Catching Heat-Wave Bass
by Lynn Burkhead
A glance at the upcoming weather forecast for my North Texas home shows searing triple-digit heat for the foreseeable future.
Which means to me that it's time to go out and experience some of the year's best fishing on my favorite big bass water in the world, the East Texas lunker factory known as Lake Fork.
Especially if you know where to look and what to throw as the thermometer soars.
Veteran big bass guru and Lake Fork guide Dean Stroman (903-850-5083) knows exactly how to do both.
Last summer, while fishing with my longtime Colorado pal Brian Strickland during the hottest summer on record in the Lone Star State, Stroman put on a heat-wave clinic to show us how it was done.
Even on one of the hottest days in recorded Texas history.
Moments after stepping into Strickland’s boat at first light, Stroman got the bucketmouth party started when he grunted and settled into a solid early morning fight with a six-pound largemouth.
For many anglers, such a fish would be something to hoot and holler about.
Not for Stroman; he is looking for Lake Fork’s trophy bass that push seven pounds or better.
With his own personal best Fork bass of 14.2 pounds; a client best behemoth weighing 15.25 pounds; and with seven customers having boated official ShareLunker bass of 13 pounds or better while aboard his guide boat, it’s easy to see why.
“That’s really the only thing I target is big fish,” said Stroman, who began guiding on Lake Fork shortly after it opened in 1986.
“When my boat hits the water every day, that’s what I’m targeting is the biggest fish that swims in the lake.”
Even during the dog days of summer.
How does he do it? Stroman’s late summer strategy starts by tossing DD-22 deep-diving crankbaits in the early morning light.
Why the DD-22?
“It’s hard to improve on perfection,” said Stroman. “It has been around a long time and it still catches fish. It gets down quick, it hits the right depth, and they make it in a lot of good colors.”
On our outing, those colors were the #41 Smoking Joe with a green back and a new color from Bill Norman Lures, the Suicide color with a speckled yellow/black back and a shad-white belly.
Stroman will throw those on 15-pound test green mono tied to a baitcasting reel and a Custom Angle rod made nearby on the banks of the reservoir near Quitman.
Once the lure hits the water, he’ll crank it down quickly and then settle into a steady rhythm trying to keep in contact with the bottom.
“The key to this bait being effective is that you’ve got to bounce it off the bottom and off of timber,” said Stroman. “(When) there’s not as much (grass present), you can throw it right up on the bank and crank it off into the deeper water.”
Which is ultimately the key, deeper water present in the form of a quick vertical drop.
“What you’re looking for are ledges and vertical drops, with the better spots being the ones that aren’t getting hammered every day, the stuff that nobody else is fishing,” he said.
“The faster the vertical drop, the better. And the more timber around that vertical drop or ledge, the better.
“What you’re actually hoping to find are spots with brush in the drop-off itself, those are the magic places.”
Later in the morning, as the red liquid in the thermometer soars, the crankbait bite will often die off a bit. That's when Stroman will switch to a Mercurochrome red soft plastic trick worm skewered on a Carolina-rig.
He’ll tie his soft plastic baits on a three to five-foot leader tied to a swivel with a red bead and a heavy slip sinker attached.
On our trip last summer, Stroman set the hook into another solid fish pushing the six-pound mark - on his first cast with the C-rig, no less - as he worked his slow, methodical retrieve back to the boat.
“In the summer months, I like to drag the Carolina-rig back, keeping the weight on the bottom, using the rod to drag the bait along, and using the reel only to reel up the slack line.”
Once Stroman feels “mush” at the end of his line or a soft thumping take, he’ll reel down hard and fast to feel the fish before attempting to set the hook.
What followed his first Carolina-rig catch of the day was a red-hot tour of Stroman’s milk run of deep water honey holes and more steady fishing success on chunky Lake Fork largemouths.
“When you pull up on one of these spots, you’ll know within the first five minutes if the fish are active,” said Stroman.
“And really, you can kind of know simply by watching your graph," he added. "If the fish and the bait are on the shallow side of the ridge or ledge, they’re active. And if they’re on the deep edge of the ridge, they are not active.”
After tasty Po Boy sandwiches and a bottomless pitcher of iced tea at the air-conditioned Oakridge Marina restaurant, Strickland and I bid Stroman adieu for the day before we ventured back out on the tepid waters of Fork.
We never did crack the 10-pound barrier. But before the afternoon was through, yours truly had boated a seven-pound bass along with close to a dozen others in the two- to five-pound range. Strickland enjoyed similar success, even as the thermometer approached all-time record heat levels for that portion of East Texas.
Amazingly enough, Stroman said that for the angler that can stand the broiling summer heat, the fishing on Fork usually is at its best in the hottest part of the day as the shad begin to move around and look for more comfortable water.
Which, true to form, typically stirs up the big bass that inhabit this legendary Lone Star State bass water that is home to the state's 18.18-pound state record.
And when Fork's big bass are stirred up and hungrily gulping down shad, that is more than enough to keep a Texas bass angler somewhat comfortable.
Even on a day when the mercury pushes 110 degrees.