By Louie Stout
Most bass fishermen know that spring and fall are the times of year that offer the best chances of catching a big bass, even for a novice angler.
So what about the dog days of summer, when water temperatures soar, humidity climbs, and the fish – especially big ones – seemingly disappear completely?
Well, don’t stop believing or settle for those little-fish bites. Big bass still have to eat, and they may not be as inaccessible as one might think.
Here’s how to up the odds of catching Mr. Big this summer.
Fish bigger baits
As the summer progresses, forage gets bigger.
While dainty finesse lures will keep anglers active with smaller, aggressive bass, their mommas tend to prefer big stuff to satisfy their appetites.
Go ahead and use traditional soft plastics, but going from a 6-inch Texas-rigged plastic worm to 10- or 12-inch baits can help upgrade the catch.
The same logic applies when fishing crankbaits along deep weed edges or wacky-rigging stickworms when fishing shallow or under docks.
Big-bodied crankbaits that dredge the deeper side of weedlines or bang on submerged rock piles can trigger that reaction bite from oversized bass.
If you typically fish a 5-inch stickworm, try a 6- or 7-incher.
Fish at night
Charlie Risch, of Three Rivers, Mich., has caught a lot of big summer bass from the Great Lakes and inland natural lakes – at night.
“That’s when the big girls come out to play,” Risch said. “You will find them feeding up in shallow water and in places where you may not catch a bass during the day.”
Chatterbaits, buzzbaits, and big worms will catch them, but his favorite tool is a ½-ounce War Eagle Night Time (black with some chartreuse) spinnerbait that has a black Colorado blade. Sometimes he’ll fish willowleaf blades if the Colorado isn’t getting bit.
“That Colorado blade has some thump and helps the fish find the bait,” he said. “I’ve caught a ton of 4-, 5-, and even 6-pounders fishing at night. That’s when you get those big sacks of quality fish.”
He loves sneaking onto Lake Michigan after dark to fish along shores protected by massive rocks. Those giant boulders attract an abundance of food, and big smallmouths are there to gorge themselves.
Avoid the crowds
As fishing pressure intensifies, mature bass shy away. Anglers may still go to the community holes, but the cagey and more wary bass become loners.
One of the best places to find overlooked quality bass during the middle of the day is around deep, isolated weed clumps that sit away from weedline drop-offs. Bass will burrow in those deep clumps and wait for unsuspecting forage fish to swim by.
Electronics will help locate those weed clumps, but the key is to find schooling baitfish nearby.
A good example is offshore secondary flats with sand grass, an area overlooked by most anglers, yet one that provides a food source and sanctuary for big fish. Sand grass grows to only a few inches off bottom and is a nursery for insects and crayfish. The buffet living in the sand grass attracts bluegills and perch, which big bass love to gobble up.
An excellent bait for fishing those flats is a football jig with a crayfish-style trailer hopped through the sand grass, a Carolina rig, or a swimbait run seductively above it.
Prefer to continue fishing in shallow water? Then look for isolated docks sitting deep in pockets and bays. Many anglers target banks lined with docks, while the ones that are alone in the backs of pockets or bays get overlooked. That’s where to find a big largemouth that hasn’t been hassled by fishing pressure and is more inclined to bite.
Target the slop
Not all bass move off the bank during the summer. In fact, biologists have documented that some big fish are genetically wired to stay shallow from spring through fall.
However, they don’t wander around much. They like to get in the thick cover, whether it’s vegetation growing to the surface, such as milfoil or coontail, or lily pads, or thick, slimy flats. That’s where soft-bodied frogs slithered over the top can create explosive strikes from big fish lurking beneath.
The canopied slop provides big bass security while the water beneath it is not only cooler, but more open than might be realized. That allows bass to hunt. If a fish hammers a frog without getting the hooks, toss a Texas-rigged worm into that opening made by the initial blast and chances are that fish will attack it.
We have to be honest here and point out that these tactics may not get you as much action as standard techniques.
They will, however, increase chances of success considerably of catching quality fish, and a couple of big bites – or more – can make it all worthwhile.