It’s transition time for many June bass anglers, and a successful day on the water can be tricky for even the best local anglers.
By Jason Haley
By June, most professional bass-fishing circuits have concluded their season, planning their next tourneys in the coming fall.
As a result, fishing impact has declined considerably on some of the greatest bass fisheries. It’s transition time across much of the Western bass fishing waters, indeed, and a successful day is not guaranteed.
START AT THE TOP
Todd Harrington of Living Waters Guide Service shows anglers the ropes on Oregon’s Umpqua River and Lake Havasu, Arizona. He says he believes smallmouth bass “start looking up” when the water reaches 60 degrees. That means topwater action!
There’s nothing like a visible strike breaking the surface and breaking the calm of a warm summer morning. When I’m fishing in June, I’m always starting with a topwater bait: buzzbaits in shallow grass; poppers in stump flats or stick-ups; walk-the-dog-style baits, like Zara Spooks, in open water; and, for both smallmouths and largemouths, frogs pulled across matted vegetation.
Cover water fast with your boat and your bait. Just see if “it’s happening” or not. It may not be, but one bite is all you need to find out. Change the rate of your retrieve or your cadence. The bite can be very specific at times. You might have to experiment to find it. Once you do, you should be able to reproduce it while the morning bite lasts. Don’t dilly-dally too long in one place. In summertime, the first few hours of daylight may be the best fishing time of the day.
I love poppers for targeting structure: docks, pilings, submerged boulders, stumps and tree tops. I use a spinning rod. Long, precise casts are the key. Hit your target and twitch it a few times without moving it from the strike zone. In early spring, you’ll want to let the ripples dissipate before moving the lure but consider a faster retrieve pace this month.
“Walk the dog” baits, like the Lucky Craft Sammy, allow anglers to cover water fast in searching patterns. Bass targeting baitfish in open water are particularly susceptible to these baitfish-in-distress imitators. Look for them busting bait on the surface of the water and throw into the mess.
Buzzbaits are great over grass. You may have to use heavy tackle and start horsing these fish immediately to get them on top and out of gnarly cover below, so pay close attention and focus on every cast. Be right on the strike, getting your hook-set in an instant, pulling the fish immediately to the surface followed by “skating” them across the surface to the boat before they have time to dig down on you.
Braided line is great for this scenario. I use 65-pound Seaguar line and Smackdown buzzers (and soft-plastic frogs). If the grass mats are scattered or the grassbed lies beneath the surface, I use monofilament or 20-pound Seaguar AbrazX. Mono is easier to fish, it will lay limp for you, and it floats. And have a plastic worm handy to follow up on short-strikes. Get right back in there while the fish is of a mind to eat. You can’t go wrong with a Senko for that.
You can bet there are notable variations in water temps on your pond, right now. Find warmer water or maybe colder water, but a change in water temperature is all it might take to locate feeding bass. This may be at one end of the lake/river or the other, at the top of the water column or near the bottom.
Key is getting around on the water and spot-checking the surface temperature. Idle near incoming creeks or waterfalls. Check shady cliff walls and north-facing banks versus sunny stuff. Get enough of a sample size to draw some conclusions. Examine your graph. Look for a thermocline and observe how fish (baitfish or target species) are relating to it. Once you get bit a time or two, target those types of places and run that pattern throughout the lake.
Post-spawn, summer bass tend to leave creeks and head to the main lake, particularly largemouths, but they will always seek out cleaner water if their spring haunts are warming too fast and losing oxygen. In fact, waves of bass may actually migrate this month toward the backs of creeks where fresh, incoming water attracts bait and creates favorable water quality.
Try going right up into the whitewater and tossing spinnerbaits, trout-fishing style. Current can be huge this month, as things tend to get warm and stagnant. Whether I’m bait-casting or spin-fishing, I’m typically trying to draw a reaction bite now, rather than enticing fish to strike a quivering bait.
