It's a steamy summer afternoon on a northern natural lake, and you've about had it with pesky pleasure boaters. Action has died around your favorite weedbeds where, at dawn, bass were attacking just about every lure you threw.You're tired, frustrated and fed up."Ah, what the heck," you mutter. "My easy chair in the air-conditioned den sounds pretty good right now. Tomorrow will be another day."No one can blame you for losing your enthusiasm, but don't give up prematurely, say northern bass experts. Perhaps all you need is a tactical change to better accommodate the bass' moods and their movements within the weedbeds you're fishing.
Fishermen have a tendency to fish the same places, the same way, all day long," says Chip Harrison, a Bremen, Ind., Top 150 pro who has fished extensively throughout the Midwest. "But when the action grinds to a halt, it's time to look for the bass elsewhere on the structure. Conditions probably changed, and the fish repositioned themselves in a manner that makes earlier presentations no longer effective."One thing is certain: They didn't go very far. Submerged vegetation gives natural lake bass the best of all worlds — cover, shade and a smorgasbord of tasty creatures that share their living quarters.But not all grassbeds are equal. High yield grassbeds grow on the kind of structure that summer bass prefer, such as tapering points, humps and ledges that adjoin flats with deeper water. If that weed covered structure provides safe avenues between deep and shallow water, it is even better.
There is a downside, however. While bass are fairly easy to pattern along the weed edges in spring and fall, they can be just about anywhere during those blistering days of summer.A bass prefers to be shallow most of the time, so that's always my first option," says Harrison. "However, there are those hot summer days when the forage moves deeper, and so will the bass."On any given weekend, you'll find anglers circling those big grassbeds, combing the outer edges with topwaters and weedless lures. That's fine when bass are aggressive, but not always the case on a hot summer afternoon.There are other tactics, say the experts, and here are a few proven ones that can keep you in action throughout the day:Target transition areasBass are drawn to subtle changes in the bottom, weed content, depth and irregularities. All those sweet spots are easily overlooked if you're not attentive.
For example, Harrison watches for changes as subtle as species of weeds, such as a transition from coontail grass to cabbage along the dropoff. Coontail grows in thick, mushy clumps, while cabbage is more airy and crisp. Cabbage will grow in a little deeper water and on a harder bottom.
"Bass use coontail and cabbage constantly, but bigger fish will set up on changes in weed characteristics," he explains. "If I'm cranking an edge of coontail and start ripping into cabbage, I slow down and fish the area more thoroughly with soft plastics."Bald spots offer another transition area that can hold the biggest bass in the area. They provide openings in weeds, often created by harder bottoms."The openings are hunting grounds for predators, because anything that crosses the opening is easily detected and eaten," says Harrison. "However, unless the water is extremely clear, finding those spots in deeper water is difficult."That's why it's important to maintain a feel for what the lure is doing, he adds. If you lose contact with the grass and then regain it during the process of working a lure, you likely came across a clearing capable of holding big bass.
"If that cast didn't produce a strike, drag the lure through the same spot from a different angle," Harrison suggests. "Even the smaller clearings are worthy of multiple casts."Productive bald spots can be anywhere within the weedbed or at the base of the dropoff, where vegetation isn't as thick. "You can find these subtleties by backing away from the primary weedline and watching your electronics," he says. "Most people don't think to look for places that lie a couple of casts away from the heavy weedbeds, so those fish don't get a lot of pressure, and they are more prone to bite."
Harrison's favorite technique is to hop a tube bait on a small jighead through the opening or drag a split shot or drop shot Zoom Centipede across the hole. For colors, he recommends shades of green with silver or gold flake. He also advises anglers to consider shade when determining where bass will be holding.
"Most guys think that because weeds are under water, shade isn't important," he says. "But I've found that bass will venture farther out on the weed edge that isn't hit with direct sunlight. The weeds' shadow gives them a little more security."Crank the edgesThree time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam, arguably the North's most prominent angler, believes crankbaits are the best tools for probing weed edges during summer months."It's not easy to do, and it requires a lot of work," he admits. "But that's what I like about it. Most anglers won't fish that way, and that makes it even deadlier."VanDam says crankbaiting weedlines not only enables you to cover more water, but it is a presentation that can't be duplicated with any other lure."And it triggers reactionary strikes from bass that won't hit soft plastic baits," he adds. The Michigan pro acknowledges that main lake points offer the most appealing targets for summer anglers, but he prefers to crank the edges of weedbeds along big flats that tumble into deep water.
"Flats have smaller, underwater weed points that may not be as obvious but hold a fair number of bass," he explains. "The weed point may be a tiny knob or a finger that extends only a few feet off the ledge. Long flats have a lot of those irregularities, and if every one has a fish or two, you can fill a limit fairly fast."
