Cool School

The hotter it gets, the better the schooling bass action becomes on North Louisiana’s newer lakes.

The memories of the summers of my youth growing up in rural North Louisiana are as vivid today as they were then — no school for three months, shoes and shirts tossed in the closet, cut-off jeans the only required apparel until September.

Summer meant chores, such as picking and shelling purple hull peas and butterbeans, cutting okra and shucking corn.

However, not every waking moment of a rural summer meant there was work to be done. Once the chores were behind, it was time to engage in something imminently more interesting and exciting than shelling peas.

Once I got the green light from mom, I’d grab my old True Temper steel rod with the green-handled Pfleuger reel spooled with black braided line and head for the creek. Tying on a Hawaiian Wiggler, River Runt or Dalton Special, it was me against the bass that lurked around the cypress knees and sunken logs.

I cut my bass-fishing teeth in just such a simple setting, and it’s an activity I still cherish today.

As I grew older, I graduated from the creek behind the house to area lakes where instead of walking the banks barefoot in my cut-off jeans, lobbing a lure to a cypress knee, I paddled or trolled after bass in my dad’s old boat.

During the hot days of a Louisiana summer, my brother and I discovered the sheer exhilaration of fishing for schooling bass.

Black Lake, not far from our home, was one particular area where in summer you could always depend on finding schooling bass.

Two areas located in close proximity to each other — the Trestle and Warehouse Hill — were especially noted for schooling bass activity.

It was a simple matter of shutting off the motor in the open water around these two areas and waiting for the bass to explode on the surface. When this happened — you never had to wait more than five minutes — the action could be fast and furious before the bass sounded and all was again quiet.

No problem; they’d be working the surface to a lather again in a few minutes.

Still later, as new lakes were built and eventually filled, I experienced bass fishing experiences all over again much like Black Lake provided decades earlier.

I was living in Homer when the waters of Lake Claiborne finally began trickling over the spillway, signaling the lake had at long last reached pool stage. I bought a lot and built a boathouse on the Beaver Creek branch of Claiborne, where I kept my fishing boat.

When the lake was new nearly three decades ago, Claiborne featured some fast and furious surface bass schooling activity. It was my kind of bass fishing at the time because, frankly, it was easy to catch dozens just about any time you went out.

The lake had a healthy population of threadfin shad on which the chunky yearling bass gorged themselves. Just about anywhere in the open water, the surface would be churned to a froth when a school of unsuspecting shad drifted over a gaggle of young bully bass spoiling for a meal. I’ve seen them actually catapult themselves out of the water in their feeding frenzy.

Still later, Caney Lake was formed, and long before the Jackson Parish lake developed its reputation for producing wallhangers, it was a haven for anglers who enjoyed the excitement of fishing for bass schooling feverishly on the surface.

A few years ago, Grand Bayou Lake near Coushatta mimicked what Claiborne and Caney had done years earlier. On one particular trip to Grand Bayou with guide Eddie Halbrook, the two of us landed a hundred bass in half a day of fishing.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Most new lakes feature great school-bass fishing possibilities the first few years after they fill. It’s akin to turning a youngster loose in a candy store with a $10 bill; there’s just so much there to sample they want to try it all as quickly as they can.

Most new lakes inundate fertile grounds as they approach pool stage, meaning that things that live there, thrive there. Nutrients are released into the water as levels rise and cover what may have been farmland or other such fertile soils.

Where forage is in abundance, it follows that the bass that feed on shad, crawfish and other types of food sources, grow fat as footballs during the first few years.

So, just how do you successfully fish for schooling bass on a Louisiana lake in August?

For starters, get there early. You’ll have the opportunity to catch some non-schoolers at dawn while waiting for the school bell to ring. School bass will often begin foraging up top before the sun rises, especially on days destined to be scorchers.

Look for schools of shad rippling the surface. Chances are that before long, their early morning leisurely swim will be rudely interrupted by a roving band of largemouth predators.

One aid that has helped many anglers be in the right spot at the right time is binoculars. While all is quiet as you wait for surface action to begin, slowly panning the lake with binoculars can reveal the slightly disturbed surface created by a school of threadfins 200 yards away. Once you’ve spotted the shad, it’s a good idea to troll on over to be within casting distance when the feeding frenzy begins.

The late Al Lindsey, former professor at Louisiana Tech, was partial to fishing for school bass on Black Lake. I accompanied him several times to the Natchitoches Parish honeyhole as we waited for topside action to begin.

