By Joel Nelson
There are a lot of ways to catch fish during the lazy summer months, but it’s worth remembering that fish are pretty fat and happy right now.
Weedlines are well-defined, bait is plentiful in most lakes, and warm water means fish are at peak metabolism. While they need to eat often, it’s not hard to find a great place to dine. The menu options are varied as well, so the effectiveness of most fishing patterns is nullified.
What do I mean by that? Well, in any one lake there can be a top one or two ways to catch walleyes, for example, during any given season. In summer, with such a wide variety of forage sources available and a number of different cover types, rather than one or two techniques you often have about five from which to choose. It’s just that the bite won’t be gangbusters like it might’ve during other parts of the season.
That’s why I like to employ tactics that cross over to a number of different species, and that work well in a variety of situations.
Spinner fishing, pulling crawler harnesses, bottom-bouncing – whatever you want to call it – is to me among the best of the best for maximum action, no matter where you fish. I was just talking with Ted Takasaki, noted tournament angler and fishing hall of famer, about pulling spinners.
“I pull them everywhere I go, from Lake Erie, to Winnipeg, to Sakakawea, and I’ve won tournaments with them over the past few decades everywhere in between,” Takasaki said.
He was quick to point out that it’s a big-fish technique, too, and he readily uses it to target trophies.
While Takasaki was talking specifically about walleye fishing, we both agreed that some of our best panfish catches have come on spinners. Largemouths and smallies both love to eat ‘em, and while it can be frustrating, pike will clip hooks and readily slam a spinner as well.
If it swims, it’ll eat a crawler or leech rigged behind a spinner and weight system. That includes rough fish – which to many folks aren’t of interest, but really put up a fight and make for some action-packed days when other species aren’t going. Most often for me, that’s drum or sheepshead, and they can really save a day when kids are losing interest and too much time passes between bites.
I believe the question is not if they’ll bite, but why they bite this bait.
“It’s tough for most fish to pass up the combination of live bait, presented at some speed, with the attraction of vibration, flash, and color,” Takasaki said.
Spinners really have a lot going for them in that regard, as few lure classes check as many boxes as these live-bait delivery systems do. Vibration draws fish from a distance, and so do flash or color, while live bait seals the deal for a strike.
Color can be an overlooked part of the system, as there are plenty to choose from, including standards such as hammered nickel and gold.
Yet, in a bug-hatch situation, for walleyes it’s nice to match the hatch, with browns, grays, and other subdued colors with a copper or hammered gold blade really being a top producer. Again, worms help elicit strikes, as lots of fish will follow baits without striking, especially at sub-1 mph speeds.
Regarding pace, it’s nice to pull standard spinners at about 1 to 1.5 mph, but it’s even nicer to pull polycarbonate butterfly-style blades at whatever speed you like.
I’m often glued to the electronics, pulling along at a decent pace, then I see a glob of fish so I slow down. If dropping it in their faces isn’t getting the job done, I’ll try picking up the pace to see if a faster speed doesn’t create some sort of urgency and elicit reaction strikes.
I tend to use bottom bouncers as the weight of choice, especially in water deeper than 15 feet, as they’re relatively snag-proof and really easy to use. A good bottom-bouncer rod and some hard line (braid) will telegraph bottom composition up the steel bottom-bouncer wire and to your fingertips, giving you valuable information on the underwater real estate.
As a general rule of thumb, 2-ounce bottom bouncers are good in that 18- to 25-feet-of-water mark. Feel free to go up to 21⁄2 to 3 ounces in depths to 30 feet of water, while pulling out the smaller ones when in only 10 to 15 feet of water.
In those instances however, most often I’m fishing around weeds, where I like to use simple bullet-nose sinkers. Whether after bluegills and crappies or walleyes in the weeds, anytime there’s standing cabbage or coontail, I’ll be using bullet-nose, bass-style weights to meander through stalks.
If it’s walleyes, I’m looking for wind-blown cabbage areas with sparse pockets and patches. I’ll pull right through ‘em, and you’d be amazed by how walleyes will come up and out of the weeds to hit an overhead bait.
In smaller lakes with all kinds of weed growth, I use a heavier-style bullet-nose weight and stick to the outside edges.
There you’ll find all kinds of roaming predators, some of the biggest panfish in the lake, and a variety of species you may have never thought would eat a spinner.
So get a cooler to keep those crawlers cold, employ as many lines as you can to go through various colors, sizes, baits, and styles, while sticking to the outside edge of a break or weedline. Fishing doesn’t have to be complicated this time of year, and sometimes just getting bitten by anything is the order of the day.