There is a weird kind of bass-fishing hibernation that occurs each summer throughout the country. Not with the fish, but with the fishermen.
The relentless heat of summer may slow the activity level of a lake’s bass population somewhat, but it is nothing compared to its impact on those who would normally pursue them enthusiastically. Though there is plenty of quality fishing to be enjoyed, few fishermen take advantage of it during the dog days of summer.
“There are some real misconceptions about fishing in the summer,” Florida pro Bernie Schultz says. “A lot of people think the bass don't bite or you have to do things like flip heavy cover in the heat of the day to get them to bite. But that’s not the best way to catch them.
“You have to get down to their level to really find them.”
Mississippi pro Paul Elias agrees.
“Deep structure is the most consistent place to fish during the hottest parts of the year,” the former BASS Masters Classic winner explains. “These are the most unmolested fish of all and they are out in deep water where the temperature is probably the most comfortable.
Reliable electronics are essential in the search for ledges and other offshore structure, places where bass escape summer's heat.
“But I should point out that the majority of the time, you need some moving water. In the hot summertime, the fish are very active for certain periods during the day. And they are more aggressive when there is water moving from (power) generation. They will bite at other times, but moving water is when this kind of fishing is at its best.”
When it comes to deep structure, Elias is an expert at utilizing his electronics to pinpoint the most productive area along an unusual feature of the lake bottom. But the term “deep structure”can be misleading, he emphasizes. Elias rarely fishes as deep as 30 feet and scores most consistently in the 8- to 17-foot range.
River channel ledges are Elias' favorite structure throughout much of the year, and particularly in the summer. He believes that a simple strategy of running a series of river ledges is as good a game plan as any during the summer months.
Elias almost always positions his boat in deep water and casts to the shallow top of the targeted spot. His cast and retrieve is either straight or at a 45-degree angle. Experience has taught him that few strikes are triggered by a parallel retrieve (particularly around ledges).
Oppressive summer heat may contribute to fewer angler hours on the water, but cooperative bass can still be found in the depths.
During the hottest months of the year, Elias relies on four deep-structure lures: crankbait, jig, heavy spinner bait and Carolina-rigged soft-plastic creature. He is most likely to target offshore structure with a big-lipped crankbait.
When selecting a crankbait for working ledges and other submerged structure, Elias prefers to select a lure designed to run considerably deeper than the area he is fishing. In the summer, perhaps his most productive lure is a Mann's 30+, a large bodied, big-lipped crankbait that dives quickly and easily and continuously digs up bottom sediment in 15 to 18 feet of water (a common summertime depth). A Mann's 20+ serves the same purpose around more shallow structure.
Two crankbait colors suffice for most of Elias' summertime cranking—chartreuse with a brown back and a shad-like pattern called gray ghost.
Despite his affinity for diving lures, this veteran pro will not live or die in the hot times by crankbait alone.
“I will throw all four of these lures the same way on structure such as ledges,” Elias states. “If they quit on a crankbait, I'll throw a jig. Then I'll try a spinner bait, and finally I'll throw a Carolina rig.
“And sometimes in a tournament situation, I will throw the baits with one hook first. I will first throw a jig or slow-roll a spinner bait or drag a Carolina rig first in some tournament situations because you are a lot more effective with one hook as far as getting fish in the boat. A crankbait will find those fish for you and a lot of times will make them bite. But if the bass are in a feeding mood, I would rather try to catch them with a bait that has one hook on it.”
For deep summertime structure fishing, Elias prefers a 1-ounce jig with a plastic crawfish trailer. The color of both the jig and trailer is usually either black and blue or a combination of black, brown and blue.
His most effective retrieve with the jig involves using a stout 7 -foot flipping rod and 20-pound test line to repeatedly jerk the lure well off of the bottom and allow it to flutter back down.
When selecting a deep-structure spinner bait, Elias goes heavy. His spinnerbait weighs about 1 ounces and features a white skirt and gold No. 8 and No. 3 willow-leaf blades.
Slow-rolling heavy spinnerbaits is one way to pull summer largemouths from deep structure.
Elias' summertime Carolina set-up is anchored by a large plastic worm. It usually consists of: a 25-pound test main line, - or 1-ounce Water Gremlin weight, two beads, barrel swivel, a 3/0 or 4/0 High Performance Hook and a 3- to 4-foot leader of 17-pound test line. He believes that the active bass of summer will attack a big worm ranging from an 8-inch Mann's Flipping Waggler to a 12-inch Augertail. And he has caught some bragging-size bass on a Mann's 9-inch leech.
“I always have two Carolina rigs rigged up—one with a big worm and one with either a Mann's Limit Finder or a (Zoom) Centipede,” Elias says. “I'll often mix up those two Carolina rigs (when) fishing a ledge in the summer.”
Most fishermen consider the lead jigging spoon to be a deep-structure tool for the dead of winter, when bass are at their sluggish worst. But California pro Don Iovino has proven the allure of jigging spoons during the hottest months of the year in reservoirs throughout the West, as well as some eastern impoundments like Missouri's Table Rock Lake.
“If you only use a jigging spoon when the water is cold and the bass are inactive, you're really missing out,” Iovino says while watching his depth finder. “By changing up the size and the type of spoon I use, I catch fish on a spoon year-round.
“To me, the absolute best times are the warmest months—July through early November. Both the bass and the baitfish are real active during this time. And with spoon fishing, you're trying to imitate a shad. Shad are more active in the summer and fall than they are in the winter, so it just makes sense that a jigging spoon would be very effective when the water is warmest.”
Iovino's system of summer spoon fishing resembles little of the traditional winter jigging. In fact, he rarely fishes a lead spoon vertically (the trademark of the lure) during the warm months. Instead, he swims and jerks it, stops and starts it. Iovino practically dances the hula with the lure to get the bass of summer to chase his spoon.
For Iovino, jigging spoons are productive in water that ranges from stained to crystal clear. In the summertime, most of the bass he tempts with a lead spoon are at the 15- to 20-foot level.
In the hottest times of the year, Iovino has found that the activity is often fast and furious with jigging spoons—at a time that many consider to be less than prime for red-hot bass action.