When the heat of summer settles over Mississippi, the Bassmaster Elite pros who make a living by bass fishing will be taking a northern turn and fishing on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain in the state of New York and on Lake St. Clair in Michigan.
Unfortunately, Magnolia State bass fishermen who have to stay closer to home don’t have the luxury of picking over northern smallmouth to get their bass fishing fix.
During most of August, Elite pro Cliff Pace will be in the those Northern venues, but when he’s back home in Petal, Pace loves to keep his skills sharp and knows that August is not the best time to be chunkin’ and windin’ on a Mississippi waterway.
Yet, Pace knows there’s some decent bass fishing to be found in Dixie.
In order, Pace’s go-to venues for chasing largemouth bass in his home state are some Mississippi River oxbow lakes — namely Albemarle and Chotard north of Vicksburg, as well as Ross Barnett Reservoir and the Pascagoula River.
Oxbow lakes still connected to the Big Muddy are at the mercy of the river. When water levels in the river are high, it floods the oxbows, which can make the bass fishing tough. Pace stated the best scenario is after the river has fallen out of the oxbows and the water starts settles back down.
“Most bass anglers are prone to fish the banks and fish what they can see,” Pace said. “If the water is up, it’s a great time to flip the standing timber, but if those are not available, you can also do well by getting off the bank and fishing some of the submerged structure out in the lakes.”
Some of the old structure that takes the shape of old barges or other commercial structures that have wound up in the lake, brush piles and stake beds placed by crappie fishermen, and also the odd logjam that has washed off the bank out into the lake.
In lower water scenarios, Pace expects the water to clear up, which pushes bass deeper down into the structure. He said it makes them easier to target.
“It’s good when the fish are down in the structure, that’s where you want them to be,” he said. “That’s when you can get right over the top of them with a crankbait or a worm and work them out of the cover.
“You have to fish what the water level gives you. If it’s in the trees, then fish the trees, but if it’s off the bank, that isolated submerged structure out in the lake creates some sweet fishing spots.”
Pace’s go-to baits for oxbow lakes are any deep-diving, shad-imitating crankbait or a large Carolina-rigged worm in green pumpkin or black/blue combinations.
Just north of the state capital, Ross Barnett Reservoir was showcased to the world when the Bassmaster Elite Series made a stop there this year in April, and, thanks to storms, May.
Pace concentrates nearly all of his Rez efforts fishing the lily pads, which can be found all over the lake from Pelahatchie Bay to the very upper end of the Pearl River.
While he knows the pads will hold a lot of baitfish, finding bass can still be like finding a needle in a haystack. Pace said the key is finding the travel routes and ambush spots in the vegetation.
“Bass will relate to the points and the ditches and depressions in the pads,” Pace said. “It all may look the same from the surface, but the bottom will have depressions and that’s where the bass will be.”
For pulling big largemouth out of the pads at Barnett, Pace’s go-to bait is a frog, but he also likes to flip a small, compact, soft-plastic bait. He Texas-rigs the bait using a dense tungsten weight that will allow him to punch the bait through the pads. In areas where pads are sparse, he may go with a ½-ounce weight; thicker areas require upsizing to a 1½-ounce weight.
“The frog is my favorite in the pads because you can get some good bass to come up and just inhale it, but if they’re deep in the pads and hugging the bottom, then you have to go in there after them with a weighted soft plastic,” Pace said.
Though it’s his third choice for catching bass in August, Pace has a special fondness for the Pascagoula River, a tidal river on the east end of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He grew up fishing the Pascagoula River and said the primary key to bass fishing success in the river is a good tide.
“A falling tide is better than a rising tide,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most stable, predictable summer patterns when the water is right.”
Pace said the norm is for the tide to fall a foot to a foot and a half in the brackish water of the Pascagoula. He primarily targets the lower reaches from Moss Point to Gautier around the area of I-10.
To target largemouth bass in the river, Pace looks for the mouth of drains to find water pouring out of the duck ponds and low areas along the river. He will position his boat down current from the drain and throw buzzbaits, frogs and swim baits into the mouth of the drain and back to the hungry fish that position themselves outside the current flow.
“All of the bass here are largemouth bass but not all of the fish are largemouth bass,” he said. “On occasion you’ll bring in redfish or other saltwater and freshwater species that are on the same pattern.”
Pace said the most predictable time frame is in the afternoon on a falling tide. On cloudy days, he will throw a buzzbait or a frog into the drains but on cloudy days, he will use a swimbait or other soft plastic.
No stranger to summertime fishing in the south, Pace’s fellow Yamaha/Skeeter teammate on the Elite Series Marty Robinson is a big believer in fishing isolated cover and water inflows wherever he can find them.
Although rain is often hard to come by, afternoon thunderstorms may create surges of water coming into a lake. After a storm, Robinson will head back into a feeder creek to try to fool bass that are following baitfish to the run-off.
“They like the cooler water, which brings more oxygen, and so do baitfish,” he said. “I don’t get too uptight if I don’t mark baitfish in a feeder creek because there will always be bluegills or crawfish or something for bass to feed on.”
Robinson targets any cover in the run-off area, isolated stumps, brush piles or even a lone boat dock, as the bass will be drawn to the inflowing water, but still look for places to hide.
When fishing in incoming water flows, Robinson said targeting isolated cover is a big plus when the weather is hot. It’s like finding an oasis in the desert.
To Robinson isolation means anything that sticks out in an otherwise generic landscape. He’s also going to look for deeper water areas but that doesn’t always mean he’s going to fish deep.
“When I’m talking about an isolated piece of cover, that might be a lone brush pile where bass suspend in the top of it or it might be an old roadbed or rock pile,” Robinson said. “It might even be a lone dock or other man-made structure out by itself.”
To find these areas, he’s going to look back in a major tributary where there’s enough depth to make bass comfortable with an escape or fall back to during the middle of the day.
Robinson said he’s more likely to find the right combination of stained water and depth back in a creek off the main lake, and those are also the most likely places to find old roadbeds, isolated brush piles, and/or natural rock piles
“In this situation I’m going to rely on my electronics a lot more than I would in the back of the creek or chasing schooling bass on the surface out in the lake,” Robinson said. “If I can see something I like hanging on the edge of a channel, then it’s time to go deep and work on them.”