By Capt. Bert Deener
Present anglers with the question, “What time of year are most of the trophy bass caught?”
Almost all anglers would respond the pre-spawn period in the spring. While the extra weight of eggs and shallow, aggressive nature of bass that time of year make that an obvious answer, a small group of southeastern anglers would wryly smile and answer, “Mid-summer.”
One of those anglers was Pat Cullen.
Over four decades, Pat amassed the most impressive tally of huge largemouth bass caught that I have ever heard of, or could possibly imagine in my wildest dreams. When I first met Pat Cullen several years ago, he had caught 1,070 bass larger than 10 pounds. Then, during the all-too-brief period when I called him friend, Pat added almost 300 more 10-pound and better bass to the total.
His biggest largemouth was an 18-pound monster caught during mid-summer several decades ago. Pat’s trophy bass count has stopped since his passing last summer, but the knowledge he gained over years of concentrating on the details of fooling bass with eyes as “big as silver dollars” lives on in the anglers he taught his techniques. I am blessed to have been one of his mentees.
While the rest of the angling community basked in the air conditioning during the heat of summer, Pat turned nocturnal. His nighttime adventures resulted in phenomenal trophy bass fishing success. The simplicity of his approach was staggering. He actually carried a Tupperware container as his tackle box. In it was four different versions of black buzzbaits and a couple of black Jitterbugs.
Pat insisted that his approach targeted only the biggest bass in the lake, and it definitely took persistence. I fished with him several nights when we did not get a bite, but other nights we were rewarded with multiple hits that sounded like someone dropped a cinder block from a second-story window.
His tackle was equally simple; an Ugly Stik pistol-grip rod paired with an Ambassador 6500 baitcasting reel and spooled with 17-pound test Stren monofilament. A few years back, he asked me to install an additional cork grip between the first eye and the Foregrip, so he could get additional leverage on giant bass.
Pat often quipped, “Bert, this is trophy bass fishing that 95 percent of the anglers can do. I want to teach folks how to catch the biggest bass in the lake.”
His approach was stealthy from start to finish. Lights were out of the question— he simply would not allow one on his boat. You had to get your eyes adjusted enough to tie knots and handle fish in what little ambient light was available. Since he preferred fishing around new moon or cloudy nights, it was a challenge seeing what you were doing. In later years, he used a strong Duo-lock snap so that he could change buzzbait styles without having to tie a knot.
He did not fish from a bass boat as you would imagine, but a Gheenoe was his vessel of choice. Staying with the stealthy approach, that craft put him low and right above the water’s surface where he could get within casting distance of a big bass without spooking it.
His night-time presentation went something like this. Ease the Gheenoe forward very gently and quietly. After the boat stops drifting, make a cast to the 12 o’clock position, then 1, then 2, then 3. After that, switch to the left side of the boat and make casts to the 9 o’clock position, then 10, then 11. Then either switch lures and repeat the pattern, or move the boat forward and start the cadence over again.
On a small farm pond, this technique would literally cover every inch of water. On a larger lake, there are key structures and locations where giant bass are more likely to be caught during a nighttime outing during the summer. Humps and aquatic vegetation near the deepest water in the lake are hotspots to find a big largemouth at night. Stumps along a channel or drop-off are also likely to hold big bass at night that can’t resist a buzzbait or Jitterbug gurgling across the surface in the summer darkness.
Pat designed four styles of buzzbaits that produced his summertime lunkers. All were black 1/2-ounce versions with strong hooks. Two had quad-wing plastic blades, while two sported black metal blades. One detail he believed in was to cut all but seven or eight strands out of the skirt to give the bait a minimal silhouette.
Ponds and lakes all over south Georgia surrendered their biggest bass to Pat’s summertime tactics for decades. Many of his trophies are still living, remembered by a photo or just a quick snapshot in his mind, as he always released his quarry after a quick check of its weight with his digital scales. When the mercury soars this summer and bass are lethargic and suspend, use these night-time tactics to catch the biggest bass in your favorite lake.
Stay Comfortable While Summer Night Fishing
Attention to a few details will make for a much more comfortable night of fishing this summer.
- Wear long-sleeve shirts. The new fabrics of modern fishing shirts will keep you cool even during a hot summer night. You will like the extra material as the temperatures drop and if the bugs are out.
- Remember a rain suit. A light-weight rain suit will keep you dry during a pop-up thunderstorm and will keep you from getting damp on nights when there is dew.
- Bring bug spray. Most summer lakes will be home to lots of biting insects, especially at night. Remember to slide some insect repellent in the boat.
- Safety glasses are a good idea. Eyesight is something to protect during the dark when topwater lures are flinging all over the place. I like the Light Night Fototec lens by Tifosi, as it is reduces glare but lightens to almost clear when in the dark.
- Drinks and snacks are a must. Nothing ruins concentrating on your presentation as quickly as a growling stomach.
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