When developing fishing patterns, I take into account every possible variable – especially latitude. Latitude is important in the spring months when bass in lower latitude regions like Florida and Alabama might already be in post-spawn patterns while bass in places like Minnesota and New York might still be in pre-spawn patterns. But this is July, and no matter where you live or where you fish, you’re fully aware that it’s summertime. Patterns are especially important this time of year and the same one is applicable in most regions – be they north, south, east or west.
The best place to start patterning summertime bass is off shore. During the summer, the key to success is water quality. Wherever you find the best and most stable water quality, you will find the best and most stable bass fishing. Though water temperature might be key in most seasons (especially springtime), “quality water” in the summer is determined by oxygen and pH levels. The process is reasonably simple and keeping an eye on these factors can improve your chances of catching more and bigger fish.
First, consider sunlight penetration, which is determined by the water’s color and its effect on light penetration. Using something like a white spinnerbait, measure how far down you can the bait and figure that the sunlight most likely penetrates to twice that depth. By knowing about how far down the sunlight reaches, you then know how far down that plankton will grow. Since the plants that make up a majority of this plankton need sunlight to grow, they will only be growing at the level that is twice the depth that you can see the white spinnerbait or shallower.
The growth of plankton causes a change in the pH and oxygen levels of the water. If the water you fish has a greenish color to it, you most likely have a lot of plankton meaning that the pH levels will vary greatly between times of sunlight and darkness. Because of this, fish will find the most stable water conditions in the water column at the furthest reaches of the sunlight’s penetration to keep from having to move every time the sun rises and sets.
Keep an eye on your electronics and try to determine at what depth you see the most fish activity – especially schools of baitfish. Though there can be several feet between most of the fish and the actual bottom (depending on water color and light penetration), this depth is important as you begin to fish off-shore structure.
Once you determine the key depth, look for bass cover in that area of the water column. Drop offs, ditches, weed lines and tree rows – any structure at that depth in the lake. Once you’ve found those, look to see where the edges of two or more of those structures intersect to find the key feeding and holding areas for bass. When these intersections contain ridges, points or other high spots in the bottom contour, they are very attractive to bass because these features concentrate baitfish schools whenever they swim over, making them easy targets.
To target these bass, I rely on two techniques that have brought me a lot of success on the BASS tournament trail this year. The first is the tried-and-true Texas-rigged worm. My favorite rig consists of a tungsten sinker in three-sixteenths to three-eights-ounce size depending on water depth and wind. I normally use a Berkley Gulp! Turtle Back worm tied to Berkley Vanish Transition fluorocarbon—it is the best of all worlds for worm fishing. Rig it up on a Fenwick Techna AV casting rod and an Abu Garcia Torno low-profile reel and it’s about the best summertime worm rig you can find.
Another way to target summertime bass offshore is a technique I used in the recent BASS tour stop at Lake Oneida. My go-to lure during the tournament was a Berkley Gulp! 4-inch Sinking Minnow in Watermelon Red Glitter. I rigged the Sinking Minnow wacky style on a size one hook tied to 8-pound Berkley Vanish Transition fluorocarbon with a one-eighth ounce tungsten drop shot weight about 10 inches below the hook. I tied this rig onto my Abu Garcia 503 ALB spinning reel on a medium-fast 7-foot Fenwick Techna AV rod. It was a great combination that performed flawlessly under lots of action.
There’s lots of ways to catch fish during the summer, but understanding the keys to bass behavior can help you enjoy more productive days on the water and catch bigger fish. So if you plan to wet a line during these dog days, try heading off shore and figure out where the big ones are to improve your skills as an angler.
Ken Cook is the 1991 Bassmaster Classic winner and a 14-time Classic qualifier. A former fisheries biologist, Cook lives on his ranch in Meers, Okla.