Healthy Margins

In the summertime, bass bite best up top on the edges of the day.

The three of them were able to keep their little secret for a week or so. Eventually, though, word leaked out, and the trio found themselves with plenty of company.

The three — Matt Martin, Ronny Beard and Billy Kennedy — were all teachers at Homer High School back in the 1960s when Lake Claiborne was brand new. Perhaps it was happenstance that one of them slipped out to Claiborne at first light one morning and tossed a Tiny Torpedo around the profusion of willows that grew just off the channel of Beaver Creek, secretly reporting his success to the other two.

It wasn’t long before the three teachers were found out. Perhaps it was the sly grins and smug looks they couldn’t contain when they met their first-period classes. Maybe somebody took a peek inside an ice chest in the back of their pick-ups.

At any rate, like the spread of fire ants up your leg when you find yourself standing on a mound, the word circulated quickly that Matt, Ronny and Billy were catching bass like crazy every morning before school on Lake Claiborne.

I don’t know how I wrangled an invite, but one night, Beard called and asked if I wanted to accompany him to the lake early the next morning. I jumped at the chance because I’d already heard about their success.

As we motored to the stretch of green willows in Beaver Creek, I pulled a frog-colored topwater plug from my tackle box. Beard saw what I was doing, shook his head in disapproval and handed me a Tiny Torpedo, one in the “spook” pattern. It was black with white ribs painted on.

“You want to catch bass here, you have to throw the ‘spook’ pattern Tiny Torpedo,” Beard told me.

The willows grew in a somewhat jagged pattern just off the channel, offering numerous pockets in which to toss our lures. It was something to behold. I realize the lake was new and the fish relatively uneducated, even if they’d been “schooled” by a trio of teachers, but they would rip into those lures.

Once the sun began peeking over the horizon, the bass shut down as quickly as they had begun their flurry of activity at first light. This is why it worked so well for the “Torpedo Trio.” By the time they had to leave for class, the fishing was over for the day.

Granted, you may not have access to a new lake with bass not yet skilled at the art of surviving a ghost-pattern fishing lure. However, what these three anglers demonstrated to me nearly 40 years ago will work today. You may not catch as many on your lake as these guys did, but be assured that in summertime at first light, the bass will hit a topwater lure.

Over the years, I have had numerous opportunities to put the “education” I received from this bevy of teachers to good use on lakes around the state. Any time I head for a lake for a summertime bass-fishing foray, I want to be there and ready to cast as the morning awakens. If I have to use a light to find my way around the stumps and brush, so much the better; I know I’ll be ready for action as dawn breaks.

Bass feel safer in darkness. They’ll venture from the depths to shallow stretches of the lake, especially if there are moss beds, brush or stumps to serve as ambush points. The bass hanging around in 3-foot deep water at dawn will likely be 12 feet deep and deeper in the channel after sunup.

There is a small window of opportunity available for bass anglers who are ready to fish at first light. Otherwise, the penalty for sleeping in a few minutes longer is to miss out on some of summer’s hottest bass-fishing action.

Several types of topwater lures will produce during the wee hours of daylight. The Tiny Torpedo we used is one such lure that features a convex face. Lure action is initiated by a small spinner at the rear of the lure that splutters and fusses along, inviting a hungry bass to strike, especially on calm mornings with little or no wind.

Another type, featuring a concave face, is designed to create a fuss up front. Commonly known as the “chugger” or “popper,” this type of lure — the Pop R is an example — bloops and slops, shooting water up and to the side as it digs into the surface. This lure can be deadly on those early morning ventures when there is a breeze.

Stickbaits, such as the Rebel and Rogue, make up another class of topwater lure for triggering early morning strikes. Some days, the fish seem to shun the splutters and bloops, preferring an offering that features a more subtle presentation. These lures work best on calm days as the lure lies at rest until a twitch of the rod tip sends it swimming and waggling enticingly just beneath the surface.

While not classified as a true topwater lure, the buzz bait can be a deadly offering early mornings. On a number of occasions, I have started out with a buzz bait instead of one of the concave, convex or stickbaits. There is something about a squeaking, sputtering buzz bait cutting a “V” across the water that is irresistible to a bass. They don’t know what it is, but it’s a strike first, ask questions later proposition to an unsuspecting bass.

Reel it past a mossy point and if a bass is there, he can’t help but attack it.

While lures designed for up-top action are favored by most anglers for first-light fishing, other lures will also work.

