Bass seek refuge from the heat just like anglers do — but that doesn’t mean they all head deep. Learn how focusing shallow could be the ticket for plenty of fish this summer.
Nature is dynamic, and like a well-composed symphony, its performance comprises multiple complementary elements that rise and fall at the conductor’s direction.
With summer bass fishing, there is a time for the fish to be directed offshore, but that movement doesn’t always hold a steady note ’til fall’s arrival.
After the spawn, skinny, stressed-out females will slip into deeper, cooler water to continue their recovery and to begin feeding more regularly. Once the males conclude their fry-guarding duties, they’ll join the mamas for some deep-water R&R, with “deep” being a relevant term, depending on where you’re fishing.
Regardless, there comes a point during the summer dog days when those humps, contour lines and deep trees just won’t cut it. At the end of the day, a bass just wants to be comfortable and well fed — so expect them to go where they can fill this order.
“There’s just a point in the summer, it just gets so hot that there’s not a lot of oxygen out in that deeper water and these fish will get up there in the shallows,” said bass pro Jason Christie. “I’ve caught them in inches of water in the summertime. I think the waves from the boat traffic and the wind hitting the bank create a little more oxygen in the shallow water.”
Of course, this is attractive for bass, but baitfish also find the slightly cooler and more-oxygenated water appealing. What’s the old-school rule of bass fishing? Find the food, find the fish.
Made in the shade
Now, ask yourself if you’d sooner patronize a hot dog cart out in the open under direct sunlight, or one with a big umbrella that creates a cozy shaded area for customers. If you like the second option, you understand why trees, docks, overhanging brush and laydowns are such great summer targets.
There, the bass find lower water temperatures with feeding opportunities created by the very cover under which they’re lounging. If you need some perspective, follow Christie’s hands-on — make that feet-on — investigative strategy.
“I’ve gotten out of my boat and walked down the bank, knee-deep in water in the sunshine, and it’s like you’re standing in a hot bathtub,” he said. “And then you walk under the shade of a tree and it’s instantly cooler. I think that’s what those fish do; in the morning, when it’s low light they get the fresh oxygen from the previous night and during the day, they try to stay in the shade.
“I like to fish these spots when the shade is as minimal as possible. At 8 o’clock in the morning, that shade could be halfway across the pocket off one tree because of low sun angle. But you come back at 11 and the shade will be much more limited. That makes your strike zone more defined.”
Shallow summer bass will bite a mix of reaction baits and slower presentations, so fish the scenario. Early mornings, a buzzbait can be surprisingly effective, but once the sun gets up, put that away and switch to more target-specific techniques like flipping laydowns with jigs or Texas-rigged creature baits, skipping docks and punching matted vegetation.
Hands-down, one of the most-consistent and entertaining ways of catching summer bass is staking out bream beds and picking off opportunistic predators. As Christie noted, bass form small wolf packs, which linger in nearby shade or hold in adjacent deeper water, only to rush forward and gobble a plump panfish when their bellies start to rumble.
“I treat that bream bed like a ledge; I want to sit as far off of it as I can before they know I’m there,” Christie said. “Those bass may not be sitting directly over that bed, they may be cruising around it. I want my first cast to come right across that bream bed and then my third or fourth cast, I’m going to start fan casting to see if they’re off the beds.”
Topwaters are the favored presentation and, while walkers and prop baits catch plenty of bream bed bass, a popper — dressed with a feathered rear treble — is a good choice when the fish are either finicky and/or heavily pressured. Reason being, poppers can make a lot of commotion without leaving the bedding zone. Sharp downward rod snaps make an intrusive blooping sound, but the bait remains on target.
Similarly, this time of year, bass pro Ish Monroe puts a frog to good use, as it skips easily under cover and allows him to hold position and work an enticing display without making much forward progress. Walkers or poppers will work, but the latter proves more versatile, by offering an attention-getting splash.
Bass pro Russell Cecil knows there aren’t many wrong times to show a bass a bream imitation, and when he misses a topwater bite or if he only gets follows or boils, he’ll toss a Big Bite Baits Warmouth in the hot zone. But rather than the traditional Texas-rigging that brings the hook through the bait’s broad side, he rigs it elliptically (up and down) by bringing the hook through the narrow side.
Bass pro Mike Iaconelli employs a similar technique for when bluegill are near the beds, but swimming mid-water column. Using a VMC swimbait hook, either unweighted or 1/16-ounce for deeper water, he’ll rig a Berkley Devil’s Spear sideways. This allows him to swim the bait through the water column, only with a bluegill profile, not that of a shad-imitating swimbait. A steady retrieve with frequent pauses earns many of his bites on the fall.
And this is a great time of year to keep those chartreuse dye pens handy for touching up the tips of soft plastics. Mimicking a bream’s tail accents may be just the thing to turn a looker into a biter.
On the point of bait coloring, bass pro Wesley Strader knows the value of adding such highlights, but he won’t hesitate to go heavy when the situation calls for it. If he’s using a pearl/white trailer for a spinnerbait or bladed jig, intense sunlight might make the bait too harsh. In such cases, he’ll use a chartreuse marker to basically paint the entire sides and tail of his bait with an overlay that tones down the white and adds a more tolerable color.
Elsewhere, bass pro Troy Broussard often swims a Texas-rigged Strike King Rage Craw across hydrilla and targets holes and lanes where bass hiding in the shady cover can spot passing meals. The flappers kick when pulled forward, but killing the bait and letting it flutter to the bottom can be a highly convincing move.
One of the most versatile baits you can keep on your deck is an unweighted worm, either a stick worm or a magnum finesse worm. Use a Yamamoto Senko, a YUM Dinger or a Strike King Ocho as a primary bait for skipping into shade pockets, a deal-closing follow up bait for missed topwater strikes or a quick-fire option for pinpointing a boil, bust or sporadic schooling activity.
Lastly, you’ll cut yourself short if you don’t have a dropshot on your deck. Designed to hold a bait vulnerably in the water column, this rig is one of your best bets for coaxing tough bites. Alternate your bait size, shape and colors to dial in the fish’s preference.