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Catching Shallow Summer Bass

Mike Bednarski and a largemouth he caught on a summer morning.

By Mike Bednarski/ DWR Chief of Fisheries

Photos by Mike Bednarski/DWR

Summer is in full swing, and with it, comes the heat. Daytime temperatures can get close to 100 degrees, and water temperatures may get close to or exceed 90. Though many bass head to deeper water in the summer, there are plenty of bass that stay shallow through the heat of summer, and you can catch them from a boat, kayak, or even from shore. Here are some tips I’ve picked up that should help you catch more fish.

Tip #1: The Early Bird Catches the Worm…

We all know that fish bite well in the morning, and there is no time of the year where this is more true than the summer months. I do the best in shallow water between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m., fishing topwater baits such as buzz baits, poppers and crawlers around scattered vegetation in 1 to 5 feet of water.

I look for shallow grass, sticks, docks—anything that could hold a fish—and try to hit as many targets as I can before the sun gets up. Here, nothing covers water like a buzz bait, and if you miss a fish, a quick follow-up with the popper can turn missed strikes into extra fish. I throw a chartreuse-and-white buzz bait and a shad colored popper. If I’m fishing a place with big fish—like the Chickahominy River—I tend to throw the crawler. This bite is usually over when the sun rises, but can last all day if it’s raining out. I like 40 lb. braid for a popper and 50lb. braid for buzz baits and crawlers. Braid has no stretch and gives you much better hooksets on top-water baits.

Tip #2: Made in the Shade

When it gets bright, bass seek shade. This provides a good ambush point and keeps them safe from predators. When it gets to be about 8 a.m., I start to look deeper into cover for bass. I look for matted vegetation—water willow, lily pads, or any vegetation that forms a canopy. Frogs and toads really shine here, and you can get some awesome strikes on these baits. When I’m throwing a frog, I throw a big frog, as I can cast it further and it makes more noise. Frogs and toads work surprisingly well when there is a lot of boat traffic or wind—there’s something about the waves and commotion that keeps the bass moving.

You can cover a lot of water with this technique and a simple pattern of moving quickly and throwing along the edge of vegetation can produce some good catches in the middle of the day. Another tip—heavy tackle is a must. I use 50lb. braid and 7- to 8-foot heavy action rods. You don’t want to doubt your gear when you are pulling a six-pound largemouth out from the water willow.

Tip #3: Revved up Metabolism

In the summer, a bass’ metabolism is the highest it will get, and these fish need to eat and eat often. When I’m really struggling to get a bite with a frog or flipping in the middle of the day, I’ll pick up a buzz bait and just cover water. I throw near cover like docks and weed edges, but I won’t worry too much about getting it as close as I can. There are fish that are active and may be 10 or 20 feet away from obvious cover.

These fish are shallow and can be found towards the back of pockets. For whatever reason, the hotter and calmer it is, the better this bite is. Think 98 degrees, flat calm, and humid. I can’t really explain it, but it always puts an extra fish in the boat when I’m struggling. These fish run better than average—think three to five pounds. So, try a buzz bait in the middle of the day and see what happens.

Tip #4:  A River Runs Through It

Where you find moving water, you’ll find bass. In the summer, your best shallow spots will have moving water. This means explore the headwaters of reservoirs, or go one step further and target our tidal rivers. Bass orient to cover on the edge of the current, and if you fish where current and cover intersect, you’ll find fish. This also applies to old creek channels.

Even if there is no current, a drop from 2 feet to 4 to 6 feet provides a breakline for fish to orient to. My best spots at either Lake Chesdin or Swift Creek Lake in Pocahontas State Park, which I fish a lot because I live in metro Richmond, either have current or a nearby breakline. And don’t overlook small feeder creeks in the backs of coves. There will often be a pocket of deeper water, with cover and current, which will hold a bass or two. Try a small stickworm, wacky rigged, in these areas.

Good luck, and I’ll see you out there this summer.

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