John Q. Angler hits the water before sunrise to catch summertime bass then retreats to the air-conditioning to take a siesta when the air temperature soars to the 100-degree mark.
Most bass anglers follow the same routine in the heat of summer, except the savvy professionals who know bass remain active even on searing afternoons when the thermometer hits the century mark. While covering bass tournaments throughout the years, I’ve interviewed many pros who won summertime events by catching their biggest fish in the middle of a scorching afternoon.
If John Q. Angler and his fishing buddies venture out on a 100-degree afternoon, the heat makes them sluggish so they try slow presentations for bass since they believe the fish feel the same way. However, they fail to realize bass are in watery realm that could be 10 to 30 degrees cooler than the air temperature. In this cooler environment, bass are much more active than their human counterparts and are inclined to slam fast-moving prey.
As the air temperature soars into triple-digit readings, the touring pros speed up their presentations to catch summertime bass. Here’s a look at some of the high-speed tactics four tournament veterans rely on to trick bass on 100-degree days.
A topwater plug is probably one of the last lures most bass anglers would choose for triple-digit days, but it’s a top choice for Texas pro Zell Rowland. “That usually is one of my best times to go topwater fishing,” he discloses.
The tournament competitor catches bass in the shallows or over deep water in the summertime heat with a Heddon Zara Spook, Rebel Pop-R or an Excalibur Zell Pop. “Every lake that you go to there are always fish that are going to be in shallow water depending on the types of cover available,” says Rowland. “The best cover will be docks or lay-down logs that cast shade where the water will be cooler. Usually in the very hot summertime, I might be in 4 feet of water going down the bank throwing a topwater bait and working it as fast as Kevin VanDam throws a spinnerbait.”
High speed topwater tactics also produce on a deep, clear reservoir such as Lake Mead. “When the temperature out there is 100 to 110 degrees we wear out the fish throwing a Zara Spook or a Pop-R over 25 to 30 feet of water,” he says. “We can work those lures as fast as we can to trigger strikes.”
Water clarity determines how fast Rowland starts working his topwaters. “Generally the clearer the water the faster I will work it, but the more color the water has I will slow the bait down.”
Rowland can make his Zara Spook move side to side at high speeds by rapidly working it on 17- to 20-pound line. “The heavier line allows me to stay in contact with the bait quicker when I am jerking the rod and reeling,” says Rowland.
The Texas pro employs the same steady fast-paced retrieve with a Pop-R and a Zell Pop to make these topwaters spit water rather than pop on the surface. “The Zell Pop is a topwater bait I fish more than any now if I want to work the lure extremely fast,” he says. Rowland’s tackle for his high-speed topwater tactics includes an American Rodsmiths Zell Rowland topwater rod (6 1/2-foot, medium action) and a Quantum Tour Edition PT bait-cast reel with a 7.0:1 gear ratio.
If a bass strikes and misses his lure, Rowland either keeps working the lure at the same pace or stops it. The feathered hooks on the Pop-R and Zell Pop play a key role in this situation. Rowland knows from experience that the fish is usually within 3 to 4 feet of the stopped lure and is watching for its next move. So Rowland nudges the lure forward about an 1/8 of an inch to makes the tail feathers flare, which usually provokes a strike.
When summertime bass hold in the 10- to 20-foot range, four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion Rick Clunn catches these fish with high-speed cranking techniques. “Normally with 100-degree weather you have to associate it with the lakes getting clearer in the summertime,” he says “So I like to speed my baits up in clear water.”
On some deep, clear lakes such as Table Rock and Bull Shoals, the bass move too deep to reach them with a crankbait. However Clunn has taken bass by bouncing deep-diving crankbaits off the standing timber and flooded bushes in the clear waters of Lake Mead during extremely hot days. “If I can reach the fish then I am going to be working a crankbait and working it fast,” he says.
The Missouri pro burns his crankbaits on 12- to 14-pound monofilament line with a high-speed baitcast reel (6.3:1 gear ratio). He occasionally uses 10-pound test line, especially if he needs his crankbaits to dive deeper.
A variety of deep-diving crankbaits will trigger strikes when ran at high speeds, but Clunn prefers models without rattles when he’s fishing in clear water and on highly pressured lakes. He believes bass in those situations are turned off by the rattling noise so he either removes the rattles from crankbaits such as the Norman Lures D22 or he depends on the Orion crankbait, a model without rattles that he designed for Bass Pro Shops.
Clunn thinks a crankbait running at a high speed makes enough noise and vibration to trigger strikes without rattles. “The fish’s lateral line (which detects underwater vibrations) is more sophisticated than its hearing and other senses,” he claims
Speed Cranking the Shallows
When the temperature climbs to the triple-digit mark, Mississippi pro Pete Ponds relies on a fast-moving crankbait to search for aggressive fish.
His favorite summertime search lure is a Bandit Shallow Flat Maxx, a flat-sided crankbait that runs 3 to 6 feet deep. He likes to run this lure at high speeds and bang it into any shallow wood cover he can find. “When it is hot, the fish suspend in the middle of the day around the cover and a lot of times when you reel the crankbait down there, bang it off the cover and pop it one time it triggers the fish to strike.”
On his home waters of Ross Barnett Reservoir, Ponds relies on the same lure to catch bass busting shad along stump flats on sultry summer afternoons. “It almost turns into a hunting deal like shooting doves or quail,” says Ponds. “I’m standing there with my reel engaged and waiting for the fish to surface. As they surface I throw that lure within inches past where they came up and then crank it down and stop it one time and pop it.” The speedy retrieve followed by the pause and pop usually tricks one of the schooling bass into biting.
Burning the Flat Maxx produces for Ponds in both clear- and dirty-water conditions. He opts for a crankbait in brighter colors (black-and-chartreuse or blue-and-chartreuse) when running the lure in dirty water, but he opts for more natural colors such as green-and-pearl or brown-and-orange to resemble shad or crawfish in the clearer water.
Ponds rapidly cranks his Flat Maxx on a 6 1/2- or 7-foot medium action Setyr cranking rod combined with a Ardent XS bait-cast reel (6.0:1 gear ratio). He favors the sensitivity of Vicious Fluorocarbon line for his crankbait tricks and opts for 10 to 12-pound test line, which gives his lure better action than heavier lines do.
Television fishing celebrity Hank Parker rates midday as a prime time to catch bass on 100-degree days. “I’ve always liked fishing the middle of the day,” says Parker, who looks for fish in the shallows holding tight to shady areas. “When you have a bright sunny afternoon in the middle of the summer and there is a boat dock that has one shady area you know where that fish will be. Half of the reason you catch a fish is because you get it to react to your bait out of impulse. If you know where the fish’s ambush point is then you can position yourself to fish that bait to where you are getting the fish to react rather than entice it. If you work at it you can catch a lot of fish shallow up under boat docks in screaming hot weather.”
Parker employs a skipping presentation with spinning tackle to catch bass tucked up under docks in the shade. The TV show host opts for a Texas-rigged tube bait with a 3/16- or 1/8-ounce weight that he rapidly skips to the target and then lets it fall into the strike zone.
Flashing a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait in shady areas of a lay-down also produces hefty bass for Parker during the heat of summer. The former Bassmaster Classic champion believes big bass are opportunists that strike whenever something appears quickly in their shady sanctuary. “Bigger fish are caught out of impulse more than they are enticed into biting,” Parker reveals.
While John Q. Angler and his fishing buddies are taking siestas in the air-conditioning, you can experience some action as hot as the weather by burning a topwater plug, spinnerbait or crankbait during a triple-digit afternoon.