July 09, 2021
Conventional bass wisdom tells us that with summer’s heat comes lethargy, tough fishing and the need to go deep to catch any fish at all. After the post-spawn recuperation period, bass move offshore where they sulk and become extremely difficult to catch.
But, of course, conventional wisdom is often just a lot of hooey. No matter how hot it gets, there are always some bass in the shallows at some time of the day or night. They can be caught, too. We just have to adjust our methods…and maybe our schedule.
Two of bass fishing’s most enduring tenets are: "There are always bass in the shallows," and "A shallow bass is a feeding bass." Former Bassmaster Angler of the Year Brent Chapman relies on these facts for summertime success—especially when he’s targeting big fish.
"This is the time to go to heavy, shallow cover," Chapman says. "Laydowns, boat docks, brush piles and anything else that creates shade and an ambush point can be good. Everything a bass needs is right there, including forage."
Whereas most bass anglers assume that shallow cover must be proximate to deep water to be productive, Chapman knows otherwise. He believes shade is what matters most to bass in summer, not the sanctuary of deeper water. And the dirtier the water, the shallower the fish will be.
To catch them, he relies on two bait types: square-bill crankbaits and flipping jigs. He opts for the square-bills—1 1/2- or 2 1/2-inch models, depending upon the size of the available forage—when the vegetation is not extremely thick and he needs to cover water quickly. His favorite colors are shad patterns when fishing in water with at least a couple feet of visibility and chartreuse with a blue back in when fishing in dirty water.
Deflecting the crankbait off cover is the key to triggering strikes with a square-bill, and with the warm water temperatures of summer, a fast retrieve is usually best. Chapman uses a KastKing Bassinator Elite reel (8.1:1 gear ratio) mounted on a 6-foot, 8-inch KastKing medium-action casting rod. He chooses 20-pound-test for the square-bill and emphasizes the need for speed.
"The hotter the weather and water temperature, the faster your retrieve should be," Chapman says. "You can’t crank a lure fast enough that a bass can’t catch it, and it sometimes takes a really fast retrieve to trigger a strike. You can cover a lot of water with this pattern and present your lure to a lot of fish."
When Chapman targets big bass, he seeks out the thickest, heaviest, shadiest cover he can find. That’s when he picks up a half-ounce black-and-blue flipping jig with a blue chunk-style trailer. He fishes it on the same KastKing reel spooled with the same 20-pound line, but mounts the reel on a 7-foot, 5-inch KastKing heavy-action rod.
"I want to put that jig in the darkest spot of the densest cover I can find," Chapman says. "That’s where you’ll likely find the biggest bass. If the fish doesn’t hit on the initial fall of the jig, I’ll usually swim it back to the boat. A jig is a big-fish bait, and this is a big summertime bass pattern."
FEEL THE FLOW
Just as a breeze relieves us on a hot day, current invigorates the largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass on your favorite lake, reservoir or stream. But instead of cooling the bass, current serves to oxygenate the water and wash forage to waiting predators.
"Reservoirs with hydroelectric dams have current when they pull water through the turbines to generate power," says Major League Fishing Redcrest champion Edwin Evers. "That current not only helps to activate bass, but it positions them, too, which is just as important."
To take advantage of the current, check the power generation schedule, which is typically available online.
"I center my trips around that schedule," Evers says. "It’s everything."
However, just because the water’s moving, that doesn’t make the entire lake productive. Focus on key areas that provide the greatest opportunity to find and catch schools of fish. Best executed, this is not a solo-bass pattern; it’s about numbers.
Evers looks for "pinch points"—areas where the lake narrows and current is exaggerated. A classic pinch point is under a bridge, where a creek or river channel passes underneath and riprap banks confine the water in between like the skinny part of an hourglass.
But that’s just an example of a horizontal pinch point. There are vertical pinch points, too, such as where current passes over an underwater point or hump, pinching the water between the top of the point or hump and the surface. Wherever you find these pinch points, you’ll find greater current and, very likely, plenty of bass.
Evers’ favorite baits for bass in current are the 5-inch Berkley PowerBait Hollow Belly Swimbait in a shad pattern and the Berkley PowerBait Bottom Hopper (green pumpkin) fished on a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce Berkley Fusion19 Football Jig Head. The swimbait can cover the water column from top to bottom but is usually most productive when fished just above the bottom. The Bottom Hopper worm is best when crawled or dragged across the bottom. Evers will sometimes add a crankbait to the mix.
He fishes the swimbait on a heavy-action 7-foot, 3-inch Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite 2.0 casting rod and a BPS Johnny Morris Platinum Signature casting reel with a 6.8:1 gear ratio spooled with 14-pound-test BPS XPS KVD Signature Series 100% Fluorocarbon line. He likes the slower reel to help keep his bait near the bottom on a steady retrieve.
The worm combo is the same CarbonLite rod and reel but with a higher gear ratio (8.3:1). The line is the same, too. With both lures, Evers casts into the current and lets the baits sink to the bottom before beginning his retrieve.
If you’re looking for a real pro’s pointer, Evers has one.
"I’m always looking for unpressured fish that don’t see many baits," he says. "I like to look for current breaks and pinch points that you can’t see with the naked eye."
For that, Evers relies on his electronics. He uses his Lowrance unit to find a turn in a ledge, a subtle point that’s not on any map or some brush or rock that will break the current. If he can locate something that other anglers miss, he knows he may have found the mother lode.
If your favorite bass water is clear and gets a lot of summertime boat traffic, it’s a perfect candidate for night fishing. The bass have to feed sometime, and if conditions are less than ideal when the sun’s out, they’ll chow down under the light of the moon.
The good news about night fishing is that the best places to fish are the ones that look good in the daylight but seldomly produce. If a spot looks promising but doesn’t give up fish during a daytime foray, it’s likely that bass are there but extremely wary. That fear often disappears once the sun goes down and most of the boat traffic disappears.
Obvious looking points, banks and even great looking areas near public launches or resorts can come alive with bass after dark. The best tactics to catch these fish are often no different than those you’ve tried during the day. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwaters, worms and jigs all catch bass in the dark.
The tricky thing about night fishing is learning your way around when visibility is severely limited. Even familiar waters can look foreign after dark. For this reason, it’s generally best to get on the water just before sunset so you can get to your spot while you can still see and start fishing. The bass will catch up. Just be patient. The best bite rarely comes in the first hour or two after the sun dips below the horizon.
Another difficulty with night fishing—apart from limited visibility—is that you lose the masking effect of other boats and anglers. Every sound or bump is magnified. Be sure to stay quiet out there.
And keep extraneous gear to a minimum. What’s manageable in the light of day can lead to a slapstick comedy routine at night if you’re stumbling over rods, spilling tackle boxes and searching through storage bins for something that should have been at arm’s length when you left the ramp.