Finesse-fishing and all that comes with it — light line, small baits, small weights — can play a big part of catching summer bass across Mississippi.
Dan Love peered across the waters of Ross Barnett Reservoir, picked out a target and sailed a jerkbait to the spot. As he worked the lure back towards the boat, it darted back and forth until a monster bass smashed it and dove for the depths. Love instantly set the hook and drove it deep into the jaws of the massive bass.
The bass exploded through the surface and thrashed wildly as Love used all of his faculties and equipment to keep it on the line. After wearing the fish down, Love boated it, quickly took a photo and released it to grow and be caught another day.
“I tend to go away from what everybody else is using these days,” said Love. “While most people are going away from jerkbaits by midsummer, I’ll be switching to them, as I like to cast something different than everybody else.”
While many view hard jerkbaits as prespawn or cold-weather baits, Love utilizes them as finesse baits throughout the summer — or as long as they’re biting them.
“I’ll fish them from 3 feet deep to 18 feet deep,” he said. “A lot of fish suspend during the summer, and they’ll come up and get one from below. If there’s a thermocline, I’ll fish them all the way down to the thermocline but not below.”
Love prefers using clear lures like the Strike King jerkbait in the IU color: clear with a green and blue back.
Love is a talented tournament angler and custom rod-maker from the Jackson area who prefers building his own rods, tailored to his specific fishing techniques. In fact, he can design and manufacture almost any rod to fit your specific taste.
Love is currently fishing the Media Bass and Pride of the South trails on Ross Barnett, as well as other tournaments on the lake, and having very good success.
“We’re currently leading the points race in Media Bass,” Love said, “and we’ve also won five of the nine Thursday night tournaments on Barnett. The Thursday night fruit jars have a 3-fish limit, so you have to go for quality bites, and we’ve been able to succeed when the going is toughest.”
When everybody is catching fish, it’s usually a shootout, but when the going gets tough, Love seems to excel by doing things differently and by staying focused on the task at hand.
“I’ll use braided line on everything I fish except crankbaits,” he said. “I’ll use the braided line because of the casting distance I’ll get and for the control of the lure. I also like it for the hook-setting ability, as there is virtually no line stretch.
“I’ll use the braid as a main line, but I’ll employ a fluorocarbon leader. I may use a 30-pound braid with a 12- or 15-pound fluorocarbon leader and still have enough power to set the hook, while utilizing the clear fluorocarbon to entice strikes from wary bass.”
A caveat to the braid and fluorocarbon combo is that Love joins the lines with an FG knot, which is strong, durable and won’t slip. That’s the most-important part of the equation when you’re tying braid to fluorocarbon or mono. If your knot won’t hold, then you’re going to lose fish needlessly.
Finesse with jigs
While many think of Oklahoma bass pro Tommy Biffle as a power fisherman — and thus equate his Bifflehead jigs as power techniques — they can also be used in a finesse situation during hot weather.
“I really like to fish the ¼-ounce Bifflehead jig on a 15-pound braid with a 12-pound fluorocarbon leader,” Love said. “I’ll fish it on one of my custom 7-foot-3 rods with an ABU Garcia MGX (reel) and tip it with a Zoom Ultra Vibe speed craw. You can cast long distances and get down to the fish without spooking them, and I find and catch a lot of fish with it too.
“Using a Bifflehead jig combo like that is one of my ways to get bites, especially when I’m traveling and trying to get bites to figure out where they are, if they’re eating brown or purple, and what’s going on with the bass.”
The traditional drop-shot rig has been around for a while and has been responsible for many bass tournament wins around the country in clear lakes and during hot weather. However, Love said they are a good choice for novice anglers or for anyone who hasn’t finesse-fished.
“If I have a novice fishing with me, and the bite is tough, I’ll put them on a drop-shot,” Love said. “I prefer using them (over) a Carolina rig during tough conditions, because many bass will swallow the hook on the Carolina rigs, you’ll end up killing some fish, and that can mean the difference between winning a tournament or coming up just a little short. A dead fish cost me $600 in a recent tournament, and if you extrapolate that over a whole year, you could lose thousands of dollars.”
Many fishermen think drop-shot rigs are only used with light tackle and light weights, small hooks and small baits, but that doesn’t always have to be the case, according to Love.
“You can use a ½-ounce weight with a 5/0 hook and a 9-inch worm,” Love said. “It’s kind of like a reverse Carolina rig, but novice anglers can really feel the bass when they strike since the hook is above the weight, and they can set the hook before the bass swallow it. The sensitivity of the drop-shot technique allows anglers the ability to detect sensitive strikes and set the hook quicker, regardless of the size of hook, weight or worm, and that’s important when finessing bass into biting.”
Ledge-fishing shaky heads
“During July and August, I’m going to concentrate on graphing the deep ledges to find schools of bass,” said bass pro Jay Mabry of Meridian. “Fish are like people; they’re going to find somewhere to get out of the heat, whether it’s in the shade or in deep water. I’ll stay on the move until I find a ledge that has fish, and then I’ll work them with a shaky head. I’m not going to fishing random ledges if the fish aren’t there, I want to see them on my Humminbird Helix 12 graph before I start fishing.
“I always downsize when the fishing gets tough and throw a shaky head with a finesse worm rigged on 10-pound fluorocarbon line. I prefer Zoom trick worms when using a shaky head.
“I’ll use the watermelon color in clear water and the redbug color in stained water. I don’t care what I use this time of year, but the key is you have to locate the bass, and if you can find them, you can usually catch them some time during the day.”
Mabry grew up fishing a variety of lakes and rivers in Mississippi and Alabama and spent a lot of time on the Tenn-Tom waterway system. He also learned how to catch hot weather bass during the dog days of August.
“When I’m on the river or fishing lakes, the key will always be hunting for and finding the bass on the ledges first, and then determining what they want,” Mabry said. “If I find ledges with grass on them, I’ll try working them with Carolina rigs and big worms, too.”
While Mabry likes finessing them with shaky heads when bass are lethargic and holding tight to the ledges, he’ll also try some traditional deep-water ledge baits.
“I’ll use a crankbait on the ledges if the bass are suspended just above the ledge or grass,” Mabry said. “If I can trigger a reaction bite, they’ll usually start feeding, and then you can catch them on a variety of lures. But my go-to bait will be that shaky head with a finesse worm if the bite is slow.”
Bass will also congregate around bridges that have current moving through, and that’s a favorite area of Mabry’s no matter where he’s fishing.
“I like to look for current, generally around the bridges or causeways,” Mabry said. “If you can find current moving through a bridge, whether that’s on the river or a lake, the bass will usually relate to the bridge and strike your lure when you put it on them. They’ll stage by the concrete pillars or rocky points and ambush unsuspecting baitfish or lures that swim past.”
If you want to keep fishing and catch fish during the dog days of summer then try a few of these experts tips and techniques and you should be successful at finding and catching hot weather bass.
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