Sometimes, when it’s sunny and the air is hot and still, you’ll swear you’ve landed on the Dead Sea. Fishing is so slow, it’s virtually impossible to get a bite with your soft-plastic comfort baits. At times like this, the tendency for many anglers is to slow down and camp out on a point, getting comfortable. Avoid it. The fish only need to be woken up.
Time to get creative. Burn your spinnerbait. Stop it and drop it. Snap it off the fall to get those blades turning again. Bump the bottom and snap it loose. Sometimes this erratic movement, or simply popping it loose, can trigger a strike.
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Try slow, steady retrieves with crankbaits over grass beds. Make sure it has a rattle to call them up out of there. Target the tops of grass beds with a plug that will just tick the tops of the weeds. If you get it hung up momentarily, snap it free. Oftentimes, the rod will load up with a fatty simultaneously. If the weed lines are well defined, parallel cast along the deep edge and watch bass fire out of there to eat it.
A 3/4-ounce jig with a small swimbait or craw-patterned trailer can draw reaction bites this month, also. If your lake gets stocked with trout, don’t overlook trout-style swimbaits or glide baits. Some giants will always be keyed in on that food source. You’ll want to power-fish it along the shoreline, pitching at likely targets. Let it fall rapidly on slack line.
Pick it up once and hop it. Burn it back and recast. You want a high-speed reel for this technique. When you feel a thump, bring the line tight and swing. Get its head turned toward the boat and keep winching. Pop that heavy wire hook out of its jaw, snap a photograph (or blow it a kiss) and let ’em go for the kids to catch another time.
My best tournament fish to date was caught in June pitching a black-and-blue Ten Mile Craw custom jig made by Big Bass Baits. That year, the wind would kick up each afternoon, and the current would run down the bank parallel to the primrose mats and boat docks. I’d swung and missed on a fish in the same spot the day before.
I returned the same time the next day and made the same cast to land a 6.42-pound largemouth. I’m guessing it was the fish from the day before. She was in bite mode again in the wind, and I got her to chase.
For sure, wind, mudlines or the presence of deep-water cover can up your odds of cashing in on these reaction fish. Use spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, cranks or the infamous Alabama rig. Oh, and don’t forget topwater – even in the afternoon.
Bass-fishing junkies use the term “junk fish” all the time. What does it mean? In short, it means “winging it” — going out on the lake without a dominant fishing pattern and using your instincts when it comes to what, where and how, and June is a stellar time for a junk fisherman. There are so many ways to catch bass this month, especially on fisheries with multiple species of baitfish that make for killer dinner options.
When targeting junk fish, I start with topwater lures. If they bite, stay with it until it ends when the sun gets too high or the breakfast buffet has closed. At midday, when it’s warm, deep-crank weed lines or off-shore humps, or drag creature baits in cooler, deeper water to stir up mud. When the shade starts to drape across the water later in the day, toss soft -plastics into it and watch your line walk away.
See a long bank? Put the trolling motor on high and blow down it. If the wind kicks up, throw bigger, louder reaction baits. You can get away with that now, even in clear water. When it lies down, slow down and down-size your lure. Keep an eye on your sonar.
If your Navionics chip shows a rock-pile in 30 feet, check it closely for fish returns. If you mark a school of bass, drop-shot those puppies or drag a creature bait around them for a few minutes. And when that shoreline holds a dock, toss a worm under it.
You might not expect it under a summer sun, but if you see bait getting pushed to the surface by underwater marauders, pause and fish ’em. Try ripping a jerkbait through the activity. Suspending rip-baits are a great choice for that. Designed to dive and suspend at key depths, the right rip-bait (or jerkbait) can be stopped in front of schooling bass long enough for them to commit. The next twitch of your rod tip might stop it cold with a hard-fighting bass.
Junk fishing requires a healthy tackle investment. You must have enough rods/reels rigged up and on deck to cycle through them, as necessary. With enough time on the water, your situational fishing instincts will develop, and you’ll learn to enjoy junk fishing. Hopefully, this won’t be at the expense of missing an obvious winning pattern!