When your flip-flops melt on the pavement, your sandwich cooks itself, and ice doesn’t make it from the bag to the cooler in solid form, it’s officially the dog days of summer. As kids we yearned for them, and Alice Cooper welcomed them, but once you’re older they’re no longer quite as fun—especially if you’re a bass angler. The largemouths that flooded the banks just a few months ago as fat, easy pickings are now mostly looking for oxygen down deep. As they recover from the spawn but haven’t started the fall feed, sometimes it feels like the lake is barren.
Fishing may be better than ever on some waters, and technology gives us a leg up, but when you see massive uncatchable schools suspended on your space-age electronics, it’s an abnormally ironic punishment. Bass everywhere, but not biting. Of course, all of those humming air conditioners require power, so if you’re fishing a hydroelectric reservoir you can depend on a semi-predictable generation schedule to get fish active. During those periods the baitfish will start moving and the bass will stack up on predictable current breaks. While they’re active, you can sometimes throw a crankbait that’ll rattle the fillings out of your teeth, a big swimbait, or a mop-sized football jig and get bite after bite.
Just two problems with that scenario:
First: Every Tom, Dick, and Roland will be out chasing those same schools. Today’s mapping technology leaves few, if any, secrets on the big ponds.
Second: They don’t generate all day. When the power company flicks the “off” switch, it’s not just the turbines that shut down. The fish go back to hibernation mode, too.
If you want to catch those bass that are in a neutral or negative mood, you either have to show them something different or find a different place to catch them. Here are three ways to do that.
Pray for ’Em The jig may be the most universal lure ever invented, not just for bass, but for every species from freshwater to the salt and back again. In largemouth land, that usually means a flipping jig meant to penetrate heavy cover or a football jig dragged across deep rocks. Most often they’re either black and blue (for stained water), or some form of green or brown for clearer water. Either color class replicates a number of forage foods, but primarily protein-packed crayfish.
But what about lakes where the bass feast on shad, both the smaller threadfins and the larger gizzard shad? They’re not black and blue or green pumpkin, and the best way to replicate them may not be with living rubber, or with silicone skirts, but rather with white bucktail. In some parts of the South they call this the “Preacher Jig”—but it’s uncertain whether that’s because it was invented by a man of the cloth or because by the time you dig it out, you’re down on your knees praying for a bite. Either way, when you let it flutter down, that hollow deer hair flares out and performs the death shimmer of a dying shad. It’s just too enticing for the fish to pass up.
You can crawl the hair jig along the bottom or hop it slowly, but often the best way to trigger dormant bass is to rip it off the bottom and then let it fall on a semi-slack line.
Sometimes you’ll feel the strike or see your line jump, but many times it’ll just get heavy as a bass latches on. Be sure to use fluorocarbon, which sinks and has less stretch than mono, and is far less visible than braid.
Spoon Up a Meal Like hair jigs, spoons went out of style with the cool kids of the bassing world for many years. There’d been the old school Johnson Silver Minnow for surface and near-surface presentations, and the old Hopkins for the jigging set, but they weren’t trendy. Then Texas pro Kelly Jordon exposed the big flutter spoons used by savvy Lake Fork anglers to the world on television and now they’re fashionable again but only in limited swaths of the country, and perhaps not in your backyard.
For the same reason that the hair jigs work, the spoon can be deadly—it’s a meal that simultaneously looks both fleeting and easy to grab. Cast ’em out, rip ‘em up off the bottom, and let them flutter back down. You’ll be surprised at how long it takes a thin slab of metal to wind its way back to the bottom, even when it’s not interrupted by a bass.
The real question is whether you have the huevos to go truly jumbo in your spooning efforts. The 5- and 6-inch models replicate a sizeable shad already, but the 8- and 9-inch behemoths are closer to a hubcap than anything else and may weigh 3 or so ounces—but they get the biggest bass in the school to react.
No matter which size you choose, these lures have a rightful reputation for getting monster fish to strike and then fall off halfway to the boat. All of that metal slapping around allows a seemingly well-hooked fish to dislodge the lure with a head shake or jump, and many times the fish grab the head of the lure instead of the lower end, missing the factory trebles. Some anglers affix a treble hook at the head to combat that possibility or use the assist stinger hooks utilized by saltwater jiggers. No matter how you rig it, don’t screw around during the fight. Get that sucker in the boat asap and fire out your silverware again while the school is activated.
Up the River If you can’t beat the competition with old school deep-water lures, then it may just pay to get away from the crowd. During the brutal heat of July and August, many of our best fisheries are covered up not only with bass boats, but also with jet skis, tubers, pleasure boats, and party barges of all varieties and blood alcohol levels. It can become a monster pain in the butt just to find water that isn’t being churned to a froth.
A friend of mine in Alabama reacted to this by buying a jet boat and fishing the same lakes, just in their upper reaches where most of the other fun-seekers couldn’t go. If you fish tournaments where jet outboards are banned, a tunnel hull and a propped outboard can accomplish the same goal. Either way you still need to be judicious in your movements as neither of these crafts are cure-alls against stupidity, poor judgment, or big ass rocks. But if you can safely get to where the water is constantly moving and therefore more oxygenated, you’ll likely have a population of fish that act differently than their downstream lazy lake fish bretheren. They’ll be shallower, ready to bite reaction baits like crankbaits, vibrating jigs, and topwaters. Just as importantly, you may have them all to yourself.
When possible, launch closer to these areas so you don’t have to run as much difficult water. If there’s a dam above you, be sure to monitor their generation schedules—it may not change the bite as much but it could save your life. Be sure to wear a PFD and file a float plan with family, too. As much as I love to fish, no bass is worth dying for.
*Feature image via Bill Linder Photography. *