Summertime's Tough Bass

When August turns downright hot, finding bass can be a problem. But here are some places you might try for largemouth action in the northern part of the state this summer. (August 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

The heat and humidity of mid-summer are not only trying on one's temperament, but can result in brutal conditions for bass fishing as well. Many folks simply give up on bass and turn their attention to other species such as bluegills or catfish.

However, just because it's summer doesn't mean that no fine bass fishing is to be found. One simply has to understand the changes that bass go through during the hot months and then learn how to adapt.

A wide variety of conditions can make bass hard to locate and to catch during the summer months. First and foremost is water temperature. The heat of summer and the long hours of sunlight cause the water temperature to soar, which pushes bass into cooler depths. While almost all largemouth anglers can catch bass in the spring, when the fish are feeding aggressively in the shallows, some people have a real problem getting on fish that have moved deeper.

Water temperature isn't the only problem created by the sun -- light penetration is another major factor that pushes bass deep. Largemouths prefer to be less exposed to the rays of the sun and so seek the darkness and security of structure in deeper water.

Next is pressure -- in two forms. Obviously, fishing pressure on the lake, not only for bass but for other species as well, creates conditions that make bass less aggressive. Couple fishing pressure with all the recreational traffic on the lake from pleasure boaters, skiers, party boats, houseboats and personal watercraft, and the bass become really reclusive.

At this time, one must be smart, and learn when and how to fish for these reclusive bass. The best way to catch these bass is to hit the water when the pressure is lighter and the sunlight is having less or no effect --early morning, late afternoons, even at night. Also, if possible, target weekdays instead of weekends, thus enabling you to avoid the heaviest recreational pressure.

Early mornings and late evenings are prime times for tossing topwater baits. This is especially true when the water is slick and calm as it often is just at daybreak. Look for bass along shallow flats and longer, tapering points, and even back in coves amid structure or in standing timber. Bass will come up from great depths to strike a topwater bait when conditions are just right.

Many anglers like to fish mornings in areas with a little current, throwing topwater baits as well as crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Look for fish along ledges or points, in particular those near dropoffs into deeper water.

For non-crowded lake conditions and superb bass action, nothing's better than night-fishing during the summer. A variety of methods will take bass during the dark hours.

Big baits, which create a large shadow and produce good noise and vibration, are the key to success. Black is usually the primary color used at night, because it creates the most shadow and helps bass find the bait easier. Largemouths can be caught with both surface lures and submerged lures during the nighttime.

Some anglers prefer big loud buzzbaits, which churn the surface to draw bass. Other anglers tightline or bottom-bump with big spinnerbaits, jig-and-pig combos or plastic baits. Some people cast crankbaits with rattles.

One can put these tactics to good use at lots of lakes. Here's a look at six of our top choices.

ENID LAKEM

The catch rates for largemouth bass are above average at Enid Lake in Panola, Lafayette, and Yalobusha counties. The lake offers some 28,000 acres of prime bass fishing, although it is highly underused. Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks fisheries biologist Keith Meals said that Enid Lake is fished mostly by crappie anglers, which leaves those fishing for bass with lots of great opportunity.

Enid's bass fishery is in great shape, abounding in fish in the 3- to 5-pound range, with some up to 7 pounds. A slot limit on the lake helps protect smaller fish and allows them to reach substantial sizes. Anglers at Enid may keep up to seven bass per day, but may keep no bass within the slot of 16 to 20 inches. Only three of the seven-fish creel may be above 20 inches.

The main creek channel in the upper end holds bass at times, but lacks what one could consider the best bass habitat. The lake has fairly clear water and no aquatic vegetation. The Wildcat Brake area does have a fair amount of standing timber, which attracts largemouths at times. In August, however, the best angling seems to be in the main lake off points running out into fairly deep water. Most summer bass are found from 12 to 20 feet deep.