“One of my favorite lures for schooling bass down here,” Lindsey noted, “is a Devil’s Horse. I’ll throw it up next to a clump of moss where I’ve seen the shad working and just wait. I’ll be on site when the first bass explodes, and sometimes I’ve had them hit it while it was just sitting there not moving.

“You can often catch a bunch of bass in a small area by keeping your lure in the water where you know the bass are lurking.”

Now that you’ve found the area where the shad are unwittingly telegraphing their presence to hungry bass, what lures should you use?

Halbrook keeps several rods ready with a different style of lure attached to each.

“You never know what they’ll want, so I’ll try to have a variety of lures ready to go instantly,” Halbrook said.

“On one rod, I’ll have a noisy topwater lure, such as the Pop R. Oftentimes, you can catch surface schooling bass one after another on this type of lure. If they shun the noisy lure, I’ll switch to one that doesn’t create such a fuss, such as a jerkbait.”

Halbrook taught me how to use a particular lure for summer schooling bass that is normally used for suspended bass in cold weather. A plain and simple lead head with a single hook to which a salt and pepper plastic curl-tail has been added is one of the deadliest school bass lures I ever used.

It was on a hot sultry summer day when Halbrook and I landed 100 bass by noon, and three-quarters of them came on the curl-tail grub.

It was a simple matter of casting into breaking schools and beginning an immediate retrieve in a jerking, popping fashion. Because of the weight, the lure sank quickly, but by beginning the retrieve as soon as the lure hit the water, we were able to create the illusion of a frightened shad fleeing erratically just beneath the surface.

Another advantage of using this lure is its single hook. Surface poppers have a tendency to become entangled, especially in the frantic heat of battle when bass are churning up top and you want to get in more than one cast.

However, a bass can be removed from a single hook and the lure returned to action much quicker than from a lure with two sets of treble hooks.

What about when the bass are finicky and are reluctant to hit a noisy topwater lure or a grub?

One of the most effective methods I have had in catching schooling bass under such conditions is a simple little piece of plastic and feathers called a Goin’ Jesse. This little lure weighs practically nothing and is impossible to cast even with the lightest tackle.

However, when the lure is tied 2 feet behind a surface lure, it creates the illusion to a hungry bass of a small shad darting and diving behind a chugger that is working on top. Many times I have caught a bass on the Goin’ Jesse and one on the chugger on the same cast.

Another lure not many anglers use when bass are schooling up top is a plastic worm. I fished on Lake Claiborne years ago with Homer’s Donnie Prince, who taught me a lesson in catching schooling bass that refused to hit anything else.

“Throw a short 4-inch worm and begin the retrieve immediately with a quick jerking motion. I’ll catch school bass sometimes on the short worm when they won’t hit anything else. I suppose it’s the erratic movement that triggers the strike,” said Prince.

While the majority of schooling bass are yearlings of the nothing-to-brag-about size, larger bass lurk beneath the surface just waiting for a crippled shad to flutter down in front of their noses.

To try your hand at landing a bigger-than-normal bass while small bass are thrashing on the surface, cast a tailspinner, such as a Little George, and let it sink before beginning an erratic, hopping retrieve. A Texas-rigged plastic worm will also work on bigger bass hanging out beneath surface-feeding schools.

Halbrook has another method of taking big bass beneath schools. He uses an oversized topwater lure — his favorite is the Zara Spook — and he can sometimes entice a bass to rise to the surface and attack such a lure.

“I think they’re already in a feeding mode because of all the action the yearlings are creating up top. When they see this big lure lazily walking along the surface, it can sometimes be more than they can stand. I’ve caught bass from beneath surface feeding schools in the 9-pound range on the Spook,” said Halbrook.

There have been times when I had my best success with schoolies by putting the trolling motor on medium speed, casting out a Rat-L-Trap, or similar type of shad imitation, and trolling the open water. Once you catch a bass, you can often shut off the trolling motor and begin casting because likely as not, you’ve happened upon a school of bass.

School bass may not run as large as some fishermen like to catch, but for the sheer excitement of watching dozens of yearling bass churning the surface to a froth within casting distance, it’s hard to beat.

As a side note, there is no better way to introduce a youngster to the fun of bass fishing than to hand him a Zebco 33 with a topwater lure tied on and put him in the middle of a school of churning, sloshing bass. This will be one “school” he can’t wait to visit again and again.

About Glynn Harris 508 Articles
Glynn Harris is a long-time outdoor writer from Ruston. He writes weekly outdoor columns for several north Louisiana newspapers, has magazine credits in a number of state and national magazines and broadcasts four outdoor radio broadcasts each week. He has won more than 50 writing and broadcasting awards during his 47 year career.