Reel Time: Dog days strategies

Dog days (Latin: diēs caniculārēs) are the hottest, most sultry days of summer. In the Northern Hemisphere, the dog days of summer are most commonly experienced in the months of July and August, which typically observe the warmest summer temperatures. The name comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, in close proximity to the sun was responsible for the hot weather.

Dog days on the west coast of Florida can run through September and into October, with the spell being broken by the shorter days more than the easing of daytime temperatures. While the temperatures create challenging conditions, savvy anglers know to change their strategies, tailoring their efforts to maximize their comfort and opportunities.

One of the prime times to fish during the dog days is before the sun crests the horizon. The myriad dock and bridge lights that illuminate the waterways from Bradenton to Venice are prime targets. These areas hold schools of snook as well as trout and a host of other species.

Docks with water depths in excess of 6 feet are best. Tidal flow is another indication of action. Lights on the up-tide side of a structure are best, allowing you more latitude when making a presentation, preventing hang-ups and allowing flies, lures and bait to swing to the fish naturally. With a little attention to detail, it’s possible to target some docks on the incoming tide and others on the outgoing tide.

The presence of hard bottom near a bridge or dock is another indicator of good fish habitat. The presence of bait is directly related to structures like ledges, oyster bars and seawalls. These areas attract the bait that lures the fish.

The type of light on the dock can also influence the action. Lights that sit low to the water seem to have a more distinctive shadow line, an area where feeding fish concentrate. In all cases, the bigger fish seem to hang on the dark edges of the shadow lines.

When the rising sun lightens the horizon, anglers can move to the flats to target redfish, snook and trout. By concentrating your efforts around flats with good grass cover, defined edges, potholes, sandbars and oyster bars you’ll find fish in much the same pattern as during other times of the year. The key is to find water temperatures that attract bait and are tolerable to gamefish. The addition of a strong incoming tide will increase your odds as well.

In the hottest months, from July to September, most of the early morning tides are from 1 to 1 1/2 feet, so anglers will seldom see pushes or tails. Instead, concentrate on scattering bait, working birds and schools of mullet. One of the most productive strategies is to fish seams, demarcation lines that separate grass, sand and other structure.

While pre-dawn or early morning is generally the best time during sweltering weather, there is one exception. The late afternoon outgoing tides that correspond to the full and new moons provide some fast action with a variety of species. Areas to concentrate on include the slues and channels that drain the inshore flats and the passes where the funneling effect concentrates game fish and their prey.

Passes that have flanking seawalls and rock groins can be particularly productive. These areas attract and concentrate the baitfish on which the predators feed. Work lures and flies close to the structure.

Fishing the doldrums can be productive no matter where you fish as long as you follow a few rules. First and foremost you must find conditions that are acceptable to the species you seek. Snook and redfish are much more tolerant of high water temperatures than trout. In general, water temperatures must not be excessive and you can count on early mornings and deeper water to moderate conditions

The exception to the rule will be those areas and times where the presence of food overrides the fishes desire to locate comfortable conditions. Fishing the summer doldrums can be challenging, but master the rules and you’ll have a lot of productive fishing to yourself.

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