Summertime fishing can be a time of plenty or an exercise in frustration, depending on what you are fishing for and when, where and how you do it. Bass, of course, are the game fish that are the most synonymous with the hot and sometimes humid days of summer. Both largemouths and smallmouths do fine in the tepid water temperatures so typical of this time of year, but during the summer, bigger bass tend to be easier to catch during the low-light periods of dusk or dawn or after dark. And for bass anglers, those are also the most pleasant times to be on the water, especially during the heat wave we have experienced in recent weeks.
That doesn't mean, however, that you can't catch bass during the day in the summer; you just have to make some adjustments in strategy and tactics. I personally believe that bass do a lot more feeding during the day in the summer than most anglers are willing to give them credit for. Just because they aren't eating what we might be throwing at them doesn't mean they aren't eating.
Here in the northern latitudes, the metabolism of bass peaks in the warm water of summer. During those few months is when bass will consume more food and pack on more weight than the rest of the year combined. And practically every form of prey a bass will feed on is also most abundant and available right now as well. This combination of circumstance is undoubtedly what has earned the bass one of its more appropriate nicknames, "the mouth that swims."
Because nature provides bass with a veritable bounty of food sources in the summer, these highly effective predators don't have to work too hard to make living right now. That is why so-called finesse fishing can be the most successful approach. To catch bass during the day, think: subtle, slower and smaller.
The fish seem to know instinctively now that it is not necessary to chase their food all over the lake, but rather to wait and ambush prey. In simplest terms, the fish are conditioned to wait for an easy meal, so give them what they are looking for. Choose lures that can be fished slowly and precisely around the cover or structure where bass are likely to be hanging out. Soft-plastic baits such as worms, tubes and lizards are all excellent choices for such work.
Downsizing your lures can also increase fishing success in the summer. Instead of six- or seven-inch worms or lizards, go with four-inch versions of those baits. Some manufacturers also so-called teaser tubes that measure about 2 3/4-inch long are slightly smaller than the conventional 3 1/2-inch tubes.
For years, my favorite summertime crankbait has been the Cotton Cordell Big O in the 1/4-ounce size. This shallow-running lure is about 2 inches long. When I need a smaller crankbait that dives a little deeper than the Big O, I now go with the Strike King Bleeding Bait in the size they call a Mini 3. Two years ago I found another diminutive crankbait from Bass Pro Shops called the Micro Light. It is just 1 3/8 inches long and weighs just 1/6 ounce, but this tiny lure can be magic at times, especially for river smallmouths in low, clear, water.
It might seem more logical that the bass would prefer a bigger meal at this time of year when they are chowing down the heaviest. For sure, there are times when a bass will successfully attack and eat almost anything it can swallow. But I think there are several reasons why summer bass can be easy to tempt with smaller offerings.
The water in many lakes tends to be clear in the summer, giving bass a better look than usual at any lure they see. A bigger lure will be even easier to see, and possibly easier to detect as a fake and something to be avoided, especially on those waters that see a lot of fishing pressure. The young of the year minnows, frogs and other aquatic critters that bass eat are often still not full grown by midsummer, so the bass are seeing a lot of smaller prey. Therefore, using smaller lures matches the size of more natural foods this time of year.
Of course, there will be those days that the bass will ignore even the best summer tactics and lures we can present them. That's when a session of still-fishing for catfish or carp might be in order. Prop up a couple of rods on some forked sticks, settle back in a folding chair with your favorite cold beverage, and let the fish do the work.