Enquirer Herald

Brad Harvey: Fishing through the heaviest of rains

After years of drought, it’s hard to believe how much things have changed in the last two years, as we’ve seen tons of rain during the warmer months.

This week has been a great example, as our area received around five inches of it Monday alone.

An entire generation of fishermen, if not more, came along during that decade of drought who never really got the opportunity to learn just how heavy rains affect fishing on our lakes in the summer because they never had to deal with it, and now they find themselves scratching their heads as they try to figure out just how to go about it.

As with all forms of wildlife, weather affects bass fishing. Its effect can be pretty predictable, but our current scenario is anything but typical, since, even in wet years, having five inches dropped on us at once is not normal.

There are a handful of factors that come into play in regard to weather and fishing, including temperature, barometric pressure, wind, cold fronts, warm fronts and precipitation, and since the part of our equation that’s totally out of whack is that last one, we’ll stick to it for our purposes here.

There’s been lots of debate over the years as to whether or not “the bite” turns on as the rain falls and hits the water.

One old fisherman’s tale explains it away by saying that the droplets of rain hitting the water mimic insects lighting on the surface, thus triggering the fish to attack, but scientists declare that it has more to do with the rate of rainfall than anything else.

You see, light and steady precipitation can surely cause a spike in the bass’ feeding activity, and most fishermen have experienced that at some point. This is because the pH level of the water goes up, but does so very slowly.

If the rain turns heavy, however, the whole thing can turn and shut them down. This is because the pH level of the water has dramatically dropped in almost an instant, making the bass uncomfortable. This happens due to rising carbon-dioxide levels that displace the amount of dissolved oxygen the fish are used to, and it makes breathing difficult.

Another issue in all of this is the temperature change that takes place with heavy precipitation this time of year.

The rain is usually much colder than the temperature in the body of water it’s hitting, which can cause the fishing to turn south in a hurry as, once again, the fish become uncomfortable.

These lower oxygen levels and water temperatures don’t tend to have long-lasting effects in bigger bodies of water such as Lake Wylie, but they can decimate the fish population in smaller lakes and farm ponds by causing the impoundment to “turn over,” and a fish kill is the result.

I’ve witnessed this phenomenon several times over the years, and it’s a sickening sight to see hundreds of dead fish, many trophies, floating instead of swimming.

For as strange as the term “turning over” sounds, that is exactly what is taking place, since the usual situation is for the colder water to be at the bottom of the water column.

As the colder rain water gets dumped on the surface it passes down through the warm water that was on top and causes tons of problems as it completes this flip-flop.

Let me explain that a little better this way:

Most fishermen falsely believe that the water near the surface of a lake or pond is just warmer because it gets all of the sunlight; but that’s not it at all.

Cold water is, in fact, denser and heavier than warm water. If that wasn’t true, you wouldn’t see the obvious temperature break that happens at a specific depth when you dive deep down. It would all be fairly close in overall temperature.

Since the cold water is heavier, it won’t remain at the surface and is naturally pushed to the bottom, taking out all of the oxygen as it passes through the warm water that has been sandwiched between the two layers of cold stuff.

But what if you want to go out and try your luck despite all this extra water we’ve got running around?

Davy Hite, the pride of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, is as accomplished a professional fisherman as exists. He was named BASS Angler of the Year in 1997 and 2002; won fishing’s Super Bowl, the Bassmaster Classic, in 1999; and the FLW Tour Championship the year before that.

Over the years, Hite has totaled nine overall wins and 45 top-10 finishes on tour, which, I’d say, definitely qualifies him for whatever you’d call the level that sits just above expert status when it comes to sorting through such situations as we’ve had this week.

Here’s what he had to say to me on the subject the last time we were inundated with the wet stuff.

“You know, that much rain usually shuts it down,” Davy said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s always a bad thing overall. In the long term, it’s really good for the fry, which assures a good overall fish population.

“And catching fish isn’t impossible, either. In fact, the last tournament I won was on Lake Pickwick, and we sort of had the same conditions.”

“What’d you do?” I asked.

“You have to understand what’s taking place and take advantage of it in the best way you can. Your best fishing is going to be found in the rivers since the influx of water will create more current, and those bass will lay back in the eddies.”

“So basically, you’re trout fishing?” I asked.

“That’s exactly right,” Davy replied. “If you keep in mind that they’re sitting in those eddies out of the current in the same way that trout will do, you can find them and catch them.”

Granted, if your fishing is relegated to farm ponds and smaller impoundments, you’re not going to find moving water there and you might have to just wait things out as you give the place time to settle and the fish a chance to re-acclimate. You can, however, find plenty of other opportunities around here that do have moving water, including Wylie.

It actually doesn’t take a rushing river to get the effect that you’re looking for, as just about any form of current will do the job.

Get on out there and give it a shot yourself. With a little luck and persistence, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Good luck!