Try Drift Fishing During the Heat of Summer

by Free Speech on June 18, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

River Currents
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

This young man displays a nice white bass caught while drift fishing.

This young man displays a nice white bass caught while drift fishing.

Most of the fish that have been spawning and residing in shallow water (less than 10 feet) are through with their reproduction activities which take place usually in the shallows and moved into their summer haunts. This year, south-central Wisconsin is anywhere from 10 days to 12 weeks ahead of schedule. The water in area lakes and even northern Wisconsin is in the mid to upper 70’s. The warmth of the shallows after the cold of winter and spring is a thing of the past. It’s the time of the year, when most fish move to deeper water and deep water structure (rock piles, humps, cribs, underwater islands, points.)

The weeds, both the good ones like coontail, cabbage, sand grass, and northern Wisconsin’s wild rice are growing rapidly and creating a very distinct weed line in most if not all lakes. The bad weed, Eurasian milfoil, is also growing and choking out lakes while making fishing extremely difficult and boating near impossible in lake’s where it flourishes. This time of the year, many anglers have difficulty finding and catching fish.

Here is a good summertime method to catch fish of all species and particularly panfish. The technique that I’ve had success with is drifting outside the weed lines in a lake’s main basin. This could be Lake Waubesa, Lake Kegonsa, Lake Mendota, Lake Wisconsin, and about any lake where you have weeds and a main lake basin or body.

During the heat of summer, try to get on the lake by first light or before because fish are active before the sun rises and often slow down as the temperature rises. Or, you can start fishing late in the afternoon and fish till after dark. Personally, I like to get on the water early and be off by 11 am or no later than noon. Both of these times are aimed at getting off the water during the heat of the day which besides being uncomfortable is often unproductive fishing.

Locally, both Lake Monona and Lake Waubesa are two of my favorite lakes for summer fishing. First, you need to check out the weed concentration on the lake and you always need some wind to drift fish. Fish always have to eat, so this means that all fish are going to be close to a food source. Whatever the forage base on the lake may be, gizzard shad, emerald shiners, or fathead minnows to name a few, are found in schools in the lake’s open waters. This forage is following the lake’s concentrations of zooplankton and the microscopic creatures and bugs that they eat. The crappies, perch, white bass, yellow bass, and bluegills that you’re after are following or nearby these schools of baitfish and bugs.

Here’s a little closer look at Lake Waubesa. The lake has a very good and varied fishery with a bit of everything that includes; walleyes, muskies, both bass species, pike, perch, white bass, crappies, and bluegills plus an assortment of rough fish. The Yahara River flows through the lake, coming in on the north end and exciting on the east side near Highway 51 and the town of McFarland. An important factor on Lake Waubesa is that the river continually flows through the lake bringing “fresh” water and current. Current and fresh oxygenated water can improve fishing for any species, especially in warm weather months. During the “dog days” of summer, the algae blooms can limit visibility and there can be low oxygen levels under 25 feet of water. But, this often depends on which way and how hard the wind is blowing and how high the temperature is.

Bob Zownir with a Lake Mendota perch  >caught while drifting

Bob Zownir with a Lake Mendota perch >caught while drifting

Ideally, there is a south-west wind blowing at about 10 m.p.h. on the lake allowing you to drift across the main lake basin and deeper water The wind has blown the floating weeds to the opposite shore allowing for a nice controlled drift. Lake Waubesa is a lake where you’ll catch a mixed bag of fish. I like to drift for panfish (crappies, perch, white bass, and bluegills) which the lake has in both numbers and a decent cleaning size. Though bluegills are a weed-orientated fish, I still catch them on the bottom and suspended in the water column. All of the fish that you target suspend up and down in the water column depending where the baitfish are located and are susceptible to drifting. The fish can be located anywhere from just below the surface to just above the lake’s bottom. Look for fish “dimpling” the surface and gulls diving into the water after baitfish. Besides drifting the main basin, also try going over any humps, points, islands, and rock bars. A quality map (Navionics, LakeMaster) and good electronics (Lowrance, Hummingbird) can greatly help your fishing. A good map can show you locations to try before you start fishing and the electronics mark the fish and baitfish for you once you’re on the lake. The new, high end electronics can now show you the lake’s contours in one foot increments and even on the side of your boat. Again, good electronics will show you the schools of baitfish that roam the open waters of most lakes. Remember, find the baitfish and the fish you’re after are close by! Finding the food is the key to catching fish.

It’s good to have rod holders (Scotty, Tempress) on both sides of of your boat when drifting. Position your boat so that you have your rods on one side and in holders as you float across the lake. I recommend using a 6 to 7 medium-light rod (like the G. Loomis SJR-721) with an ultra light spinning reel (Daiwa 700) filled with 4 to 6 pound Berkley Trilene in green. The green color blends in with the stained water. Complete the rig with a split shot, an ice fishing jig, and slip float or on another rod try a Bait Rigs Cobra jig in 1/16 or 1/32 ounce baited with a wax worm, spike, piece of crawler, or red worm. Since Wisconsin allows 3 rods per person, rig your 3 rods differently and at different depths to cover the entire water column. This is a little like open water trolling, where you try to cover the water column from top to bottom and cover as much water as possible. Some days, I’ll also rig a rod with a plain Aberdeen hook, split shot, slip float, and a sliver of a leech or a piece of nightcrawler and have good results. Small plastics will also work and save you a few bucks instead of live bait. The Berkley Gulp and Powerbaits work well too and again get away from live bait which is difficult to keep fresh in warm weather.

While drifting, constantly be watching your electronics for schools of forage and fish. Keep experimenting with different depths and different rigs, baits, and colors till you find what the fish want that day. This technique works on most lakes that have any depth (at least 20 feet) and a good population of panfish with a decent forage supply. It’s possible that you also will catch the odd walleye, bass, an or pike. Try open-water drifting this summer and you’ll be surprised at the variety of fish that you’ll catch over deep water that are suspended and rarely fished. Lastly, if the wind is blowing too hard to drift slowly, use a drift sock (Drift Control) to slow you down and control your speed while using your trolling motor for minor adjustments.

Contacts; D and S Bait and Tackle, (608)-241-4225, Wilderness Fish and Game, (608)-643-2433.

Guides; Wally Banfi, (608)-644-9823, Tony Puccio, (608)-212-6464, Terry Frey, (608)-220-6366.

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