Catch These Fish This Summer

July, 2019

Largemouth bass get most of the attention from freshwater anglers, and rightfully so. From local bass clubs up to the big leagues, there are tournaments that make chasing bass for cash very lucrative. At the top of the freshwater food chain, bass grow big and fight hard. They are found just about everywhere. Fisheries scientists are discovering ways to make them grow bigger and multiply quicker.

What about those other fish? Aren’t they just as eager to bite a lure, and just as fun to catch? You bet! In fact, less pressured species can be easier fooled into biting a lure. They provide exciting rod-bending action, and many are stocked by fisheries agencies to enhance angling opportunities.

If cashing a tournament check isn’t your priority, then an entire unpressured world of fishing awaits you. Best of all, angling skills and tackle requirements are minimal when compared to bass fishing. For some freshwater species, even an old-fashioned hook, bobber, sinker and bait will do.

What are you waiting for? Get friends and family involved in the fun. Summer is prime time for fishing on your favorite body of water. Rig up and give these freshwater species some attention now.

Here are some tips to get you started with the summertime fun. 

Channel Catfish

All about it: They grow big—up to 50 pounds—and will bite day and night. Channel catfish find food using their strong sense of smell. Fish—dead or alive— are a favorite prey. They can be caught year-round and congregate in schools, which means when you catch one there are likely others nearby.

Where to look: Channel catfish prefer rivers where the current flow is blocked by submerged trees and boulders and hang out on the bottom in deep holes. In lakes, channel catfish school on river channel ledges, where they ambush shad swept past them in the current. Flowing tributaries in the upper reaches of lakes are good bets. Because they are bottom feeders, a fishfinder is a must for locating channel catfish.

What you need: A 6- to 7-foot, medium-heavy action spinning rod and a reel spooled with 14-pound or stronger abrasion-resistant monofilament line. Make a simple slip sinker rig by threading a heavy sinker onto the line, and then secure it in place with a two-way swivel. To the opposite end, tie a two-foot leader and then the hook. Top it off with prepared bait, which is easier to handle than cut fish or homemade (and rank) stink bait. 

Northern Pike

All about it: The needle teeth, empty eyes, serpentine shape and predacious behavior make the northern pike dressed for the part. Pike are abundant in northern waters, yet they are overlooked by anglers searching for another shallow predator—the musky. In fact, they will annihilate anything flashy, such as a spinnerbait, much to the chagrin of bass anglers. Best of all—unless you are a bass angler—pike are plentiful and eager to bite anything that swims past them.

Where to look: Weedy shorelines and the mouths of swampy inlets and coves are good starting points. If winds are calm, look for pike offshore around grassy flats over submerged islands and rockpiles. The flats provide a safe refuge for panfish and baitfish, and you guessed it, the predator pike that cruise around looking for an easy meal. Deeper weedlines are good later in the summer. Overall, any transitional area featuring a combination of vegetation and shallow habitat surrounded by deeper water is in play.

What you need: Light to medium action spinning rigs spooled with 10- to 14-pound abrasion resistant monofilament will do. So will baitcasting gear in the same action. A wire leader is a must to prevent the pike from chomping through monofilament line. Pre-rigged leaders are easier to use and last longer. Another must-have is a pair of fish gripper pliers or gloves for handling these toothy critters. For deep pike, cast a Daredevil Spoon at the edge of a weedline. Retrieve the lure just enough to feel the thump of its wobble. Raise and lower the rod to imitate a wounded baitfish. For shallow water, use a white spinnerbait retrieved over the tops of grass. 

Panfish

All about it: For some fish, their angling destiny is predetermined. That sums up the fate of bluegill and other small gamefish, also known in angling circles as panfish. They are fun and easy to catch and as the name implies, make a delicious meal. Can you say fish fry? Here, we’ll stick to bluegill, which are prolific and most abundant when they spawn in summer.

Where to look: Sandy bottoms or pea-sized gravel shorelines. Bluegill make spawning beds by fanning their tails to sweep away gravel, leaving a bright-colored circle on the bottom. Shoreline weedbeds near deep water are ideal during other times. Always the target of larger predators, bluegill seek any cover they can find, such as boat docks and thick masses of fallen timber.

What you need: A cane pole, lined tied to the end, with a bobber, split shot, hook and a frisky nightcrawler. That’s the ages-old setup for catching panfish. Heck, you might have even caught your first fish on it with grandpa. Today, they can be caught on diminutive lures, paste bait, soft plastic lures and preserved baits. An ultralight spinning outfit that is spooled with 6-pound test monofilament is the best setup. You can still relive the past with the old-fashioned setup. Just skip the mess and hassle of live bait and opt for bait in a jar. Or you can use a classic like the Johnson Beetle Spin. An inexpensive fly outfit is the ultimate setup. You can go old-school too, by using a simple popping bug.    

Be sure to check out this article on eating freshwater fish!

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