Spring may be lunker time for bass anglers targeting shallow fish on spawning flats, but summer is the bread-and-butter season for most fishermen. With short-sleeve weather and balmy nights, more bass are caught by anglers during the heat of summer than all other seasons combined.
But summer bass can be fickle nomads–found shallow, deep, buried in weeds, living in flooded timber, prowling open water, hugging riprap and bridge structures, active at dawn, dusk, night, and even in the brilliant rays of mid-day heat.
For this reason, savvy anglers are well prepared with a wide variety of lures designed to fish every conceivable bass habitat, and at all depths. Here are the lure styles, types, and brands to carry to insure that no matter the time of day, depth of water, or fishing situation, you’re prepared to catch summer bass wherever you go.
Virtually everyone prefers catching bass on top-water lures because of the exhilarating surface strikes. Truth is, top-water lures are often the most productive way to fish for bass. Surface baits cover a wide range of lures, and at times, each produces more and bigger fish than other styles. So, a well-stocked tackle box holds them all.
Poppers and chuggers are all good choices, and classics like the Heddon Lucky 13, Rebel Pop-R, and Arbogast Hula Popper and Jitterbug can be deadly. Newcomers to the popper brigade are stalwarts such as the Strike King Splash Popper, Booyah Boss Pop, and Yo-Zuri 3D Popper.
Zig-zagging top-waters also shine for bass throughout the summer months, with plugs like the Egret Zombie Ghost Walker, Heddon Zara Spook, MirrOlure Top Dog, Rapala Skitter Walk, Strike King Sexy Dawg, and Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow.
Propeller style surface plugs can also trigger strikes from bass that refuse other top-water styles. The new Berkley Spin Bomb is a good one, as well as the Rapala Skitter Prop, and Yo-Zuri 3DB Prop. Time-honored favorites such as the Smithwick Devil’s Horse and Heddon Torpedo are also both productive.
When summer bass bury into jungles of lily pads, duckweeds, hydrilla, and other vegetation, the best way to ferret them out is with an imitation frog, which resembles a choice hot-weather bass food. A weedless frog worked seductively across weed beds, and open pockets in vegetation can unnerve bass and trigger heart-stopping strikes.
Good ones for a summer bass box include, the indefatigable Scum Frog, the Lunkerhunt Pocket Frog, Terminator Walking Frog, Booyah Pad Crasher, LiveTarget Hollow Body Frog, SPRO Bronzeye Frog, Livingston Freddy B Frog, River2Sea Bully Wa II Frog, Stanley Jigs Ribbit Top Toad Hollow Body Frog, and the Swamp Donkey Hollow Frog by Reaction Innovations.
Frog-imitating soft plastic lures also are superb for weed work. When rigged with an oversized wide-gap hook and cast and worked like the rigged soft frogs listed above, they can be bass killers. They come in dozens of colors and include the Zoom Horny Toad, Yum Tip Toad Frog, Mister Twister Hawg Frawg, Strike King Rage Tail Toad, and the Humpin’ Toad by Bass Pro Shops.
This is the oldest lure known to man, and modern bass anglers have refined it so much that it has almost become a one-lure arsenal for summer fishing. Jigs today are available in hundreds of sizes, shapes, colors, head, and hook configurations. They can be used effectively for summer bass living in lily pad shallows and from stump flats to flooded timber, deep rock piles, riprap, bridges, docks, and water of virtually any depth.
Even the standard weedless “Bass Jig” with a heavy head, nylon weed guard, and oversized wide-gap hook can be had in an endless array of lead head sizes and shapes. They vary from 1-ounce behemoths–with football-style noggins to plop through thick weeds and roll over bottom cover–to slim profile 1/8-ounce versions made for sparse weeds, clear water, and spooky bass. Among the most popular in this nylon weed guard “Bass Jig” class are the Chompers Football Jig, Strike King Football Jig and Hack Attack, KVD Swim Jig and Skipping Jig, Buckeye Mop Jig, LiveTarget Hollow Body Craw Jig, Z-Man CrossEyeZ Flipping Jig, Nichols Sledgehammer Swim Jig, Booyah Boo Jig, and War Eagle Flippin’ Jig.
While surely not mandatory, the majority of bassmen using weedless bass jigs attach some type of soft plastic trailer to the jig hook to add action and enticing “flutter” as the lure is worked. Many anglers match the trailer color to the jig, though some fishermen believe opposite hues (white on black, brown on chartreuse) can be most effective.
Many trailers are designed to imitate crawfish, although, frog and even lizard soft plastic imitations work well.
Some popular jig trailers are the Strike King Rage Tail Chunk and Rage Tail Craw; Mister Twister Flip Out and Poc’it Craw; NetBait Paca Craw, Gene Larew Biffle Bug, Berkley’s PowerBait Craw Fatty, Zoom Super Chunk and Big Critter Craw; and Yum’s Craw Chunk and Craw Papi.
