Beat the Summer Slump
Beat the summer slump
SUN AND HEAT HAVE A WAY of inflicting fishermen with a bad case of the blahs. A few hours in the sun and an angler’s mental and physical energy are sapped. His presentations are less sharp, his reasons for choosing certain lures less rational.
The fish, meanwhile, have their own reaction to the weather. In some still waters, oxygen content may be uncomfortably low, making bass lethargic. There’s probably less rain and wind, so the water around them is clearer than in other seasons. With light penetration at such high levels, bass can see much better and aren’t as easily fooled by artificials. Being ambush predators, they also migrate to hard-to-reach places where they can use shade as cover, whether it’s under boat docks, in the thickest parts of laydowns or even suspended in deep water.
In addition, natural food is at its most abundant. Biologists tell us that bass eat more than twice as much in summer as at other times, although they feed in spurts between long periods of inactivity. Depending on the waters they inhabit, bass have their choice of young-of-the-year panfish, crayfish, frogs, insects, shad and shiners.
No surprise to you: Fishing is tough. But don’t feel lonely. Even the best professional anglers have days when nothing seems to work, at least not consistently.
That’s when each tries his trick of last resort.
1 California Bassin’
Big-bass guru Mike Long catches lunkers on giant soft-plastics and plugs during Southern California’s mild winters and springs. But it’s the light-tackle techniques he learned while trout fishing that help him catch largemouths during the summer. When Long was a kid, he learned to flyfish with tippets as light as 2-pound-test. It taught him the patience to play a bass without applying too much pressure.
“If you want to catch bass in the summer on clear, deep lakes, you’ve got to fish California-style, and that means fishing with light tackle,” says Long. The San Diego angler’s summer gear is a whippy spinning rod and a matching reel with 5-pound-test line. Long has caught bass up to 9 pounds on the outfit, which he uses to cast a 4-inch finesse worm on a drop-shot rig. He skin-hooks the head of the worm with an Owner Size 4 Mosquito hook and positions it about 18 inches up the line from a Lunker City Magnum (â¿¿-ounce) Bakudan weight.
PREFERRED TACKLE: Graphite USA 6-foot 4-inch light-action spinning rod with a Daiwa Team Daiwa (TD-Z or TD-S) spinning reel and 5-pound-test Maxima monofilament.
FAVORITE SCENARIO: Early and late in the day, Long concentrates on the outer edges of weed beds. At midday, he moves out to fish flats, points and humps with nearby deepwater access. The best offshore spots have aquatic vegetation.
2 Luring Lunkers Topside
Bassmaster Classic champion Paul Elias usually fishes a large Texas-rigged plastic worm through deepwater cover during the dog days of August. But when the fish aren’t cooperating, the Mississippi pro will try chunking a topwater lure such as a Zara Spook in the same area. Crazy as it sounds, it often works.
PREFERRED TACKLE: 7-foot Quantum medium-action rod with matching Quantum PT reel with 6.2:1 gear ratio, 12-pound-test Trilene XT mono.
FAVORITE SCENARIO: Deep, clear water with standing timber such as Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Table Rock Lake and Ross Barnett Reservoir.
3 Dancing a Jig
Hot weather finds Missouri pro Stacey King hitting the banks early and late in the day. When the sun is high, however, and bass have gotten into the midday doldrums, King hunkers down and fishes cover with jigs. A half-ounce Bass Pro Shops Lazer Eye sporting a 5-inch twin-tail trailer in green pumpkin or black/blue is King’s favorite.
“If you can find some good cover in deep water, usually there will be a bass around it somewhere,” says King. “These fish aren’t active, but you never know what it will take to make them bite. I might start off retrieving the jig fairly quickly, maybe pumping it through the cover. I fish a jig with a lot of erratic movement. I’m trying to make a bass strike when it doesn’t have any intention of striking.”
PREFERRED TACKLE: 6 ½-foot medium-heavy Johnny Morris pitching stick and matching bait-caster with 6.3:1 gear ratio. King will use a heavier rod where cover is thicker. He uses 10-pound-test fluorocarbon line in clear water and 17-pound-test in stained or deep water.
FAVORITE SCENARIO: Highland impoundments where there is some water current due to hydroelectric generation at dams. King zeros in on humps and ledges with logjams at various depths, starting at about 8 feet and going deeper.
