Land of giants: Early summer tanks

Depending on where you fish this month, giant bass can be duped in a variety of ways.

Drew Cook

Depending on where you fish this month, giant bass can be duped in a variety of ways. Elite Series pros map the course. 

As the calendar’s midpoint approaches, a lot of big bass will be in various stages of their postspawn cycle. The whoppers can get pretty finicky this time of year, but four Elite Series anglers shared their insights into how they track down and engage June giants. 

DREW COOK — Timber Lake 

From the Lake Seminole waters of his youth to the Texas toad factory known as Lake Fork, Drew Cook said the thing that makes a field of standing timber initially attractive is the very thing that also proves perplexing: It all looks fishy. Understandable and not necessarily incorrect, the 2019 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year said the key to locating giant lairs is picking out the unique spots that attract big, dominant fish. 

“Whenever you get into places with massive amounts of timber, there’s going to be a lot of trees that are the same, and then you’ll find magic trees,” Cook said. “You used to find these magic trees in [Lake Seminole’s] Spring Creek, and it took years and years to find them. 

“You’d have to fish until you’d find one and catch a 10-pounder, but now with forward-facing sonar, you don’t have to put in that much time and effort. You just troll through there and look for fish.” 

Despite the diminished mystique, the appeal remains rooted (pun intended) in the same features that attract the top-shelf quality. For one thing, Cook finds the best spots consistently stand on the deep-water access points — creek-channel bends and underwater points adjacent to a channel bend. 

“I look for a large tree with lots of limbs,” Cook said. “The live oaks on Lake Seminole are the best, because if you look at a live oak tree on land, you see how much area it covers. 

“Nothing grows under a live oak because it steals all the sunlight. So when you have a giant canopy of limbs and a big tree with nothing underneath [in a reservoir], it’s a perfect habitat for big bass.” 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cook knows the more modest trees can be one-hit wonders, if unique features exist. Similar to flipping bushes, big fish typically gravitate toward differences, so Cook scours the flooded forests for standouts. 

“A lot of the time, you’re looking for singles; the big ones don’t usually school up that much,” he said. “A lot of times, a tree will have a fork like 8 feet below the surface. There’s not a lot of places to hide, but there’s one key spot. 

“I think those big fish are loners and they like to have one spot where they can be by themselves. Once they get to a certain size and age, they don’t like to be around a lot of other fish.” 

With a target acquired, Cook hits these big timber fish with a 6-inch Scottsboro Tackle Co. swimbait or a glidebait like the Spro Chad Shad. He’ll use an open-hook jighead if he can get away with it, but around trees with more structure, a belly-weighted hook better navigates the entanglements. 

Cook’s second choice is a Spro McStick 110 suspending jerkbait or the 115 floating model. With the latter, he often modifies the hardware to handle the class of fish he’s seeking. 

“I can put some magnum hooks on that bait and it will suspend, not float,” Cook said. “If you took a regular suspending jerkbait and put big hooks on it, the bait would sink like a rock.” 

Cook said although he commonly upsizes to No. 4 trebles, here he’ll go with a No. 2 on the front and a No. 4 on the rear. On places like Fork, his jerkbaits hit the water loaded for bear, with hulking 1/0 trebles front and back and the middle spot left open. 

“When you’re fighting those big fish around a lot of timber, you want to hook them and get them coming,” Cook said. “You don’t want to worry about a No. 5 hook bending if you’re trying to get big fish around a tree.” 

Cook said he’ll start with the swimbait and then tag in the glidebait. The jerkbait’s usually the deal-closer for tough fish, but if those giants still turn their noses up, he’ll pitch a 1/2-ounce jig with a Nories FG Daddy or the Nories Front Flapper to the tree and let it fall past the fish. 

“I’ll upsize to 25-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon to avoid getting caught in the [tree] grooves,” Cook said. “If you throw smaller fluorocarbon, or braid, it will pinch down into those grooves — and there’s a lot of places in that timber for that to happen.” 

BAIT: Scottsboro 6-inch swimbait 
WHY: Attention getter 
WHERE: Big trees 

John Cox

JOHN COX — Southern Grass Lake 

Preferring to stay as shallow as possible, John Cox looks for the cleanest water he can find and then seeks out the isolated grass clumps where giants can chill and feed in much-needed privacy. Blended habitat’s always a hit-maker, so Cox keeps an eye out for a mix of grass and pads or grass with some natural wood elements. 

“I think when you become the biggest fish in the lake, you’re having to compete with other fish and it’s hard to compete with those [faster, more agile] 4-pounders,” Cox said. “Those big ones have to stay close to cover, eat whatever comes by and run off any other bass. 

“In this scenario, I’m looking for a resident fish. In June, on Southern grass lakes, most fish are offshore, but the ones on those grass clumps live shallow. They’ll always be there.” 

While his target spots sit pretty shallow, Cox always looks for those isolated grass clumps close to deep water. As he explained, the fish will often move up and feed on those stand-alone grass patches, then slide back deep for that coveted best-of-both-worlds scenario. 

Cox finds he can often tempt the giants sitting on these isolated grass clumps with a Berkley Cane Walker. Color doesn’t seem to matter, so if they’re not crushing the bait, he’ll switch it up. Common producers include shad patterns, chrome (for sunny times) and flat black (when it is cloudy or rainy). 

Cox fishes his topwater on a 7-5 medium-heavy moderate-fast Fenwick World Class rod with an 8.3:1 Abu Garcia Zenon MG-X reel carrying 30-pound Berkley x9 braid. 

