Terry Bates cast his crankbait across a submerged ledge a few feet off a sandbar and cranked it down. A Delta river bass smashed his offering, and then exploded through the water’s surface like a missile.

Bates held on as the bass thrashed and wallowed around, fighting all the way to the boat. The angler quickly slipped the fish into the livewell and cast to the spot again. 

Another lunker struck and the fight was on again.

The angler had located a honey hole, and put five lunker bass into the livewell — and another successful tournament win was in hand.

Bates, who otherwise practices strict catch and release, often catches Mississippi River Delta bass averaging 4 to 5 pounds, and that’s what it usually takes to win events up and down the river.

It’s not surprising that Bates is not just an avid fisherman — he’s also a fisheries biologist, and that helps him understand subtle nuances that many anglers overlook.

Being in tune with the water and environment helps him be successful on a consistent basis. Bates draws from a lifetime of success on the water and in the classroom when searching for the next bass, the next limit and his next win. 

While many people think hot July weather means deep cranking, that’s not necessarily reality, unless you have current in the river. 

“The water will stratify during July and August once it gets hot,” said Bates. “It will stratify unless you have plenty of current like up at Pickwick. Now Pickwick is a totally different lake than most of our other waters because it has current. You can catch them deep during the summer when the current is really flowing, but not in most waters.” 

Sardis, Grenada, Enid and Barnett Reservoir, as well as any of your fish ponds, will stratify during the hot weather months so the bass will move relatively shallow and that’s where Bates searches for and finds bass. 

“After the spawn the fish move into really deep water in the river to rest and recover,” Bates said. “They may be 15 to 30 feet deep, but they will bite if you can get a bait down to them.” 

That’s not the case once July rolls around and the water stratifies. 

“We … can catch them 20 feet deep in June, but in July they move shallower due to the oxygen content,” Bates said.

Cranking up the action

Bates love to throw crankbaits in the summer.

“In July I’ll throw a KVD 6XD and a Bomber Fat Free Shad,” Bates said. “They run about 10 to 15 feet deep and I’ll throw 12- to 14-pound Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon line. It’s so much better than mono and there’s so much less stretch and you can feel much better too.”

Bates uses a 7-foot, 11-inch ABU Garcia Veracity rod, which allows him to get the lure out as far as he can so he can get the depth he wants and reel it back in with a ABU Garcia Winch reel. 

“I really like the ABU Garcia Winch, because it’s a fantastic crankbait reel and has really larger handles,” said Bates. “It feels so much better and is easier to crank. Garcia has gone to really big handles on a lot of their reels and it’s been a real positive change.

“I can take that Garcia Winch reel and spend the day cranking and it won’t wear me down like the really fast reels will.” 

Tube magic

Bates doesn’t always crank, switching occasionally to a magnum tube when fishing old river lakes or oxbows during July. 

“I like to fish large worms during the hot weather months,” he said. “But a magnum tube will out fish a jig almost every day during July and August. If you find bass suspended around trees or tops they’ll hit that lure when it glides down.” 

If the bass bite is tough and nothing’s happening with the crankbaits, and he needs some quality fish, Bates might just pick up his flipping and pitching combo and start tubing the hot water. 

“Sometimes bass will suspend in treetops, or beside lay down trees, stumps or logs, and that’s when you can really kill the big ones on the magnum tubes” Bates said. “I’ll peg the tube and pitch it out there and let it fall or glide down about 5 or 6 feet, or about halfway to the bottom if it’s shallow, and watch my line. If it twitches, stops falling or starts going sideways I’ll set the hook because a bass will usually have it in their mouth and there’s no use waiting to see if they have it.” 

Bates is a master with magnum tubes, carving apart wood cover while systematically probing each piece of brush like a skilled surgeon.

It can be monotonous,  but when he Bates snaps that rod back he means business.

Editor’s note: For more information on fishing the Mississippi River and local oxbows or to book a guided fishing trip, contact Terry Bates at 662-390-3886.