Fishing Shaded Water on Hot Summer Days
One thing everyone knows about August in Texas is it is hot. This heat can affect both fish and fishermen. Of course, fishermen have the luxury of being able to head to the house to soak up some A/C when the temperature becomes intolerable. Fish also try to "beat the heat" by seeking out areas of cooler water. But, with the sun beating down for over 12 hours a day, most of the water in the open bays is tepid at best. However, there are areas of every bay where some sort of structure cast a shadow over at least a small portion of the water, providing fish an oasis of cooler water in the shade.
Freshwater fishermen often rely on shaded structure to catch fishing during the late summer heat. But, for whatever reason, saltwater fishermen don't usually don't give as much consideration to the cooling effects of shade, thinking instead mostly of water depth. While there are plenty of fish sulking in deep water during the summer months, fish found under shaded structure are often active at various depths in the water column. And, since these areas aren't as heavily fished, the fish found there are often "more cooperative."
Bridges and piers are probably the most common sources of shade in Texas bays. But, docks, oil and gas production platforms, range markers and various other structures also serve as shade producers. While shade alone will provide a bit of a sanctuary for fish, structure found in or near deep water and/or in an area with good current flow can be even more productive. If anglers find a piece of structure that meets all three criteria -- shade, relatively deep water, current flow -- there will assuredly find fish there.
With the exception of floating structures, such as the floating cabins and docks found in some bay systems, structures which have horizontal elements to provide shade also offer vertical structure as well with their support pilings and beams. This vertical structure is an added attractant for fish.
As is the case with any type of structure, not every piece of shaded structure in a bay will produce fish. To begin with, like everything, it follows the law of supply and demand. In a bay that has a lot of shade-producing structure, fish will have more options and anglers will have to work to find which piece of structure they prefer. Conversely, in a bay with little shade-producing structure, the likelihood of any one piece of structure producing fish goes way up.
The key to finding productive shaded structure, like any structure, is to find "something different" than surrounding area. Along large pieces of shaded structure, such as bridges, look for areas where channels cross under the structure, shell pads, washouts, etc. As a rule, it is also helpful to look for pieces of shaded structure far removed from other structure. Again, following the law of supply and demand, when fish only have one option, they tend to use it so a piece of isolated shaded structure will act like a magnet to draw fish from surrounding area.
When it comes to species found around shaded structure, just about every fish that swims in a given bay will utilize such structure during the heat of summer. Trout, redfish and sheepshead are common around shaded structure in every bay system during summer months. Along the upper coast, tripletail are common catches, too. Further south, snook and mangrove snapper are also taken by anglers fishing shaded structure during late summer.
Fishing shaded structure can be seen as fishing two types of structure -- "hard structure" and "soft structure." The hard structure is the actual structure itself -- pilings, beams, etc. The soft structure is the shadow cast by the structure. Anglers can think of fishing these shadows in much the same way as fishing a color change, just on a much smaller basis. Anglers fishing pieces of shaded structure should experiment until they find where fish are holding -- both vertically and horizontally. Sometimes it is necessary to pitch lures and baits into and under the structure. At other times, working along the "face," or outside edge, of the structure is best. Still other times it is most productive to work the edges where shade meets light -- especially when shade is cast out a good from the structure or if the shadow covers a secondary structure such as a shell pad.
Given the complexity of shaded structure, there is a wide variety of lures and baits that will produce good results. One of the most popular ways to prospect shaded structure is freelining live or artificial shrimp around the vertical supports. Freelining baitfish is another option -- especially if they are tail-hooked and allowed to swim into the structure. Freelining live or artificial crabs is also a good way to go, especially with a moderate current flow.
Again, the shade not only cools the water, but also lessens the intensity of light penetrating the water. For this reason, surface and shallow water offerings work well much later in the day under shaded structure than they do on the open bay. In fact, it is not uncommon to catch fish on topwater plugs even during midday while fishing in the shade. Lightly weighted swimbaits are also a good choice when fish are feeding high in the water column. If fish are being a bit finicky, slow-sinking plugs are a good bet, although anglers can expect to lose a lure or two unless they are fishing them out the outside of the structure.
Bay fishermen can also take a page from the bass fishing handbook and employ crankbaits around shaded structure. Crankbaits can be used to work at a variety of depths. And, fishermen can use the somewhat unique method of banging and bumping crankbaits off pilings to get fish's attention. This is a common practice among bass fishermen -- essentially reeling the bait to where it deflects off the pilings. The large diving lip of a crankbait prevents the hooks from fouling. With floating/diving models, anglers can also pause a beat after the bait makes contact and allow it to float up a few feet. In order to get baits to consistently bump into the vertical structure, anglers can "tune" the line pull eyelet by bending it to one side, which will make the bait swim in that direction, or they can "steer" with their rod.
Soft-plastics jigs are productive around shaded structure in a couple of situations: 1 - they can be bounced along bottom when fish are hanging deep; or 2 - they can be allowed to drop directly alongside pilings when fish are hanging tight to the structure. Caroline rigged croaker or pinfish are also good for tempting fish hanging on or near the bottom.
One word of caution -- fighting fish hooked around structure is different than fighting fish in the open bay. Heavy mono or braided line and stouter rods are helpful. Baitcast reels are best because you can "thumb" the spook to stop the fish. Anglers using spinning gear can make due by "palming" spool for same effect. In either instance, the drag should be set fairly heavy and fishermen should be ready to "pull on fish" to coax them out from beneath structure.
Getting as close as possible to the structure also helps anglers maneuver fish from structure. At times can get right alongside structure without spooking fish, especially when fish are lazing under structure during the midday heat. Additionally, anglers should always think one step ahead and make sure they know the best way to move a fish into clear water depending on which way a fish runs.
One final consideration -- anglers also need to check line frequently for nicks and rubs, which can weaken the line. And, they don't need to check just the final few feet -- they need to check all the way up in case part of the standing line rubs against structure on the retrieve. The easiest way to do this is to simply let line come through your fingers while reeling during the retrieve.
Without a doubt, finding shaded structure can help anglers find fish on hot summer days. And, an added bonus to fishing shaded structure is that some of the larger structures cast a large enough shadow to cover the fishermen as well, making fishing shaded structure is a great way to keep cool and catch fish on a hot summer day.