The prelude to a summertime pop-up thunderstorm can turn the bass bite on enough for even a novice to enjoy the action. However, when the thunder, lightning and rain subside is the time that separates the weekend anglers from the pros.
"To understand what happens afterwards, you have to understand what happens before (the storm)," says Bassmaster Elite Series pro Matt Herren. "Most of the time during summer, pop-up thunderstorms are like their own little weather systems." During the dog days of summer, the heat and humidity build up to create afternoon thunderstorms.
Herren believes the prefrontal conditions of increasing cloud cover and wind and a falling barometer can have the same effect on lethargic summertime bass as approaching cold fronts do in the spring and fall. "That will trigger mini-feeds on those fish," he says.
While fishing can be great during this time, Herren uses extreme caution when thunder starts rumbling. He gets off the water when he notices the leading edge of the clouds nearing him rather than trying to judge the distance of the lightning strikes. "You need to be cautious of summer storms because they just kind of bubble up during the head of the day and are bad about wandering," he warns. "They will circle and back up."
Herren usually heads back out on the water when the wind and rain subsides, but he still keeps an eye out for more foul weather. "You think the storms are cleared out, but there are times when you will be back out on the lake, and it will be right back on top of you," he says.
The professional angler notices novice anglers make a critical mistake when they get back on the water once the storm finally passes. "Most of them fish the same way they did before the thunderstorm," he says. "They don't really evaluate what happens during that thunderstorm and how it changes the mood of the fish."
The Alabama pro believes a thunderstorm has different effects on the two dominant bass species in his area. "Spotted bass in the South will go crazy in the thunder and lightning but largemouth don't like it because they are a shallower fish," he says.
From his post-storm experiences, Herren has noticed largemouth move off of structure or cover, but are still suspended close to the spots they were holding on prior to the storm. Fish that moved up on a hump to feed before the storm have probably moved to the side of the hump to suspend after the tempest. "So you may have to back off and position the boat differently and fish a different level of the water column," says Herren.
"If you were using a crankbait that dove 8 to 10 feet deep, when the fish suspend you may have to go to a crankbait that dives 12 to 14 feet. Or if you were using a Carolina rig with a 1-ounce weight, you may have to go to a Texas rig with a 5/16-ounce weight for a slower fall."
Bass in laydowns and other shallow wood also suspend at the ends of the cover where Herren tries to trigger a reaction strike by burning a small spinnerbait, buzzbait or crankbait. Swimming a trick worm with a 1/16-ounce weight or a Santone Rayburn Swim Jig through the limbs of a laydown is one of Herren's favorite ways to coax inactive post-storm bass into biting.
When the wind dies and blue skies prevail after a storm, Herren has to resort to a light Texas rigged soft plastic or other finesse tactics since the fishing slows considerably. If the clouds continue to linger though, big fish will still bite. "Fishing around those storms will present an angler some pretty good opportunities to catch some pretty good fish," says Herren.
Just make sure you are off the water well in advance of and quite a while after the storm's light show.
Originally published August 2011