Beating the heat
As summer winds down, some of us like to get up close and personal with the fish.
The dog days of August with their high temperatures and humidity make getting in the water a treat. At this time of year, nothing is better for beating the heat than wet wading.
While bass fishing has become a high-tech sport, with powerful bass boats, sophisticated electronics and state-of-the-art gear, wade fishing is about as simple as it gets. All you need is an old pair of “crick shoes,” a pair of shorts, a rod, and a few lures or some live bait.
My wading shoes for many years had been just a worn-out pair of running shoes. When I was a teacher, I would scavenge the locker room after the last day of school. Many of the boys would just toss their gym shoes rather than taking them home. I could usually find a pair of pretty good sneakers in my size.
However, in the last several years I’ve opted for a pair of Crocs or even sandals with velcro fasteners. These don’t seem to pick up gravel like shoes, and the soles allow good footing on the slippery rocks of the Raystown.
When wade fishing, I like to travel light, so I wear a pair of cargo shorts with deep pockets that let me carry all the gear I need. A matching safari-type shirt provides additional room for my camera and other items I wish to keep dry.
My old fishing hat keeps the sun off my face, and a good pair of polarized sunglasses completes my outfit.
When wet wading, I generally use either a 5-weight fly rod or my ultra-light Ugly Stick spinning rod. While I usually go lighter for trout, I’ve found my 5-weight has all the backbone I need for smallies. It’s rigged with a matching reel with two spools, one of which is loaded with a floating line for shallow water and the other bearing a weighted line for deeper fishing.
My spinning rod is a 5 1/2 footer, bearing a Mitchell 308 spinning reel spooled with six-pound test braided line.
I generally carry all my gear in a two-sided Plano tackle box that hangs on my belt. Also on my belt is a small pair of needlenose pliers and a scales/tape measure combination.
With either spinning or fly rod, I like to use ultralight crankbaits, like Rebel Wee Craws and Crickhoppers, shad-shaped plugs, Pop-R’s and Jitterbugs for topwater action, and small stick baits by Rapala and Storm. I also like spinners, especially No. 2 Roostertails in black, white, and purple. In addition, I carry a selection of poppers and bass bugs for flyrod use only. Finally, I take along an assortment of jigs and soft plastic twisters, worms, and crayfish.
With both fly and spinning outfit, I prefer to fish upstream. I like to concentrate on ripples because any bass there are likely to be feeding. I especially look for eddies, pockets, and chucks that hold fish.
Naturally morning and evening are the best times to fish, but in shaded areas I’ve caught bass through the heat of the day. Early and late I like to use topwater lures, because as an unrepentant dry fly flinger I love to take them off the top.
With my fly rod, I cast a little beyond the pockets, then strip in the line in short, 12- to 18-inch bursts. I always keep the line as tight as possible because bass will often hit as the lure pauses. When stripping in line, I always pin the line to the rod handle with a finger, just as I do when dry fly fishing for trout. This allows me to set the hook by simply raising the rod. I keep my hooks sharp (and usually barbless), so it doesn’t take much to drive them home.
When spin fishing, I often use an underhand flip which I learned from my friend and fellow outdoor writer Mark Nale. I start my retrieve, which closes the bale, before the bait hits the water. This allows me to set the hook if a fish should take it on the cast.
Because I use light line, I’m careful to set the drag on the reel a little short of the breaking point. Too tight a drag may result in a breakoff on a big fish. I also check the line frequently for rough spots and retie often.
When casting spinners uptream, it’s important to retrieve just a little faster than the current. Too slow a retrieve prevents the spinner blade from turning, making the bait less attractive to fish.
I often dress my jigs with twister tales or soft plastic crayfish. These should be bounced along the bottom. One of the best features of jigs is that they are relatively snagless, so they can be fished deep where they will throw up little clouds of silt just like a real crayfish.
I’m also careful with all my baits to keep them free from moss or weeds. These destroy the lures’ built-in actions as well as turn fish away.
Although I prefer artificials, I sometimes go the live-bait route. Real crayfish, minnows, and hellgrammites often produce better than their fabricated counterparts.
I always fish live bait on barbless hooks due to the fact that fish often swallow them. Without barbs, the hooks come out much more easily without injuring the fish. When they are too deeply hooked, I cut the line and leave the hook to dissolve. For the same reason, I avoid stainless steel hooks which take forever to dissolve.
Softshell crayfish are a top smallmouth bait, but small hardshells will work also. I remove their pincers and hook them through the tail so they swim backward on the retrieve.
Minnows are hooked through the tail also, and I drift them naturally with the current. I usually add a small splitshot when using shiners, chubs, and small suckers to get them down to where the fish are. With dace, however, which tend to swim to the bottom themselves, no weight is needed.