School fish offer opportunity to catch plenty of bass offshore
During the hot, summer months, I love to fish ledges, especially on Pickwick Lake. Most people are running their air conditioners day and night, creating a heavy demand for electricity, and the constant pulling of water through Pickwick Dam makes bass bite.
Largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass hold on Pickwick’s ledges and shell beds. I’ll concentrate my July fishing between the Natchez Trace and Pickwick Dam with the bigger creeks, bluff endings and first and secondary bars there. Here’s how I’ll fish:
On my casting deck, I’ll have Mann’s 20+ and a 30+ crankbaits tied on, both on 7-foot-6, medium-action rods with Bruin 5:1 ratio reels spooled with 20-pound fluorocarbon. I’ll start with a 20+ in grey ghost color, casting upcurrent at a 45-degree angle to the ledge, dropoff or mussel bar and reel with the current. I’ll cast first to the key areas where I expect to get a bite, or I’ll use my side-scanning depth finder to locate where bait and bass are, searching for a transition area with a stump, rock or any type of obstruction a bass can hide behind.
Once you get your first bite in the morning, that bass will trigger a feeding frenzy in the school. You may catch seven to 10 bass out of that same school quickly, mostly largemouths and spots, but sometimes a big smallmouth.
I’ll fish a 20+ crankbait in up to 17 feet of water. I always want to overpower the depth I’m fishing by using a crankbait that dives deeper than the bottom. I want to dig the bottom and get my lure to the bottom quickly. I’ll fish a Mann’s 30+ in 18 to 24 feet of water.
Change up lures
After you’ve caught several bass out of the same school, they may quit biting, since you’re releasing numbers of fish back into the water that spook the rest of them. Or, the entire school may follow that bass to the boat and become uneasy about biting.
I like to change up and fish a shaky head, a drop-shot and/or a Carolina rig. I may drag them slowly across the bottom or let the current move the weight, the jig and the bait to drop back to the bottom. With these slow-moving bottom baits, I’ll often be using a 7-foot-6 spinning rod with 15-pound bass braid on the reel and 10-pound fluorocarbon tied directly to the braid. On the Carolina rig, I’ll fish a 7:1 casting reel with 30-pound braid, a 1-ounce slip sinker up the line with a bead and a swivel under it and 2 feet of 26-pound fluorocarbon. If I’m competing, I’ll fish these rigs on a baitcasting outfit, but if I’m fishing for fun, I’ll catch the bass on spinning tackle.
I’ll have a ½-ounce Stone jig with a green-pumpkin skirt and trailer that I’ll cast, drag across the bottom and maybe catch one or two more bass. Next, I’ll cast the shaky head worm back to that same spot and perhaps catch another bass, and then I’ll throw the drop-shot there.
Last, I’ll fish a Jelly Bug — a soft-plastic bait that’s compact and has a lot of action — on a Carolina rig and the drop-shot rigs and the shaky head, changing colors of the Jelly Bug — junebug, green pumpkin and watermelon red — when I switch rigs. I like the Jelly Bug because it’s a big bait, and I can use a No. 4/0 hook. Depending on how big a school is holding on the spot I’m fishing, by using the jig and the Jelly Bug, I may catch another seven to 10 bass.
After I fish soft plastics through that area, before I leave, I’ll once more fish the grey ghost 20+ or the 30+, and I often catch two or three more bass. When I’m finally convinced I’ve caught all the fish off that spot, I’ll move to another mussel bed on the edge of a dropoff and fish it the same way, sometimes fishing 10 ledges or mussel bars and then starting over again on the first ledge. Pickwick hot spots regularly replenish themselves with bass in July.
When bass come to the top and school, I’ll also have two rods rigged — one with a Zara Spook and the other with a Pop-R. I may catch 25 to 30 or possibly 40 to 100 bass a day.
If I pinpoint three good schools of bass, I may alternate between those three schools all day — often catching 50 to 100 bass a day. Many bass will be small, however, you’ll also pick up some 4½-pounders and some 5- to 7-pounders.