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Best or Worst of Times? It's Summer

By Russ Bassdozer

It's both the best of times and the worst of times within the season now. It's summer, and bass find the living easy now, but anglers generally find it harder to catch them in the heat. In this week's issue, we hope to give you a few things to try if you go out this weekend. Keep cool.

IT'S THE BEST OF TIMES FOR BASS. We are at the time of year when bass live best. Plenty of food, plenty of cover, warm water temperatures, relatively predictable weather. Plenty of time when the bass has nothing else it needs to do except just enjoy its life, absorb food, efficiently turn it into energy in the hot water - and basically function at its sensory peak in the warm water with no distractions (spawning, fry, weather fronts, impending winter, etc.). In the upper 70's to low 80's bass grow fastest and generally live well. The only "dampener" now would be poor water quality - polluted water - that raises environmental stress to the Nth degree during summer more so than during other seasons.

IT'S THE WORST OF TIMES FOR ANGLERS. There are no biological urges driving bass to hit our lures during summer. There's no biological "distraction" that compels bass to hit our lures like they do in spring and fall. In the spring, bass are very territorial during pre-spawn and spawn, very hungry in post-spawn. Again, during the fall, there's a biological urge to fatten up for the winter. All this helps us during spring and fall, but there is no such "helper" during mid-summer.

DON'T ASSUME THEY'VE GONE DEEP. Not all fish put on the scuba tank and go deep as anglers traditionally believe bass do during the summer. Terry Christensen (TopCat at forum) and I were out last Saturday. We tried deep and all we were getting were small dinks. In fact, we fished a few trips deep earlier in the week -- just dinks. Then we got up shallow on Saturday into a long stretch of coves with flooded brush. Terry set his Pinpoint trolling motor to follow the 9' depthline and that motor automatically trolled itself down two miles of shoreline sticking on the 9' depth mark. This was in Lake Powell, AZ where the depth drops close to shore. Most of the time we made underhanded flips to the shore where we could always see the bottom - most fish we caught were 4' to 6' deep. Terry spinnerbaited about ten fish out of the sunken salt cedars before I could score even one! What to do? I couldn't handle the pressure, it was hot as Hades, and I was a skunked, sweating backseater! Well, I got next to naked, jumped off the boat and cooled off for a spell. After regaining my composure (and dressing again), I started to catch 'em! All told, we had 25-30 smallies in the boat ALL nice sizes from 1 to 2 lbs. - all on chartreuse spinnerbaits in the flooded brush in a rim of clouded water. The hazy, clouded water was the key. I'm sure bait-sized sunnies were suspended in the brush, and I suspect shad were concealing themselves in that cloudy fringe of water, reluctant to come into the clear - and a pint-sized chartreuse spinnerbait with gold blades and a chartreuse 18-series trailer did the trick. All this in over 100 degree weather under a blazing hot sun. Wayne Gustaveson, a Utah State Fisheries biologist indicated to us that "78 degree water is just right and the fish love it. That's why they are so active right now." This is definitely the best time of year to be a bass. They grow faster and live more comfortably in water around the 80 degree mark than in lower water temperatures.

QUOTE FROM KASTMASTER on the bulletin board: "We spoke with a gentleman in Forgotten Canyon [Lake Powell, AZ] on July 13 who had been doing some snorkeling. He said he'd seen quite a few large bass in 3'-10' of water, under certain ledges and boulders during the 105 degree heat. Also in some shaded vertical cracks at the same depths. We had been catching some small to medium sized bass at the 20'-35' depths, but it was slow going and we did as much swimming as fishing in order to keep cool. We went across the canyon to where he'd seen the shallow fish and threw some 3" pumpkinseed colored tubes, both Texas rigged and on 1/8 oz jigs. My first cast produced a 3 pound smallie. 2 casts later, to the same ledge, I had a good hit that stuck my jig in a crack. As I maneuvered closer, my jig suddenly popped free. Then just as suddenly, it disappeared beneath the ledge with a stout tug. I was watching my lure the whole time, but never saw the fish. I made a low, sweeping hookset and saw a nice largemouth come out from under the ledge and head for deeper water. After a brief struggle, I had a 4+ pound fish by the lower jaw. A quick snapshot, and she was released. She went right back under the same ledge. Over the next few days, we concentrated on finding areas that stayed shaded almost all day in less than 12' of water and found that the right cover held some excellent fish. We covered a lot of shoreline to find the perfect conditions, but we were rewarded each of the next 4 days with our biggest fish of the trip. We still had to get wet regularly to keep cool, but once we were onto fish it was a quick dip and back to searching for those shallow fish."