Many people try to match their baits to the forage base. Gizzard and threadfin shad make up the main forage for largemouths; bluegills are the secondary menu choice. Crankbaits resembling shad and bluegills can be deadly in the summer; some anglers prefer soft-plastic baits.

Enid Lake has no marina, but 11 boat ramps are scattered around the reservoir. More information may be obtained by phoning (662) 563-4571.

SARDIS LAKE

The largemouth bass fishery at Sardis Lake is very similar to that of Enid: much the same numbers of bass in comparable sizes. However, Sardis feels much more fishing pressure.

Unlike Enid, Sardis is visited by a lot more anglers who predominately target bass. The lake really gets hammered hard before the St. Jude Children's Hospital Tournament on Memorial Day Weekend. Fishing pressure tapers some after that event, but recreational traffic on the lake is heavy on the weekends.

The best fishing is through the weekdays. If one must fish the weekends, the most successful angling occurs very early, very late, and at night.

Some good fish are there to be caught at Sardis. Most weigh less than 7 pounds, but biologist Keith Meals has weighed fish up to 8.4 pounds. A fishing tournament last year recorded a five-fish limit that weighed 26 pounds.

A thermocline sets up at Sardis during the warm months of the year. It's usually found between 20 and 25 feet, so anglers should make certain to confine the efforts to depths above the stratification.

Most fish are found between 12 and 20 feet throughout the hot months. The lake has no aquatic vegetation, so most fish relate to other structure and bottom irregularities

. Look for bass along ledges and main-lake points.

A good bit of night-fishing occurs at Sardis during the summer. Most night-fishing seems to occur in the lower end of the lake. As at Enid, crankbaits and soft plastic baits are preferred by most of the local anglers.

Access to Sardis Lake is ample: It has some 27 boat launching ramps. Information on the ramps and other recreation areas may be obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by calling (662) 563-4531.

GRENADA LAKE

The water is much shallower and more turbid at Grenada Lake than at the two waters just detailed; in fact, it can be quite muddy at times. However, this reservoir in Grenada, Yalobusha, and Calhoun counties can boast some great bass angling.

According to Keith Meals, the bass fishing pressure at Grenada is extremely low, which offers anglers a unique opportunity. "Because the fishing pressure is so low," the biologist explained, "the bass are not as wise to angling as in other lakes. This makes the fish much more likely to bite."

The bass population is dense, but the size structure is very respectable, with plenty of fish in the 3- to 5-pound range. The top end of the size range here tends to run somewhat lighter than that at either Enid or Sardis; it's rare to catch a largemouth of more than 5 pounds at Grenada Lake. No size limit applies to the lake's bass, but a seven-fish daily creel limit is in force.

A lot of Grenada anglers fish the main lake and target points that lead out into deeper water. A couple of flooded roadbeds offer some structure great for attracting summer largemouths. Other hotspots: a couple of offshore humps east of Choctaw Landing.

Some 16 boat ramps give access to the lake's 35,000 surface-acres. More information on the reservoir is available by calling the Corps office at (662) 226-6090 or the Grenada Lake Visitor Center at (662) 226-1679.

ARKABUTLA LAKE

The fourth of the Corps' flood-control reservoirs in North Mississippi is characterized by Keith Meals as "kind of a sleeper." The lake provides good catch rates, but doesn't really receive a lot of attention from bass anglers. In fact, Meals said, Arkabutla Lake usually records the second-highest catch rate of these reservoirs when biologists perform annual electrofishing surveys. Still, the lake is more generally acclaimed for its large crappie than for its largemouth action.

Arkabutla Lake is in DeSoto and Tate counties 15 miles southwest of Hernando and about 30 miles south of Memphis, Tenn. The summer recreational pool is listed at 11,240 acres, but the lake can reach a maximum size of over 33,000 acres at times.