There’s an infinite variety of finesse style jig heads, with perhaps the innovative “Shaky Head” design leading the pack for probing clear water with light line for shy fish. Most finesse jig heads are in the 1/32- to 1/4-ounce weight range, and are made for use with soft plastic lures, usually straight, slim profile finesse style plastic worms, lizards, and sometimes crawfish. Many finesse or shaky head jigs have a wire screw or head attachment for a soft plastic to be attached. Then it’s rigged weedless, usually in Texposed or “skinned” fashion to facilitate easy hook setting with light line.
Some good finesse jigs include the Chompers Flipping Shaky Head, Z-Man Weedless Power Finesse Shroomz Jig, Missile Baits Warlock, Yum Pumpkin Head Jig, Gambler Screw Giggy Head, Strike King Tour Grade Mag Jig, and Parasite Sweet Shaky Jig.
Covering weedy, rocky, brushy, or stump-strewn water fast is the forte’ of spinnerbaits and their cousins the surface-gurgling buzzbaits. They’re available in many sizes, shapes, colors, and spinner blade styles (Indiana, willow leaf, Colorado, buzz, and more) with blades, skirts, and trailers of various hues.
Most spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are used around bass cover because the lures are very weedless. However, heavy, single-spin spinnerbaits have been used for generations by summer anglers who slow roll them off ledges and drop-offs to probe for deep, summer fish, often at night.
The Z-Man ChatterBait is an innovative bass lure that may fit into this class of artificials. It’s not exactly a jig, nor a spinner-bait, but something in-between. Essentially it’s a jig with an unusual flat blade that when retrieved wobbles and puts out a fish-attracting chatter that draws bass. It can be deadly when worked on deep summer weed edges, rock piles, and riprap.
Essentially, this is a soft-body, lifelike, baitfish-imitating lure, often permanently fitted to a jig head. Lure bodies are extremely realistic, offering summer bass a minnow profile that’s hard to resist. Some good swim baits of this design are Egret’s Vudu Shad and Vudu Vixen; Storm’s Live Kickin’ Minnow and WildEye Swim Shad; and the Tsunami Holographic Swim Shad.
Another class of swim baits are simply minnow-like bodies (most with a flared, action-making, soft plastic tail) made for use with a jig. Lots of models and colors are available with popular ones including the Egret Bayou Chub, Lunkerhunt Swim Bento, Gambler EZ Swimmer, Missile Bait Shockwave, Culprit Incredi-Swim, Zoom Swimmer, Yamamoto Swimming Senko, Mister Twister SwimSation, Strike King KVD Swim-N-Shiner, and Optimum Boom Boom Weedless Swimbait.
Other styles are mostly hard-body lures that are dead ringers for live baitfish, like the Livingston Lures B Venom Swimbait, Savage Gear 3D Bluegill, Boyd Duckett Series Shad, and River2Sea S-Water Swimbait.
This is a class of lures that bleeds over into some other summer bass styles, chiefly diving crankbaits, soft plastics, and jigs.
Jerk baits can be had in soft and hard models, but both essentially do the same thing–cover shallow water quickly (under 8 feet deep), and prompt reaction strikes from bass.
Angler rod action imparted to the lure is where the “jerk bait” name derives, with the lure cast, and a rather steady cadence of rod sweep (jerk), reel, and rod-sweep motion enacted. Strikes often occur during the pause as the jerk bait hovers, slowly rises, or falls.
Soft plastic jerk baits are perhaps best identified by the original Lunker City Slug-Go, which took the bass world by storm many years ago. Many imitations to the Slug-Go and innovations on the soft plastic lure design are available, with lures small and large. They can be fitted with a jig head, but a simple Texas style weedless hook rigging is more common.
Some of the good soft plastic jerk baits on the market today are the Berkley Jerk Shad, Kalin Jerk Minnow, Strike King 3X Z-Too, Z-Man HeroZ Jerkbait, Zoom Magnum Super Fluke, Lunker City Fin-S Fish, Bass Assassin Shad Assassin, DOA CAL Jerkbait, Yamamoto D-Shad, and the Yum Houdini Shad.
Hard-body jerk baits are long, slender and minnow-shaped, fitted with treble hooks, and typically have a short lip for comparatively shallow dives of 2 to 4 feet. They’re bass killers, especially when searching broad expanses of water looking for concentrations of fish. They shine in clear water, and take smallmouths, spotted bass, and largemouths, and are especially good for schooling fish, or when working over flats, weed beds or stumps where a shallow diving plug is productive.
