Early Summer Offers Good Shallow Bassin'
by Lynn Burkhead
Ask most southern bass anglers about the year's easiest shallow water bass fishing opportunities and they'll most often tell you to fish the spawn. And for good reason as anyone who has ever ventured out onto a bona fide bucketmouth factory like Texas' Lake Fork or Alabama's Lake Guntersville can attest.
Springtime's spawning cycle rocks for big bass up in the skinny water. But poll those same anglers at any lakeside café and the guess here is that few will pick the early days of summer as a prime time to fish shallow for chunksters and toads.
And according to anglers in the know, that's a shame. A recent conversation with Major League Fishing Select angler Gerald Swindle drove this point home.
The G-Man was in the mix recently, looking for a win at the recent Bassmaster Elite Series BASSFest held earlier this month on Tennessee's Chickamauga Lake.
But while many anglers – including MLF's Jacob Wheeler, the eventual winner of the event – found their success out in Chickamauga's deeper water, not everyone did. That includes Swindle, who finished in fourth place and won $32,000 at the event by fishing in shallow water while everyone else seemed to be out in the deep stuff.
Such success isn't surprising according to one East Texas bass fishing guru I know.
"You can have some good to great fishing days (up shallow) in June," said Rob Woodruff, an Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide well known for catching Lake Fork's big double-digit largemouth bass on the long rod.
Drawing upon his conventional tackle days in years gone by and his current reputation as one of the kings of long-rod bass fishing, Woodruff has plenty of insight into catching bass early in the summer.
“ What you've got to remember is that they are not all concentrated in one area like they were in the spring. ”
– Rob Woodruff
Especially given the fact that this year's late winter cold and snow – along with a long and delayed spring – have had the bass a few weeks behind schedule in many parts of the nation. Meaning that even with the Fourth of July approaching, it still pays to think shallow in many parts of Bass Nation.
"What you've got to remember is that they are not all concentrated in one area like they were in the spring," said Woodruff.
"From three feet on down to greater depths, there is more variety now to the water that will hold bass. But the good thing about this time of the year is that if you figure things out, you can pick 'em apart and start trying to repeat that same pattern in other areas."
In other words, bass are certainly catchable right now, but it's a little bit more complicated than just tossing a topwater or spinnerbait up into shallow water, winding it back and hoping for the best.
My friend Dr. Bill Harvey, a retired Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist, knows full well about the cerebral approach to early summer fishing that Woodruff is talking about.
From redfish along the Gulf Coast to largemouth lunkers on an inland Texas reservoir, Harvey has observed that most successful anglers simply use their noggin as much as they do their tackle box.
"I think when you actually talk to them (about their angling success), they're always really thinking about it," Harvey once explained to me.
"When they catch that next fish, they always seem to be thinking about why that just happened right (there)."
Harvey, himself a highly successful angler, believes that finding fish, whether in saltwater or freshwater venues, really boils down to two basic principles. The first one is understanding the biology that drives the fish.
“ They are where we catch them for a reason because they're biologically driven to be there. ”
– Dr. Bill Harvey
And the second? Understanding where the bulk of their daily and/or seasonal needs are going to be met in the most energy efficient manner. And there may be no better example of that than an early summer largemouth bass in Texas or somewhere else across the South.
"Bass are ambush feeding fish," Harvey explained. "God just made them that way. They're perfectly designed for ambush feeding by sight, sound and by hiding.
"If I know that about them, I have to assume that they're going to do that – ambush their food. Their biology drives them. They are where we catch them for a reason because they're biologically driven to be there."
One way to see this principle illustrated is to watch what early summertime bass do on water bodies like Fork, Guntersville, Toledo Bend or any of dozens of other bass waters.
"They like to move up (early) in the shallows in the summer and you'll get that early bite in shallow water," Harvey indicated.
"They'll move up there early in the morning because there is more structure there for a fish that's an ambush feeder (to hide in). They'll move up into that area where other fish will have more of a problem seeing them."
That also helps to explain why a good place to target early summer bass early in the day is around shallow timber, the edge of grass beds, and near docks.
Later in the day however, those same bass will move out of the shallow water, and in the former TPWD biologist's experience, it's not simply because they need their Wiley X shades either.
"I always thought they were moving off because they were light sensitive," said Harvey. "If that was the case, then how would they stand being up in that shallow water all of the time while they're spawning.
"Nah, they're moving off because they have lost their light advantage."
The biologist also reminds anglers that finding fish also boils down to understanding what their basic daily needs are and where those needs are most easily met at any given time.
"It ain't rocket science," Harvey once reminded me. "Good tournament anglers, they're always talking about fishing a pattern. What they're actually searching for is that optimal intersection of oxygen, temperature, food, and light."
Find that spot where the four basic daily needs of fish are met in the most efficient and energy conserving manner and you've likely found bass to target.
"For fish, life is all about energy in and energy out, or finding the maximum amount of energy intake with the least amount of energy being expended," said Harvey. "In other words, they must maintain a positive energy balance."
"If I'm not catching fish, I start thinking about that. That place where fish will have that positive energy balance will be at the intersection of those four variables of oxygen, temperature, food availability and light."
“ ... secondary points inside of major creeks and major main lake points will tend to hold fish. But I'd also remember to look for bream beds and to fish along the deep water edges of those. ”
– Dr. Bill Harvey
So where should you concentrate your efforts during the early summertime?
"I'd say secondary points inside of major creeks and major main lake points will tend to hold fish," said Woodruff.
"But I'd also remember to look for bream beds (since they are spawning in early summer) and to fish along the deep water edges of those."
What lures, or flies, should you throw this time of year?
Early and late, Woodruff says his choice would be topwaters for conventional anglers and poppers for fly fishing enthusiasts.
"Look for points and humps that have hydrilla sticking up towards the surface, the fronts of lily pads, the front of cattails especially near deeper creeks," the Orvis guide said.
Right now, once the sun is up good, say about 9 to 10 o'clock in the morning, Woodruff suggests switching gears and targeting bass hanging around the deeper water edges of bream beds.
For conventional anglers, bluegill-hued shallow-running crankbaits, swim jigs and spinnerbaits are good choices. For fly anglers, try a sink tip line and a bluegill-color fly like Woodruff's own SiLLi Shad or Lake Fork Leech patterns.
As early summer turns into the dog days of the season, Woodruff says that anglers will have to remember that the fish are transitioning to deeper water haunts, not to mention feeding on offshore schools of threadfin shad.
They'll do that around such features as roadbeds, pond dams, humps and the deeper ends of main lake points. For conventional anglers, that will mean fishing a wide variety of baits from football jigs to deep diving crankbaits to Carolina rigs. For fly anglers, that will mean pulling out the full sinking lines and flies that resemble threadfin shad.
But that's another story for another time. In the meantime, remember that early summer is still a good time to look shallow for a southern bucketmouth bass.
Toss a lure, or a fly, up shallow this time of year - especially early in the day - and see if you don't find a hefty reason or two to agree.