“I like to walk it steady side to side and pause it where I think a big fish may be sitting,” Cox said. “Sometimes, they like it when you let it sit and then start working the bait, but other times, you want to start working the bait immediately.” 

Cox said he’ll let his bait sit for a few seconds in water 10 feet or deeper, as the fish may be coming up from several feet below and you want to allow them time to reach the bait. In shallower water, maybe 2 to 4 feet, he’ll start the bait walking on touchdown. 

“They didn’t get big by being dumb,” Cox said. “In shallow water, you don’t want to give them time to examine the bait; surprise them with it.” 

BAIT: Berkley Cane Walker 
WHY: Big target 
WHERE: Adjacent to grass clumps 

JASON CHRISTIE — Highland Reservoir 

In his Oklahoma home waters and throughout the region, Christie knows his best opportunity for a June giant will come by targeting postspawners on the first drop in front of the spawning areas. Typically, the fish have not yet committed to their summer patterns, so he works closer to where the fish recently did their business. 

“I believe in June, in [this part of the country], these fish don’t get into brush until July,” Christie said. “July 4 is my line for beginning that offshore search. In June, they just want to get on hard spots and drops. Not sheer river ledges like they will in July and August — just a hard spot with some contour around it.” 

Just like a real estate agent, the biggest postspawners are all about the location. Proximity varies with each fish, and while Christie’s generally looking for fish at those main-lake launching spots, he’s not averse to a little backtracking. 

“Say you have a major spawning creek — they’re usually around the mouth on flats running off into the deep water,” Christie said. “They can also be in the back of the creeks; it doesn’t have to be at the mouth.” 

Weather patterns are generally stable this time of year, but Christie’s not concerned with the day’s complexion. These big fish are positioned to eat, and seasonal congregations typically find them ready to blast a big bait. 

“They hang out in big schools until July, when they bust up and move to brushpiles, river ledges, stumps, etc.,” Christie said. “I think [the postspawn aggression] has to do with the feeding frenzy; it’s like the pack of wolves. They felt better in groups — it’s strength in numbers.” 

As these fish recuperate, their rumbling bellies tell their mouths to target big meals, and Christie’s keen to oblige their preference. His go-to is a Bomber DD7 crankbait in the citrus color. He’ll also throw a 3/4-ounce War Eagle football jig with a green pumpkin Yum Christie Critter and slow roll a 5-inch Scottsboro Tackle Co. swimbait on a 3/4-ounce Scottsboro Tackle Co. Recon jighead. 

“I’ll start with the big crankbait because I feel like the big ones will bite first and that crankbait kind of gets them fired up,” Christie said. “On a normal rotation, I’ll catch three or four on the crankbait, then I’ll switch to the swimbait — something silent and finesse-y — and typically, I’ll catch another two or three.” 

Once he’s caught what he thinks he can catch on those two baits, Christie shifts to the football jig — his cleanup bait that’s usually good for another keeper. The plan often holds true, but Christie keeps it flexible, as these often moody postspawners will flip the script if you’re not paying attention. 

BAIT: Bomber DD7 
WHY: Fires up school 
WHERE: Deep creek mouths 

TODD AUTEN — Dock Lake 

When docks are many, time management depends on prudent targeting. For South Carolina pro Todd Auten, that means looking for the box checkers. 

Shelter and shade are pretty standard for all docks, but Auten knows the big, savvy postspawners favor the docks with a good supply of forage — namely, bluegill. In his experience, shallow docks in a main-channel pocket generally hold big-time potential. 

“Usually, I’ll look for a big bite early in the morning,” Auten said. “I like that first pocket on the main lake, or, if I’m moving into a creek, I like to hit those first pockets and look for bream beds because that will hold those big fish.” 

A clean, sandy bottom is best, and brighter days help the program by positioning dock bass and illuminating bream beds. While cloudy or rainy conditions could find the fish roaming, sun tightens up the targets. 

“I like a little chop during the day, but in the morning, I like it slick for that topwater bite,” Auten said. “If it’s windy in the morning, I’d switch to a spinnerbait or a ChatterBait.” 

As far as dock design, Auten believes bigger is better because more shade and more area likely means more fish. Also, shallower docks set against a flat bank bring the heavyweights into easier reach. 

“If it’s a deep channel bank, I won’t even go over there,” Auten said. “And if it’s a dock on a shady pocket, I won’t even mess with it. I want docks on a sunny bank because that will put those fish under the dock.” 

Auten starts with a Water Wood Smooth Criminal walking topwater or a homemade buzzbait with a Zoom Horny Toad. While covering water is key, Auten remains mindful of the sweet spots. 

“I’ll always throw up in the slip, but most of the time, the key bite is going to be on those back corners where the dock meets the walkway,” Auten said. “A lot of times, those bream beds are up near the docks. The bass are tucked under the dock, and when they see a bait coming past the dock, it triggers them. 

“It’s your basic ambush feeding. They just sit up under there and, when a bream gets out of line, they go get that snack. That’s what I’m trying to mimic with my baits.” 

Once the intensifying sunlight pushes those big bass farther under the dock, Auten switches to a 1/2-ounce Shooter Jig in crawdad color with a Zoom Z Craw Jr. trailer. Skipping deep into the shadow realm is a good way to get your arm stretched. 

BAIT: Water Wood Smooth Criminal 
WHY: Realistic 
WHERE: Bream beds