4 Spooning With Sonar
When he’s fishing big impoundments in the summer, Gary Klein’s first job is to find baitfish. The Texas angler uses his depth finder to home in on “activity zones,” layers in the water where the best environmental conditions–light penetration, temperature and dissolved oxygen–converge. Shad descend on such areas to feed on zooplankton, and bass often tag along.
“An activity layer is where most of the baitfish are located, and bass will often suspend nearby,” says Klein, a two-time Angler of the Year and perennial Bassmaster Classic contender. “Once I find what I’m looking for, I’ll jig a spoon like a Hopkins or Mann-O-Lure at the right depth–snap the rod up and let it fall back. Sometimes I let the spoon go all the way to the bottom and then just bring it up slowly–whatever works.”
PREFERRED TACKLE: 6 ½-foot medium-heavy Quantum PT casting rod, Quantum bait-casting reel (6.2:1 gear ratio) and 20-pound-test Trilene XT monofilament.
FAVORITE SCENARIO: Deep lakes with flooded river or creek channels.
5 Keeping a Worm Wet
When bass are persnickety, Texas pro Harold Allen ties on a 4-inch V&M Ringworm and starts looking for “resident bass” that stick to inshore cover such as docks and brushpiles. “I like to fish the Ringworm Texas-rigged with an eighth-ounce sinker and a 2/0 hook,” says Allen. He uses a black Ringworm with a blue tail for most conditions and green pumpkinseed when fishing clear water. His retrieve is basic: Cast the lure into cover, jiggle it out, retrieve it quickly and cast again.
PREFERRED TACKLE: 6 ½-foot Shimano Crucial rod with a Shimano Chronarch bait-casting reel. Depending on water clarity, Allen rigs up with 10- to 14-pound-test TripleFish monofilament. The clearer the water, the lighter the line.
FAVORITE SCENARIO: Shallow areas where different types of cover overlap, such as fallen treetops and aquatic vegetation.
6 Coaxing a Reaction Strike
On a hot day in August 1999, Davy Hite learned that bass aren’t always where they’re supposed to be, or behaving in textbook form. That knowledge helped him win the Bassmaster Classic.
That year’s Classic took place on the muggy Mississippi River delta near New Orleans, and Hite caught much of his winning stringer from a secluded pocket where the surface water temperature was a sizzling 91 degrees when he started fishing in the morning. It warmed up another 4 degrees by the end of Hite’s fishing day.
“Hot water doesn’t hold oxygen very well, so I knew that the bass in this area would be lethargic. I thought I would have to drag a soft-plastic slowly along the bottom through vegetation. What I wound up doing was catching a lot of my fish by triggering reaction strikes up in the water column,” recalls Hite. “I rigged a Junebug-colored Gambler Bacon Rind (a soft-plastic “creature bait”) on a three-eighths-ounce sinker and started fishing it at varying speeds between buzzing just under the surface and crawling it along the bottom. The funny thing was, the bass wanted it moving along at a pretty good clip from eighteen to twenty-four inches deep. Anything else was ignored.
“The moral of the story is that you have to experiment with retrieve speeds and depths,” says the South Carolina fisherman.
PREFERRED TACKLE: Pflueger 7-foot medium-heavy pitching rod with Pflueger President bait-casting reel (6.3:1 gear ratio) filled with 20-pound-test Berkley Big Game monofilament or Vanish fluorocarbon line.
FAVORITE SCENARIO: Wherever bass are suspended in or around weed beds in water between 4 and 8 feet deep.
7 Oxygen Is the Key
Television fishing show host Bill Dance of Memphis grew up fishing what are perhaps the toughest waters of all: the oxbow lakes of the Mississippi River. Here in the summer, lack of current translates into fairly stagnant water and listless bass. But Dance has learned that even small upticks in the water’s dissolved oxygen content will activate bass, at least enough to make some of them bite.
“My favorite time to be on an oxbow lake in the summer–or any other lake where there’s no water movement–is from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon,” says Dance.
