Summertime Success in the Shallows
by Lynn Burkhead
For the most part, the lazy, hazy, and sizzling dog days of summer are a deep-water affair when it comes to anglers hoping to catch a bucket-mouth bass, but not always.
Even in the hottest heat of summer, there can still be times to slip the boat into a cove, put the trolling motor down, and toss lures back into the shallow stuff once again.
One such time is very early or very late in the day when a bass might be up shallow and hanging around a boat dock or marina slip.
Early in the day, such bass may be there because they've spent a portion of the night feeding on baitfish drawn to insect attracting lights.
Late in the day, a bass could be hanging out in such a spot seeking a little thermal refuge in the shadowy recesses created by the overhead structure.
When fishing these locations, I always like to start with a topwater bait like a Zara Spook or a Pop-R tossed tight to the structure and then slowly brought back out.
After seeing if any fish are willing to hit a topwater, I'll then often run a small crankbait or a spinnerbait down the edge of the dock or slip.
If there are still no takers, I'll give it one last try with a jig-and-pig combo fished slow and methodically around the dock's corners or the marina slip's posts.
Another time that summertime bass can be caught shallow is when you get an influx of new water into a lake according to Cookson, Okla., bass fishing legend Jimmy Houston.
Admittedly, such instances can be rare in the heart of summertime. But on occasion, a series of thunderstorms, a tropical system sloshing ashore, or even hydro-electric generation from a water body situated further upstream can cause a rise in water levels.
"When you get real heavy rains with water running into the back of coves or ditches, the fishing there can be good no matter what time of the year it is," said Houston.
Incidentally, Houston, a 15-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, says that such a cove inflow pattern can prove to be golden in the dead of winter as well as in the heat of summer.
Another time that shallow water can come into play for hot-weather bass is on deeper lakes like Houston's own Sooner State home water, the clear and rocky Lake Tenkiller.
On such water bodies, when the last few weeks of summer finally arrive, subtle as it may be, the amount of daylight is gradually getting shorter and the fish - both game fish and baitfish species - are beginning to take notice.
Meaning that at some point over the next several weeks, the mental switch will get flipped in the minds of bass as they make their first move out of summertime haunts and towards fall feeding patterns.
And that move will instinctively take them towards shallower water in the back of creeks and coves.
"I've sometimes noticed that the shad will migrate into the end of the pockets late in the summertime," said Houston.
When that happens, Houston - a two-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year with two B.A.S.S. tournament wins on his resume - has occasionally caught bass in shallow water next to lay-down logs in late July and August.
What lures should you toss in such situations? Topwaters around visible cover along with spinnerbaits and shallow-running crankbaits are a good start. And since shad are driving the food chain right now, make sure that your lure is in a baitfish colored hue.
Keep in mind that Houston isn't the only blond-haired angler to find shallow water success in the late summer.
Timmy Horton, the Major League Fishing pro from Muscle Shoals, Ala., has also found bass in the shallow water during the heat of summer.
"If you're on a lake with a lot of stain to its water, then a lot of times the bass don't get out on the main lake structure," said the 2000 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year. "When that happens, bass can stay in them (coves), particularly if there is wind blowing."
So where do you look in such a situation? Again, visible cover is a good place to start.
When Horton flips a lure into such cover in a cove, he'll often have a jig or a plastic bait tied on at the end of his line, typically something like a ½-ounce black/blue jig tipped with a green pumpkin chunk or a finesse tube of some sort.
While shallow water isn't the bread-and-butter pattern of most bass anglers in the last few weeks of summertime, it shouldn't be overlooked either.
Because there's always a bass lurking somewhere in such spots, you just have to figure out where and how to catch him.