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The Shallow Summertime Bite
By Tim Tucker
For many bass enthusiasts, the terms dog days of summer and deep water go hand in hand
During the summer months, George Cochran seeks out shallow water for some prime bass action.
bass fishermen equate summer with deep water. And the majority of the
bass in a lake or reservoir may be relating to some type of deep water
cover or structure.
But that doesn't means all of the bass will
be deep. Anglers who automatically head offshore to deep structure
spots when the temperature tops 80 degrees are making a mistake,
according to the experts. They are removing themselves from some
surprisingly prime shallow water action.
"The summer months can
offer some excellent fishing," said Alabama's Tim Horton, a former
guide and 2000 BASS Angler of the Year. "A lot of fishermen might not
realize it, but you can catch a ton of fish shallow during this time of
"There are always going to be some bass shallow, regardless
of the time of year. You can always find some fish shallow, if you look
In summer, Horton always looks for some good
topwater action early and late around bank cover. Under those low light
conditions, he typically ties on a Pop-R or Zara Spook in hopes of
catching a bank-prowling bass or two.
"On grassy lakes, when
the sun is up, I look for the thickest patch of grass I can find," he
continued. "I flip and pitch these spots with a Yum lizard or crawfish
with a heavy sinker. You'll find some of the biggest fish of the year
are hiding in that ultrathick vegetation."
"I fish baits like
those around any type of vegetation, especially hydrilla and
maidencane, where I find a point or hole that would make a great ambush
point for the bass," Florida pro Shaw Grigsby added. "You can have a
great time fishing topwater (plugs) in the summertime, but the main
thing to remember is that you have to pause the lure often and let it
sit awhile to get a strike. That's the unnerving part of topwater
Many anglers know that the low light periods early and
late each day usually provide the best topwater action (and an escape
from the summer heat). But Grigsby claims that the front edge of a
typical summer thunderstorm usually ignites a burst of feeding activity.
before those afternoon thunderstorms, the bass really turn on and the
fishing gets wild," he noted. "They'll sometimes bite during the storm,
but you don't want to be on the water when lightning is striking. The
main thing is to be safe. Catching a fish is not worth getting hurt or
even killed by lightning."
It wasn't stormy that August day in
1996 when George Cochran showed the fishing world that plenty of bass
can be caught shallow — extremely shallow — in the summertime.
most of his competition was probing the deep contour features of
Alabama's Lay Lake, the veteran Arkansas pro was on his way to winning
his second Bassmaster Classic championship in what seemed to some like
the unlikeliest of hot weather spots — a pocket so shallow that his
trolling motor constantly kicked up silt.
It was a muddy 5-acre
bay located in the back of a creek where resident largemouth were
holding tightly to supershallow grass, brush and stumps.
fishing different from everybody else," Cochran recalled. "I knew that
nobody was going to fish in 2 feet of water at that time of year. But I
also knew there would be some fish in that shallow water; they stay
there throughout the year."
To reach the spot, Cochran had to
cross a quarter-mile of water dotted with stumps, like mines in a
shipping channel. He mapped a route into the area so he wouldn't have
to idle and troll his way to the back end. No one else wanted to risk
losing a lower unit to the snags, so Cochran had the place virtually to
"The reason I fish places like that is because nobody
else does," Cochran revealed. "And there are always plenty of fish in
place like that, as long it contains enough oxygen for them to survive.
Because the water was dingy, I figured it would be just as cool to the
fish as water in the main lake."
On a typical summer week in the
South — dominated by bright skies, high humidity, little wind, hot
temperatures and afternoon showers — that strategy produced 15 bass
weighing nearly 32 pounds.
Another place likely to harbor shallow bass in summer, he said, is the headwaters of a lake.
my style," Cochran stated. "I like to seek out places that are shallow
instead of fishing down where the water gets real clear and hot, and
the fish tend to move out on structure.
"On the upper end of the
lake, the water is dingier, and there will be a lot of fish shallow.
Those fish will bite all day in that dingy water — unlike the fish in
the clear water on the lower end. There will be a lot of fish shallow
next to creek channels and cover, especially if the water is dingy. To
me, that's a lot more fun than trying to catch them out on structure.
And it can be a lot more productive."
When targeting the upper
reaches during the summertime, Cochran looks for bays and coves that
have both cover and shad. That could include stumps, brush, logs, rocks
and vegetation. Because of the bright sunlight, he believes that bass
are more oriented to cover in that shallow water than they are in the
deeper, lower end.
His primary lures for that situation are
Strike King Series 1 and 3 shallow running crankbaits, as well as an
8-inch 3X plastic worm. He rigs the soft plastic baits either Carolina
style (with a short leader), or Texas style; he said they're good
choices because the buoyant 3X material causes them to float up and
over cover in skinny water. He works crankbaits and worms quickly to
take advantage of the bass' high metabolism this time of year.
In lakes from Florida to California, the summer months also signal the beginning of red-hot schooling action.
can load the boat with schooling bass in September and October,"
Florida pro Bernie Schultz said. "They're easy to locate when they're
schooling, and you can catch all the 1- to 3-pound bass you want."
bass are phenomena that fishermen love. It is an activity that not only
gives away their location, but also turns largemouth bass into
marauders that will attack anything.
Gulls hovering and diving for injured baitfish will often point the way to schooling action
bass can be easy to catch, once you hit upon a lure they're willing to
take. Schultz utilizes a variety of lures, including Rattlin' Rapala
lipless crankbaits, Senkos, Rapala spoons and topwater plugs like the
Skitter Prop. He emphasizes the importance of selecting a lure that
closely matches the size of the shad, shiners or glass minnows being
chased by the bass.
Go with the flow
During the summer months, knowledgeable largemouth hunters target current-laden areas.
temperature is one of the most critical of all factors when we're
looking for bass because it determines how active the fish will be,"
veteran Texas pro Clark Wendlandt emphasized. "And in the summer, one
of the best places to look for bass is in the upper part of a lake,
where current might be present. Moving water is always better
oxygenated and is usually cooler."
Finding moving water in summer
often means traveling to the far upper end of a lake where the main
river tributary enters. Two favorite techniques are working shallow
running crankbaits through pockets behind rocks and stumps, or drifting
a plastic worm downstream around the rocks. If a lot of shallow
shoreline cover is present, Wendlandt also uses a spinnerbait.
believe one of the main keys to fishing current successfully is lure
presentation," he said. "I always try to have my lures moving
downstream with the current so they appear more natural. This generally
means using the trolling motor to hold my boat in the moving water
while I cast upstream. As I do that, I guide the lure around the rocks
and into the different little pockets as the current washes it
The former CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier often
uses a presentation technique that, while seemingly unorthodox, results
in quick limits. If the current is fast and the depth is perhaps 2 to 3
feet right along the shoreline, he makes short, rapid-fire casts to the
bank with his crankbait, reeling back as fast as he can and casting
again. Most casts are less than 8 feet in length. "It doesn't always
work," Wendlandt added, "and I think the strikes are purely reflex
responses from bass holding in the shoreline cover. They see something
dart by them that appears to be trying to escape, and they just hit