Steve Baker Answers Your Questions
Q. Shad seem to be impossible to keep alive in the hot weather of September and October. What are some tips to prevent my live bait from dying?
A. The most predominant killer of live bait is an uncontrollable water temperature. As the air temperature climbs to the 90's, water temperature in bait tanks becomes harder to maintain. The first factor is to start out with a good insulated tank with at least two inches of insulation on top, bottom and sides. If the surface temperature on a lake is in the high 80's or low 90's, the bait should be tempered slowly to the cool water that is necessary to keep them alive for a long period. Both shad and herring will go into shock and die if they are subjected to a 15 or 20 degree temperature change, whether it is from warm water to cold water or vice versa. Slowly lower the water temperature in your tank by adding ice to the water. Be sure to add a little extra bait saver to kill the chlorine in the city water. The perfect water temperature in your tank is around 60 degrees. If the water temperature goes above 70 degrees, the shad will get the red nose and begin to die. One word of precaution: when you put on a fresh bait, get him down in the deep, cool water as soon as possible. A few seconds of the hot surface water will kill even the toughest of shad or herring.
Q. What particular method seems to be the most productive when the fish are deep in late summer?
A. Downrigging is one of the most productive methods of catching both stripers and hybrids when they are deep in late summer. Stripers are on a constant move while on feeding sprees. I have found that once you locate a school of fish using live bait, the stripers will stay for only a short period. I have often found a huge school of fish on my X16 graph, only to have the entire school move before I could get one bait down to them. By using downriggers, you are constantly on the move. When you pass through a school of feeding fish, you will sometimes get hook-ups on every rod. As the roaming stripers continue on their way, you are already in pursuit of another school. Downriggers keep the lures in the water while searching for a school of feeding fish. Several lures are effective on downriggers. Crankbaits, bucktails or even live bait can be used to produce healthy strings of fish. Verticle jigging is another method that works well. I pre-mark my line with a permanent magic marker to quickly get the lure to the fish before they move. A Mann 0 Lure or Hopkins spoon, worked with a quick, upward rod motion, allowing the bait to fall directly under the boat, will entice the stripers into taking the bait.
Q. Do you think the same lures or live bait that work on stripers will produce hybrids equally as well?
A. In most cases, yes. You must remember one important factor: in all reality a striper is usually larger than a hybrid in body size. In addition, the hybrid's mouth is very small compared to a striper's. If I am fishing a lake that is primarily stocked with hybrids, I tend to use small artificial lures and smaller bait. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule when you catch a seven pound hybrid on an 11 inch gizzard shad. But hybrids will take the same lures or live bait on a scaled down size.
Q. When I locate a school of stripers in the late summer, they will hold in the area for only a short period of time. What causes these fish to move so rapidly?
A. This is a common problem that occurs on many lakes around the entire country. It seems to me the fish are on a constant move in search of bait fish. With the hot surface water, the thermocline is usually 50 to 60 feet deep. Most of the stripers and baitfish will hold at these depths. I have watched a big school of baitfish and
stripers that were located on deep underwater structure on several occasions this time of year. In some cases, I have watched closely on my graph or video, and the baitfish seem to move first. Common sense will tell you that the baitfish are not going to follow the stripers. When the baitfish move, the stripers will move also. You can go after these fish in two ways. You can simply pick a good spot and wait for the traveling stripers and baitfish to come to you. This is a gamble, but sometimes it pays off. Or you can idle slowly, looking for schools of baitfish or stripers on the chart recorder or video. When you locate the school, get the baits down as fast as possible and hang on.
Q. What style of boat works best when fishing swift water below a powerhouse?
A. I prefer a light boat with a flat bottom. There is a reason for using this type of boat. When drifting the fast water, I run all the way up to the discharge. Some areas are restricted, with a cable stretching across the river, but the boat speed will be the same. As soon as you shut off the engine and begin your drift, the boat needs to travel as slowly as possible. Using a boat with a deep V bottom causes the boat speed to pick up rapidly as the rush of water pushes directly against the section of the boat that is protruding down under the water. With a light, flat-bottom type boat, the boat sits flatter on the water with less drag on the bottom. The fast water will actually run under the boat, and the boat will not reach the same speed as the water for several hundred yards. This is important because many stripers are caught just below the discharge area. A long, wide boat is also safer in the treacherous water below a discharge area. A 16 foot or 18 foot jon boat with an 84 inch beam is an excellent boat to use in the same areas below a dam.
Q. Does current have an effect on stripers in the hot summer months?
A. In a lake or reservoir that is a major source of power and has some level of current every day, stripers and hybrids tend to feed after the generators are turned on at the dam, pulling water down through the lake. On many lakes, the generators will not be turned on until late in the morning. Even though on most lakes the feeding period may be over, the moving water will trigger the fish into a feeding frenzy. The moving water will pull baitfish toward the shallow structure near deep water, such as underwater humps or old river ledges. When looking for a school of feeding stripers or hybrids, concentrate your efforts around this type of structure. Look for the baitfish near the underwater humps, and the stripers will be close by. A few fish can be caught early in the morning before the moving current is started, but the major feeding period will not begin until the generators are started at the dam. To keep from wasting time, it is a good idea to call the day before to get a generation schedule. That way you can be sitting on your favorite hole when the water begins to move. Many lakes are not major power sources, because their small dams have only one or two generators. There is little or no current to affect the fish, so the early morning and late afternoon feeding periods are the best.
Q. Live bait is always extremely hard to find in "dog day" type weather. Where do the baitfish go then, and how can a person reach them?
A. As the surface temperature continues to rise in the hot summer months, shad and blue back herring will simply go deeper, seeking the cooler water. Most people see a large cloud of bait fish on their graph and feel confident they can catch them. In most cases, these are only small threadfins two or three inches long which will pass through the net as it goes down. The best way to catch bait is at night under a light. This is a hard, time-consuming process, but sometimes it is the only way to catch bait. I have found that the boat must be anchored in deep water to be effective. The areas around bridges are often key areas. A large net with a long rope is a must, because baitfish, especially blue back herring, may be 50 to 70 feet deep. If you know where an old spring is located, notice how the cool water will draw shad like a magnet. Be sure to make the first throw with the net a good one, because the bait will usually spook. The cool water traveling through the generators below a dam will also attract baitfish in large numbers. I have found that the mid-day period is usually best around the fast water. I watch the water birds below a dam. You will usually find baitfish where they are congregating. Cast nets and wire dip nets can be used in the fast water areas.
Q. What amp battery charger works better on a marine battery?
A. I prefer a 6 amp trickle charger rather than a 10 amp manual charger. A 10 amp charger will charge batteries faster, but will also boil the water and acid from a battery faster. The trick to a long-lasting battery is to keep the water level at a maximum and maintain a constant hot charge. By using a slow 6 amp charger you can leave the batteries on charge constantly when you are not fishing without any damage to your batteries. I always make it my first chore to hook up the chargers after I come in from a fishing trip, no matter how long I am going to stay before going again. The slow, steady charge will give you a longer-lasting charge.