Summer Schooling: Join the Feeding Frenzy

Few summer fishing experiences in the Midwest can match targeting predators herding baitfish. Use these techniques to get in on the action.

Summer Schooling: Join the Feeding Frenzy

Jeff Little took time off from kayak fishing to cash in on some hot action with schooling hybrid stripers. (Photo by Mike Pehanich)

It's summertime, and the food chain throughout the Upper Midwest is in glorious bloom. Nature hosts her own version of a fireworks display when white bass, stripers, largemouths and smallmouths round up baitfish and force them to the surface. The whitewater celebration that follows topside can leave lasting memories.

My favorite such moment, by far, occurred on Illinois' Lake Shelbyville decades ago when a mixed gathering of predators, led by a population of zealous white bass, began herding shad across the lower portion of the reservoir. On consecutive mornings, white bass, along with opportunistic largemouths, kept the lake's surface frothy as they repeatedly forced thick schools of small shad to the surface for a mad feast.

Midwest June Fishing
Balls of shad make great targets and bountiful meals for hungry bass, stripers, hybrids and other predators during summer herding sprees. (Photo by Mike Pehanich)

Mesmerized by the scene, I turned my trolling motor on high and aimed my bow toward the action in desperate hope of cashing in on the frenzy with one of my topwater lures. I caught impressive white bass—up to a hefty two pounds—on the white Heddon Tiny Torpedo I heaved toward the mayhem, plus several good largemouths on curlytail jigs worked below the commotion.

SHAD FRENZY

Finding fish is never a problem when bass and other hungry predators churn a lake's surface.


"Baitfish can't keep a secret," says Bill Dance, legendary bass angler and host of Bill Dance Outdoors. "To catch bass consistently, you must figure out those secrets. Bass spend much of their lives looking for food, and shad and other minnows of this type spend most of their time away from the shoreline. But the lion's share of the schooling and feeding activity takes place beneath the surface. The action we see at the surface is just a small percentage of that summer feeding activity."


Dance looks for thick balls of baitfish on his sonar screen as he simultaneously scans the surface for schooling action.

"Shad and other baitfish bunch into schools as a means of survival," he says. "By joining tightly together, they create what looks like a very big fish."

Midwest June Fishing
Angling legend Bill Dance suggests casting to the edges of the baitfish schools as predator species look for vulnerable baitfish separated from the pack. (Photo courtesy of Bill Dance)

Still, surface feeding invariably provides the most exhilarating action. Large schools of oily baitfish, like shad, frequently leave an oily trail, or "shad slick" as some anglers refer to it, in their wake. Often bass position themselves downwind from the baitfish to track these slicks and more easily follow the schools.

“It's better to cast into the wind when you've found fish schooling," Dance says."“You don't want to pull through the school of baitfish."


When he is within casting distance of a feeding school, Dance aims his casts to the outside edges of the baitfish mass.

“Bass will attack individual prey rather than crash through a school of baitfish," he says."“They choose to attack isolated or disabled or different looking baitfish. An isolated baitfish that is injured stands out even more."

Midwest June Fishing
Walk-the-dog lures replicate injured baitfish, which no self-respecting largemouth can pass up. (Photo by Mike Pehanich)

Schooling activity is no time to anguish over which lure in the tackle box best mimics the forage.


“I've never been a big believer in ‘matching the hatch' with a perfect 2 ½-inch shad-color lure," Dance says."“I want a lure that's bigger or smaller or a different color. Or I'll throw the lure away from the school or work it in a way that makes it stand out."

In the upper Midwest, lakes with a healthy forage base of shad provide the most dramatic schooling action. In these northern climes, prolific gizzard shad generally set the table, though threadfin occupy some power plant lakes and reservoirs seeded seasonally with this smaller shad species.

Although balls of shad seem to send bass and other predators into the wildest frenzy, perch, bluegill and other sunfish, as well as other minnow species, also draw schooling action. Often, extended schooling activity indicates a strong hatch of the target forage that season.

Midwest June Fishing
Tab Walker, guide and owner of the Outdoor Sportsman's Lodge on Illinois' Newton Lake, caught big largemouth bass herding shad on this Boing walking lure. (Photo by Mike Pehanich)

CATCH ‘EM TOP TO BOTTOM

Schooling activity can occur throughout the summer, and the wise angler does well to have multiple rods ready for such action—especially on waters with a reputation for heated surface activity.

I've scored with surface lures ranging from Heddon Tiny Torpedos and Rebel Pop-Rs to buzzbaits and a wide array of walking baits. While topwater lures seem the obvious and most exciting option for frantic schooling action, they aren't always the most effective choice. Often, the biggest white bass, stripers, largemouths and smallmouths keep low during the surface frenzy to feast on the wounded prey of the attacking schools above them.

Midwest June Fishing
Swimbaits, swim jigs and fluke-style baits as prime tools for schooling predators. (Photo by Mike Pehanich)

Fluke-style baits on weighted and unweighted hooks mimic the slow descent of a stunned or crippled baitfish. Swimbaits like the Strike King Rage Shad or Berkley Power Swimmer serve similarly. If state laws permit, try running swimbaits in aggregate on an umbrella rig.

A lipless crankbait is always a sound choice, too. Jigging spoons like the C.C. Spoon from Cotton Cordell, or blade baits like the SteelShad play a similar role. Their weight provides the advantage of added casting distance and quick descent.

Put summer schooling on the to-do list for increasing your angling education this summer, and be ready for some of the season's hottest action.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Berkley

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

Minn Kota Riptide Terrova Saltwater Trolling Motor

Minn Kota Riptide Terrova Saltwater Trolling Motor

Minn Kota's Brad Henry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that there's much to like in the new Minn Kota Riptide Terrova saltwater trolling motor that comes with I-Pilot and an 87-inch shaft.

Humminbird Mega 360 Imaging Sonar

Humminbird Mega 360 Imaging Sonar

As KVD tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead, innovative Humminbird products and cutting-edge technology like that found in the new Mega 360 Imaging sonar are major reasons contributing to his unparalleled success.

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance's Lucas Steward shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead what all of the fuss is about in the brand new Ghost trolling motor being brought to market by the Tulsa, Okla.-based fishing equipment manufacturer.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes. Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

Here are the 10 most common spinning and baitcaster reel performance problems and how to fix them. Fishing How-To

10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper

Here are the 10 most common spinning and baitcaster reel performance problems and how to fix...

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time. Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths. Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

See More Trending Articles

More Playbook

Think you need a fancy boat to get after Oklahoma bass? Think again. Here's how and where to get after them with a kayak. Playbook

Kayak for Bass: How to Get Your Feet Wet

Kelly Bostian

Think you need a fancy boat to get after Oklahoma bass? Think again. Here's how and where to...

Summer is fast approaching and the fish—from trout and bass to panfish and salmon—are biting. Here's a look at some of the West's hottest bites in the months to come. Playbook

West's Hottest Summer Fishing Destinations

Scott Haugen

Summer is fast approaching and the fish—from trout and bass to panfish and salmon—are biting....

Few summer fishing experiences in the Midwest can match targeting predators herding baitfish. Use these techniques to get in on the action. Playbook

Summer Schooling: Join the Feeding Frenzy

Mike Pehanich - June 16, 2020

Few summer fishing experiences in the Midwest can match targeting predators herding baitfish....

Armed with little more than a fishing rod, wire hooks, bobbers and minnows for bait, Hoosier anglers enjoy crappie fishing north to south. Playbook

Indiana Crappie Fishing Guide

Don Gasaway

Armed with little more than a fishing rod, wire hooks, bobbers and minnows for bait, Hoosier...

See More Playbook

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now