Summertime means schooling bass, and schooling bass mean swimbaits. It's really just that simple, in my world anyway.
Schooling bass are feeding bass. They are not territorial, they are not interested in bigger baits and they are not shy. When I see a bunch of them busting the surface, or maybe a flock of birds diving repeatedly in the same area, I reach for a swimbait.
This is especially true on waters where traditional schooling baits are common, places where the bass know more about the color and running depth of a bait than you do. Very few bass have been conditioned to swimbaits. They're a first-class choice at this time of year.
In late summer and early fall open water is the most common schooling pattern you'll encounter. Often they'll be found off bluff walls or long, sloping points that drop into deep water. At other times, however, they'll be roaming haphazardly above depths of 80 feet or more with nothing underneath them except blue-green mud.
Regardless of where you find them, however, you should keep two things in mind — throw smaller baits and work them fast.
No one except the fish knows why smaller lures work best at this time of the year. My theory is that the bass are feeding and that small lures create the appearance of vulnerability. They look like easy pickings, one quick bite that requires little effort.
Some of the best lure choices are the new 4- and 5-inch Tru-Tungsten Tru-Life swimbaits. They're hard-bodied, heavy enough to cast a mile, can be adjusted to run at various depths and look very much like the real thing.
If you prefer soft-bodied swimbaits, try one of the Basstrix models or a Berkley Hollow Belly. Both have excellent action and catch more than their fair share of fish. I never rig them weedless unless it's absolutely necessary. My preference is to use a jighead with the hook exposed above the lure's back.
This method looks realistic. The hook resembles a dorsal fin. And, just as important, the exposed hook point increases my hooking percentage. Taken together, these two factors make a huge difference in my fishing success.
No matter which bait you use, keep in mind that you need to move your swimbait along at this time of year. I make very long casts using light line — 12- or 15-pound-test — and a long rod. I bring my bait back with a high-speed reel, usually something in the range of 7:1.
Learn to adjust your retrieve so that the bait will run at various depths. That's a more important skill than many anglers realize. A few inches up or down in the water column can make of world of difference in the number of bites you get.
Fishing main lake docks will also fill your livewell in late summer and early fall. This is not a light line, long rod and high-speed reel pattern, though. It's much more traditional.
Find a dock that sits near — but not necessarily in — deep water. (A little wind will make a good dock great.) Cast your lure around the pilings, any brush you can find or into shady areas. Slow roll it back with a steady, even crank of the reel handle. Don't be afraid to fish the same spot from several different directions and angles. Sometimes that'll trigger strikes from otherwise lethargic bass.
Again, never go weedless unless you have no other choice. If that's your only option, however, put a belly hook on your plastics. You'll miss a few fish, but let's be realistic — swimbaits aren't cheap and fishing time is precious. Losing several a day, or spending half your time getting them back, is expensive and frustrating.
Next month we'll review a couple of fall and late fall techniques.