Experienced anglers have long maintained that during the hottest part of summer smallmouth bass feed shallow early and late in the day and slip into deeper water between meals.
The most recent tracking studies confirm that belief. The biggest smallmouths travel extensively during daily feeding patterns. When they’re not feeding aggressively somewhere between deep water and shore, they’re schooling offshore with like-size chums. Their smaller kin, in contrast, tend to stick closer to the bank.
The illustration above shows some of the common features in a typical smallmouth lake. Use it to map out fishing strategies for your favorite waters during summer’s sweltering dog days.
SUMMER HAUNTS FOR BASS ON THE MOVE
In natural lakes and reservoirs, fish cover in water 8 to 15 feet deep [A], where smallmouths of all sizes will be feeding on minnows and crayfish early and late in the day. The heavier bass will be closer to deep water and gradually move offshore. As key forage species-smelt, shad, yellow perch, emerald shiners and alewives-begin suspending in schools over deep water in mid to late summer, the bigger fish also ease out to hang below or near them [B].
Instead of wood or weed cover, bottom structure such as humps [C], drop-offs [D], neck-downs, ledges [E] or changes in bottom composition [F] become the main attraction for offshore smallmouths in water deeper than 15 feet. From such structural sanctuaries, suspended bass make forays during the day to raid nearby bait schools.
The deepwater bite typically occurs from late morning until well into the afternoon. At dawn or dusk, some of the bigger bass are also very likely to be in shallower rocky areas [G] that are less than 12 feet deep and have sharp drop-offs on either side. Shallower offshore shoals [H] in 8 to 12 feet of water are another place to look for roaming lunkers.
THE BIG RUNAROUND
X-Stream Control Shad are 4-inch weedless surface baits that are designed to run either right or left on retrieve. Snap on the one with the proper orientation for your target and cast it past the cover or up the shoreline. The lure will move in the right direction when you work it back. Four interchangeable, multicolored tails are included. ($35 per pair; grandaddy lures.com; 888-897-7324)
PRIME TIME FOR ROAMING SMALLMOUTHS
Even in the hottest weather, smallmouths have to feed, although they don’t always do it in the same place at the same time. Here’s a game plan for filling out your fishing day.
EARLY MORNING Try topwater stickbaits or propeller baits over descending points and shoals. Work the same areas with spinnerbaits.
LATE A.M. If bass are chasing minnows on top, use a Zara Spook or popper. For fussy small-mouths, switch to a smaller soft-plastic jerkbait or Rat-L-Trap.
MIDDAY When bass are in standby mode and suspended deep, use a drop-shot rig with a wacky-rigged plastic worm. Jiggle the sinker to supply action.
MID P.M. Fish over shoals or gravel flats that taper off to deeper water. Make long fan casts with a football-head jig and hula grub or other soft-plastic trailer.
EVENING Switch to top-water lures and soft jerkbaits. At last light, change to a spinnerbait with a Colorado blade and bulge the lure under the surface.