August 25, 2020
By Ken Duke
In the South in August, you don’t need a thermometer to know it’s hot. Step outside any time of day, and your first breath is more like a gasp as the humidity hits you like a 1-ounce jighead between the eyes. It’s not for the faint of heart or weak of spirit, but for dedicated bass anglers, there is no alternative:
You must fish. So you apply liberal quantities of sunscreen, think cool thoughts and make your way to the launch. To maximize your time on the water this month, focus on three key strategies: Go big, go fast, and go with the flow.
Todd Faircloth is a Texas standout on the Bass Pro Tour. He has a well-deserved reputation for catching big bass in competition, and he credits big baits for a lot of that success.
"In the summer, the baitfish and other forage that hatched a few months earlier have grown up some, bass metabolisms are high and feeding periods last longer," Faircloth says. "This is the time when big bass prefer one big meal over several small ones."
And this is when Faircloth turns to a big jig. While the jig has always gotten accolades as a big-fish bait, he takes it to another level by choosing a 1- to 1 1/4-ounce Strike King Hack Attack Jig (green pumpkin or black/blue) with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer (green pumpkin). Why so big? Two reasons.
"A big jig is more likely to get the big bite I want," says Faircloth, "and a heavy jig falls faster than a lighter jig. I’m trying to trigger a reaction strike. The bass has to eat it as it falls or get out of the way."
For his "go big" strategy, the Texas pro chooses lakes or rivers with grass and targets the outside (deep) edge of matted vegetation. Fishing vegetation can be confusing—Where do I start? What makes one mat better than another?—so Faircloth recommends imagining what the lake would look like without it.
Where would you fish then? What contour or structure would be most attractive? Find the vegetation in those spots that would be attractive without the cover and start there.
"I make short pitches to the outside perimeter of the grass, let the bait go the bottom, bounce it once or twice and reel it in," he says. "Ninety percent of my bites come on that initial fall, so I want to maximize the number of presentations I make."
Faircloth fishes the big jig on 50-pound Sunline Siglon PEx8 braid, a fast (7:1 or higher gear ratio) casting reel and a 7 1/2-foot Denali Lithium Series Flippin’ Rod. It’s a stout combo, but it comes in handy when he needs to wrestle a good fish from the greenery.
"This can be a tedious way to fish," Faircloth admits. "It’s hot and unpleasant, but if you stick with it, you can load the boat in half an hour in the right area. The key is to keep the right mindset."
Want credentials? Meet James C. Liao, Ph.D., a biomechanics and sensory neuroscience professor at the University of Florida. He got his doctorate from Harvard, and when he’s not studying fish in his lab, he’s applying what he’s learned on the water. One of those things is triggering a predatory response from bass.
"I’m convinced that modern reels aren’t yet fast enough to trigger a predatory response based on speed alone," Liao says. "No matter how fast you crank, you can’t outrun a bass. However, you can trigger a response by deflecting a lure off cover or by ripping it out of vegetation.”
In summer, bass fishing can be all about vegetation. To catch fish, you either go into the weeds and pull them out or you tempt them out of the weeds. Liao’s preference is … both.
His weapon of choice is a 1/2-ounce Strike King Red Eye Shad in Sexy Shad (though he’s not convinced color matters). He fishes it on a 7-foot-long, heavy-action graphite rod with a high-speed baitcasting reel (7:1 or faster) spooled with 30-pound-test braided line. These tools are designed to get the bait into the weeds and rip it out with speed.
He targets vegetation near deep-water access areas like points and channels. Then he deliberately puts his lure in harm’s way, casting to the submerged weeds and grass.
"I like a lift-and-drop retrieve because it gives me multiple presentation opportunities on the same cast," Liao says. "After the bait settles, I raise my rod tip sharply. If the lure doesn’t snag, I let it drop on a semi-slack line and feel for the bite. If it does snag, I reel down and rip it free."
With Liao’s presentation, snags aren’t necessarily bad things. Tearing the bait free of the vegetation causes it to slingshot forward faster than could be achieved by simply reeling. That’s often enough to trigger a vicious strike.
"The strike may come after the bait starts to fall again, but it’s the burst of speed that triggers it," says Liao.
Check out the doctor’s YouTube channel—Fish Code Studios—for lots of practical fishing advice based on real science.
Go With the Flow
You don’t need a river or stream to have current. Bass Pro Tour star Greg Vinson grew up fishing big reservoirs in the South, and most of them had hydroelectric dams. When the power authority "pulled water" to generate electricity, Vinson realized that the bass perked up and became a lot easier to catch. Since then, fishing during periods of power generation has been his go-to summertime method.
"On these reservoirs, there’s often a good bite early and late, but you can almost always count on good fishing when they’re pulling water at the dam," Vinson says. "The current mixes the water, brings in oxygen and stirs up the bait. It’s a guaranteed feeding period."
Once he knows the dam schedule (generally available on the power authority’s website), Vinson focuses on areas where the current is maximized—usually near the main lake. Then he looks for shoreline cover that breaks up the current and creates eddies. These spots are where he will concentrate his efforts.
His favorite lure is a 1/2-ounce weedless jig in brown-and-green or black-and-blue with a NetBait Mini Kickin’ B in Green Pumpkin Candy or Okeechobee Craw. He likes the 1/2-ounce jig because it’s usually heavy enough to fall vertically, even in the flow.
He fishes the jig on a 7-foot-4-inch, heavy-action casting rod with a parabolic bend, and 25-pound-test Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon line spooled onto a high-speed baitcasting reel (at least 7:1).
"I pitch the jig to cover that breaks up the current, and I pay close attention to where my bites come from," he says. "Sometimes, the bass are in the eddies, and other times they’ll move slightly up-current of the cover. The key spots will change based on the strength of the flow, and that can change every hour or even more frequently.”