Gerald Almy: Three tactics for summer bass
Easing up to the thin-water flat on central Virginia’s Lake Anna, we arched out casts with our topwater lures and began slow, rhythmic retrieves. My partner drew action first with a boiling strike. Then two casts later my lure was inhaled by a scrappy, actively-feeding bass. Before the flurry of action was over, we’d landed five chunky largemouths and missed several others.
But while the topwater bite ended abruptly when the sun reached the cove, we knew the day was still young. Even though the bass had vacated the shallows, by adapting our tactics to the changing patterns and movement of the bass, we felt confident we could enjoy good results for the rest of the hot, muggy summer day.
And we did. More than 20 bass came to the boat before we headed back to the dock – tired, hot, but richly rewarded for our efforts. Here are three tactics to turn to for largemouths during the sometimes difficult “dog days” of summer.
Use a soft rat or frog lure
These lures not only have the appeal of a topwater lure, they also have a soft, realistic feel and crumple into a fish’s mouth when it nails the offering. Bass are always on the lookout for a mouse or frog that happens to accidentally tumble or hop into the water. They know such a meal will quickly help meet their calorie needs for the day.
The weedless configuration of these lures also allows you to work them in thick cover where other offerings would get hung up. And that’s where quite a few fish reside during the dog days of summer. Sure, lots of bass go deep in hot weather. But others simply hang out under thick cover of milfoil, hydrilla, or lily pads and near brush piles and log jams.
Work a frog lure over them by twitching it back or offer a rat or mouse imitation by steadily V-waking it across the surface. Explosive strikes are almost guaranteed if a fish is at home where you targeted your cast.
Delay your strike a second or so after you see a fish nail the lure. Then drive the hook home. If you miss the bass, let the lure sit motionless, and then twitch it again. Often the fish will come back for a second try.
Probe deep structure with worms
During the summer, some of the biggest bass in lakes move far offshore and establish their living quarters on deep structure. To cash in on this bounty, look for structure such as humps, submerged islands, points that taper into deep water, washed-out holes, brush piles and river channel drop-offs, particularly at bends. Use a topo map and sonar to locate this cover and mark it with buoys.
Try 4- to 7-inch plastic worms rigged Texas style with a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce slip sinker on the line and a 2/0 to 4/0 hook. You can also try a Carolina rig. This method calls for a sliding sinker 3 to 5 feet in front of a barrel swivel so the lure (preferably a floating worm) runs behind the commotion of the weight and up just off the bottom.
Use a lift-and-crawl retrieve, or if that doesn’t work, a slow steady reeling motion. If you make contact with brush or other structure, jiggle the worm up and down in the cover. That often triggers a strike from reluctant fish that are following the offering but not fully convinced they want to eat it.
Watch for surface schooling fish
It doesn’t happen every day, but when you come upon a pack of bass feeding in a frenzy on baitfish they’ve corralled against the surface, some hectic sport lies in store. Be alert for splashing and surface commotion as well as swooping seagulls. Look for white spray or water that looks choppy or churned up.
Use binoculars periodically to see if you can locate any schools breaking in the distance. Also listen for the popping, churning sound surface feeding bass make. It may be a dozen fish or it may be 50.
Get to the action fast. Cast from a good distance away and run the lure at shallow to moderate depths. Lipless crankbaits are fine choices. They look just like a shad, sink about one foot per second and work well from the surface down to 10 or 15 feet. Blade lures are another good choice. They cast even further and sink quickly. Tailspinners are also good, as are surface chuggers and soft plastic jerkbaits.
For ease of unhookinig fish, I sometimes opt for a ¼ or 3/8-ounce bucktail jig, usually in white or chartreuse, with a soft plastic twister tail. With these lures you can quickly land fish and get back in action before the short-lived surface feeding frenzy ends.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.