July 06, 2021
Once the calendar displays pages for June and July, the bountiful bites of spring have faded in the rearview mirror. Surface water has been warmed by the sun’s relentless heat for several consecutive months, and now even a cool evening has a hard time pulling water temperatures back into the comfort zones for many of our favorite fish.
The typical response of bait, fish and anglers alike is to shift toward deeper, cooler waters, and the shallows can seem deserted and devoid of quality fishing opportunities.
Happily, this is simply a mirage. Dedicated shallow-water anglers can enjoy exceptional fishing for a wide range of species, even in the summer’s heat. Slather on sunscreen and stay shallow to tap into these bites around the country.
Big largemouths are some of the most reliable, and easy to predict, targets for shallow-water anglers during the heat of the summer. The key to locating bass is overhead cover, which may be in the form of extensive lily pad fields, matted grass or milfoil beds, or even boat docks on lakes and reservoirs with limited shallow vegetation.
This cover provides shelter from the sun’s heat and bright light for both predators and prey. Young-of-the-year panfish and other baitfish congregate in these areas in vast numbers, and largemouth bass set up shop for the summer to feast on the bounty.
Perhaps the most entertaining way to target shallow summer bass in heavy cover is with hollow-bodied topwater lures. Make long casts to get the bait far away from the boat, as shallow bass can be skittish. A smooth yet heavy braided line, like 40- to 50-pound-test PowerPro SuperSlick V2, will provide the casting distance you need for stealth along with the strength required to haul bass—and the vegetation they’ll bury themselves in—back to the boat.
Chug that topwater right in the heart of the thick stuff, and fold in plenty of pauses to provoke nearby bass into attack mode. Pivot to a walk-the-dog retrieve once you reach the edge of the cover, exaggerating the side-to-side action with minimal movement toward the boat. When a bass blows up on the bait, remember to pause for a second or two before setting the hook to maximize your hooking percentage.
On many prime smallmouth waters, like the Great Lakes or Minnesota’s Mille Lacs, summer smallmouth activity focuses on deep reefs and rock piles as the bronze bombers gorge on gobies and crayfish. However, if drop-shotting or finesse swimbaits aren’t your cup of tea, shallow smallies are as close by as your favorite river.
The low levels and flows that characterize rivers in midsummer draw smallies into surprisingly skinny water—often knee-deep or less—as they forage in highly oxygenated, shallow current.
Smallmouth bass in flowing water move shallow to feed, and in general terms, they aren’t particularly selective when it comes to their next meal. In small rivers, where wading shoes are more important than boats for accessing fish, nearly every fallen tree that extends into the current will hold fish. Flip tubes on 1/8-ounce jigs to extract smallies from this woody cover.
Gravel flats on the inside of sweeping river bends are excellent places to tempt smallmouths with topwaters, spinnerbaits or lipless rattlebaits. If you locate a slightly deeper stretch, where deep means you might not be able to see the bottom, it’s hard to beat a lively leech dangling under a slip bobber.
Summer walleye fishing is often synonymous with deep water, where suspended fish are taken on spinner rigs dressed with nightcrawlers and bottom-oriented fish fall for Rapala Jigging Raps or bait pulled behind bottom-bouncers. Yet even in the heat of the summer, a sizable fraction of any given lake’s walleye population will be found in shallow water, especially in the weeds.
Wind is the key trigger for putting these weedy walleyes in a feeding mood. Make note of the prevailing wind direction, and fish weedlines that catch the full force of the wind and waves. You’re looking for a good stiff breeze to churn up the water and disorient the baitfish hiding in the weeds. As the weed stalks lay down in the wind and expose the bait living among them, walleye will be there to pounce.
A productive approach from a stationary position—something you can easily manage with a GPS anchor such as Minn Kota’s Spot Lock feature—is to snap-jig soft plastics along the edges of windswept weedbeds. A 4-inch white Zoom fluke rigged on a 1/4-ounce jig is a good place to start. Make a long cast that parallels the weed edge.
Once the bait makes contact with the bottom, snap it up sharply with your rod tip and then let it fall back to the bottom on a semi-slack line. Bites will occur as the bait falls or when it contacts the sediment; frequently, your next sharp snap will be driving the hook home.
You can also cover water by flatline trolling crankbaits to locate pods of feeding walleyes along extensive weedlines. Shallow Rapala Shad Raps and Scatter Minnows are terrific trolling options that few weedline walleyes can resist.
Spring and early summer present incredible shallow panfish opportunities, as these fish swarm to shorelines and nearby cover to spawn. Often, the bulk of the quality-sized panfish will methodically slide to the outside weedline and then suspend over nearby deep water as the heat of midsummer sets in. However, just as rivers host awesome warm-weather smallmouth bites, they are also excellent choices for chasing summer panfish in skinny water.
The key to locating summer river panfish is to locate current-swept weeds. Here, crappies, bluegills and perch will use the weeds as shelter from the current, while also relying on that moving water to deliver a steady stream of prey right to them.
I position my boat parallel to the weeds and cast 1 1/2- to 2-inch soft plastics on a 1/16-ounce jig quartering upstream, so that the jig lands right at the weed edge. As the current moves the jig along the edge, I impart a series of methodical lifts and drops while the bait swims gently downstream. Nothing could look more natural to a river panfish than a bait presented in this way, and the steady action often rivals even the best spring days.