Obviously, August for most people isn’t a time that they’re thinking about fishing because of the heat. But you can have some good days in the Carolinas, especially if you’re fishing a lake that has blueback herring.
And strangely enough, one of the winning strategies in August is to look shallow. Well, maybe shallower – at least compared to June and July.
The reason? Water quality. As the water temperature peaks in the most-miserable of all months in the Carolinas, the places where freshwater gamefish – and baitfish – can survive and thrive start to shrink.
The water toward the surface of most lakes is as hot as fish can stand. But it has the amount of dissolved oxygen they need to thrive. Deeper, where the water is a little less hot – cooler than what you pour out of a coffee pot – the levels of dissolved oxygen aren’t high enough.
So a good percentage of the baitfish and gamefish in a river or reservoir will make a move toward the surface.
When I won the Bassmaster Classic in August 1999 in the Louisiana Delta, it was hot enough to boil crawfish. And before the tournament, I actually stumbled onto quite a few dead fish. The water temperature at the beginning of the day would be around 90 degrees. But by afternoon, it would be around 93 or 94. But I still caught every fish I weighed in those three days in 4 feet of water or less. They chose the shallows because of the water quality.
That’s one reason that fish are often deeper in June and July, after the spawn when they move offshore. They can live in deeper water because there’s enough dissolved oxygen. That’s why we’re fishing deep-diving crankbaits like a DT-16, big worms and big Mop Jigs. But August is a different animal.
Think about it. At the opposite end of the spectrum, during the winter. That’s when you see shad and herring dying and floating to the surface, where the seagulls sweep them up. This is just in reverse; they’re moving up because it’s too hot.
A lot of fishermen overlook water quality, but it moves the fish around. Dissolved oxygen affects where the fish have to live. That’s how fish get trapped sometimes as the areas with the right temperature and dissolved oxygen narrow – especially in some of our coastal rivers where storms may push saltwater upstream.
A lot of bluegill will be close to the bank in shallow water, and the bass can be there, feeding on them. That’s one kind of shallow water to look for. Don’t be afraid to go to the bank.
Find bass in shallow water over deep water
The other is, shallow water over deep water. Shad and blueback herring in August, September and October tend to be shallow over deep – suspended over cover like brush piles and cane piles. The water might be anywhere from 15 to 40 feet deep. But they can be anywhere from 10 feet to the surface. That’s why I like to fish topwaters like Skitter Vs or Cover Pops, my favorite walking and popping baits. And I will fish baits that I can get down to suspended fish, say 5 or 10 feet deep over 20 or 30 feet of water.
Keep a sharp eye on your electronics. I’m constantly scanning my Humminbird Helix units for signs of baitfish and bass suspended up in the water column. And I’m looking for fish schooling at the surface, or a fish or two breaking the surface. Those are giveaways – like the seagulls in winter.
When I find fish suspended around bait or suspended over deeper cover, relating to it but nowhere near the bottom, I like to fish two baits that I can count down to the right depth: a Texas-rigged Senko or a big swimbait like a Storm Largo Shad fished on a VMC swimbait head. I’ll rig that Senko with the point just barely under the skin of the bait and make long casts over deep water and count the bait down. Same with the swimbait. I’ll count down about a second for each foot; that’s a good general rule, but know that an ⅛-ounce weight sinks a lot slower than a ¾-ounce weight. Take that into consideration. A good thing about fishing a big swimbait for suspended fish is that you can reduce the amount of weight you have to use. And you can hold your rod tip high on the retrieve, making it easier to feel the bait.
Count it down
I remember a conversation with the great Bill Dance. We were in Tennessee, and he was telling fishing stories. He talked about the first fish he ever caught offshore, in the late 1960s or around 1970. He said he made a long cast and counted down, “One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two…all the way to one-thousand-seventeen. Then, he started working his bait a little, and he got a bite. He said, “I just caught a bass in 17 feet of water!”
If fish are relating to a brush pile or cover, you want to cast over that target and count down to the depth they’re holding – not necessarily to the cover.
I don’t fish a bait real slowly in August, but not real fast, either. I cover water, because I don’t think fish are as territorial. You don’t have to coax them out from the brush for a bite. And you’ll need to move more to find them. They will roam a lot more in the middle of the summer than in spring or fall. So you do better if you’re moving.
So, I know it’s hot, but that’s no reason to put your boat in the garage for the month. And it’s no time to be tied to heavy, bottom-bumping rigs and baits. If you like to fish shallow the way I do, fish are still there to be caught in August.