Shady Spots Important Consideration for Late Summer Success
By Lynn Burkhead
August 25, 2017
Sitting in a camera boat last summer as I watched Major League Fishing Geico Select pro Zach Birge put on a fish catching clinic, it didn't take long to be reminded of one of fishing's key strategies when the heat is on.
And that's to find the shade because the bass certainly will.
Given the fact that bass are generally ambush style feeders that love to lurk in the shadows until some sort of unsuspecting baitfish wanders by, it made perfect sense that Birge was working shade lines with deadly efficiency while fishing in the MLF event contested on central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks.
As the former Carhartt Bassmaster College Series champion fished along, the Whopper Plopper that Birge was using to gurgle along the shady edges of boathouses, docks and tree covered shorelines proved more often than not to be too much for the resident bass to handle as the noisy bait passed over their heads.
With the MLF cameras watching, oftentimes there was a swirl of water - if not an outright cannonball kind of splash - as another Show Me State bass came calling and propelled Birge up the SCORETRACKER LIVE! leaderboard.
Keep in mind that the Oklahoma resident Birge is far from the only MLF pro out there willing to target the shady fishing opportunities that can be found in early summer.
Because there are a number of seasoned pros who understand fully what shade does to fish as the day gets along and how they can use that tendency to their MLF fish catching advantage.
"When the sun gets up, they'll (certainly) position themselves a little differently," said Jacob Wheeler, the MLF Select pro from Indiana.
"What I mean by differently is that they'll be around some sort of shade (when that happens), for the most part," added the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup champion and newly qualified member of the Bassmaster Elite Series tour.
"Whether it's boathouses, under an overhanging bank or under an overhanging tree, they're going to be looking for something that gives them a little place where they can lay around and not have to worry about getting ambushed."
On Lake of the Ozarks, most MLF anglers took advantage of the shade offered by boat docks and boathouses, some more so than others.
Since this event was contested in early summertime, that wasn't surprising since the shade line pattern holds true all over the central and southern U.S. from Missouri to Alabama and from Kentucky to Oklahoma.
"I think that May and June are typically the best months to hit these (kind of) spots since fish are beginning to look for shade and cooler water as things start to heat up during the day," said Rob Woodruff, a longtime East Texas bass guide who targets the double-digit lunkers that swim on the Lone Star State's famed Lake Fork.
That being said, Woodruff's two and a half decades of guiding experience on Fork tells him that sometimes, bass will actually position themselves just off of shade producing structure.
Why is that?
"Because of the angle of the sun, a shade line can extend off to one side or the other of a dock or boathouse and sometimes, you’ll find fish holding out in the shaded water away from the actual structure itself," said Woodruff.
"So I’ll fish the shaded areas away from a structure first, then actually throw up around and under the dock or the boathouse second."
When Woodruff does find a fish or two in such situations, he’s always looking for a clue that will key him in on a pattern that he needs to follow.
"A lot of times, there’s a sweet spot on docks and boathouses on a given day," said Woodruff. "Sometimes, it can be pretty clear cut but at other times, you’ll have to think a bit to figure things out.
"Sometimes, fish will hold on a particular portion of the dock or boathouse because of the surroundings, things like a creek channel swinging in, a nearby point or a drop into deeper water, a grass bed, stuff like that.
"Usually, when a fish is holding in a certain spot, there’s a reason why he is doing it."
And oftentimes, as noted above, that reason is because of the thermal relief that shade can provide on a sunny summer day.
While topwaters are often a go-to choice for anglers targeting shade lines and shadowy areas, it pays to remember that even with shade, the depth that a fish is holding can change as the day gets along.
And recognizing the depth that fish are holding can be a big key in bait selection, the difference of catching a fish in a shady spot as a topwater plug wanders by or by hooking a bass when a deeper presentation is needed like swimming a jig.
"Generally, earlier in the day, they sit up a little higher up in the water column, (even in the shade)," said MLF Select pro and 2015 Bassmaster Classic champ Casey Ashley.
"When it gets later on in the day (however), that's when they'll often get a little deeper."
Like the other anglers mentioned in this story, Ashley is a big proponent of finding good shady spots in the early summertime that give bass the various things that they are looking for.
In fact, it's almost always factoring into his decision making when the heat rises on a late spring or early summer day.
"Shade is big," said Ashley, a South Carolina bass pro and respected country music musician. "That's what they're looking for, shade and cover, all of the time."
"There are a lot of docks here (on Lake of the Ozarks), you've just got to figure out how to catch them."
For the anglers who do get that task figured out, they'll have it made in the shade, if you'll pardon the pun.
And that's whether they are searching for Major League Fishing fame and glory as the Outdoor Channel and World Fishing Network television cameras look on.
Or they are searching for a simple weekend warrior good time while bragging to their angling pals back at the boat ramp, showing off a few Smartphone grip-and-grin photos of the ones that didn't get away.
Even if it those bass were all but hidden from view, lurking deep within the shade.