish’s preference go from one end of the spectrum to the other. I’ve seen times when a lighter, subtler bait is the whole key to getting bit, but I’ve seen the other side of the coin when a faster, reaction bait like a 1-ounce jig with a 5-inch Yamamoto Double Tail Grub fished in 5 feet of water was the key.

I’ve seen it both ways and I honestly can’t say which way it’s going to be before that day starts. You just have to play with it until you figure it out.

Dog days tactics can vary based on where you’re fishing, but these examples will give you some guidance for how to make the most of this challenging period.

Shallow Grass Fishery

On lakes like Okeechobee, where hydrilla and milfoil dominate the fishing scenarios. I’m going to look for mats to punch. Bass will utilize the cover of topped-out grass for shade and ambush feeding, so when I send a bait into that cover, I know I have a good chance of getting bit.

Image courtesy of flwfishing.com

Image courtesy of flwfishing.com

There are lots of different baits that guys use for punching but one that is overlooked is the Yamamoto Senko. No one thinks of punching this bait because we’re so accustomed to thinking about creature baits and craws. However, the Senko’s slender form has nothing to grab or hang, so it punches clean. Best of all, it’s a shape the fish aren’t used to seeing in this scenario, so that seems to stimulate their interest a little more.

I like the 6-inch Senko because it has plenty of meat to hold a 6/0 Gamakatsu Beast EWG hook. As far as punch weights, that mostly depends on grass thickness, but I like to use the lightest weight that still allows me to get my bait through cover. If I’m pitching into spaces and holes in a grass line, I’ll use a 1/2-ounce weight, but when I’m actually punching that Senko through cover, I’ll throw whatever I have to.

Because punching is all about the reaction bite, I find that color is not so important. I typically go with Junebug, green pumpkin laminate and watermelon.

My presentation is simple; I pitch the Senko into the grass, let it get to the bottom, bounce it a couple times, pull it out and repeat. Good thing about the Senko is you can pitch it way back into the cover, or you can fish it along the edges, as well. I know it sounds crazy; people don’t think about punching a Senko, but it’s probably one of the most underutilized bait for this technique.

My rod choice is a Dobyns Champion 766 with 50-pound braid. Some guys use 65-pound braid, but I really don’t hit fish super hard when I’m punching. Most of the time, I just give them a pop and it’s more of a lift set. I’m not into that wild hook set, so I get by with 50.

Reservoir Lake

You’ll usually have water coming into a reservoir lake, so during the dog days, I’m heading upriver to find cooler water, more oxygen and bait. With those elements present, you can count on a pile of fish.

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I’ll target debris, laydowns, grass, rock, or any structure, but I will always look for shad. Topwaters can be productive in these scenarios but my favorite bait is a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce football jig with a 5-inch Yamamoto Double Tail Grub. I have a love affair with that bait because it’s so effective.

I like greens and browns, especially the 221 color. I’m not super crazy about colors, but if it imitates a crawfish, it will work.

I fish this rig on a DX 744 or 745 jig rod — a heavy action rod that will handle big fish in cover. In warmer water, you can get away with faster presentations this time of year. The fish are there to feed, the water has a lot of oxygen, so I always try to fish as fast as I can get away with. I’ll slow down as a last resort, but I start out fast, because the faster I fish, the more casts I can make in a day, the more fish I’m going to catch.

Another bait that produces for me upriver is a 5-inch Yamamoto Super Grub (single tail) rigged on a 1/4- to 3/16-ounce swimbait head. I use a medium-heavy 703 C rod with 8- to 10-pound fluorocarbon and I fish that bait along grass lines. I’ll hop it down and as soon as it touches bottom, I’ll pick it up and just keep that bait swimming.

Tidal Fishery

I love fishing tidal waters in the summertime, because the moving water positions the fish on the edge of the current for feeding, so you know where to cast. The key is moving water, so you want to fish the tide swings. Time of day means nothing as long as that water’s moving.

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My main targets are grass or tule points, logs and laydowns — anything that deflects the water. Also, look for open areas in the grass where fish can get back into the vegetation for ambush feeding.

You’re also going to have a lot of heavy mats for punching, but tides are still going to control that bite. On lower water, you’re going to fish on the outside of the grass lines and on higher water, you can probably fish back into the shade pockets behind the grass.

If I’m not punching, I like to throw topwater plugs like a Spook or a Whopper Plopper along the outer edges of cover on a 734 Champion rod with 50-pound braid. If I’m throwing a frog far back into cover, I’ll use a 736 Champion rod — also with 50-pound braid.

Wherever you fish during the dog days of summer, be sure to stay hydrated. Take it from someone who has been taken to the hospital twice for not drinking enough water. The weather can be challenging, but there are fish to catch, so keep yourself in good shape to capitalize on that next bite.