"Cheeky Fishing strongly believes in sustainable, catch-and-release fishing. Paying attention to conditions, especially water temperature, for summer fishing excursions be the difference between releasing a healthy fish or not. During the summer months, the Blitz will be showcasing stories about more hardy, warm water and salt water species so you can plan your fishing with the health of the fish in mind. We encourage to familiarize yourself with best handling practices fromKeep Fish Wetas well as water temperature warnings fromTrout Unlimited."
Welcome to the dog days of summer. With constant high temperatures and air so thick you can’t tell when you’ve actually left the river, it’s no wonder why anglers and non-anglers alike begin to look forward to the cooler months ahead to spend their time outdoors.
Fish go through the same process too. Cold water species, like trout, don’t do well during periods of high water temperature, and targeting them during these times can be deadly. In many parts of the country, the next few weeks will (and should) be off limits for your favorite salmonids. It’s necessary, but still a bummer.
On the bright side, this often undesirable stretch of the summer months doesn’t mean you have to hang up your gear until the mercury drops. It really gives us anglers the opportunity to diversify our skill sets by targeting different species that do well in these conditions. You might be in the mood for easy to catch fish in big schools on feeding frenzies, or stalking huge picky eaters that will make you question your very existence as an angler. Maybe instead you’re after a subtle dry fly sipper or an aggressive streamer eat. Regardless, the wonderful world of warm water fishing is there for you, and it’s probably not far from your A/C. Here’s a rundown of some late summer species that are bound to get you peeled off your couch and back on the water.
Technically sunfish is the common name for a family that includes crappie and bass, but here we’ll use it to describe the smaller group of species anglers usually refer to when sunfish enter the conversation. This includes fish like bluegill, pumpkinseeds, redears, bream, and many more that are native or have been introduced to virtually everywhere in the U.S.
Don’t disregard the mighty sunfish. If you’re a freshwater angler, chances are you learned your craft terrorizing the sunnies at your local pond. I promise it’s still fun, and long after the trout have abandoned you in the summer the sunfish will still be there, ready totake your fly.
If you haven’t targeted sunfish before, don’t sweat it. These fish will eat just about any fly they can fit in their mouths, and are a blast on light tackle. Look for them in your local ponds and creeks, where you’ll spot them cruising the shallows late in the summer. For gear, any rod in a five weight or lighter will give you a good fight. Stick to floating lines, and for the most part 3x-5x leaders will throw the flies you’ll be using.
As mentioned earlier, fly selection is pretty open ended. My favorite way to target sunnies is on top with small attractor dries or mini poppers, but it’s all up to you and the fish. Large groups of hungry sunfish also present a great opportunity for anglers to practice sight fishing and fly presentation with real time results.
The title of top sportfish in America doesn’t just get handed out to anyone. Bass get big and fight hard, but their main uniting draw for anglers across the country is that they can be found anywhere and anytime, including during the hottest parts of the year. A combination of smallmouth and largemouth bass can be found in virtually every state in the lower 48 and thrive in water from farm ditches to deep northern lakes.
However, a fish that can tolerate a lot of different types of water and climates means that they have tons of options when it gets warm. Entire books have been written on summertime tactics for bass, but if I had to cut it down to one piece of advice it would be to start with a wide net. If you’re looking for largemouth bass at your local lake, check out everything from deep structure with streamers to shallow vegetation and pads with a weedless popper until you find a bite. If you’re closer to river smallmouth, hit boulder piles that break the current, downed trees along banks, or deep pockets off sandbars that offer good ambush areas (check out our Guide to River Smallmouth Bass Blitz Blog as well!). Mix up the time of day you hit these sections and experiment with fishing around various weather events- the pressure and temperature changes that come with summer storms can result in some epic activity!
When it all comes together, you’ll be dialed into a bite that can produce exciting explosive eats and big fish in the dead of summer. Next you’ll need the gear to finish the job. Bass and the flies used to target them come in all sorts of sizes, but generally anything in a five to eight weight rod will get you in business. Leader sizes and fly line type will also vary depending on how you’re targeting fish. For example, fishing streamers in open water to deep suspended bass may require a sink tip or intermediate line. You may also want a light leader for a better sink rate (though leader size should be matched to what will best turn over whatever fly you’re throwing). On the other hand, fishing thick lily pads with big poppers calls for shorter, heavier leaders for throwing wind resistant bugs and horsing fish out of thick cover.
That said, the beauty of bass fishing remains in its simplicity and ease of access. There’s likely a spot with some decent bass near you, and just a handful of patterns and a little bit of effort can get you on your new favorite fishing event of the summer.
The esox genus may be tolerant of warm water temperatures, but are a little more picky about when and where they eat compared to their distant panfish relatives. These tendencies are magnified now that there is a smaller optimal feeding window. Fortunately, with a bit of trial and error you can find the same rod jolting takes and fly shredding aggression you’re used to from the spring and fall.
Gear for Pike is heavy but straightforward. A fast action eight weight is my go-to, but anything from a seven up to a ten is fair game. Not every fish will be a 45 incher, but you want the backbone to cast the ridiculously large streamers that even the small ones will go after. Speaking of fly selection- you can’t really go too big, but you can definitely go too small. Even in the summer I’ve found that these fish (especially big ones, which don’t eat often this time of year) won’t refuse a sizable meal. They’re often even more into something worth their time than a tiny streamer.
I usually just use a straight piece of 30-40 pound monofilament for a leader, and I almost always put a few inches of tie-able wire on before the fly. Even a little pickerel can shear right through thick fishing lines, and it’s better to be safe in case a fish swallows your fly past the knot. A good weight forward floating line is still a good bet, but intermediates and sink tips can be helpful for reaching deeper summer holding areas. Spool it all up on your favorite large arbor reel with a reliable drag (the Limitless 425 is a great one for this!) and you’re all set for a big toothy critter.