Largemouth bass don't usually get really big at Arkabutla, but the fishery is very healthy, and Meals describes its bass as "real fat and chunky." Good numbers of fish in the 3- to 5-pound range are present; some reach the 5- to 6-pound range. Occasionally a lucky angler hauls out a real whopper between 8 and 10 pounds, but these are pretty rare.

As Arkabutla isn't very deep, most shallow-water bass tactics work there. Owing to the shallow water, the lake typically stays fairly muddy throughout the summer, but it's usually starting to clear up by August.

Because of the lack of depth, temporary islands can form during high water, only to become peninsulas connected to the shore by a saddle when the water's lowered. Bass really stack up in such saddles when late-summer dam releases are pulling current across them.

A gravel pit is on the south side of the lake; some rocky points are on the north side. Bass also gang up in these areas during the warm months.

Eight boat ramps provide excellent access to the prime fishing spots. Obtain more information by calling the Corps office at (662) 562-6261.

FLOWER LAKE

Tunica County is home to this 1,000-acre oxbow lake and its excellent bass fishery. It's off U.S. 61, sited south of the town of Tunica and is about five miles west of Clayton. This venue is truly a diamond in the rough for bass anglers.

Fairly remote, Flower Lake has only one boat ramp, which anglers find a little inconvenient. The lake feels practically no bass fishing pressure, which is great for the anglers who do frequent the lake.

Bass numbers and size structure are both good at Flower, which has a lot of bass in the 1- to 4-pound range. Bigger fish are available; most top out at around 6 to 8 pounds.

Flower Lake is ringed with cypress trees, which add to the scenic beauty of the experience. In this very shallow lake, its maximum depth only 9 to 10 feet, are a couple of deeper areas known as "blue holes."

Topwater baits are a very good choice at Flower. Different types of floating minnow baits, wobble baits and chuggers bring bass up to the surface for some very exciting action. Buzzbaits can also be good at times.

Most anglers like to target shoreline habitat when searching for bigmouths. Fishing around the cypress knees and aquatic vegetation can be terrific. Bring plenty of weedless baits to cope with the variety of aquatic vegetation like lotus, naiads, and moss.

TUNICA CUTOFF

Known for its great bass fishery, this artificial oxbow lake in Tunica County is still connected to the river at high water levels, and so fluctuates in size as the Mississippi River rises and falls.

Tunica Cutoff was ranked second in statewide bass tournament statistics in 2005. Largemouths reproduce excellently here, and the fishery's in great shape. The bass receive very little fishing pressure except during the tournaments held at the lake.

The size of the bass at Tunica Cutoff is very similar to that at Flower Lake: plenty of fish up to around 4 pounds, with big fish typically maxing out at about 6 to 8 pounds.

The banks of Tunica Cutoff are ringed with cypresses and willows. The cypresses are mostly along the steeper banks, with the willows being more on the shallow shores. Most anglers tend to target the steeper banks, particularly those with sandy bottoms. A thermocline makes it pointless to fish deeper than 12 feet in the summertime.

Another tip for fishing this lake: Check the water level in the Mississippi and resulting current conditions in the Cutoff. In August, a slowly falling lake level is optimum for the greatest success. Bass fishing gets tougher at Tunica Cutoff when the water's on the rise.

The lake has four boat ramps from which to choose, but all require a launch fee. King's and Charlie's Camps are the most popular, and the majority of the bass tournaments are headquartered out of these sites.

One odd cautionary note is also appropriate regarding summer fishing here: Be aware of the dangers presented by the large population of silver carp at Tunica Cutoff. These

fish grow fairly large and are prone to leap out of the water when alarmed by an approaching boat. Serious injury from being struck by one of these fish is possible, so stay alert when boating on the Cutoff. You might need to duck in a hurry!

These are but a few of the locations at which you can find great bass fishing during the summer months in the northern reaches of the Magnolia State. Remember this, no matter where you choose to fish: If the bass were there before summer, they're still there -- and they have to eat. It may take a change of tactics, but it can be well worth the effort to find some hot summer action.

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