Here’s why: Aquatic vegetation generates dissolved oxygen through photosynthesis, a process that is activated by sunlight and spikes when the sun is overhead. So midday is prime fishing time for Dance, who uses a No. 4 split-shot rig with a 6-inch black Yum Pro Ribbon worm, fished on a spinning rig with 8-pound-test line. “I Texas-rig the worm on a 2/0 or 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook and then pinch a number four split shot on the line about twelve to fourteen inches away,” notes Dance. “I fish it very slowly along the bottom. I’m not trying for a reaction strike; I’m trying to force-feed a bass.”
Dance uses an oxygen meter to determine where the best concentration of dissolved oxygen is and focuses his efforts there. “A good oxygen meter won’t tell you where to fish, but it will tell you where not to fish,” notes Dance. “What you’re looking for is a dissolved oxygen reading of at least five parts per million–the higher, the better. If you find that from two feet under the surface down to five feet deep, that’s the range you need to be fishing. If the oxygen content drops to, say, three parts per million at six feet deep, there’s not much point fishing that depth.”
PREFERRED TACKLE: Quantum 6 ½-foot medium-action Bill Dance Signature Series spinning rod and Quantum Energy PT spinning reel with 8-pound-test Stren Clear Blue monofilament.
FAVORITE SCENARIO: Oxbow lakes (including Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee) and farm lakes. Banks or offshore flats with aquatic weeds are good target areas.
THERMAL SQUEEZE It’s summer and the lake feels like bathwater. The bass must be deep, but how deep? And where? Here are some clues to help you locate them.
FIND THE LAYERS Many lakes and reservoirs stratify in the summer. Warm water rests on the top (the epilimnion), cool water on the bottom (the hypolimnion). The two layers are separated by the metalimnion (often called the thermocline), a layer of water where temperature changes rapidly.
ELIMINATE BAD WATER If water clarity is less than 5 feet and there is little or no flow, it’s a pretty good bet that there’s not enough oxygen in the hypolimnion to support fish by midsummer. The metalimnion offers cooler water and adequate oxygen for bass and forage fish. A good dissolved oxygen meter comes in handy to locate the best oxygen levels.
HOME IN Farm lakes, oxbows and reservoirs with hydropower dams typically don’t stratify. In lakes and reservoirs that do stratify, light penetration and current affect the depth of the metalimnion.
TAKE THE TEMPERATURE The best way to determine the depth of the metalimnion is with a temperature meter with a cable long enough to read temperature at depths to 40 feet. The temperature will vary less than a couple of degrees throughout the epilimnion, then change rapidly in the metalimnion. The YSI DO 200, available from Bass Pro Shops (basspro.com) reads water temperature and dissolved oxygen content.
TUNE IN If a temperature meter is lacking, a good depth finder can be used instead. Crank the sensitivity up and look for a band of “clutter” caused by dense swarms of zooplankton or baitfish in the metalimnion. That band will be somewhere between 12 and 25 feet in most lakes, but might be deeper. Forage fish and zooplankton aren’t everywhere, so it might be necessary to check several places to find sonar signals that reveal the depth of the metalimnion.
START CASTING The metalimnion will be at the same depth throughout the lake where the same conditions prevail. The thermocline will persist at that depth throughout the summer until the weather cools. Areas that offer bass cover at the depth of the metalimnion usually make prime feeding locations. –Hal Schramm
DECKED OUT IN GEAR DESIGNED FOR SUN PROTECTION
â¿ª BUZZ OFF shirt and pants from Bass Pro Shops. SolarGuard UPF 30, plus an insect shield that repels annoying summer bugs. ($50 for the pants, $45 for the shirt; 800-227-7776; basspro.com)
â¿ª Tilley Air-Flo LTM6 hat with 3-inch brim, nylon crown and ventilated panels, and a rating of UPF 50. (About $68; 800-363-8737; tilley.com)
â¿ª Blue Lizard sunscreen, UPF 30, water-resistant and available for sensitive skin. ($13 for a 5-oz. bottle; 423-926-4413; crown laboratories.com)
â¿ª Costa del Mar Harpoon sunglasses with vermillion-colored polarized lenses. (About $140; 386-677-3700; costadelmar.com)
TOUGH TIMES California’s Mike Long likes the challenge posed by summer bass. THERMOCLINE FINDERS Humminbird Matrix 77c, left, and Lowrance LCX-25C, right. TAKE TWO The YSI DO 200 reads both oxygen and temperature.