This has been an unusual year for fishing to say the least! We started with a mild winter and early spring with temperatures in March warmer than those in April. The winter snowfall was average or below normal and the annual spring rains were much less than normal. Lately, we haven’t had a good rain in weeks and this dry and warm weather is taking its toll on vegetation and the water level in most if not all streams, rivers, and lakes is low and much warmer than normal. Fishing was very good early in the spring with the warmer weather and bringing most fish species into water less than 10 feet deep much sooner than normal. Most of the fishing and nature “happenings” seemed to be 2 to 3 weeks ahead of normal and continued most of this spring. So, instead of fishing spring-like conditions, we are already in warmer patterns for most fish species in the area.
Now, we seem to be in a stretch of very warm weather with little if any precipitation. The warmer weather that we’ve experienced from early spring till now has had fish spawning earlier than normal, moving to mid-summer locations weeks before normal, and making some of the best fishing of the year (May, June) more difficult. The warm water on most local waters has fish moving to much deeper water sooner than they would in a normal year. Some recent outings and guide trips have proven that this early migration to deeper water is true. I’ve found walleyes in deeper water from 15 to 25 feet deep and outside the weed edges. The weed edges on Madison and surrounding waters is at 10-12 feet of water. The warm weather has caused a tremendous weed growth in most waters from Madison’s lakes to Lake Winnebago and made fishing difficult on many lakes. Most fish species like walleyes, northern pike, bass, perch, and bluegills love to hang around the weed edges, pockets, and openings because of the available forage from fry of the year to various minnows. The fish are there because their forage or food is also there and readily available to these predators.
Weeds are good for the fisherman because they supply so many things that gamefish want; cover, protection, oxygen, and most of all food. A problem comes with the early and proficient weed growth. There are good weeds like coontail and cabbage which are great fish magnets! But, there are also “bad” weeds like the blue-green algae that we are finding in most lakes in southern Wisconsin. These slimy, green weeds get on everything and make fishing difficult to the point where you have to clean your hook and line after most casts. All the local and Madison lakes have this problem and the warm or hot weather makes these weeds grow rapidly and make fishing very difficult. The slimy weeds are the bad weeds which you want to try and avoid. If you find these weeds, I’d suggest going to the opposite side of the lake from where the weeds have been blown to. Normally, it’s good to fish the shores that the wind is blowing into because the windy shore has the forage fish being blown into it. All anglers must also make sure that all weeds are cleaned off their boat before leaving the boat landing. Wisconsin is working hard to try and combat these weeds and invasives. This is a high priority project in most of the country and we all have to pitch in and help maintain or eliminate these weeds.
Another tip for fishing in hot and warm weather is to take good care of your bait. Good and fresh bait makes a world of difference to fish. Look at a limp, weak, and stringy nightcrawler and then look at a nightcrawler that has been kept cool in worm bedding or shredded newspaper. Keep the crawlers in a container with ice and you’ll see how firm and lively the crawlers are? If you have a crawler that has been kept cool and then put it in the lake’s warm water, what happens? The life-like action and worm movements are much more appealing to a fish than a dead and limp nightcrawler from a warm container!
During periods of hot weather, I’d try to fish in the very early morning when most fish are active and shallower. During the day, fish will move to the deeper and cooler water or burying themselves in the weeds. Night fishing is also a good tactic for many fish like walleyes, muskies, largemouth bass, catfish, and crappies. If you’re night fishing be sure to have some good lighting from quality flashlights, so that you have good visibility. Catfish feed and eat more during hot weather, so they are a good fish to target at night. Plus, catfish will move on to shallow feeding shelves at night for their food.
Muskies can be active in shallow water and off weed edges at night. This is a great time to cast open pockets in the weeds and work some top-water baits for the “rush” of your life when a 20 pound muskie crushes your bait!
Walleyes also move shallower to feed at night and mid-lake rock bars are ideal for fishing after dark. You can also try a slip-bobber and a leech outside the weed edges and bars for walleyes. Minnows are not worth buying this time of the year. Switch to using leeches and crawlers for walleyes and smallmouth since minnows will die quickly and aren’t worth spending your money on.
If you a panfisher, then you should be fishing the weeds for bluegills and perch. Or, drifting across the main basin of most lakes will bring an assortment of fish. Scatter your fishing rods around the boat in rod holders and then run lines throughout the water column from the bottom to top of the lake. You can find panfish high and low in the water column, so try to cover the entire column. Drifting area lakes on a hot day can produce some great open water fishing for all panfish. Wax worms, garden worms, and leaf worms are the best live bait to use. The Gulp product is also great for panfish, if you don’t want to use live bait.
In closing, try using a lighter monofilament line in 4 # test instead of 6 # test. The lighter line can get you a few more fish. Fishing can be outstanding in hot weather, if you follow these tips.