While this week’s heavy rainfall and unusually cool mid-August temperatures tried to suggest otherwise, the dog days of summer are officially here.
As this gets written, water temperatures are maxing out in Red River Valley water bodies, summer vacation season is winding down, area schools are now in session, real football games are still a couple of weeks away, and dove hunting season doesn’t open up officially until next month.
It’s enough to give Texoma area outdoorsmen like yours truly a case of the late summertime blues. In fact, most years, I’ve duly noted that the time period around my wife’s first day of teaching each year in the Denison ISD, as well as my son Zach’s mid-August birthday, is simply not the best time to successfully wet a line and a hook on most area waters like Lake Texoma.
But that doesn’t mean that all angling attempts are hopeless when the late summer heat is on, something that a conversation with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department inland fisheries biologist Dan Bennett reminded me of earlier this week.
Bennett, who took over at the Lake Texoma Fisheries Station when Bruce Hysmith retired a few years ago, said that a good day on the water at Texoma is certainly still possible, mid-August or not.
As long as you don’t hit the snooze button, that is.
“You’ll certainly want to get out on the lake early in the morning and late in the afternoon,” said Bennett. “There’s really not much need to be out on the water after 9:30 or 10 a.m. each morning as the heat starts to build for the day.”
But in such low light time periods, Bennett says that he and his crew have been finding plenty of surfacing stripers in recent days, even if most aren’t terribly big.
“Right now, the stripers are pretty spread out with lots of schools of smaller fish surfacing in the lower third of the lake,” he said. “As for the bigger striped bass at Texoma, they’re definitely going to be in a narrow band of water just above the thermocline right now.”
As is usually the case in late summertime on Texoma, warm water temps in the upper 80s are beginning to take a toll on a few of the bigger stripers.
While Bennett admits that so far there aren’t nearly as many heat-stressed “floaters” around as in some previous really hot summers, he was getting nervous a few weeks ago in late July.
“Hopefully the worst of summer has now passed us by,” said Bennett. “The heavy rain, the clouds and the cooler temperatures earlier this week really helped us out because it was getting kind of scary a few weeks ago when we were seeing afternoon temperatures getting up to 109 degrees.”
Such sizzling air temperatures last month had water temperatures pushing up towards 90 degrees at Texoma, something that brings up a bit of a conundrum for conservation minded anglers on the local reservoir.
And that’s what they are to do when they locate a late summer school of big fish, which get particularly stressed by the hottest water temperatures of the year.
With the law dictating the retention of only two stripers over 20-inches each day, many anglers are tempted to keep casting towards a school of bigger stripers, hoping to get a few more adrenaline laced doses of striper fishing’s“big pull” even if the fish have to be released to fight another day.
The problem is that in the heat of summertime’s warmest water, a number of those bigger fish are often stressed enough that they end up not making it to another day, eventually becoming a hooking mortality floater.
“We’re all fishermen and we all like catching fish, so I’m always real hesitant to suggest to anyone that they leave a school and quit fishing early,” said Bennett. “But to help conserve some of these bigger stripers in late summer, after you’ve gotten your limit of overs, then maybe go and try to find some smaller fish for the box.
“It’s certainly hard to leave a school of big overs when they’re biting, but just hooking and landing some of those bigger fish at this time of the year is enough to cause some increased mortality rates.”
The TPWD inland fisheries biologist says that as September approaches, water temperatures will soon begin to cool off at Texoma, which will hopefully bring a fantastic run of fall striper fishing.
“With any luck, we’ve seen the peak of warm water temperatures and it will be relatively mild the rest of the way,” said Bennett. “If so, we’ll see if that means that a good number of big stripers have made it through the summer. If that’s the case, when coupled with the good numbers of smaller sized stripers at Texoma these days, I’d bet that we’re going to have an awesome fall, winter, and spring coming up for striper fishing.”
What about the black bass species that call Texoma home, the largemouths, the smallmouths, and the spotted bass that the local lake is also known for?
“Usually, they’re not nearly as stressed out from all of the late summer heat like some of the bigger stripers can be,” said Bennett. “It’s just that they’re going to be buried up in the shade somewhere or hanging out in some deeper water trying to stay cool.”
Once again, the TPWD biologist in charge of watching over Lake Texoma’s sterling fishery says that local anglers will want to be on the water early and late to find the best bass catching opportunities of the day.
“Look for bass to be around shady spots underneath shoreline docks or overhanging limbs, in deeper shady water next to boat slips or tire reefs, or around main lake points and humps that are situated next to deeper drop-offs,” said Bennett.
“And don’t overlook night fishing on Texoma, especially for smallmouths,” he added. “They’ll still be somewhere near deeper water at night, but they do move up shallower just a bit. If you get out there and create some vibration and a shadow above them with a big, dark spinnerbait, that’s a popular and successful tactic right now.”
A fishing tactic that helps Texoma anglers prove once again, that dog days of summer or not, fish can still be caught on our big backyard pond even when the heat is on.