SHORELINE SHELF JUST BEFORE DUSK. Very often, there can be a clear band of water rimming the shoreline. It's like a small ledge or shelf maybe only a few feet wide, and typically devoid of any plant life due to incessant wind and wave action. That very same wind and wave action pushes cool water and oxygenated water up onto this shoreline rim. All small life will gravitate to it - preyfish, crayfish, nymphs - due to the coolness, oxygen and protection from predators that this skinny band of water provides them. Look for presence of bait during the daytime and come back to those shelves later. If you see shoreline birds stalking or perched on sticks - you've found a good shelf. Typically, you will get a fleeting magic 30 minutes or so when bass slip up to raid this food shelf during the half-light between afternoon and evening. Be alert for this moment, and once you know what it is, there's an "in between" time when it's no longer day but it's not yet dusk. It's right after the late afternoon occurrence of "golden light" if you know what that means. Bass will often slip up onto the rim to snack then for a few minutes. This is often a sightcasting situation - to individual bass - including some fine trophies. You will either see the bass themselves slipping up onto the shelf, making a hit and swimming back to deep water - or you will see the disturbed activity of the bait.

SUMMER STORM CELLS. Other times - but dangerous to be out in them - are just before a thunderstorm. Again, it's a fleeting magic moment, and you definitely MUST have an escape plan to leave the fish and get into safe shelter while you still can. I am no expert on this, so please don't take my word for it, but I have always assumed that a nearby rubber-tired vehicle out in the open away from trees, etc. is a safe haven. I can not say for certain this is safe, just that it is what I do, and only you can decide for yourself based on your own research into the subject of safety in the outdoors during a summer storm. Bottom line, I am telling you I don't ever try this unless I have a guaranteed escape plan prepared ahead of time and I will leave biting fish to execute that safety plan. You cannot predict what will happen - and the storm cell can be on top of you and all over you in an instant. It's a life-threatening situation in a boat or on the shore. As a matter of fact, you can stay in safety close to the water, and high-tail it out there right AFTER the cell passes, and you will again find yourself in a magic half-hour or so when fishing is great after the cell passes and you are no longer in harm's way.

ALL ANIMALS SEEK SHADE AND OBJECTS. Finally, at any other time, bass (and all animals) will seek out shade. Not just any shade, but shade where they can have their backs up against an obstacle - any obstacle. The shade gives them security - as does the obstacle at their back. Because the sun is constantly moving - and because the shadow thrown by cover constantly changes - the shade may come and go quite rapidly and the bass will come and go into this shade just as rapidly. The bass could easily change its position 10 times in an hour as the sun and shadow changes - and NOT be there at all the next hour. It's not the coolness of the water that shade provides - but the security. The bass will constantly be repositioning itself in the shade - typically with the sun at its back. Usually it will have its belly to the bottom and an obstacle at its back. Most of these bass are very alert. They are usually not stupored out and inactive for biological reasons like they become in spring, fall, and winter. During adverse weather and other conditions, bass will go into biological stupors for the duration of such unfavorable periods in spring, fall, winter. But generally, bass only get stupored out, become lethargic or listless in summer in oxygen-deficient low quality water, or during heavy plankton blooms which generally happens more often in August than July. Usually, in good quality water, a bass is as alert and as sharp-witted as it will ever be. They're clearly more cautious to lures. You will see them inspect lures more often in summer. Rising up to them, butting them with the sides of their heads, sliding them along their lateral lines and flicking them away with their tails. However, if you make a good presentation with a weighted jig and soft plastic trailer to where you believe a bass will be laying comfortably- just drop it unalarmingly in front of these bass, leave it there for the longest time -then quiver it a bit - and they will surely inspect it - and often bite it if you do this right.

ABOVE ALL KEEP COOL. Just like all other animals wisely seek shade, you should too. Rather than just jumping off the boat like I did, an easier option to keep cool is one by Wayne Gustaveson, Utah Fisheries Biologist. Wayne says, "Next time you feel like you are starting to render down into candle wax, just take your hat off, dip it in the water and let the liquid run down your neck. As it evaporates you get a refreshing blast of cool. There is another device that works well if you need a bit more. Keep one wet towel in the cooler on ice and put one around your neck. When the one on your neck warms up replace it with the other and put the first one back where that came from. You can fish all day without missing a beat." Fellow Lake Powell fisherman Ed Gerdemann adds, "I keep cool by taking my shirt off, dipping it in the lake, putting it back on and then putting my boat up on plane for a little jaunt. It'll refresh you and get you ready to flail the water some more!" Of course, these guys are not medical experts, just anglers trying to cope with the heat out on the water. If you are going to be out on the water during hot stressful periods, you really should seek proper medical advice. Danger of heat stroke is a very real probability and you should be aware of all proper medical authorities' options to prevent it.

These are just a few examples of how to succeed with bass while keeping cool in the summertime heat. Hope there's something here that helps you catch one before you melt like candlewax in the hot sun.

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