Solutions for Stubborn Late-Summer Bass
Unfavorable conditions doesn't mean you need to put your pole away and save it for a sunny day – learn these tips and tricks for late-summer bass to increase your chances of a successful day on the water
In late summer, all avid bass anglers encounter tough fishing situations.
Sometimes it’s nasty weather. A storm front passes, and the fish suddenly get lockjaw.
Or perhaps water conditions are poor: too muddy, too clear, rising or falling too fast.
Often we must confront unfamiliar conditions on an unfamiliar body of water. Previously successful fishing patterns fail to produce, and we start wondering if we should give up and go home.
Uncle Julius, my bass-fishing mentor, was familiar with this scenario.
Some days, you can’t do anything wrong,” he told me decades ago when I was learning to bass fish. “No matter what lure you throw or where you throw it or when, you’ll catch a bass.
“More often than not, though, fishing conditions are less than perfect, and you may have to resort to some desperate measures before you find something that works.”
There is no magic formula to insure success every time we go fishing. Uncle Julius knew that. But he taught me that if we know how largemouths are likely to behave during unfavorable conditions, we can tip the odds in our favor and catch fish even when they seem stubborn and prone to lockjaw.
Let’s look at several difficult bass-fishing scenarios that could be encountered this time of year and some tactics we may have to try in order to hook up with persnickety bass.
Problem: Passing Front
A storm front has moved through, and bass-fishing success on the waters you’ve been fishing has dropped off—way off. Big bass, in particular, seem to be affected.
It may help to alter your fishing approach whenever the barometric pressure rises radically after a storm front. For example, you may want to ignore the dormant lunkers for at least a day or two and try chunking and winding for smaller bass, which usually will remain active to varying degrees. Single-blade spinnerbaits fished along the bottom have a deserved reputation for producing these post-front bass.
After a couple of days, look for thick cover along any sort of drop-off. Such areas are where big bass often go after a front.
Position your boat over the cover and fish with a tube bait, a drop-shot rig or a grub and jighead. Work the bait so slowly you can barely stand it. In fact, just let the lure settle on the bottom and leave it alone. If the bass are there, they’ll let you know when your impatience finally forces you to move the lure.
Problem: Clear Water
You finally have a chance to visit the hot new bass lake everyone’s talking about. Problem is, the water is as clear as gin. In fact, you’ve never fished water this clear. A lure is clearly visible 6 feet down.
This situation can be especially frustrating, but if you approach clear-water fishing in the proper fashion, you should be able to score consistently.
Fishing during limited light periods is the key to many anglers’ productivity on clear waters. When the sun is high, bass move to deep, shady areas to avoid bright light. But in early morning and late afternoon, light penetration is minimal, and bass move into forage-filled shallows to feed.
Cloudy days are good, too, but as often as not, night fishing will be the most productive alternative.
When practical, you also should use lines that are more difficult for bass to see. It may be best to switch to a smaller diameter line—8-pound-test mono instead of 12-pound-test, for instance. Or you may want to try super-clear line such as fluorocarbon.
It is also best to make long casts, staying well away from cover you are fishing, so you are not as likely to spook fish.
The types of bass enticements you use are another important consideration under clear-water conditions. Live baits such as crawfish and minnows may work best because there’s nothing phony for bass to observe. If you prefer artificials, though, stick to smaller versions and try working them with a fast retrieve. Don’t give bass time to inspect them.
Problem: High Wind
Gusty wind is rocking your boat from side to side. It’s tough to cast, and when you do hit what looks like a sweet spot, the bass aren’t biting.
The best way to deal with this problem is to, quite simply, get out of the wind.
Look for areas where wind has the least effect—the calmer end of the lake, the windless sides of coves and the lee sides of islands, for example. These calm areas not only provide relief from wind action against your body, rod and boat, they are also the refuge most bass are likely to seek.
Unfortunately, bass fishing doesn’t always fit itself neatly into logical equations. Bass may not be in those calm areas of the lake, and if not, you shouldn’t waste any time there. In this case, you may want to try drift-casting.
The idea is to let the wind blow you the length of the lake while you cast ahead of the boat. It’s similar to trolling, but your lure is ahead of you instead of behind you.
Cast your lure as far as you can straight ahead of your boat, let it sink until the line goes slack, then retrieve it very quickly.
After a few yards of retrieve, let the lure fall again, then retrieve, let it fall and so on until it is back to the boat. Then repeat the process.
Spinnerbaits are especially good for this technique because they don’t require much forward motion to give them action, and because they’re extremely enticing while dropping through the water. Most importantly, strikes on spinnerbaits are easy to detect, even when the wind cuts your sensitivity to near-zero.
Problem: Fast-Falling Water
It seems like someone has pulled the plug on the bass lake you are fishing. The water level is falling very fast.
Perhaps the agency that manages the lake has opened the floodgates of the dam, drawing the lake down for summer power generation. Or perhaps the rains have ended after an extended period and the water level is simply returning to normal. You’ve fished several shoreline areas that produced bass last week, but the fish have now vanished, and nothing seems to work.
Bass tend to leave shallow-water habitats when the lake level begins falling at a fast rate. They know the water is going to drop away from the banks, and their instinct tells them to get out in deeper water until everything settles down. Most will be suspended, holding tight to offshore cover such as flooded standing timber, bottom humps and channels, and the deep ends of points.
To catch these bass, most savvy anglers resort to using a slow approach with relatively small lures. Try down-sizing to smaller jigs, for example—from a 1-ounce model to a ½-ounce version, or from a ½-ounce to ¼.
Or use a 2-½-inch deep-diving crankbait instead of the 4-inch version you might normally fish. Fish each lure very slowly, working each bit of cover and structure as thoroughly as possible.
This is one of the toughest conditions a bass angler faces. And often, when the water is falling fast, you can’t get a largemouth to bite no matter what you tactic you try. The only alternative is to fish slowly, close to offshore cover and structure, using smaller lures. That’s your best bet for success.
Problem: No Visible Cover
You find yourself on a lake with no cover or structure in sight. No stumps or logs. No lily pads. No riprap, blowdowns or boat docks. This lake is just one big sheet of unbroken water with absolutely no visible cover.
If you have a sonar fish-finder unit, there’s nothing to worry about. Flip the fish-finder on and look for readings indicating flooded timber, stump fields or other cover that might concentrate fish.
A fish-finder also will help pinpoint shallow flats, channel drop-offs, humps, points, creek bends and other bottom structure where bass are likely to be found.
If you don’t have a sonar unit, there’s still no need to fret. Look for visual clues above the water that help you focus on good bass fishing spots.
Study the general contour of the shoreline. Is the bank straight and smooth? If so, there is probably little cover available for bass along that stretch of shore. If the shore has lots of irregular features, it means more cover is probably available.
If the shore is soft and muddy, you’ll probably have a hard time finding fish, but if it has a hard substrate of sand and/or gravel, it could be favorable.
Shore terrain often continues below the water. Ridges remain ridges or points underwater, flat shoreline usually stays flat, steep banks indicate drop-offs, and steep turns on a reservoir arm may mean you’ve located a submerged stream channel bend. Tune into these visual cues to help pinpoint bass.
Try these tips next time you confront a tough situation during summer. They won’t pay off every time, but they will pay off most of the time. And that means more bass fishing fun for you. Good luck!