Summer can be a frustrating time to fish for bass. Combine oppressive heat and humidity with heavy recreational boat traffic and a slow bass bite in your usual fishing spots, and you're often left wondering why you didn't spend your Saturday watching fishing shows on cable television instead of fighting a losing battle on your local lake.
The secret lies in targeting specific places where big bass are most likely to be holding.
But if you play your cards right, you can score lunker bass all summer long! The secret lies in targeting specific places where big bass are most likely to be holding, then making the proper presentation to trigger a strike from these sluggish fish. We've corralled five bass experts to take you on a milk run of the choicest summer hotspots and show you exactly how to fish 'em for your biggest bass of the year.
Lake Conroe, Texas bass guide Dan Thurmond knows that midsummer can be prime time for boating multiple big fish. "Summer bass will stack up in large numbers now in spots that have the right set of conditions," Thurmond indicated. "If you catch one big fish now, you may catch a dozen."
Thurmond believes the factor most influencing bass location in summer is oxygenated water. "When the water is hot, oxygen depletion is a distinct possibility, unless there is some current flow," he said. "The most highly-oxygenated place on a reservoir during the summer is going to be a river channel or big creek channel. Current generation at both the upstream and downstream dams is normally quite heavy now due to high energy demands -- the hotter it gets, the more electricity is needed to keep all those air conditioners cranking. Current flow along the channels aerates the water, which in turn keeps bass in a healthy, highly-oxygenated environment."
Of course, a topographic map of the lake will reveal mile after endless mile of channels. But exactly where should you fish along these snaking structures? "In summer, bass won't be evenly distributed along a channel, but will gang up in channel bends instead,"
Thurmond noted. "The sharper the bend, the better. When I used to live in Florida, I spent considerable time diving in clear reservoirs like Rodman Lake, and often saw big wads of bass hunched tightly together in channel bends. On one occasion, I swam 200 yards along a channel without seeing a single fish, then suddenly the channel made a sharp hook and there they were: over 30 bass from 4 to 12 pounds, stacked up like cordwood in the depression formed by the channel bend. They were bunched together in a spot about as big as your living room. From this underwater perspective, it became painfully obvious why so many anglers fail to score in summer -- unless you hit that precise spot, you'd haul water."
Thurmond's favorite method for fishing channel bends is with live shiners -- the bigger, the better. "I'll anchor the boat above the channel bend, hook the shiner through both lips and feed line out as it swims downstream into the bend. You'll often feel the shiner start to get nervous as it approaches the spot, then WHAM! -- A fish loads on. If you can't get shiners big enough, or if you prefer using artificial lures, casting a deep-diving crankbait or a swimbait is a viable option."
Pickwick Lake, Alabama guide Steve Hacker agrees that current flow helps dictate bass location in summer. He scores monumental catches of smallmouth bass by keying on scattered rockpiles that pepper this fast-flowing Tennessee River impoundment. "Rockpiles are common in river-run reservoirs," Hacker noted. "Prior to the lake being formed, rock was blasted away during the channelization process and pushed into mounds. These structures are easily identified on your graph as small underwater islands -- the best ones here at Pickwick typically top out at around 12 feet below the surface, and may drop down to 25 feet at their base."
When current is running, Hacker says bass move to the top of these rockpiles to feed on baitfish. "Because current flow can be so strong in summer, you need to anchor upstream of the structure you intend to fish, then use light line and a compact lure so your presentation will hit its mark," the guide instructed. "My favorite rockpile lure is a homemade hair jig from 1/4 to 1/2 ounce, tied extra-long so it has the same profile as a baitfish. I'll fish it on a baitcasting outfit with 10 pound line: cast, let the jig hit bottom, then retrieve it with sharp pops, so it mimics an injured baitfish. Bass will usually smack it as it drops back down. A metal tailspinner or blade bait fished the same way will also produce, especially if the water is clear so the fish can see their flash."
