It’s hot, it’s humid and the dog days of summer are living up to their billing. But bass don’t stop biting just because the heat wave is on. The warmer the water, the hungrier bass get, and they can be caught by savvy anglers who know where to look and what bait to use.
By August, the post-spawn feeding frenzy is over and bass that have been constantly bombarded with lures are warier. Fish that were out in the open last spring and easy to catch are gone, and most of the rest have gotten smarter and less susceptible to any old bait that comes along. In lakes with open-water forage, such as shad and blueback herring, fishing offshore humps and ledges is a summer staple. On the flip side, however, fishing docks and weed beds can be just as productive. Read on to learn how.
Shady docks provide excellent cover for bass and their prey. By late summer, pressured bass have moved into the most remote reaches underneath docks and overhanging trees along the bank, and traditional overhand or sidearm casting won’t reach them.
Skipping a soft-plastic bait or jig under a dock or nearby shoreline cover as one would skip a flat rock across a lake’s surface is a proven presentation. Typically, a rod of about 7 feet long with a light tip is employed. The trick is to keep the rod tip parallel to the surface. Otherwise, the bait will sail up and lose momentum, or splash down short of the mark.
Baitcasting or spinning tackle can be used, with the latter being the best choice for beginners. Lures might include light jigs or lightly weighted plastic worms and swimbaits, tubes or wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senkos.
If skipping lures isn’t among your fishing skill sets, try pitching baits underhand with spinning tackle into the tightest nooks and crannies that others might not have been able to reach. Be patient and quiet, without banging a bait against pontoon floats or the dock itself. Let the bait fall slowly, twitch it or hop it a time or two, reel it in quickly and present it to the next target.
All docks aren’t equal in their appeal to bass; some hold fish, while others are barren. Here are a few factors that might help you narrow down the possibilities:
- Water Depth: Some docks could be standing in water that’s too deep, or not deep enough. Floating docks might have 6 feet of water under them, or 60 feet. The most productive docks usually are those that are built on pilings in relatively shallow water over a sloping bottom, rather than floating docks over deep water. Look at the shoreline. Is it relatively steep or flat? That topography is probably repeated under the dock.
- Dock Location: Is the dock on a point or tucked away in the backend of a feeder creek? Is it standing in water that’s swept by current or wind? Moving water often pushes roving schools of baitfish, such as shad and blueback herring – assuming they’re present in a lake – and creates another feeding opportunity for bass. The dock itself makes an ideal ambush spot. On the flip side, a dock standing in the back of a quiet cove might also harbor bass, especially if there are crawfish and juvenile bream in the neighborhood.
- Less Is Better: As is the case with wood cover, single docks or a few docks scattered along a fairly lengthy stretch of shoreline are more likely to be productive than several clustered together in one cove. That’s not necessarily because there are more or less fish on solitary docks, but rather because an angler can cover a single dock quicker and more thoroughly.
- Other Factors: If night lights, chairs and clamp-on rod holders are present on a dock, it’s likely the owner fishes from it and perhaps has added brush piles or similar fish-attracting cover to the bottom in front of, and under, the dock. This is especially true in lakes where crappies are among the main attractions. Also, avoid busy docks. If jet skis and boats are almost constantly coming and going, chances are bass aren’t going to set up there.
Try Something They Haven’t Seen Before
Gene Larew Bait Company (genelarew.com) recently introduced an innovative soft-plastic swim bait for fishing under docks and other cover. It’s called the Bass Shooter, and it’s designed to skip or “shoot” beneath a dock (or beneath overhanging shoreline cover) with an underhanded bow-and-arrow cast. Spinning tackle is the best way to bomb a dock with the Bass Shooter.
Available in tackle stores and online merchants, the Bass Shooter is 3 ¼ inches long and shaped like a flattened shad or sunfish. It has an enticing darting action when paired with an unweighted or belly-weighted wide-gap hook. A package of eight costs about $5.
Docks are great hot-weather targets for bass anglers, but so are weed mats. By late summer, aquatic vegetation has reached its peak growth and thick mats of emergent weeds become darkened cafeterias for fish of all kinds.
Bluegills forage for insects, small crustaceans and minnows. Young-of-the-year shad and other minnows feed in the nutrient- and oxygen-rich water generated by hydrilla, watermilfoil, elodea, water lilies and the like. Closer to the bank, emergent vegetation such as water willow, alligator weed, and water primrose provide temporary havens for the smaller fish being hunted by bass. Frog-fishing season might extend into late fall in Southern lakes. When the weed cover begins to die off due to cooler weather, the decaying process robs the water of dissolved oxygen, and fish will slowly leave.
Depending on the level of growth, there are three ways to fish aquatic vegetation:
- If weeds haven’t reached the surface yet, topwater lures, buzzbaits, swimjigs, weightless worms and lizards are good options to try. ChatterBaits , spoons, such as the Johnson Minnow or Dardevle Rex Spoon, and various lightly weighted swimbaits can be used successfully.
- For vegetation, such as hydrilla, that has topped out and is laying over on the surface with scattered openings, frogs and “toads” are top choices. Frogs are hollow renditions of their natural namesakes and usually have legs made of skirt material on either side of their rear ends that emulate legs, as well as a pair of hooks that cradle the body.
Toads are solid-body renditions of frogs that are Texas-rigged by the angler. Most manufacturers of soft-plastics offer them, and they’re equipped with paddle-like legs that kick up a fuss when they’re retrieved.
Numerous colors are available, but plain white might be the most popular because it is easier to track. The LiveTarget Frog, Lunkerhunt, SPRO Bronzeye, Strike King KVD Sexy Frog, Booyah Toad Runner, Jackall Gavacho and Kaera, and River2Sea Spittin’ Wa are top sellers.
To fish a frog, simply cast it out and hop it back with short twitches of the rod tip. When it reaches an opening in the pads, weed mat or shoreline moss, pause it a moment or slow the retrieve to give a bass the chance to home it on it. If a bass grabs it, wait a second to make sure the frog is down in the fish’s mouth, then set the hook with a sweep set.
Given that the angler might be several yards away from the fish, with all that vegetation in between, stout braided line of 50-pound test and a stiff 7-foot rod is recommended. The trick is to hold the bass’ head up as much as possible, and keep it moving toward the angler.
3. In the thickest slop, the best way to reach bass in the hollow chambers below the top is to fish with a heavily weighted and Texas-rigged soft plastic. A “punching” rig is a variation, and basically consists of a Texas-rigged soft-plastic, a bullet weight of between ½- and 1 ounce, a skirt and heavy-wire hook tied to the line with a Snell knot.
A number of companies offer punching rig kits or components, including V&M and Siebert Outdoors. The idea is to give a bass with limited visibility an eyeful and, hopefully, compel it to strike. Whether it’s a crawfish imitator or some sort of swimbait, the soft-plastic and its hook are pegged to the heavy weight by a toothpick or sinker stopper. That keeps the bait and the sinker together; otherwise, the weight might sink while the bait hangs up near the surface.
Where do you fish in a lake seemingly covered with miles of matted weeds? To narrow the search, look for bass-attracting bottom configurations and start there.
Patches of scattered offshore vegetation suggests the presence of humps and bars near deep water. Curving grass edges might indicate a creek channel ledge. Trees and laydowns in the mats, or mixed vegetation such as lily pads and peppergrass, are bass magnets. In other words, look for the differences, and fish them.
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