Fishing for walleye, bass, pike or muskies? Here are 6 tips to beat the summer doldrums

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#1 FOCUS ON FOOD

The ironic thing about the summer doldrums is that walleye, trout, salmon, pike, crappies, perch, muskies and bass eat as much as three to five per cent of their body weight in food every day during the summer. Then why do we often struggle to get them to bite at this time of year? One reason is because there’s so much more food for them to eat, from invertebrates, crustaceans and insects to minnows, baitfish and small juvenile sportfish. In short, your bait or lure has plenty of competition, so you have to give the fish just what they want.

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In another life when I worked for Ontario’s then Ministry of Natural Resources, we undertook a massive, multi-year tracking study of smallmouth bass that we had surgically implanted with radio transmitters. One memorable male didn’t move a muscle over the course of several days after we released it, so the biologist in charge donned scuba gear to recover the costly transmitter, figuring the fish had died. What he found instead was a fat, fit bass resting on the bottom surrounded by thousands of rusty crawfish. There was just so much food right in front of the fish’s nose that it didn’t waste energy moving around for days on end.

Slowly work a Ned Rig (above) in bait-filled bays

As part of that same study, we also tracked smallmouth bass in a much cooler, clearer, less fertile part of the lake where the food was much scarcer and pelagic rainbow smelt and ciscoes were the principal forage. There, the bass travelled in wolf packs, swimming 10 to 15 kilometres a day hunting for food. Even though they were in the same lake as the stationary bass, they had totally different habits.

Now, imagine you and a buddy are fishing on a similar body of water, but in separate boats several kilometres apart. Your friend is casting a surface lure, working it aggressively and catching wolf pack fish as they pull up on a prominent point in a cooler, clearer part of the lake. At the same time, you start ripping a jerkbait in a bay where bottom-dwelling couch potatoes are taking life easy. You don’t get a bite, so you text your friend and ask what’s working. He tells you to tie on a topwater, but you still get skunked. Ouch! Those damned doldrums.

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The takeaway here, of course, is that during summer, you have to take into account what the fish are eating, and why. Do that, and your lure selection and presentation will no longer be a guessing game. If you’re a bass angler in a bay quaking with crayfish or gobies, for example, slowly fish a drop-shot or Ned rig on or near the bottom. That way, you’ll catch as many plump bass as your friend who is nailing them with topwaters.