June/July/August: Summer Patterns

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Keith Nighswonger's
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June/July/August: Summer Patterns

June really is the height of the top water season here is Southern California. With water temperatures in the low to mid 70's, the activity level of bass is at it height! The key to this top water explosion is two fold:
1. Post spawn bass are beginning to aggressively feed again.
2. A thick marine layer blankets many of our Southland lakes well into late morning hours, thus keeping bass out of heavy cover and alert to our presentations. The Excalibur Zara Spook and Pop R have been most effective for me especially during these overcast periods when I am fishing very clear water. I will switch to a 3/8 Weapon Buzz Bait in off color water or if I am fishing around heavy cover. In July, with warming water temperatures we can expect to see three solid patterns developing on our lakes.

1. Open water surface action.
2. The development of a solid thermocline.
3. Shallow water grass beds.
Open Water Surface Action
Florida strain largemouth bass are notorious for their open water assault on schools of bait fish. During these periods, Largemouth bass will act more like Striped bass as they chase their prey in open water. The good news is they can be caught. The bad news is they move much faster and are hard to track on a day by day basis. As shad move deeper into coves, bass that are anchored on deeper structure become activated and leave the deeper structure to swim with schools of shad. I have seen this happen countless times. A few bass will chase a school of baitfish into a cove. The further back into the cove the fish go, the more bass get involved, until you can have as many as 25 to 40 bass working a large school of bait.
When bass are actively chasing shad on the surface my first lure of choice is Excalibur’s new Spittin Image. The Spittin Image comes in two sizes large and small and I have not seen a surface lure that better mimics a frantic shad trying to escape! During this period the water is warming and may in fact, become too warm for bass to live comfortably in the surface layers. The bass will still push shad to the surface but they will quickly return to deeper, cooler water that also has a high oxygen content. When bass are reluctant to linger in the surface layers of the lake, they become much more difficult to catch. You will cast your top water lure over and over again and your frustration level will increase. When you discover that the bass simply will not hit your top water offering make some adjustments. A White Weapon spinnerbait with willow leaf blades is a good choice to through at boiling fish, however some times the fish just won’t stay on the surface long enough to see your bait. In these situations, I try to always have a 3/8 Castmaster or Crippled Herring Jigging spoon ready to go. I will tie the spoon on to a flipping stick and cast to the boils. The further away you can get, the better. I rip the spoon just like a jerk bait. The key is to rip the spoon and let it flutter, rip and flutter and so on. I find that when the bass are in this mode, the spoon is an excellent way to load the boat!
The Development Of A Solid Thermocline
The middle of Summer can play havoc on some of our more comfortable shallow patterns. On some lakes, the surface water temperature can approach 90 degrees. When this happens, not only is the cold blooded bass influenced by the hot water, but the oxygen content in the upper layers of water also decreases. Lower oxygen and hot water will send many bass to a more comfortable depth range. Below the warmer less oxygenated surface layer is a much cooler and higher oxygenated layer of water. This depth is known as the thermocline. During the Summer the thermocline will be a depth where tremendous fish activity takes place. When launching your boat and turning on your electronics, you will notice that all of the fish marks and all of the bait are located at about the same depth. Establishing the depth of the thermocline will be your most important key of the day. Once established, you can fish this depth throughout the lake and expect to have positive results. Key in on areas where diving birds are working shad, long points that allow you work the key depth and rock piles or secondary brush lines that are in the depth range you have established.

Shallow Water Grass Beds
Personally my favorite Summer time patterns are those associated with shallow water grass beds. To understand why grass beds are productive in shallow water that is really too warm and has an oxygen content that is too low to keep bass comfortable we need to go back to our high school biology class and understand the relationship that green plants have in relationship to the production of oxygen. Grass beds undergo the process of photosynthesis which means that grass takes the energy from sunlight and transforms it into oxygen. As a result, the water around shallow grass beds usually has a much higher (and comfortable) amount of oxygen in it. In the Summertime, grass beds will grow to the lake’s surface virtually blocking all light penetration below. As a result, grass and other brush cannot grow below the surface, so what we end up with are these huge grass beds that have seemingly endless caverns below them. Since no sunlight penetrates, this water is also much cooler (5 or 6 degrees cooler,) than the normal surface around the lake. The final key about grass beds is that they are home to thousands of crawfish and smaller minnows. When you add the three components together, higher oxygen, cooler water and food, it is no wonder why bass like to live in and around these grass beds. In fishing shallow grass bed patterns to factors come to mind. Calm, clear conditions and wind. When the sun is high and there is no wind, grass beds can become tricky. Bass tend to bury themselves deep into cover when the sky is bright and there is no wind. Flippin a 1/4 OZ Weapon jig with an R & R Chunk Frog behind it will work, but you have to work every little opening in the grass just like a surgeon! You must work hard and this can be frustrating, but you will get bites. Another technique is to fish a moss frog or floating rat across the top of the grass beds to draw a fish up through the mat. Use heavy line and a flipping stick for this technique.
When the wind begins to blow, turn up your trolling motor and cover ground with a spinnerbait. The wind causes the bass to move to the edge of cover so that they can take advantage of forage stirred up by the wind. In very clear water, I will opt for an Excalibur Minnow jerk bait. Lots of rattle, lots of vibration are needed. You want to alert the bass that your bait is coming so that they can get ready!

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