So on our list of summertime favorites, we find cookouts, lemonade and offshore bass fishing.
Check, check and, well, sometimes check.
No doubt, plenty of bass head to the deepest, coolest water they can find during the dog days, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule that says they all vacate the shallows.
Fact is, opportunities abound for those willing to work the bank and its various habitat features when bathwater surrounds the boat. Granted, bass won’t spend a lot of time sitting in skinny, open water while clear conditions allow for direct solar assault. Nevertheless, given the right environment, plenty of quality fish will forego deep water in favor of the bank.
Using Ross Barnett Reservoir as an example, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Pete Ponds notes that summertime often offers great opportunities to catch schooling fish over stumps as shallow as 3-4 feet of water.
“Those fish school over stump beds and it’s really easy to catch them,” Ponds said. “The stump fields I target are the ones closest to the nearest drop-off in, say 6-7 feet.”
Other productive summertime habitat:
Freshwater Mussels: “Shell beds are other things that I concentrate on in 4-6 feet of water. You also want to look for bream beds in shallow water. They spawn more than once and that’s a big attraction for bass.”
Docks: Here, Ponds expects to find “residential dock fish” taking advantage of the shade and structural protection year-round.
“If bass have the choice between sun and shade, they’ll choose the shade and that’s because of the heat,” Ponds said. “They’re just like us – they’re looking for the most comfortable area. If we’re on a big old farm and there’s one tree in the middle of the pasture, the cows are under it because it’s a little bit cooler.”
Storm drains: A concentration of bubbling outflow provides an oxygen boost for the shallows, cools the water and facilitates feeding by delivering insects and other food sources for bass.
Wood and Vegetation: Dennis Tietje, also an Elite Series pro lumps together cypress trees, logs, grass beds and lily pads here. In each case, he’ll expect his bites to come from the shaded side.
Ponds notes a common thread in about all shallow summer scenarios: “With all these patterns, you have deep water somewhere close by, but it’s not necessarily where the fish hold. Fish like to move up shallow and feed.”
In addition to actual habitat features, FLW pro Phil Marks points out the benefit of targeting banks with plenty of air flow during summer months.
“The key deal is finding cover that provides shade, but windward stuff is always better,” he said. “The wind oxygenates and cools the shallow water. It also provides cover by breaking up the surface.”
Ponds points out that one of the more obvious reasons that some bass stay shallow through the summer is the abundance of food sources. When bream bed near shallow vegetation, they usually do so in large groups, so bass find many servings of a dietary staple occupied, distracted and highly vulnerable.
Similarly, shell beds tend to gather shad and other baitfish that feed off the plankton and algae that these hard spots accumulate.
Sometimes oxygen content can be lower out deep, but better in the shallows. Good water movement, of course, is essential here, as still, stagnant spots won’t “breathe” as well.
Tietje makes this observation: “There are lots of benefits when you’re targeting shallow cover in the summer, but one of the biggest advantages is that it helps you develop a pattern faster than in the cooler months, when the fish are more active.”
Other pluses: Unlike the spawning season, you’ll have far less traffic in the shallow areas, so you’ll typically experience greater ability to pick your spots and fish as you wish. And given the proximity to shore, you’re unlikely to get caught in a nasty summer storm.
Ponds’ top choices
Fooball Head: Using a ¾-ounce Talon Football head jig with a Bruiser Baits Crazy Craw, Ponds goes with natural colors in clear water and switches to something brighter and eye-catching for stained conditions.
“I like that bait because I can cast it out and reel it slowly and feel the bottom contour,” Ponds said. “Most of the time, what I’m trying to feel is shell beds. When you’re dragging it through there, you’re feeling a bump, bumb, bump and you can tell it’s hard bottom – most of the time, mussels or shells.”
Crankbait: Ponds likes the Bandit 200 (bream, parrot orange) for running over wood and stumps. If he sees shad schooling at the surface, he’ll throw a Bandit Shallow Flat Max (shad color).
“Usually, I retrieve the bait with a fast, very aggressive, start-and-stop action,” he said.
Topwaters: A Zara Spook or something that mimics a bream profile is his first choice, but Ponds also knows the value of a noisy Pop-R (with a feathered rear hook for more attraction).
“In the shallow pockets, you’re looking for movement, and listening for the sounds of bluegill sucking bugs off the surface,” Ponds said of his method for dialing in good topwater potential. “I think the splashing popper gets more strikes, but they’re not necessarily the big fish. I believe that a popper can draw in fish because bass are curious and they come to look for (the source of the sound).”
Creature Bait: Favoring the Strike King Rage Bug, he’ll Texas-rig the soft plastic with the lightest weight he can get away with.
“I’ll use a 3/16- to 1/8-ounce weight,” Tietje said. “If I’m shallow fishing a ¼ ounce is heavy for me. But if you’re fishing matted grass, you may have to move up to a 1 ½-ounce, even if it’s only 2 feet deep.
For more open areas, Tietje said the slower the fall, the better in the summertime.
“The fish are lethargic and a slower bait gives the fish more opportunity to get the bait,” he explains. “When you’re dealing with a short strike zone, the more you can keep your bait in that strike zone, the more opportunity you’ll have.
“Also, in the summertime I tend to swim the bait more than fish it on the bottom, so the light weight helps me keep it off the bottom.”
With any weight size, Tietje always adds a glass bead between his weight and bait. The noisemaker is especially helpful in stained to muddy water.
Spinnerbait: You might think, bigger is better for waking up summer bass, but it’s just the opposite for Tietje. He likes a ¼-ounce spinnerbait, a lure he said can be very good for early mornings and late afternoons.
“You can cover a lot of water with this bait,” Tietje said. “You’re targeting the same areas as you would with a creature bait, it’s just a different presentation. You’re imitating different forage – shad, vs. a creature bait imitating crawfish.”
Topwater: Foregoing the more common floating baits, Tietje prefers churning up the shallow with a buzzbait. The key, he said, is making this a contact sport.
“I like to be able to touch the object with the bait,” Tietje said. “It’s important to actually let the blade contact the object. It just makes the bait do something different and that triggers the bite. It’s the same with grass – if you can hit the grass, it makes the bait do something different.
“It’s just like a crankbait; the start-and-stop is what triggers a strike. If you can change the rhythm, you can trigger a strike.”