Everything gets bigger in August - particularly the servings of food we encounter - 16-ounce T-bones are on sale and perfect for the grill. The block party barbeque is loaded with jumbo wild rice brats and gallons of coleslaw and potato salad. County fairs and country music festivals crank out bags of kettle corn, buckets of fresh-cut fries and Oof-da tacos by the thousands. Late summer is a prime season for waistline expansion among the people of the upper Midwest.
And so it is for the fish of our region. It's the strap-on-the-feedbag portion of the year, as predator fish pattern out and pursue their prey from the weedlines to the wind-blown expanses of open water. The dinner bell rings for game fish, as the beginning of this peak season signals the cool weather approaching and dwindling forage in the months to come. Anglers should also key in on this time to target their favorite fish with bulkier baits and aggressive tactics to match the appearance and behavior of summer's natural smorgasbord.
It is often said that bigger baits mean bigger fish, and in late summer that's a good credo to live by. For hungry walleyes, upgrade your crankbaits; from say a size 7 to a size 9 Shad Rap. Supersize your spinner blades on live-bait rigs when trolling and offer up more edibles by using jumbo leeches, larger minnows, and entire crawlers.
Larger baits for active predators like muskies are also in order. The go-to for late summer fishing activities are big boisterous spinners, plastics and crankbaits that can be power-fished to cover water, evoke vicious strikes and turn fish on to a big chunk of (what appears to be) food.
Even small fish like crappies and trout will be triggered by bigger offerings. Fatter fathead minnows will pull slabs off weedlines, or from areas of open water where they follow wind-driven baitfish. Cast a large hopper fly near undercut banks with grassy edges. The telltale plop lets nearby trout know something big and juicy is up for grabs.
Frogs, jig-and-pig combos, and multi-bladed spinnerbaits that imitate fleeing schools of baitfish are all big-time baits for bass. Work summer haunts with bigger offerings for smallmouth and largemouth bass; patrol established weedlines, humps, docks and other warm-weather food factories with these upsized lures to haul out summer-fattened bass. They're looking to eat now too - maturing leopard frogs, larger crayfish and young-of-the-year panfish - so match the hatch and put a full meal in front of them.
Predator fish like walleyes always want the most food for the least energy spent, but they are willing to work a little harder for a meal now, with warmer water temperatures and less effort expended. Oftentimes, bass anglers will encounter walleyes chasing their 3/8-ounce spinnerbaits ripped along a weed edge. This is due to the fact that normally fussy fish will get more active as the water warms. While a spinnerbait won't produce walleyes regularly, don't be afraid to get fast with your standard walleye presentations. Fish at this time of year are much more willing to chase lures than in May.
Another fast-paced presentation is the highlight of many anglers' summer - top water fishing. Throwing classic walk-the-dog lures like the Zara Spook can add an interesting element to evening bass fishing. Snapping the rod-tip while the lure zigzags across the surface of any bass lake can elicit explosive topwater strikes. Pulling froggy plastics, like the Zoom Horny Toad, out from shoreline cover can do the same. Bass will blow up on these big-profile surface baits, but remember to wait a second to set the hook for a firm connection.
Go Home Happy
An evening on the water in August is as good as it gets. With family and friends, the faint smell of that neighborhood barbeque still hanging in the air, and a harvest-reddened sunset over the water, the trip is more enjoyable. Best of all is that stringer of walleyes or basket of bluegills on the side of the boat is a little bit bulkier thanks to the increased size and food value of the forage the fish are keying in on. More and bigger summer food items mean bigger fish - which means bigger fillets in the frying pan.
Use this time of year to your advantage, whether it is for a fish fry or just for fun. Offer up bigger presentations to fool the instincts of hungry fish. Late summer is a time of plenty and provides an abundance of opportunities to fish for your favorite species...in our outdoors.