Good hard jerk baits include Megabass Vision’s Oneten Silent, Yo-Zuri 3DB, Berkley Juke, Boyd Duckett’s Flashpoint, Sennett Tackle’s Vexer Twitch Bait, Rebel Tracdown Minnow, Rapala X-Rap and Ultra Light Minnow, Strike King KVD Jerkbait, Lucky Craft Lightning Pointer, Yo-Zuri Pin’s Minnow, Ima Flit Minnow, and Egret’s Vudu Zombie RIP STIK.
With so many other lures that promise so much for bass anglers, the time-honored spoon is often overlooked. But for summer fishing, spoons can be just the ticket to great catches.
For covering open water, or working surface-breaking schools of bass, wobbling spoons of several inches in length dupe fish, and can be cast long distances which is a plus to avoid spooking bass. Spoons such as the Johnson Sprite, Acme Little Cleo and Kastmaster, Luhr Jensen Krocodile, and Eppinger Dardevle are all killer baits.
Jigging spoons also should be in every summer bass angler’s tackle box because deep structures can’t be probed any better than with a flashy spoon and a knowledgeable angler on the rod. Good ones are the Cotton Cordell CC Spoon, Livingston EBS Jigging Spoon, War Eagle Jigging Spoon, Wahoo Jig N’ Shad, Bomber Slab Spoon, and the Hopkins Shorty Spoon.
Weedless spoons are bass catchers, too, when used around pads and weeds, stump flats and flooded timber. Many are adorned with plastic trailers of some type for more bass-attracting action. Time-honored good ones include the Johnson Silver Minnow, Eppinger Red Eye Weedless Spoon, and the Northland Jaw Breaker, Gator Weedless Spoon, and Bomber Who Dat Weedless Rattling Spoon.
This plug category covers a huge variety of bass-catching lures. Most have a forward lip of some type that makes the lure dive when retrieved. The larger the lip, the more resistance to the lure, and the deeper it plummets to root out summer bass.
Anglers usually choose crankbaits according to the depth of water they are working. Employ plugs with short lips when casting and cranking shallow water. The deeper the water, the bigger the lure lip.
Some makes of crankbaits can be found in several sizes that are designed to dive deeper in varying models of the same plug. The Rapala DT (Dive To) Series is made this way, with plugs of the same shape and size, and different lips to make the lures dive to 4, 6, 10, 14 and 16 feet.
Many crankbaits are buoyant, and when a retrieve is halted, the lure rises. This can be a strike trigger for bass. But sometimes a crankbait that hovers or “suspends” in the water column is more desirable. Conversely, some crankbaits sink, allowing anglers to strain deeper depths once the retrieve has begun. The Count Down from Rapala is one famous lure of this sinking design. It allows anglers to cast, pause until the lure sinks to the desired depth, and then retrieve.
Square-bill crankbaits are popular with many modern summer bassers. The lures typically are short and stout, with a square diving bill that’s adroit at making the plug somewhat snagless when working debris such as stumps, logs, rocks, and riprap.
Lipless crankbaits are also among the most popular lures in a summer bass box. The famous Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap has been a bass catcher for generations of anglers. The sinking bait has a tight wobbling action that’s superb for searching out wide areas for bass, and for surface schoolers. Other plugs in this category include the: Cotton Cordell Super Spot, Rapala Rippin’ Rap, Strike King Red Eye Shad, Storm Arashi Vibe, Livingston Pro Ripper, LiveTarget Golden Shiner, and Yo-Zuri Rattl’n Vibe.
It’s likely most bass anglers own more soft plastic lures than all other lure types combined. This is due to their remarkable bass-catching qualities, plus, soft plastic lures are inexpensive and are available in a mind-boggling variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and even scent-enhancing flavors.
From ultra-thin finesse worms and Gitzit-style tube lures, to lizard imitations and chunky crawfish varieties to outlandish “Creature” designs, soft plastic bass lures have no limit in the imaginative ways they can be created and used.
Further, they can be rigged dozens of different ways, from Carolina rigging to drop-shotting, to weedless Texas rigs to simply threading onto a jig or bare hook “whacky” style. They almost can’t be fished incorrectly.
The time-honored plastic worm in the traditional Creme lure style is still a mainstay of summer bass fishing. But today such lures are available from 4-inch thin mini-lures–designed for clear and deep water use on shaky head jigs or Tokyo rigs–to oversize monster soft plastic lures that can stretch 12 inches targeting the biggest of bass.
Every basser has his favorite soft plastic baits, with many of the best offered by companies such as Zoom, Berkley, Googan, Charlie’s Worms, Gambler, Culprit, Bass Assassin, Yamamoto, Kalin, Lunkerhunt, Mister Twister, Roboworm, Reaction Innovations, Yum, Z-Man, and Strike King.