Big Bang Baitfish

February 11, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

A good pair of polarized glasses can help you see things you might have missed otherwise

A good pair of polarized glasses can help you see things you might have missed otherwise

In cooler waters of May and June the shallows can seem almost bare. Nothing but the occasional waterboatman or roaming bluegill disturbs the water bordering shore. Then as summer peaks, it seems the shallows are suddenly alive and teeming with small fish, as if they exploded out of nowhere! This big bang of forage sets the table as fish feast in preparation for the lean times of late fall and winter.

By observing what is in the shallows of your local waters and imitating the available forage, you’re one step closer to a successful late-summer fishing trip. Whether trolling, casting or using the fly rod, baitfish imitators are go-tos during this time of plenty.

Troll on

A wide variety of crankbaits on the market in dozens of color schemes will help you nail down the pattern that fish prefer in your area. I recall a few summers back on my home water of Lake Ashtabula, ND, the conditions were just right to support a massive crop of yearling white bass that by August had reached a length of three inches. As a result, silver, chrome and blue Storm Thundercranks and Rapala Shad Raps were effective lures when trolling for walleye. Few of the fish caught contained anything other than the silver forage fish in their bellies.

In the waters of Detroit Lakes, MN a similar hatch of bluegills occurred the following season. A dominant forage fish for both the walleyes and bass of Big Detroit, bluegill patterns paid huge dividends when offered up on Rapala DT-6 model crankbaits for night fishermen trolling for walleyes and for largemouth anglers casting around structure and weedlines.

Cast of Thousands

When baitfish do stack up in the shallows or move out to open water in late summer, casting their imitators can result in some frenzied action. Take for example those same schools of white bass from a few years ago, now grown up to around 14 inches in length. As minnows and young-of-the-year perch move out from shore, it isn’t uncommon to see schools of white bass feeding ferociously near the surface. Cast Rapala Countdowns and Originals, insert head jigs with silver-fleck crappie tubes, or white jigheads paired with chartreuse, clear/flash or white three-inch curlytail grubs from a distance for exciting fishing. The same goes for lakes with healthy crappie populations targeting minnows.

You may even start to see baitfish scattering across the surface as summer progresses. This is usually in response to predators moving through the area in search of food. To imitate a school of fleeing baitfish, nothing tops a multi-bladed spinnerbait such as the Terminator Clear Water model. Burn them under the surface for reaction strikes from bass, and as the heat of summer wanes, pike.

On the Fly

Many great minnow patterns have been adapted to the traditional pursuit of fish on the long rod. As fly anglers expanded the pastime to bass, pike and other warm- and cool-water fish, the patterns presented to these predators had to change. Some staple streamers in your box for predators should be minnow patterns in order to capitalize on the summer feeding period.

Flies like the Clouser minnow, krystal bugger, Mickey Finn, black-nosed dace, EZ-perch, and Puglisi’s perch and bluegill patterns help fly anglers match the hatching baitfish in their waters. Minnow streamers aren’t just for warm and cool water fish like bass and crappie – big brown and rainbow trout are keying in on baitfish at this time of year too. Weighted flies will get a floating line down a couple of feet, but if you’re finding baitfish out deeper in your local lake, use an intermediate sink line, such as a Type-III, to get your offering in the strike zone faster and to keep it there.

The basics of baitfish being the primary forage at this time of year rests on one theory: more bang for the buck. That is, predators want as much food as they can get while expending the least amount of energy to get it, and hordes of baitfish provide an easy and calorie-filled meal for big fish to eat, resulting in net energy gained and stored for the future. As a result, at this time of year, the best bang for your buck will be lures in baitfish patterns to trigger the late summer gamefish you pursue…in our outdoors.


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