Irregularities in Shallow Weedbeds
You don't have to probe deep water out in the middle of the lake in summer, as long as your local lake has shallow weedbeds. "Most anglers get intimidated by big weedbeds, but if you approach them as a series of irregular holding places, you'll gain confidence in fishing them," said South Carolina bass pro
Davey Hite. "My best advice is to skip over the biggest masses of grass and key on the irregularities: little points or indentations, isolated weed clumps, places where two or more varieties of grass grow close together, interior holes in the grass mat, and so on. These places will draw most of the bass inhabiting the grass,"
"It's a mistake to think that all bass stay in deep water once summer rolls around."
Hite normally begins working a grassbed with a buzzbait. "This is a big-fish lure that mimics a live frog slipping across the water," Hite noted. "I'll fish it early in the day by retrieving it parallel to grasslines, and around all the irregular places previously noted." Once the sun comes up, Hite switches to a quieter presentation with a tube bait, worm or jig. "If the grass is matted on the surface, a Texas-rigged tube is a killer presentation," Davey said. "Cast it onto the mat, then pull it slowly across the grass. When a bass swirls on it, count to three, then set the hook hard."
The South Carolina pro also watches his electronics for signs of channels or ditches criss-crossing shallow weedy areas. "Bass use these depressions like highways to move in and out of shallow grass. They don't have to be deep - a drop of merely a foot is more than enough to hold fish in a grassy scenario."
Thanks to the plethora of fishing magazines and television shows available today, many weekend anglers are schooled in the art of structure fishing. Perhaps "overschooled" might be more accurate -- they often focus on structures with a well-defined edge or dropoff and overlook less dramatic structures that may hold bass in spite of their lower profile. Main-lake flats fall into then category of "nothing-looking" places that can attract plenty of bass in summer. "It's a mistake to think that all bass stay in deep water once summer rolls around," says veteran Tennessee bass pro Charlie Ingram. "True, many bass will hold deep when inactive, but they'll often move onto shallow flats to feed. I look at these structures as prime summer haunts for active bass."
Ingram looks for baitfish flipping on the flat ("No bait, no bass!"), then combs the structure with his favorite search lures: a spinnerbait and crankbait. "I'll use these lures to key on laydown trees, which drift onto flats during seasonal floods and provide awesome ambush places for bass," the pro said. "It's important to run the lure down the entire length of the tree rather than cast across it. Most of the bass will be holding at junctures of the trunk and the largest branches, or suspending beneath the ends of the branches. Always hit the shady side of the cover first, and remember to bump your bait off the cover -- especially in mid-day, bass will be sticking tight to the wood."
Charlie always keeps a lure rigged with a surface lure, specifically a prop bait or buzzbait, when fishing flats. "If you see a swirl around a laydown or stump, cast the topwater bait right at it, not past it -- often you'll be rewarded with an immediate reaction strike from a lunker bass."
Shade. Deep water. Plenty of forage. Three things bass love in summer -- and three things you'd find in spades around boat docks! "Docks hold an amazing number of bass in summer, yet are surprisingly underfished," says Michigan bass pro Kevin VanDam. "Docks are one of my primary hot-weather tournament targets, a great place to pick up a quick limit of keepers and some lunker bass as well."
VanDam is telling it straight. I recently shared his boat during a practice day in a big-money tournament on Tennessee's Old Hickory Lake, and watched him catch dozens of quality bass off boat docks on tube baits, buzzbaits and topwater plugs. "I'll often begin the day with topwaters fished closed to the docks in hopes of catching a big fish, then move in tighter to the docks as the sun gets higher and pitching a tube bait." The young pro is famous for his run-and-gun fishing style, and he won't let any grass grow beneath his feet when tubin' docks, either. "I'll move within pitching distance and usually just hit the corners of the docks with the tube -- these are the primary ambush spots for bass. I'll run from one dock to another, hitting mainly the dock corners, not wasting too much time on any one dock, and not wasting presentations on places less likely to be holding fish. This approach tends to catch me a ton of keepers and some bigger fish as well. I'll pay attention where the biggest bass come from -- one some days, for example, they'll be on docks with wood pilings vs. floating docks. Then I'll move to similar docks and try to refine my pattern and build up my total weight."
On slow days, VanDam may try to coax a reaction strike from bass holding beneath docks by speed-reeling a spinnerbait parallel to the structure. "'Burn the lure just under the surface and so close to the structure that almost scrapes the dock -- man, will they ever jump all over it!"