During the summer, bass retreat to the cooler depths in lakes and rivers across the state. Creek channels and river ledges become the favorite hideouts for bass seeking some reprise for the sweltering southern sun. Although some bass will move shallow to feed, most of their summer is spent lounging in deeper pools.
Modern technology in the form of GPS and fish locating electronics have helped summer bass anglers locate hot locations. Down-scan, HDI and side-scan imaging has simplified the search for homes of summer bass. But, finding the fish is only half the battle.
Most novice anglers think any bottom bumping lure will produce. Granted, some bass will strike at any lure offering. However, wise anglers will need to employ certain lures and techniques to catch bass consistently during the summer months.
On most lakes, bass holding in deep water will tend to hang out around some type of cover. Stumps, brushtops and big rocks are always top spots to look for summer bass. Depending on the lake, water flow and weather, summer bass may be found from around 12- to 20 feet deep or more.
On reservoirs and larger lakes where current may be present, look for bass in creeks and river channel swings. These areas can have wash-out areas where the current has cut away into the channel wall. On many lakes river ledges that offer a contour break or hump are also prime targets.
“A sweet spot for summer bass in any lake is a hard bottom,” said B.A.S.S. Elite pro Mark Davis of Arkansas. “Gravel, rock or a shell bed are types of hard bottoms I look for in the summer.”
Davis mentioned hard bottoms are critical in locating bass on older lakes. The older lakes and reservoirs have an accumulation of silt. Bass will naturally seek out the harder bottoms.
Brushtops can be a boon to summer bass anglers. Many lakeside property owners will deposit discarded Christmas trees and brush in the lake depths for crappie. However, bass will also make these spots their summer hangout. Late-model sonar units can easily pick out a brush top situated on the lake bottom.
Deep lure choices
While there is a wide gamut of lure choices for deep summer bass, only a few top selections are needed. Crankbaits are by far the first choice for most summer bass anglers. Carolina-Rigs and heavy spinnerbaits also work well for deep bass. Swimbaits have been around a while, but recently more anglers are giving these lures a shot at bass in the depths.
Depending on the brand and manufacturer, crankbaits are made from either wood or plastic. Both materials offer specific traits for various styles of cover and fishing. Most summer anglers carry both types in their tackle bag and will use a particular type on the lake cover and water depth.
“My choice for crankbaits is a Bandit 250 or 300 size lure,” said Greg Vinson of Wetumpka a B.A.S.S. Elite pro who grew up fishing the Coosa River system. “I like a shad color with a little chartreuse mixed in. The ledge will dive to around 12- to 14-feet deep and fits in most of my summer bass spots.”
On lakes where gizzard and threadfin shad are common, they will take on a chartreuse hue during the summer months.
Other top crankbait brands that offer deep-diving lures are Strike King in their XD series, Mann’s and Livingston. All offer a variety of colors, sizes and depths.
Shad colored lures are popular for most lakes. And there is a variety of color options in shad patterns. But, when fishing around rocks and gravel bars a crawfish colored bait is a smart choice. Lures with some red or orange on the belly will simulate a crawfish scurrying across the bottom.
Many anglers may not associate spinnerbaits with deep water bass fishing. However, heavyweight blade bits are a good choice in getting down in the face of a bass. Spinnerbaits can be used wherever a crankbait can be used. Also, the spinnerbaits can remain in the strike longer.
Heavy spinnerbaits like the Ledgebuster brand are available in ¾-, 1- and 1½- ounce sizes. The strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover spinnerbait is available in ½-, ¾- and 1-ounce models. Both baits have large, heavy gauge hooks.
In recent years the swimbait craze has entered the South. The lures have long been popular on the west coast. But, pro anglers use swimbaits in tournament waters all over the Southeast. B.A.S.S. Elite pro angler Steve Kennedy of Auburn used a 6- inch swimbait to win an Elite Series event on West Point Lake in 2011.
“The swimbait is a great lure for catching larger bass,” Kennedy said. “They work well in clear water and can be fished at different depths.”
One advantage of swimbaits is that different weight heads and hook sizes can be used with the same soft-plastic body. While 6-inch size is popular, 8- and 10-inch models also perform well. Later in the summer months the size of forage fish is larger.
Fishing large, heavy lures can be tiring for the best of summer anglers. That is why the proper gear is necessary to optimize on the potential of the lure and angler. No wimpy gear here.
“I prefer a heavy action rod around 7-feet long with a fast tip for crankbaits,” Vinson said. “This rod allows me to make long casts to get the lure down deep.”
A top-quality reel with a wide spool will hold more line and allow for longer casts. Reels by Quantum, ABU Garcia and Lew’s all offer baitcasting style reels for deep water bass. While the 5.3:1 gear ratio was a popular speed for crankbaits, faster reels in the 6.3:1 and even the 7.0:1 gear ratios are used today for cranking deep lures.
Line size and type can be critical when fishing deep water for bass. Braided or fluorocarbon is the selection for most pro anglers for deep swimbaits and spinnerbaits. Line size in the 20- to 50-pound class is common for these lures. However, line size and type does make a difference with crankbaits.
“For deep cranking, I use a 12- to 20-pound test fluorocarbon line depending on the lure and structure that I’m fishing,” Davis said. “The smaller diameter line the deeper the crankbait will run and not loose action.”
All the above lures can be fish in similar fashion. Long casts are required to allow the lure to get down in the strike zone. This is especially true with crankbaits.
Davis and Vinson both recommend making long casts past the intended target area. When the lure is retrieved, it should have reached its maximum depth at the spot where the fish are holding. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits can be counted down to the required depth before the retrieve is begun.
Anglers should allow the lure to come in contact with the bottom, brush or other structure. Crankbaits will kick up some dirt and make plenty of noise on the bottom imitating a crawfish and catching the attention of a bass.
Swimbaits and spinnerbaits can be fished with a steady retrieve or a stop-and-go action for a yo-yo type effect. Anglers will need to experiment with various retrieves and depths to determine the mood of the fish for that day.
A critical point in deep water bass fishing is boat position in relation to the target area. Make repeated casts to the same locale from the same angle. If you get few or no strikes, reposition the boat 30 to 45 degrees and continue casting. Sometimes a slight change in the casting angle can trigger more strikes.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org.