In the fading light, Justin Giles cast a shaky head worm toward a submerged shelf, and let the worm glide towards the bottom until it stopped — the start to a nighttime fishing trip that would get off to a …
A huge bass smashed the young angler’s worm on the fall, and then bore down towards the depths like it was shot out of a cannon. The fish buried down in a thick brush top.
“That bass just smashed it on the way down,” Giles said. “It never made it to the bottom, and when I realized it, I set the hook. He got down in the brush, but I wrestled him out and got him clear of danger.”
The bass tipped the scales at better than 7 pounds.
Over the next couple of hours, Giles and his fishing partner caught and released several bass in the 3- to 5-pound range, with a few 7- and 8-pounders to boot.
“I’d picked out two to three spots in deeper water on a ledge earlier in the afternoon and only caught one bass,” Giles said. “I finally figured out that the bass were moving out of the deep water just before dark and feeding along the dropoff. We came back to the same spot around 8:30, and they were really biting. They fed pretty good for the next couple hours after the sun went down.”
During the summer, Giles, an experienced angler from Clinton, spends a lot of late afternoons and nights catching and releasing bass on public and private waters.
“I found out that it’s a different world out there after the sun goes down,” Giles said. “The big bass move up along the ledges and feed on baitfish that swim over the edge, and that’s when it gets fun. It’s a whole lot cooler, and the bass bite so much better.”
Swimbaits were introduced back around the turn of this century and quickly became a staple for anglers looking to catch big bass shallow during the prespawn and spawn in the spring. That craze died down a while ago, but anglers have discovered that these lures work in the evening hours.
“I started experimenting with the solid-body swimbaits in deeper water and found out that the bass really love them,” Giles said. “I don’t think most of the lunker bass that are living in deep water have seen them much during the summer, and that’s a key to catching any lunker bass.
“I wanted to give them a look at something different, a bigger profile, so I tried them in a slightly different technique than what they were originally designed for.”
Giles rigs the swimbaits with a swimbait hook and slides its tip just under the skin on the lure’s back to make it weedless.
“I’ll position my boat in deeper water, say 15 to 20 feet, and cast up onto the submerged shelf, which could be 5 to 8 feet deep on top,” Giles said. “After the sun goes down, the bass will position along the edge of the drop and sometimes come all the way up onto the shelf looking for an easy meal. Sometimes the bass will hit the swimbait on the fall, and you need to pay close attention or they’ll take your lure and dive into cover quickly.”
If he doesn’t get a bite, Giles will slowly work the swimbait off the shelf and work it down the ledge.
“If they don’t bite on the initial fall, I’ll hop it. I’ll swim it a few turns and let it sink further down the ledge,” he said. “Most of the time, you will find that they’ll suspend or position themselves in the same spot, so after you catch a couple, you can concentrate on working that same level up and down the ledge.”
If the ledge has cover, baitfish will try to hide in it and bass will relate to it as well. If you can work your swimbait over the cover like a worm, they’ll strike it too.
“Sometimes, you’ll find a school of bass around a brush top along the side of the ledge or on top, and you can catch several bass,” Giles said. “Sometimes, there will be a lot of brush scattered all along the ledge, and you can usually pick up a few from each piece of (cover), but there always seems to be a hot spot on each ledge or hump.”
The full moon
Jeff Collum of Meridian spent many years traveling around the country, catching bass and winning tournaments, but he’s not on the road anymore, choosing to stay home with his family and raise his boys, passing on his knowledge.
Collum still finds time to catch lunker bass, and even though he’s slacked off fishing tournaments, he still gets a few chances to compete, such as a summer night tournament on Okatibbee Lake. During practice, Collum had located a ledge holding baitfish and bass, so he arrived before dark and started fishing the area.
“I’d found fish there before, so we knew where they should be, and we really caught them after it got dark,” he said. “We actually caught most of our bass on a Black Bandit 300 series crankbait on the ledges and off the clay banks that night. If you find them feeding after dark, you can usually catch them pretty good up until 10:30 or 11, and then it’s time to go home. At least for me, that is.”
While many anglers beat the heat and fish all night, Collum prefers fishing the first 3 or 4 hours after sunset. At least that’s when he’s had his best luck.
“I’ll work the ledges and clay banks just like I do in the daytime, casting that crankbait up onto the shallow ledge or point and cranking it back in,” Collum said. “I’ve won quite a few tournaments by cranking deep-diving crankbaits on ledges and drop-off areas, and it just gets better after dark during the hot weather months.
“After the sun goes down, fish will move shallow, and when the moon comes up, it will make it even better. The bass will also troll along the weed bed edges, and you can catch them with a variety of lures, including topwaters and buzzbaits. Not too many people fish at night, so the bass are not as wary and will usually attack your topwaters with a vengeance.”
Collum particularly likes to fish at night around the full moon.
“I like to fish a day or two before and after the full moon during hot weather,” he said. “Sometimes, they’ll feed all night. And if you can keep fishing and don’t have to work the next morning, it can get really good just before daybreak, too.
“During a full moon, I like to use shaky heads and Texas-rigged worms on bottom and a dark Whopper Plopper or buzzbait on top. I also like to use a big worm with a big, wide tail and I really like to use the Strike King Anaconda in black or a dark green/pumpkin color.”
Another old favorite Collum likes to use is a spinnerbait with a single, large copper or black blade.
“I like to reel the big-bladed spinnerbait real slow, just fast enough to feel the thumping of the pulsating blade,” he said. “Those bass really key on the vibrations and sounds it puts off at night.”
Another hot bait for catching bass after dark is a black Senko-style worm with white spots, custom made by Collum’s father Gordon Collum. Collum Texas-rigs the Senko, makes a cast and lets it fall on a slack line; the bass just can’t resist it.
“Dad also uses that Senko on a shaky head jighead when fishing a deep ledge, and they really tear it up too,” Collum said.