Unraveling Summer Bass Patterns
Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 12, 2012
I admit it! I love fishing for black bass during the prespawn. Give me a warm clear day in late February or March with just enough breeze to create a little ripple on the water and I’m as happy as the proverbial clam. Sure I know I likely won’t catch big numbers of bass on such a day, but this is the absolute best time of the year to hook a real lunker.
Of course on the heels of the prespawn comes the spawn in all its glory…heaven for even the casual bass enthusiast. The fish are fat feisty and oh so easy to catch.
What is it that makes catching bass during the spawn such an easy task. Well, the bass are aggressive and that’s a big factor, but beyond that the fish are concentrated in shallow water. Locating bass during the spawn is not a great challenge and the shallow water techniques used for catching them are simple and straightforward.
After the spawn, say around the end of June water temperatures climb dramatically, the bass in reservoirs start dropping into water that that is 40, 50 or 60 feet deep. In shallow water fisheries like the delta and Clear Lake the bass retreat under dense mats of weeds, tules and debris to escape the sizzling rays of the sun.
As a result of these seasonal bass movements, things get a whole lot tougher for us bass anglers. The hardcore tournament bass guys out there that fish for bass and only bass all year long can still catch these hot weather fish with relative ease, but the rest of us generally turn our attention to other species whether its nailing rainbows, kings and kokanee while trolling with downriggers or jigging for rockfish and lingcod off the coast.
For a number of years the summer and early fall were my least favorite time to target bass because I had such a difficult time hooking them. More recently I’ve learned some strategies and techniques for catching bass during the dog days of summer. These days, while the late summer season still represents my least favorite time for bassing, at least I can now catch bass with a fair level of consistency.
In order to catch bass during the heat of summer, the angler must have a basic understand their habits and behaviors. Let’s consider bass living in our foothill reservoirs first. Most of our north state reservoirs are crisscrossed with submerged creek channels and liberally punctuated with all manner of rocky structure. These two features can be critically important when it comes to locating summer bass. Summer bass are pretty mobile, but they don’t like to move horizontally. Instead they prefer to move vertically. During the midday hours when the sun is high in the sky, the bass typically drop down into submerged channels and stack up around various rocky features including rockpiles, ledges and the ends of long points.
Early in the morning and late in evening this fish can often be counted on to move up in the water column. A lot of anglers mistakenly believe that moving up means that they move onto shoreline structure, but this isn’t the case. Instead they simply come off the structure where they hold during the midday hours and suspend in open water.
So how does one go about catching these reservoir bass? The first thing you’ve got to do is get you hands on a topographic map of the lake. You want to locate a half dozen to a dozen spots where long main lake points terminate into submerged channels or where submerge humps set adjacent to channels.
Next you’ve got to be prepared to get off to an early start. During the first 90 minutes of daylight the bass will be suspended and these fish will generally come up to take a whack at a surface lure. Walking a Zara Spook in either the a clear or baby bass finish is my favorite option, but other lures such as Tiny Torpedos, buzz baits and Pop R’s will work too. When fishing these bait you want to position the boat out over the side of the channel opposite the point or hump such that you can fan cast toward the structure and then work the bait all the way back to the boat. At first you are going to feel silly working a Spook 150 yards off the bank over 60 feet of water, but rest assured that feeling will fade when a 3 pound smallie comes up and slams your bait!
Once the sun hits the water, the surface bite will dry up like a Popsicle on a hot sidewalk. At this point you’ve got to use your sonar to locate fish holding in the areas where deepwater structure meets submerged creeks. If you spot baitfish holding with the bass, a jigging spoon can be highly effective. Once you locate bass and bait spooning is pretty straightforward. You simply drop it down to the level of the fish and jig it up and down. Stay in contact with the bait as it falls, since this is when the strikes occur. If there is no obvious bait present, dragging the bottom with either a dropshot rig adorned with a plastic worm or a weedless jig tipped with a plastic trailer represent your best chance for success.
In shallow weedy waters summer fishing is infinitely more exciting and perhaps a little easier. Rather than orienting to deep water bottom structure, these shallow water bass seek out over head features such as matted weeds, docks, large pipes or fallen trees, basically anything that can provide them with shade. These fish can be targeted with weedless top water baits such as Snag Proof Frogs and buzz baits all day long. A lot of casual angler don’t fish frogs properly and never really achieve a consistent level of success. For maximum effectiveness these baits must be walked like a Zara Spook while employing a fairly stout casting rig loaded with braided line. At times bass holding under weeds will follow a frog out into open water before nailing it, so it is important to continue walking the bait well after it is clear of the cover.
If the bass fail to respond to topwaters, your final course of action is rooting them out of the cover by flipping heavily weighted creature baits into small holes and pockets within the weeds.
Persistence pays off when it comes bagging warm weather bass. Beyond that, be sure to bring your sunscreen, don’t let those water skiers get on your nerves and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying some satisfying summer bass excitement!