Pike often spend the heat of the day locked-jawed and dormant, and will really turn on the feed in the mornings or evenings in the summer. During these times they will be the most shallow in the water column and a great target for the fly. Look for cover and ambush areas (logs, weed lines), and bonus points if they are close to deeper water where fish may take refuge as the day heats up. Changes in water temperature can also be a giveaway for locating pike. Check out inflows where baitfish congregate or where a big predator may be enjoying some cooler water. Also, be very aware of one-off weather events that can bring about fantastic summer pike/pickerel fishing. As mentioned earlier, a good storm can change water temperature, vary barometric pressure, and increase flows on rivers, all which can change a predator’s location and behavior. I love fishing my local pike rivers after a good rain.
Finally, as it is summer, it’s worth mentioning how to properly care for pike once they’ve been caught in warmer water. Bring a big net that can comfortably fit longer fish, a long pair of pliers, and jaw spreaders. Pike can really commit to even big flies, so being able to quickly unhook a toothy fish and get it back on its way ensures that your favorite pike water will produce for summers to come.
Ah, the golden bonefish. You’ve seen them cruising your local pond, pounds bigger than any other species of fish in there. Carp have been in the U.S. almost as long as fly fishing has, but the two entities have only collided fairly recently. There are now legions of anglers committed to chasing carp on the fly. The fish are widely regarded as one of the smartest species in freshwater, and fooling one is only half of the challenge. The rest comes during the fight, when you’ll experience a big carp throwing their weight around on blistering runs and shallow water rolls. They might still get a bad rap from some anglers, but carp with their brains and brawn are here to stay and have finally made a name for themselves as a true worthy sport fish. They also likely live in a nice accessible warm water system close to you, so you might as well give it a shot.
Carp are wildly adaptable, and therefore fly anglers have come up with all sorts of different ways to target them. For the most part, a carp’s feeding habits involve mudding around on the bottom for nymphs, worms, crayfish, and other prey. They’ll also occasionally come to the surface for hoppers, mulberries, and even bread if they’re in a place where pedestrians like to feed ducks and such. If you’re just starting out, be prepared with a selection of different naturals and a few oddballs like slow sinking eggs and mop flies. A lot of your trout nymphs can apply here if they're tied on a bit beefier of a hook so that they don’t bend out.
Another massively important aspect of targeting carp is how you fish to them. A tailing carp may be open to eating a variety of different flies but will often shut down if they get suspicious. A good approach and well-timed cast are more important here than with any other fish mentioned so far. Recognizing real feeding behavior vs. an unhappy carp will drastically increase the quality of your shots when you take them. Nail the cast on a carp that’s feeding with no idea you’re there, and you’re in good shape. Or you might get flat out rejected for no reason. But that’s carp fishing.
If carp are close to the bank, sometimes all it takes is a slow stalk and jigging your fly from a rod’s length away to get an eat. More often than not, you’ll need to make a delicate and accurate cast that won’t spook fish when it lands. There’s exceptions to this rule (fish looking for food falling onto the surface or carp in deeper water), but in most sight fishing carp situations it’s better to go for the covert approach. I like to keep my tackle as light as possible for better control with light flies, but still have enough power to control fish. I find myself using a fast action five or six weight in most local pond situations, but you can definitely go bigger for dealing with heavier flies or really big carp. A nice light weight forward floating line is perfect here, and leader and tippet will depend on fly size. Go for longer leaders to decrease splashes and noise close to your fly. Finally, a reliable reel is key to rounding out a good carp rig, as it can put the fight back in your favor if you’re dealing with lighter lines and rods. Carp can go on a few good tears, and a smooth adjustable drag is just what you’ll need to keep the fish out of trouble.
Carp fishing is still relatively new in the fly fishing world, and new techniques get written into the book every season. The best thing you can do as a new carp angler (and with any fish) is to find a good population and experiment. You’re on the cutting edge of the sport now.
These are a couple of species that are not as available to everyone, but still fantastic options if you have access to them.
Bowfin- hailing from a taxon that’s over 200 million years old, these modern day dinosaurs now spend their days lurking in warm swampy backwaters. They’re a great sight fishing target if you can spot them sitting motionless on the bottom, and will crush small streamers and the occasional popper. They also just look plain cool. Gear up with an eight weight and a thick leader (a few inches of wire before your fly is good here too), and get ready for a close quarters battle for the ages.
Gar- There are a few different species of gar spread out around the eastern half of North America. They tend to summer in the shallow back bays of lakes and rivers and will occasionally break the surface to gulp air as they cruise around. The one tricky aspect of fly fishing for gar, regardless of species, is that it’s very, very difficult to actually hook one. Their thin bony mouths don’t provide a great purchase for hooks, so many hardcore gar anglers will ditch them entirely. Instead, they opt for hookless flies made of materials that tangle well in the hundreds of teeth lining this fish’s mouth. A quick internet search will give you a few suggestions.
The world of warm water fly fishing is a great balance of unique fish in everyday places. These species aren’t just placeholders or a way to beat the mid-summer blues, but real targets that will legitimately make you a better all round angler. You can also target most of them well outside the muggy days of late summer, and why shouldn’t you? Many warm water fish are close to home, surprisingly unpressured, will still give you the fight of your life, and may have never even seen a fly before. Seems like a good reason to take a walk down your local waterway tonight.
Meet the Author: Ben Groppe is a multi-species angler and overall fish fan, dedicated to enjoying, preserving, and occasionally documenting the fisheries he loves. Off the water, he’s sharing his passion as one half of the blog Long Haul Fly Fishing.