NEW HAMPSHIRE is positioned geographically to experience a unique diversity of climate. Annually, we have heat waves, cold spells, droughts and floods. In many ways, we are lucky to see such change over the months.
The plants and animals of New England have evolved not just to exist, but to thrive throughout the change in seasons. From insects to mammals, adaptations and life cycles are truly amazing in meeting such extremes.
As summer peaks and slowly winds down, those fish that swim in the low, warm waters of September are taking advantage of current conditions in several ways. Most fish exploit warm water temperatures by feeding and growing at a high rate.
In contrast, when water hovers just above freezing in January, they barely move, instead employing a semi-hibernation to survive.
I have frequently written that successful hunting and fishing is accomplished by understanding the biology and behavior of those animals being pursued. Currently, New Hampshire anglers are understanding how fish respond to the late summer climate. The relatively short feeding and growing season is in full swing and most fish are eating at a frenzied rate.
The food sources that fish pursue are larger than at any time in the year and good anglers will take advantage. Baitfish that might have been half an inch long a month ago now offer big, fat snacks for predator fish. Aquatic insects are at their most plentiful and offer a constant food source for hungry fish.
Worms, grubs and leeches are also very plump and offer a substantial, protein-rich meal.
Terrestrial insects like grasshoppers and beetles are currently so big that they struggle to fly. When they land helplessly on the water, their size, color and helpless attempts to swim make them an inviting food source and a fish rising for them is one of the most exciting events in all of fishing.
An angler’s approach to catching these fish should be simple: Go big. Where a finesse approach may have been necessary a few weeks ago, it can now be abandoned for a not-so-subtle giant lure or fly. Splashing a six-inch crankbait on the water may be like ringing a dinner bell for big fish like bass and pike.
Never assume that a lure is too big or that your target is too small. Right now, fish often behave in a way that suggests that their attitudes have outgrown their size. They will fight through fear and common sense to attack bait twice their size. Competition also plays a key role in survival and they will be very aggressive in striking bait just to beat other fish to it.
Small, drop-shot plastic baits might now be replaced with 7-inch rubber worms dragged slowly through the vegetation. Fish have been accustomed to seeing these types of food sources for a few weeks and will comfortably pursue them. Likewise, a giant weedless frog lure might initiate an explosive strike from a hungry pickerel that will not waste its time on a smaller meal.
Fly fishermen and women can take the same approach. The trout and salmon in New Hampshire still seek out cold water but will behave differently as their food sources change.
Large baitfish can be mimicked with long streamers, and flying insects are best matched with huge foam-bodied dry flies.
Some of my favorite flies are those that I cast in late summer. They are easy to see and can be thrown a long distance. Likewise, my bass lures are bigger and heavier than those I chose in the spring and land on the water with the subtlety of a plane crash.
Most of the food that fish are eating right now is huge. This type of fishing is perfect for the late summer, often-bumbling approach that I sometimes employ. Fortunately, at this time of year, it can be very effective and lots of fun. Go big!