Is it hot in East Texas this month? You bet! But that doesn't mean that the bass are ignoring the tactics these pros are using!
By Robert Sloan
What do July and January have in common? Deep-water bassin' on just about any lake you fish in East Texas - that's what!
When conditions are abnormal, - way too hot or downright cold - bass move to the depths. And that's exactly where big-bass ace John Hope had us fishing on Lake Fork one hot afternoon a few years back.
"We're gonna fish a funnel where two creeks come together," explained Hope as he idled slowly along a stretch of wide-open water in the middle of nowhere. "It might not look like much, but where these two creek channels come together is a hotspot to intercept bass."
There was no reason to doubt Hope's word. After all, he'd spent many a day and night fishing jigs and worms over funnel points. And over the years he'd caught lots of big bass on lakes like Fork and Houston County.
I fished a good bit with Hope several years ago, back when he implanted transmitters in big bass. First he'd catch one, and then do the surgery and release the fish; he used some sort of electronic tracking device to keep tabs on them. He found out that during hot summer months or cold winter months, bass would feed almost daily around a funnel points- the intersection of any two or three bottom ledges. Almost always it was a ditch and a creek channel, or some sorts of ledge.
Talk about patience! Hope could watch grass grow and not squirm a bit.
John Hope says that if you find a "funnel point" (the intersection of two or three underwater ledges), you'll catch bass -- maybe even a hawg like Hope's Lake Fork monster. Photo by Robert Sloan
"The key is to be fishing a jig or worm at those funnel points when the bass come through," he preached. "It can be boring fishing. But it'll almost always pay off, especially during the dog days of summer."
That's a tactic that should get the job done at just about any lake anywhere, and Hope has proved it to be definitively workable at Fork and Houston County on more than one occasion.
Unique to bass fishing is the multitude of tactics that can be used to catch these very popular game fish. Lonnie Stanley figured out long ago that fishing a jig-and-trailer was a deadly way to catch bass at Sam Rayburn during summer's hottest, most miserable days.
"A jig is a lure that imitates a crawfish," he observed. "And crawfish can be found on just about any lake in Texas, especially Rayburn. They can be found at all depths. And bass love to eat crawfish."
We were fishing Sam Rayburn Reservoir even as he was explaining that logic to me. In fact, we were flipping Stanley jigs to pockets in some very thick grass on the lower end of the lake.
"Crawfish will hang onto the grass," Stanley explained. "That explains why some big ol' bass will move into these pockets. They know it's a meal ticket to crawfish. And when they see a crawfish-like jig falling into the pocket they won't normally pass it up."
Fishing jigs is not the most exciting way to catch bass, but it's certainly one of the best tactics for catching the big ones - very important if you're fishing a tournament. The thing about flipping jigs to holes in hydrilla is that you won't normally feel the bite; instead, the line will suddenly stop, or simply move off to the side. That's when you've got to set the hook - and set it right then! Don't give that bass a chance to move one way or the other. This can make for some exciting fishing once you figure out the bite.
The virtual opposite of jig-fishing is topwater fishing. Using topwater plugs to catch July bass is not something you want to do in the heat of the day; actually, it's best right before sunup and just after sunset. Not a very big window of opportunity, true - but that's when bass in the 1- to 5-pound class will move shallow to feed near the surface.
One summer evening, Keith Warren and I were fishing at a smallish lake near Houston. At about 100 acres, it was full of lily pads and standing trees. We'd been fishing for a few hours, and the bass weren't cooperating. We had about an hour of light left when I tied on some sort of topwater frog imitation.
I made a long cast, let the lure settle and began twitching it back to the boat. It was coming by the trunk of a tree when a bass weighing about 2 pounds pounced on it. Not wasting any time, Warren too tied on a frog-imitation lure, and we commenced to have a big time catching bass till it was too dark to see.
The soft-plastic Scum Frog is a weedless-type lure that's deadly on bass in the middle of summer - and practically all day long. The reason is that it can be fished in some of the thickest cover you can find.
At about this time each summer, you can find matted weedbeds at just about any lake in East Texas (Rayburn and Toledo Bend come to mind). At times, bass will hang out in the shade of this dense growth and crash into anything that comes their way. A Scum Frog worked over those weeds is likely to draw some incredible strikes.
One thing you don't want to do with a Scum Frog, however, is fish it on light tackle. In the thick cover, you'll want to use high-test line and a rod and reel that can yank them out of the weeds.
My favorite thing to do as a kid was to bass-fish at night under the light of a full moon. I still love to catch 'em that way, especially in July - and Houston County Lake is an excellent night-fishing venue. I've had some great times fishing that lake under the glow of a full moon. The upper end is full of laydowns, standing timber and thousands of stumps. You can work that water at night and fully expect to catch bass upwards of 6 pounds. A lot of that water is devoid of weeds, so you can work it with topwater plugs.
The Knuckle Head Jr. and Excalibur Pop'n Image Jr. are two very good lures for night-fishing. But when it comes down to favorites, I'll always go with a black Jitterbug, a metal-lipped lure that's been around for decades; there's no telling how many bass it's caught. It's a no-brainer to fish, too: Cast it out and reel it in with a slow and steady retrieve, and as it gurgles its way across the surface, it drives bass absolutely bonkers.
On lakes like Rayburn, Fork and T-Bend, you can to fish anything from a worm to a buzzbait at night. I'll never forget one night on T-Bend with guide Jim Morris, who owns and operates Cypress Creek Marina, and Aubry Webb. When we left the boat dock and headed out to an area of deep, open water, I was a little
"I thought we were going to fish topwater lures along the bank," I said.
"Well," replied Morris, "we can do that, and catch a few bass. Or we can work worms along this old railroad and catch lots of bass. What do y'all want to do?"
Much to my amazement, we fished some sort of dark-colored worm with a rattle embedded in it - and caught quite a few bass in about 14 to 18 feet of water.
If you really want to have some fun, break out the fly rod and work a deer-hair popper along the edge of a hydrilla bed early and late in the day. Talk about a hoot! Bass will literally come out of the water and crash-land on a No. 4 popper worked slowly across the water's surface.
What a lot of East Texas anglers don't know is that the many creeks snaking through the woods are loaded with bass. One of my favorites is Village Creek, out of Lumberton. This is a fantastic creek to for kayaking and fly-fishing - and July through October are prime months to fish it.
If all else fails, try trolling; it's a great go-to tactic. You'd probably be surprised at how many bass you can catch while trolling.
What I like to do is rig up one rod with a Road Runner and another with a crankbait like a Baby Wiggle 'O' or a Grappler Shad. When trolling, you want to select an area with lots of open water that's free of lure-snagging weeds; the lower ends of T-Bend, Conroe and Rayburn, near the dams, are perfect. Trolling along a creek or river channel is a great option as well. The thing about trolling is that you'll catch not only bass but probably a crappie or two as well.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For guided kayaking and fly-fishing trips in East Texas, call Robert Sloan at (409) 782-6796.
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