Effective cranking requires every bit of concentration that worming or jigging demands because the lure can provide clues as to where those sweet spots lie ahead. VanDam watches his electronics to ensure his boat is positioned away from the weed edge and makes quartering casts so his crankbait works the tops of weeds descending into deeper water."If the bait is working over the tops of the weeds and suddenly clogs in the grass, that's a pretty good indication there's a point or knob coming off the edge. My next cast will be farther out to bring the lure along the edge of that knob, where a bass likely will be holding."A skillful cranker will stay in touch with the weeds, finessing it through the tops and popping it free. That will often trigger strikes."It's similar to worming, in that if I hit grass I will lift the rod tip, shake it or rip it free," VanDam describes. "That hesitation and sudden movement is the power of crankbaiting grass. Steady retrieves away from the grass may catch a few, but it's less effective."
Strikes aren't always noticeable, either, which is why he prefers graphite rods over fiberglass rods when cranking grass edges. The faster graphite not only makes it easier to pop the bait off the weed, but you'll feel strikes better. Sometimes the bait will stop wiggling momentarily or feel like it's caught on grass, at which time VanDam sweeps the rod or picks up speed of the retrieve."A hard hook set with fast graphite can jerk the bait away from a lethargic fish," VanDam adds. "A softer sweep of the rod or a rapid retrieve increases the chances of getting both sets of trebles in the mouth rather than just one."If VanDam encounters deep cabbage weed, he will probe it from various angles and then drag a jig through the area before giving up."Cabbage weeds are magnets for big bass, and the jig is another excellent tool for getting them to bite," he says.Cold front bluesAnglers may tease Danny Isenhart about his Stutzie worm technique, but he gets the last laugh when conditions are brutally tough.The Stutzie is a homemade, do-nothing worm about the size of a skinny pencil. The hand-poured worm is pre-rigged with two tiny hooks, and he fishes it with a small split shot mashed onto his 6- to 10-pound line about 2 feet above the lure. (For information, contact Isenhart at 262-238-9093.)Conventional worms will spiral on the fall, or their tails will catch on the weeds. The Stutzie falls flat in a tantalizing manner, says Isenhart, a B.A.S.S. touring pro from Mequon, Wis."A lot of guys won't use it because the hooks are so small," he says. "But there is nothing more deadly when the bite is slow."And because he uses it primarily on the deeper edges of weeds, he's not concerned about the small hooks or light line. He fishes the little worm with medium action 7-foot Loomis and St. Croix spinning rods that absorb the shock of a big bass' moves.
"I position the boat in deep water outside points or turns in the weedline," he describes. "I'm casting to areas where the weeds are sparse. That's where the bass like to school in the summer."The small, removable sinker with pinch-on "ears" is an important element of his rig. The worm sinks slowly, and when it hits the grass, it rests on top and is less likely to snag."I don't want the worm to bog in the grass, but I don't mind if the ears of the split shot catch on weeds," he explains."Those hesitations are just enough to give the bait a springing action when I pop the sinker free, and that attracts a bass the same way a crankbait does when it bounces off a rock or stump."Probe deeper in clear water
Randy Ramsey employs a similar rig for fishing ultraclear lakes where weeds grow 20 feet deep or more. However, unlike most anglers who sit deep and cast toward the grassline, he's casting away from the weeds.
"I position my boat right on the breakline and throw out to deeper water," the Battle Creek, Mich., angler notes. "That allows me to cover deep and shallow water from a direction the fish aren't used to seeing a lure move."
Ramsey idles around the points, watching his electronics for the isolated clumps of short "perch" grass that appear as dark clumps on his electronics. Perch grass looks like lawn grass, may have a "skunky" odor and rarely grows more than a foot off the bottom. It's a haven for crawfish, and bass will feed there during midday hours.
"Fishing pressure and boat traffic will push both largemouth and smallmouth to the perimeter of the major weedbed, and they will congregate on these isolated clumps," he said. "I've caught fish as deep as 40 feet on these kinds of spots."His favorite technique for the tough days is to Carolina rig a K&E Bass Stopper pre-rigged worm with an 18-inch leader and a 1/8-ounce bullet sinker. (Contact K&E Tackle, 2530 Barber Road, Hastings, MI 49058; StopperLures.com; 616-945- 4496.)
"The pre-rigged worm is best on the really tough days when the fish are biting soft," he says. "They don't drop the bait, and they're easier to hook."He makes long casts, and the light sinker allows the bait to sink slowly. Bass often suspend over isolated weed patches, so the slow fall may tempt those fish not on the bottom.
"It's not unusual to catch fish before the bait hits bottom," he explains. "After the bait hits bottom, I pull it a couple of feet, then let it sit for a while. It's a slow presentation, but it will catch fish that aren't very active."
If the fish are aggressive, he'll switch to a tube or Yamamoto Hula Grub rigged on a light jighead. All the lures are fished on a limber 7 1/2-foot G. Loomis rod with 6- or 8-pound line.Ramsey prefers tubes and grubs in natural colors (green, brown or gray), but likes to dip the tails in dye to give them a little contrast. Natural colored K&E worms also are preferred, but he's caught a lot of bass on purple worms with white or yellow stripes."These may not be traditional techniques, but tough summer conditions often require a change in tactics," Ramsey says. "These methods have worked for me throughout Michigan's glacial lakes, so I know they'll work in other places as well."