With the most severe drought conditions in a generation continuing to linger over much of the United States, the effects it has had on crops and wildlife is well-documented.
And while it may be easier to forget how it affects them, the drought definitely has an impact on fishing, according to several of the world’s top bass anglers.
Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Okla., a regular on the Bassmaster Elite Series, lives in an area severely hit by the drought, and he said it has affected virtually every fishing source in the region.
“You have to go find the fish in new areas, and meanwhile, the fish are looking for cover,” said Kriet, who has one career Elite Series victory. “More often than not, they just end up suspending out in the middle of the lake. They will roam around, feeding on shad – acting a lot like stripers.”
According to the National Drought Monitor Center’s most recent report released on July 31, 52.65 percent of the United States and Puerto Rico are mired in a moderate drought or worse. The area of the lower 48 states experiencing extreme drought – the second-highest classification behind exceptional drought – rose nearly 2 percent in late July to 22.3 percent. Oklahoma is one of the hardest hit areas.
“A lot of ways it affects you is things you don’t think about,” Kriet said. “Right now, it’s getting to the point where you can’t get to some of the boat ramps on the lakes. And as the lakes continue to drop, more and more cover and timber and things become exposed. Then you run more of a risk running into those things with your boat. You’ve got to be a lot more careful.”
But Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., who lives in another region hit hard, said while drought-time fishing causes plenty of hardships, it also creates opportunities.
“It definitely changes things, but some of those things can be for the better,” said Davis, the winner of five Elite Series events, including the 1995 Bassmaster Classic. “The fish will tend to gang up on what cover they DO have. Then if you can find the fish, you can usually find a lot of them.”
“It’s a hard time to be trying to catch fish,” he said. “I caught a suspended fish the other day in 70 feet of water. If you can find them gathered around cover, on a point or brush, there will probably be several of them, but nothing’s guaranteed.”
Not everyone dislikes fishing in low water. Elite Series angler Craig Schuff of Watauga, Texas, said it’s one of his favorite times to catch fish.
“It’s pretty simple: It’s easier to find them when there’s less places for them to hide,” Schuff said, laughing. “A lot of times, when the water’s falling, the fish don’t want to leave where they are. I just find it easier to catch them in low-water conditions.”
Zell Rowland of Montgomery, Texas, a five-time winner on the Elite Series, said it is just another obstacle for the professional angler to overcome.
“And it’s different from lake to lake,” Rowland said. “On Conroe, we saw the lake down eight feet, and [the bass] were backing up to the mud banks in real shallow water. I don’t know how they could stand it.
“Then on Table Rock in Missouri, they will suspend at 50-60 feet. We would have to find schools of bait fish [on the depth finder] and roll your bait through them.”
Then there are the extreme cases, Rowland said, one of which is O.C. Fisher Reservoir.
“Last year, it completely dried up,” he said of the lake near San Angelo, Texas, that formerly covered more than 5,400 acres and remains dry today. “The water sheds up there aren’t very big to begin with. The lake just couldn’t tolerate the drought.”
Davis said, in simple terms, it’s a difficult time to fish.
“In the end, it’s summertime fishing,” he said. “It’s hot on the fish and they’re going to suspend. Hot water always makes for tough fishing. The fish suspend, they don’t feed and they’re hard to catch.
“I know how hard it is for the professional guys. So the average angler is going to struggle.”