Try holding off your bass-fishing trips until after dark when summer really takes hold in Mississippi. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find big fish doing business when it’s pitch-black.
Sizzling temperatures approaching the upper 90s usually give bass a case of lockjaw almost as bad as they get after a severe cold front moves through in spring or summer.
More than a few anglers have learned the secret to success in the hot summer; they beat the heat and catch lunker bass — by fishing after dark.
Joe Giles of Martin cast a custom-made buzzbait into the pitch-black darkness and started his retrieve without ever seeing the lure hit the water. As it sputtered across the water’s surface Giles kept a steady retrieve and listened to the rhythmic gurgling sounds of the blades chopping the water.
Ka-Whoosh! The stillness of the night exploded as a big bass crushed the buzzbait. Giles slammed the hook deep into its jaws and turned its head around, towards the boat, his second of the night on a buzzbait. He’d arriving just before dark and settled into a cove frequented by baitfish and bass. By the time the sun had gone down, he’d caught several bass and was in position to take advantage of the cooler air and hot action.
When the summer sun sets, bass move up onto shallow flats, along ledges and around weed beds in search of an easy meal. Knowing anglers will be there ready and waiting to give them what they want.
Giles alternated between a traditional buzzbait and a Whopper Plopper.
“I like to use the smaller Whopper Plopper in late afternoon, just before dark,” Giles said. “Then, I’ll switch to a medium-bladed buzzbait as the sun goes down, because the single hook is less likely to hang up, and the bass really key on the sound of old- school buzzbaits.
“I like a buzzbait that is easy to keep on top and makes just the right amount of sound to attract the bass. They really key in on that rhythmic sound of the blades chopping the water, and the resultant explosions are shocking.”
Frogs, lizards, buzzbaits
Ken Murphy of Meridian has spent the past 20 years fishing tournaments around the country and catching bass under all conditions. For 18 straight years, he won at least one tournament — and many more some years — as he fished against the best anglers. Though he doesn’t do a lot of night-time fishing, he likes to catch bass late in the afternoon and right after dark during the hot months.
“I’ll fish along the ledges where the shallow flats meet deep water and along any drop where the bass are found during the day,” Murphy said. “If they’re feeding on the bottom along the shelf, I’ll switch to a black neon Magnum lizard rigged Texas-style. The lunker bass will strike that bait after dark too.”
If bass move up to the surface and feed actively, Murphy will switch tactics and employ a black buzzbait or black popping frog.
“A lot of people use buzzbaits, but you’d be surprised how they explode on the black popping frogs,” he said. “They’re attracted to the sound of the popping frog, and the strikes are just tremendous. The chugging, popping sound is irresistible to bass, and you have to be ready to get bit at anytime — or you just might lose a rod and reel.”
Some nights, Murphy catches bass after bass on a submerged ledge until it was pitch dark — and he kept on catching fish when it so dark that it was impossible to see.
Murphy has fine-tuned his sense of touch to the point that he can almost sense when a bass has bit his worms and lizards after dark. He’s learned that bass don’t always bite aggressively on the surface after dark, so he’s ready and willing to probe the depths and ledges after dark, too.
Hunter Miles, a young tournament angler from Collinsville, has had much success catching bass on large lakes as well as river systems. He knows that bass are active at night during the summer.
“I like to use lures that buzz or vibrate when fishing after dark,” Miles said. “If the bass are feeding actively, I’ll use a spinnerbait or Z-Man Chatterbait. If they’re hitting on top, I like to use a Boogerman buzzbait or an old school P-50 Pop-R and work them steady across the surface.”
When shad are spawning along the steep riverbanks on some of the lakes in Mississippi and Alabama, spotted bass will gang up and attack with a vengeance.
“If you can find shad grouped up along specific banks, I like to cast parallel to the bank and work the prime zone,” Miles said. “I might not get many bites, but the ones I get will usually be lunkers in the 3- to 5-pound range. Over on the Coosa River, where I fish some tournaments, it’s not uncommon to catch four or five spotted bass in the 4- to 5-pound range on any given night during the hot summer.”
Monster bass on topwater
Through a lifetime of catching bass across Mississippi, I’ve learned a few things, and one of them is that big bass feed at night, often at the surface.
On one trip, arriving at a structure-filled cove just before dark, we worked a drop-off with limited success, enticing only a few strikes from bass. As the sun drop below the horizon, the surface activity heated up, and an occasional explosion was seen along a shallow, stump-filled flat.
I had already tied on a custom-made Hoot Gibson buzzbait with a red and black skirt, so I started casting among the stumps, and it didn’t take long to draw a strike as a 6-pound bass smashed the lure as it went by a big stump.
We continued fan-casting around the area and picked up a couple more good bass. At pitch-black dark, I made a short cast along a stump row and could keep up with the lure’s progress by the rhythmic chopping of the blades as it came across the water’s surface. It was less than 8 feet from the boat when it happened.
“Ka-Whoosh!” A bass smashed the lure, almost tearing the rod from my hands. It was all I could do to hold on as the bass bore down beneath the boat. If you’ve never had an 8-pound, wild hawg on your line with only about 6 feet of line out in the dark, you’ve missed a treat. I held on and wore the bass down and finally got him in the net and into the boat.
Before our night was over, we’d caught and released six lunker bass that had not been actively feeding until dark descended and most everybody had gone home. When they’re zoned in on buzzbaits after dark, the action can be nearly unbelievable.
Stealth-fishing deep ledges
While bass may actively feed on the surface after dark, there will come a time when the water is so hot that they will quit feeding on top but will move up onto ledges and drops and feed along the bottom.
Some of my best nights have occurred when bass moved up onto submerged humps with 8 to 10 feet of water on top in the middle of a lake or along a submerged ledge.
I usually anchor down, cast into deep water and work a 9- to 11-inch Bass Pro Shops Tournament Series worm or a Mann’s Jelly worm up the slope and across the top. If there is structure, I’ll concentrate on fishing that first, but it’s not necessary at night, as they will move up and feed on the smooth bottom when shad move by.
I’ll start with a Texas-rigged worm, and if I don’t catch any near the top of the ledge I’ll switch to a Carolina rig with a ¾- or 1-ounce weight, which allows me to work deeper and cover move water while keeping the lure in contact with the bottom.
Many times, bass will strike when you pull the weight through the brush and the worm comes through and over the limbs, or over the top of the ledge. Usually, they strike aggressively; you’ll feel the thump-thump, and they’ll start moving away.
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Mississippi Sportsman Magazine and MS-Sportsman.com.