Today is Friday, July 21, 2017

Doldrums, dog days and just plain hot

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Dr. Jimmy Morris shows off a fine bass he caught before it got too hot.

Hunnert and fo degrees in the front of the boat. I set the hook . . . hard.
You can catch fish in the heat of the day. I have done it. It is not easy and it is not as much fun as you might think. On the day the thermometer read 104-degrees, I came close to a heat stroke. But we did catch a few fish and they were good ones.
A week ago, I ventured out on Old Hickory at just dawn. I planned to fish maybe three hours and then quit when it got hot. In the heat of the summer, you can often pick up a few fish early and late when the sun is not bearing down.
My pre-launch game plan was simple. I was going to try and find feeding fish around the grass and stumps in relatively shallow water. The foliage in the water provides oxygen and cover for the bait fish. The bass prowl the grass in search of the bait fish and also for the shade. When I launched at Misty Cove, I had the following lures tied on: Floating worm, worm on a 1/16 ounce weight, shallow running ShadRap, spinner bait and a Ribbit frog. I figured one of those would produce.
I don’t have a water thermometer so I have no idea what the water temperature was. I know it was warm on the ankles. The first stop was just short of the long grass bed that blankets the bank to the right of the boat ramp. From where the grass starts to the first boat dock has produced well in the past. Often, it gets overlooked because it is so close to the ramp. As I readied for the first cast, I thought back to other hot days I have started in the cool of the dawn:
There was a foggy morning on a lake in Alabama with Dr. Jimmy Morris. It was foggy-damp and cool at dawn. We caught bass right and left and in the middle. They were in less than five feet of water. Then it got hot. It hit 100 that day.  But early, the fish hit. There was another time:
Big Bird Campbell and I hit Percy Priest on a sweltering day in August. This was a few years ago when fishing on Priest was still good for smallmouth.  We caught bass for an hour before the sun got all the way over the trees and it got hot. Just at sunrise, we caught a couple nice smallmouth.
A day on Chickamauga was hot. It was way up in the 90’s. But even in the heat, Richard Simms and I caught catfish and bass. Somehow he found a hole below a railroad bridge that produced a bass every time we floated by. Just before noon, at which point I was calling it quits, he hooked a dandy smallmouth. I almost had a heat stroke just helping him land it.
Those memories gave me some hope. Blue Herons, Cormorants and other birds were active. I hate to see the Cormorants become so numerous. They are fish eating, nasty suckers and they were fishing the same water I was. I realize they are a federal bird but they sure need to be thinned on some waters. I scanned the greenery slid a cast in tight against the grass and just let the worm settle. I did the same, changing lures every few casts for about 100-yards.
You hear a lot about how deep you have to fish when the water gets warm. That is true on up in the day as the sun gets up and really bears down. But keep in mind, Old Hickory is a river and on rivers, fish prefer to feed in the shallows if they can.

Yes, they do hang out on ledges in deep water and yes, they do tend to congregate around boat docks. But just at dawn, you can often get a couple hours of prime fishing if you work the shallows around grass and stumps. I really hate that for some reason, the “powers that be” found it important to kill all the hydrilla in Old Hickory. That was a true boon to fish and fishing. I notice it is coming back in some areas. Yea!
Well, okay. How did my morning on Old Hickory go? I had 11-strikes, put six in the boat. Had one keeper.     
But hey, it beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Contact award-winning columnist John L. Sloan --

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