I recall one morning on Lake D’Arbonne when I was fishing before sunrise in a slough off the main channel. Although I had picked up a few bass on a buzz bait earlier, an overhanging cypress just ahead looked to me like I should throw something else its direction.

I picked up my rod onto which I had tied a brown lizard with a chartreuse tail, softly pitched the lure and watched it fall at the base of the tree. I didn’t feel the hit but in the gathering light, I was able to see my line moving off to the side.

Setting the hook, I was hard into the jaw of a 5-pounder. That particular bass may have hit a topwater lure, but because of the overhanging limbs, the lizard found its way underneath the limbs much easier than my trying to sidearm a topwater lure with two sets of treble hooks past the profusion of cypress branches.

Another early morning lure that enjoys a lot of success is the spinnerbait, especially around shallow moss beds and brush. The versatility of this popular lure is what makes it so effective in fooling hungry bass.

At first light, cast a spinner past a clump of moss or similar structure and retrieve it so the lure rides just beneath the surface, creating a bulge without breaking water. This approach can be deadly for early morning bass on their feed. If this approach fails to work, try slowing it down or speeding it up; the bass will soon tell you what they want.

If you want to catch smaller bass, use smaller lures. By the same token, if its heavyweights you’re after, go with big lures.

Jonesboro fishing guide Eddie Halbrook is a firm believer on the “big bait, big fish” theory.

One morning a couple of years ago I accompanied Halbrook on a fishing trip to Grand Bayou reservoir in Red River Parish.

I don’t recall what I had tied on my line — probably a Pop R or Tiny Torpedo — when my friend gave me a lesson in big bass-ology. On the end of his line was a Zara Spook the size of a bread stick.

He cast his oversized offering past a clump of brush in the gathering light, and began “walking the dog” — a method of retrieve that caused the lure to lazily waggle from side to side with each twitch of the rod tip and turn of the handle. The strike was vicious. The 5-pound bass exploded on the lure.

“Bigger bass just like a bigger lure. I guess they’re sort of like we are. Instead of nibbling on a little crumb when we’re hungry, we want something we can bite into. Bass seem to be the same way,” Halbrook said as he hoisted the hefty bass, its olive green colors muted but glistening in the early light of dawn.

“I actually learned about using big lures to catch quality bass on Caney Lake,” said Halbrook. “I’ve been out there many mornings this time of year when fish begin feeding on shad on top. You can sit in one spot and throw a grub or shad imitation and catch fish all day.

“But you can cast to the same spot with one of these big topwater lures where the little guys are hitting and occasionally catch a really big bass. I’ve had ’em over 9 pounds come up and hit my topwater on Caney.”

Granted the first “margin of the day,” dawn to sunup, offers the best bass angling in summer. However, the second such margin, sundown to nightfall, can also produce good catches as bass begin moving in the fading light from deep water haunts to the shallow stretches where they feed at night.

A successful method for late-afternoon fishing is to begin with soft plastics as the sun slips below the horizon. You’ll likely pick up a fish or two just before the move to the shallows begins.

While fishing a plastic worm or lizard, the angler needs to be alert for surface-feeding activity, much like what you’ll see at first light. When the first swirl is spotted, it’s time to pick up the topwater rod.

A good suggestion is to begin with a stick bait, switch to a convex-faced topwater and in the last fading light of the day, change to a more noisy lure with a concave face.

There is a lure on the market that has been around for decades, the Jitterbug. This lure, or those like it, is ideal for just before dark fishing in the summertime shallows. The up-top waggling, sputtering, sloshing motion has spelled the end for many a big bass on a twilight feed.

Twilight is also a good time to try your favorite buzz bait. Whereas you’ll probably have more strikes at first light with a white or chartreuse buzzer, you’ll probably find that black is the color of choice as daylight fades. No doubt, the silhouette of a darker lure is more readily seen by a feeding bass.

A final appeal for fishing early and late in the day this time of year has to do with comfort. Granted, a lot of fish are caught in the heat of a summer’s day by anglers plying the depths in creek channels and drop-offs. However, it can get uncomfortably hot sitting under a Louisiana summer sun on the lake.

For me, though, I’d rather be on a favorite lake before the breaking of dawn or at twilight this time of year. The action may not last as long as it does during the rest of the day, but summer bass fishing can be at its hottest when you’re working the shallows during those magical periods some call the “margins of the day.”

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.