Have no fear when bass pull out of the shallows for the summer; they’ll still bite if you can find them and put a bait in front of them.
The premise “one-size-fits-all” rarely fits in the bass-fishing scene, and it most certainly isn’t the case for summer, offshore pursuits.
Sure, everyone has their favorite “wear them out” bait, but when bass spend the warmer months on those ledges, humps and other pieces of offshore structure, not a single lure will do all that you need from start to finish.
Sometimes, the bite slows, but you’re still marking fish, so a change is called for. The way bass pro Jeff Kriet sees things, changes require a strategy and a schedule.
Kriet divides his offshore baits into “fish-finders” and “big bite” baits. He’ll use the former to sweep through promising areas to locate schools, but once he does, he transitions from a quantity-oriented focus to something aimed at quality.
First up is a Carolina-rigged lizard with a 3/4- to 1-ounce weight that allows him to rumble across the target area and feel the hard spots, stumps and other irregularities that attract bass.
“With that big weight, I can reel it pretty fast, and that rig gets a lot of bites,” Kriet said. “From there, a football head (jig) also gets a lot of bites.”
When it comes to searching, Kriet finds that a Texas-rigged, 10-inch, ribbontail worm often puts a kicker in his livewell. The Carolina rig and football head can also add a day-making lunker.
With any of these, however, Kriet won’t let himself fall into the trap of burning too much time with slow presentations.
“I’m going with the law of averages,” Kriet said. “I know that in (offshore) tournaments, the biggest sacks I’ve weighed in are just about always on a big, moving bait. Typically, you’re going to catch a bigger fish on something you’re winding.”
Staying on point
Maintaining the right angle to cast to the targeted structure is crucial.
“There’s always a specific spot that holds 90 percent of the fish,” Kriet said. “It’s like a beehive; you have worker bees around the perimeter and then you have the actual hive. That’s where I want to be — where the biggest concentration of fish is.”
Bass pro Keith Combs knows this game, and it’s why he hinges his fortunes on modern bass fishing technology. Complementing the Humminbird electronics that lead him to the right offshore spots, his GPS-enabled Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor blends the smooth response of cable steering with the precision location technology of SpotLock.
“It’s precision. When I’m casting at something offshore, I’m throwing in the middle at a target, but I’m also referencing something on the bank,” Combs said. “Everybody knows you need to keep your school fired up, but there’s never been a tool like the Ultrex that helps us do that.
“When I’m casting, if I hook up, the first thing I do is hit SpotLock so I can concentrate on catching the fish, cull and then get up and make that exact-same cast without drifting off the spot. Besides side-imaging, this is probably the biggest thing that’s ever come along. This technology is effortless, and it allows you to focus on what you need to.”
The big guns
Once Kriet catches a couple of keepers in a row, he’ll resolutely switch to a big crankbait, swimbait, hair jig or big spoon. The objective is to send something large and lively into the fired-up fish.
“The reason I do it quickly is that I don’t want to catch 10 and then switch,” he said. “The bigger fish are typically going to be the first to bite in a school. When you get them fired up, if you keep throwing a football jig, a Carolina rig or a big worm in there, the 2-pounder is going to get it.”
Reloading with a larger, more-aggressive bait helps him weed out smaller fish and giving himself a better chance of hooking a hefty one. The element of surprise only lasts so long and then, time starts working against you.
“You want to catch the biggest fish in that school immediately, because every time you catch a bass off a school, you’re repositioning that school,” Kriet said.
The downside of repetitive casts to a spot is the fact that offshore anglers absolutely can move the fish. Summer typically finds bass schooled up, and their feeding competition often sends several fish following a hooked one to the boat. Eventually, the school can fragment, with half or more relocating.
“When you catch one fish and then another one and another one, it brings the school closer and closer; and before you know it, you’re looking at them under your boat,” said bass pro and offshore guru Randy Haynes.
When it happens, Haynes knows he could mark the spot, give it some distance and then fish it as he did the original spot. That’s hardly his preference, because a fragmented school becomes less competitive, so they’re not as likely to chase reaction baits. The more productive option, Haynes said, is to pick apart the relocated school with vertical presentations with a drop-shot or jigging spoon.
Changing the mood
Offshore rotation doesn’t only apply to bait selection; you also want to give your spots time to rest. A common mistake, Kriet said, is staying too long on a spot. A better strategy involves visiting a good area several times during the day.
“I won’t sit on a spot for a long time,” Kriet said. “Generally, if I sit there for an hour, there are good things happening.”
A good way to determine when it’s time for a break is to monitor the quality of your catches. If you notice the average size diminishing, you can bet they’re wise to your game. Being stubborn and sticking it out only drives down productivity. But by giving the fish a couple of hours to tighten back, they will resume that aggressive competition.
“If you can leave and come back, you can do that all day. You’ll catch a couple big ones, run around and hit a couple more spots, come back 30 to 40 minutes later and guess what? There’s another big one, right where you caught one earlier.”
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of giving the fish something original.
Jordan Lee, a two-time Bassmaster Classic champion, likes Strike King’s Bull Worm as an alternative to the standard ribbontail, but he’ll occasionally vary his presentations by rigging the big bait on a hefty shaky head. For 15 to 25 feet of water, or in a stiff wind, he uses a 3/4-ounce head, while a 1/2-ounce will do in shallower spots.
Lee said he uses this presentation when he thinks the fish have seen too many Texas-rigged worms dragging prone across the bottom. He’s all about getting some elevation in that tail and making fish take notice.
Kevin VanDam, another also likes the shaky head option, but when he wants to jazz up the Bull Worm presentation, he’ll rig it on a Strike King Structure Head and let the articulated design earn its place in the offshore bait rotation.