As a longtime reporter of fishing on Barnett Reservoir, and other Mississippi waters for that matter, I am often asked how to catch fish in the summer.
Seems that when the temperatures hit 90, as they have this week with forecasts calling for the mid to upper 90s next week as summer officially arrives, fishermen struggle to find fish.
Personally, I struggle more with the heat and just give up too quick. OK, so call me a “wuss” if you must, but I’m just one of the vast majority. Go look in the mirror, and there’s a darn good chance you’ll see another one.
Just as much as most of us hate the temperatures, there are a few others who relish it. One of those is bass angler Shannon Denson, who, other that sweating, shows no affects of the heat.
This story, from the past, is the best answer I can give to how to catch summer bass.
It was hot, miserably hot, and about as humid as humid can be, that day a few years ago on Barnett Reservoir.
At 9 a.m., with sweat beads already rolling down his face, Denson was smiling like a kid with a $1,000 gift certificate and free rein in Toys-R-Us.
“You don’t know how much I’ve been waiting for this,” said Denson, of Fannin. “It’s summer ... finally. Now we can have some fun.”
The forecast called for temperatures in the low 90s, and bright sunshine. Barnett Reservoir was just as hot, with the surface temperatures reading 90.1 degrees on Denson’s gauge.
Too hot? No way.
The fishing, as Denson would prove, was even hotter.
By the end of our 8-hour day in the sweltering, knee-buckling heat, we had hooked, reeled in and released over 50 bass.
“See what I told you,” Denson said. “I promised you a good time.”
Denson is well known as an open water bass specialist on Barnett. While he catches fish other ways, too, like pitching around grass in the spring, he is a master on the open water when summer heat pushes big fish deep.
That Denson, a third generation Barnett angler, is so proficient at this art is no accident.
It is a result of his hard work and determination, of thousands of hours of studying maps and old photographs of Barnett Reservoir before it was impounded, and years of reading the bottom of the lake with his depthfinder.
“You are not just going to come out here and start catching limits of good fish,” Denson said. “Not without paying some dues. You can come out here and if you’re lucky find some schools of bass feeding on top during the summer. You can’t miss them.”
But, then, neither can anyone else.
“Everybody else is seeing them, too, and those fish are going to get hit hard and eventually quit biting,” Denson said. “You better have some other places to fish that not everybody knows about.”
Deep fish, holding on deep cover, are dependable during the hot summer months.
Fishing old roadbeds, blown-out bridges, sandbars on the old river channel and even old parking lots can produce fish throughout the summer.
That’s where knowledge of what the lake bottom looked like before it became Barnett Reservoir pays off, and why Denson spends a lot of time researching old maps and photos.
“Once they get on that cover, they stay there throughout the summer,” Denson said. “They form large schools, too, so if you catch one in a spot, you should be able to catch a bunch.”
At one point, Denson pulled to a stop in open water a mile from the nearest bank or visible cover. The depth finder read 26 feet.
He jumped on the front casting deck and chunked a Norman DD22 crankbait about 40 yards. Denson cranked hard and fast until he felt the lure strike the bottom, which he later said was the top of an old roadbed in 16 feet of water.
As he paused, the rod tip jerked violently and Denson squealed like that kid in the toy store: “Fish on!”
Ten casts and 10 more bass later, the last five on a Carolina-rigged 11-inch worm, and all over 3 pounds, Denson was worn out.
He cranked up the outboard and headed for the ramp. The wind felt great ... like air conditioning. Denson was still smiling, and I swear I could hear him giggle from time to time.
Now, again, it’s summertime, and Barnett and Denson are on fire.
Study the maps, grab some deep divers and put an 11-inch worm on a Carolina-rig and get after them. Just turn the air conditioner on from time to time, drink plenty of water and persist.
Maybe you’ll be able to giggle, too, as you return to the ramp.