Don’t miss out on summer bass in the shallows

Most bass fishermen head toward deep water when summer gets a hold on lakes and rivers. But plenty of bass head back to the shallows, and with good reason. Here’s how not to overlook the hot-weather bank runners.

Bass anglers spend countless hours trying to learn about bass, pattern what the fish are doing and where they will go. They make their game plans based on basics and then try and work on the details.

One basic idea is that fish live in deep water in the winter, go shallower in the spring, then head back for deeper water as the summer waters warm up. 

But bass don’t always do what they’re supposed to. As summer arrives and the water warms, a large number of bass go in the wrong direction. They head for cover, for cool spots and for places in shallow water with high levels of dissolved oxygen — and that goes against the teachings of Bass 101.

In fact, as more and more fishermen become expert using their advanced electronics and spend more and more time fishing deep, those bass may get more pressure than ones that stay shallow.

Cypress trees are a very prominent form of shallow-water cover in bodies of water around Louisiana.

Is shallow the new deep?

“A lot of us have been talking about that recently,” said bass fisherman Curtis Simpson of West Monroe. “One reason people backed off the shallow fish is because of all the pressure. But now, pressure on deep spots with all these fancy electronics is higher than bank fish. Shallow may be the new deep when it comes to summer fishing.”

Bass like shallow water for a number of reasons. When grass, shade or wave action is present in shallow water, the level of dissolved oxygen is higher, Simpson said. And a lot of baitfish hang out there, too, especially bream. If there’s more food around grass beds, lily pads and the shade under boat docks, that’s where bass will be.

“Sometimes, I hear that bass become really lethargic in the summer,” he said. “That may be true in extreme cases of poor water quality, but in a good lake or river like we have here in Louisiana, bass actually eat more in the summer than any other time. Their metabolism is higher, they eat more and they digest it faster. Where you might have to hit them on the head with a bait some times of the year, bass are going to be more aggressive and opportunistic. If something comes by close, they are going to run it down and eat it.”

Different shallow-water cover targets are better fished with different baits: frogs, crankbaits, jigs, craws.

With that in mind, Simpson said it’s also a good time to fish almost any kind of bait. They won’t hit everything every day, but if you fish a few different lures, they’re going to latch on to one of them. And when you find what they want, it’s on.

Simpson does have some favorites he thinks work best in summer.

Four-wheel drive bait

If grass is nearby, he’ll tie on a Spro Bronzeye Frog or similar lure and look for any baitfish or fish movement in the vegetation. Sometimes, fish will be back in there, and sometimes, they’ll be on the edges or pockets. He calls the frog a “four-wheel drive” bait because it will go anywhere. Brown and darker colors work best for him.

“Grass means bass,” he said. “When you see grass, you’ll find bass. I don’t care if it’s lily pads, pepper grass, coontail, hydrilla or reeds, the fish are going to find something they like there. Sometimes, they are up in the thick of it. I always use braid with a heavy rod when I’m getting way up in the grass.”

Next on his list of favorites is a swim jig. He loves the 6th Sense Divine swim jig in shad color; in dingy water, he’ll go to black and blue. It works through vegetation and is good around wood, boat docks and cypress trees. Simpson said cypress trees hold fish year-round, especially when conditions are right. In many Louisiana lakes, cypress trees are the main cover; those on some sort of depth break are usually the best, where water is a bit deeper than the shallowest trees.

Angler Curtis Simpson caught these four big fish out of one shallow grass bed.

Behind Door No. 3, Simpson picks the Bandit 100 series crankbait. He goes with shad colors and likes to fish them anywhere he can get the bait without getting hung. That includes grass beds when the grass isn’t growing all the way to the surface.

Choice No. 4 is a go-to bait for almost any condition: a Texas-rigged, green pumpkin Zoom Z-Craw in junior or regular size. When fish are a little tighter to cover, that works well. And Simpson said, “green pumpkin gets the bite anywhere.”

Other baits that work well in Louisiana waters this time of year include black and blue buzzbaits, shad-colored or silver topwater lures, especially those with small hair trailers, hard-plastic buzz frogs, stickbaits and just about any type of plastic lure rigged weedless or Texas-style.

Current and waves

Louisiana anglers are familiar with fishing current; any river or creek that has current will draw bass to break points, even in a foot or two of water. The summer finds our lakes full of boaters as well, and the waves they generate can push bass shallow to feed as the food chain along the shoreline is stirred up by wave action. 

Where do you look for shallow summer bass? Try weed or cane banks, especially those with deeper water nearby.

Caused by boats or wind, waves also cool the water and keep oxygen levels high. Early and late are best for the most fish in shallow water. It’s also a great time to fish at night. The best spots at night are grass beds and boat docks with lights. The lights congregate baitfish and the bass follow.

Simpson has one final tip.

“Remember that, for the most part, water is clearer in the hotter months, so I always try to lower the profile of the baits I’m fishing,” he said. “Smaller baits will get more bites. You can stick with big lures for a bigger bite, but if you are just wanting to catch fish, I’d suggest going with a smaller lure.”

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Kinny Haddox
About Kinny Haddox 343 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.

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