The calendar said June 1, but the cold northeast wind, chilly rain and leaden skies seemed more like a bad day on the opening weekend of the April Keeneland meet.
June finally arrived in Kentucky and water temperatures in lakes across the state inched their way up toward the high 70s.
“Black bass are in post spawn now,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “They should be completely done with spawning.”
After undergoing the rigors of reproduction, black bass move offshore. “As water temperature rises, they move out on the drops,” Ross said. “You can still catch big fish shallow, but you have a much better chance out deeper. You can also avoid the bank beating anglers.”
Creek channel drops, long points that extend out to the channel, drop offs at the end of flats and submerged humps all attract summer bass.
Some anglers attack these areas with heavy jigs, jigging spoons and deep running crankbaits, but a Carolina rig gives anglers more options and is easy to fish.
The constant rush of new lures and techniques in the bass fishing world dulled the luster of the Carolina rig a bit over the past few years, but it remains one of the best summer presentations you can throw for bass.
Use a medium-heavy power 7-foot long casting rod spooled with 17- to 20-pound test line. Onto this main line slide a ½- to 1-ounce egg or bullet sinker made of lead, brass or tungsten with ¾-ounce being a good all around choice.
Slide on two glass, plastic or metal beads to protect the knot and make clicking sounds that attract bass. Tie a barrel swivel to the main line. Make an 18- to 36-inch leader of 12-pound clear fluorocarbon or copolymer line. Tie one end of the leader to the bottom ring of the barrel swivel and another to a 3/0 wide gap worm hook.
A shorter leader works best for fishing shallower lakes, heavy cover or stained water. A longer leader is better for clear lakes, weed beds and deeper water.
A 5-inch Senko-style soft plastic lure makes a great choice to thread on the business end of a Carolina rig. A 7-inch straight-tailed worm commonly used on a Shakey head presentation is another great choice as is a 6-inch lizard. Four-inch creature baits or double-tailed skirted grubs work well in rocky areas.
Green pumpkin, junebug, watermelon candy, bold bluegill, plum glitter, motor oil and black and blue are good color choices for summer.
The Carolina rig gives an angler constant feedback from bottom, not only transmitting the bottom composition, but also keeping you on your toes and attentive. With little practice, you can quickly discern if the bottom is rock, mud, or laden with weeds.
The Carolina rig is an open water presentation and an angler can throw one a mile. Fish the Carolina rig where the bank beating anglers usually position their boats. If you are in a boat with someone who wants to fish the banks, cast the Carolina rig in the opposite direction. This often produces big summer bass.
Cast the rig across the deeper end of mud flats where they drop off into deep water, those with weeds hold more bass. Let the rig sink to the bottom, keep the rod tip at about 10 o’clock, slowly reel, and let the sinker bang bottom.
Some days, bass prefer an occasional pause in the retrieve, other days they like a steady presentation. Let the fish tell you.
The edge of the submerged river or creek channel, well off the bank, is another fantastic Carolina rig spot. Some anglers tie on a shallow running crankbait to the end of a Carolina rig for creek channel fishing, allowing them to fish smaller, minnow-shaped baits as deep as they like.
The Carolina rig also shines for fishing deep, submerged humps often found in the middle of the lake or major creek arm. The heavy Carolina rig keeps you in constant bottom contact on these difficult to fish structures. Humps make one of the best summer spots for smallmouth and spotted bass.
The natural presentation of this rig fools bass grown squeamish from fishing pressure. The soft plastic lure floats just above bottom, moves subtly and sinks slowly. It isn’t nose heavy like a Texas rig or Shakey head, the soft plastic lure is basically weightless, moving more like natural prey.
Anglers must employ a long, robust side sweeping hook set with the Carolina rig. Make sure to keep the rod tip down to keep a large bass from jumping and shaking their head. A bass that gets the heavy weight moving side to side can pop the hook loose.
Many anglers believe summer is the toughest fishing time. Fishing a Carolina rig in the heat will change their mind.
Editor’s Note: Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.