North Fork Outdoors: Here’s how to beat the heat, and catch fish

07/19/2012 4:00 AM |

We had just finished a good morning workout, a training session, really, with three bird dogs when another club member arrived on the grounds. We were the only ones that morning. By the time we packed up to go, the temperature was 85 degrees. It was 8:30 a.m., and the heat wave would push the mercury into triple digits in nearby Philadelphia that afternoon.

Outdoors persons who deal with summer activities during the frequent hot spells learn to be smart. More important than 4 p.m. high temperatures are the 6 a.m. lows, for these dictate what you can do and when. Unless you’re forced to defy Noel Coward’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen [Go Out in the Noonday Sun]” rule because of some scheduled event, you key on the period between first light and breakfast, say 4 a.m. to 8. Unless the morning lows come in above 80 degrees, you can usually accomplish what you want in relative comfort. Why only mornings? Throughout most of our mid-Atlantic region, high humidity levels simply don’t allow temperatures to plunge much at nightfall, and “the cool of the evening” is pretty much a myth.

Where I grew up, fishing the summer nights in Westchester and Putnam counties, my favorite fishing time was “the witching hour” right around dark, until mid-July. Then older mentors showed me how to fish long after dark, and, indeed, the bass often “came alive” around midnight, much to the annoyance of my parents. (I had to learn to refrigerate my catch until at least after breakfast the next day.) A couple of young friends who constantly outfished me wouldn’t get on the lakes until 3 a.m. or so, and they had the advantage of the coolest water temperatures of all. Even a half-degree or so makes a difference in freshwater predator activity.

Many years later when I worked a half-year in New Zealand, I learned that the rainbow/steelhead of the North Island were also best fished in the middle of the night by anglers casting tiny luminous flies from sandbars, fly rodders lined up just like so many northeastern surf fishers. Of course tides are just as important as the cover of darkness for nighttime stripers during the summer doldrums; East End skippers always cherish the new and full-moon periods from now through September for that very reason.

Unfortunately, biorhythms present a problem for most of us landlubbers. Although you’re just as likely to come across “night owls” as you are to encounter “early birds,” very few can go both ways. That’s why charter skippers are not fond of 12-hour sunset-to-sunrise grinds. Those still standing at the rail can be made to look really foolish when the biggest striped bass of the trip opts for a live eel at night’s end.

The only option for the outdoors person who simply hates the graveyard shift and cannot function without a full night’s rest is to fight the heat of the day and do what you need to do to be active: wear protective clothing, slather on sunscreen, drink plenty of fluids, etc. The other afternoon, with temperatures in the 90s, I had to muck out a barn and couldn’t bear long pants. The flies ate me alive while sunscreen dissolved in my sweat and got into my eyes. Humidity and lack of a breeze did me in. But offshore pros often find their targets perfectly well if they can handle some discomfort. That’s why some of the best offshore fishing comes in summertime, for tunas, mahi, or sharks out in the blue water. If you’ve got a shaded cabin to rest in, or even a canopy for shade, and if there’s a whiff of a breeze (not too much of a rolling sea, though!) it’s tolerable.

I used to consider summertime freshwater fishing to be a crazy proposition if I had to go in the daytime until I started fishing streams or rivers with fairly constant temperatures. Although, you had the best trout fishing in low light or at night, it was different with the river smallmouth and especially with the pikes. Given some local shade, some trees or weeds, you could often do pretty well all day. Because the pikes (chain pickerel, northern pike and muskellunge) are binge feeders, you often tease them or anger them to provoke a strike. High water temperatures increase metabolic rates and seem to make pike about as ornery as an overheated angler. We’ve seen some big river muskies come roaring out of weed patches to attack surface lures with open water river temperatures in the 80s!

Just because it’s hot, that’s no excuse not to get out. Whether you rise before the sun or emerge from the house after sundown, the summer outdoors still has a lot to offer. Besides, if the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are right, it won’t be any easier in the future!