Bassin' The Dog Days
by Jason Patterson
Summertime can be one of the most frustrating times for a bass angler. The summer heat has taken hold and conditions are tough, to say the least. A lot of bass fisherman choose to remain inside this time of year and stay cool and I don’t blame them. Dripping in sweat all day without many bites is not my idea of a pleasant day afield. Being a tournament angler for many years has forced me to learn about summer bass fishing, and I am going to share with you some of the tips and tactics I’ve found productive for staying on the fish when the heat rises.
Know What The Fish Are Doing
Knowing how bass relate to the time of the year is key in catching consistent numbers of fish. We can all catch fish in the spring of the year. Fish are moving up in the shallows to spawn and they are aggressive and will attack most any bait thrown their way. After the spawn, fish will move out to their summertime haunts and locate on structure. This is the time when fisherman wonder why they are only catching smaller fish when beating the banks. The majority of the big fish live in deep water all year long and only come up to spawn and feed in the shallows. Granted, you can catch fish shallow most of the time but the key to catching that monster is moving off the bank a little and slowing down. I have caught most of my big fish over the years fishing offshore structure, and all of the tournaments that I have ever placed in have come from deeper water. Deep water is a relative term and will differ for the body of water that you fish. A shallow impoundment like Reelfoot has deep water also but may only be in 6 feet of water. Kentucky Lake, on the other hand, has water that may be 25 feet deep or more. Knowing the body of water you fish is the key to understanding where the deeper areas are located. These deep areas may be depressions in the lake, creek channels that run through the body of water, or other natural elevation changes. Even if you don’t have the latest electronics on your boat, you can study topographic maps to figure out deeper areas where you fish. More about that…
Learning to fish offshore structure took me many years of getting beat down in bass tournaments. I took my lumps and had to learn other techniques to compete. The first thing that I suggest is to buy a good map of the lake that you fish. A good lake map has contour lines that will help you get started in the right direction. Look for sudden changes in depth, which will be given away when the contour lines run close together on the map. If you fish big impoundments like Kentucky Lake, start out in a creek and move out toward the main lake. Kentucky Lake has channel markers which will tell you that there is change in depth nearby. Most main lake points also have deep water on them and produce good catches. When I first started learning how to fish deep water, I got started by hopping from point to point and then I ventured out to the ledges and other offshore areas. Even if you fish bodies of water that do not have maps, you can still catch fish by reading the lay of the land. Look at the banks around you and notice if you have a steep hill or bluff - most of the time the hill will continue to drop as it runs down beneath the water. Learn to imagine the lake with no water in it and then just go fishing. If you have electronics on your boat, you can expand your knowledge of the water in pretty short order. Electronics will show you everything you need to know about potential bass habitat that most people overlook. I find most of my offshore hot spots now with my graph. The new graph units out today offer GPS functionality to mark and store spots on each lake so you can easily navigate back to them again in the future.
There are several baits out there that will bring those lunkers from the depths. Here are a few of my favorites. Deep diving crankbaits that dive to 20 feet are a good choice on bass that seem to be feeding aggressively. When you locate a point or offshore brushpile, pull off the location a bit rather than stopping on top of it – cast beyond the structure and bump your bait into the brush as you reel in. Two of my top-producing summer crankbait colors are a basic shad pattern and chartreuse with a blue back stripe. You can catch monster bass on crankbaits this time of year. Big spinnerbaits are also a good choice when fish are active. I like ¾ to 1 oz spinnerbaits, and I cast them out and let it sink to the bottom before slowly reeling back to the boat. Use basic spinnerbait colors right now, such as a shad color or a chartreuse. A tandem willow leaf and Colorado blade is all you need. You can’t go wrong with these basic combinations. If you can’t get any action on these two choices, then it is time to slow down with tried and true plastic worm. I use at least a 9-inch worm and will go to an 11-inch worm when the bite is on. Watermelon, red shad and purple are good color choices with at least a ½ to 1-ounce weight, Texas rigged or Carolina rigged. Both require slow dragging to entice strikes from hefty largemouths. Big lizards are also a good choice if the worm is not bringing you strikes, again the bigger the better. I use at least 9-inch lizards this time of year. Another choice is the jig and pig combo - big jigs that will reach the lower depths are what you need here. Kentucky Lake has taught me a lot about stroking a jig. Stroking a jig is when you violently pop your rod up which will propel the jig 5 to 10 feet off the bottom. Most strikes will come on the fall or when you go to pop the jig again. Jigs have been responsible for massive catches on the ledges of Kentucky Lake. These are the basic baits that you need to dissect off shore structure. I can attest to you that this is one of the most exciting ways to catch bass, and big ones at that.
Learning to fish a new technique is always a little intimidating at first, and deep water is probably the number one technique that bass fisherman do not learn. This a big mistake. I have caught the majority of my fish over 6 pounds out of water deeper than 8 feet. When you do locate some fish on structure, most of the bass in the school will run close to the same size, which is a good thing when you are consistently catching 5 pounders. Shad will school on these locations and the bass will be in the general area. Look for baitfish on your graph and there should be bass nearby. Shad is the number one diet when fishing deeper water and the bigger fish will wait for the shad to herd up on points and brushpiles and gorge themselves. Fishing offshore structure is some of the most sought-after information in the bass fishing world - the reason being, some of the bass in reservoirs and impoundments have never seen a bait because the majority of bass fisherman work the banks exclusively. Summertime is the best time of year in my opinion to catch big stringers of hefty largemouths. It takes some work on our part though to find and learn the secrets of the mysteries of the deep. With a good map and your trusty electronics, you can expand your bass fishing knowledge. Go after them and enjoy what the Creator has given you!