By: Shaye Baker
The time has come, it’s officially ‘hott’, with two Ts. I’m telling y’all, it’s so hot right now in Alabama, I just walked outside and had to change shirts. Twice.
It’s brutally hot out there—as hot as it’s going to get across much of the country right now. Excessive heat has a huge impact on where and how you fish for bass this time of year, though in some ways it might actually surprise you. Today we’re going to talk about fishing both deep and shallow in the late summer and the advantages and disadvantages of each. But first, let’s take a look at early and mid-summer so we can better understand bass behavior as we roll into late summer.
Early to Mid-Summer
I categorize early summer fishing as coming on the heels of the spawn. Just as the last of the bass start to wind down their spawning process, the air temps begin to hit the 80s and the water temps start creeping higher and higher into the upper 70s. A good portion of the bass population starts to push deeper—partially because that’s where a lot of the forage is heading. Shad and herring often start to push offshore as soon as they finish their spawning process, so naturally, the bass follows their food source.
But bass are cold-blooded, so the rising water temps can wreak havoc on their already stressed-out bodies that are still attempting to recover from an arduous spawning process. Fishing pressure plays a pretty big role in this too, as many bass have been bombed repeatedly by anglers while spawning shallow.
As summer progresses, the early spawners that were able to sit unmolested in a brush pile for about a month are now being bombarded once again by crankbaits, drop shots, and shaky heads. The warmer water temps continue to push deeper as well, and the fish are then faced with a decision—keep going deeper still or double back and return to the shallows.
Shade, during the dog days of summer, can be the biggest difference-maker. If there’s shade, bass are able to return to the shallows where there’s less competition for food and less fishing pressure. In a good shady spot, it’s just as cool as it is in 15 feet of water, even as the summer heat has reached its peak. So, some bass head for the shallows finding relief under the cover of shade, while other bass find deeper water to beat the heat.
What does that mean for you? Do you go shallow or deep? The answer is yes… or both… maybe. Basically, it’s dealer’s choice at this point. You can fish deep and push out even further, or you can go shallow. Both are good options. But you should consider the pros and cons of each.
Pros and Cons of Going Deep
On the plus side, there are typically more fish that stay deep through the latter part of the summer. The flip side to that, though, is that it’s often hard to catch quality. The big ones spread out, so you can spend a good part of your day sifting through a bunch of small fish to find 2 or 3 bigger ones. If you’re just fun fishing, that’s not a bad thing. But if you’re in a tournament where bigger is better, that can be a little frustrating.
It’s also hard to keep bass alive when fishing deep in the summer. When you’re pulling them up from 20-feet deep or more, their air bladders often fill up with air and this will cause them to roll over in the livewell if you don’t fizz them with a needle to release the air. And there’s also the fact that the water temp in your livewell is likely 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the water they were just pulled from, which can also be a deadly change of environment for bass.
If you do stay deep, remember that by this time off year, bass have seen a ton of crankbaits. You’ll likely have to move to extra finesse tactics like drop shots, Neko rigs and Ned rigs, or you’ll have to move up off the bottom to target the elusive suspending fish. These fish can be big if you can dial that bite in, but I’ve also spent fruitless hours chasing a school of suspended bass around without getting so much as a bite.
Pros and Cons of Going Shallow
This is the way I lean in the late summer. I’m a decent deep-water angler, but I am typically the most productive in the shallows in the late summer.
Bass aren’t as plentiful up shallow, but they are usually bigger. One of my favorite things about the late summer is the tendency to encounter wolf packs of bass. Big spotted bass and largemouth will mix in together and start cruising the shorelines in packs of 2 to 15, or even more at times. They hunt as a pack, like wolves would, corralling and annihilating whatever they come across.
Kicking up the trolling motor to about 70% and putting a topwater in your hand is a great way to have a lot of fun in the late summer. You might have to cover a half mile of shoreline without a bite, only to stumble into a wolf pack of a dozen big and aggressive fish that are literally knocking each other out of the way to get a shot at your topwater. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
These bass are primarily on the prowl for bream and bluegill. Bluegill and bream spawn in groups throughout the summer in the shallows and create the perfect feeding opportunity for these wolf packs as they run the bank. Using baits that mimic a struggling bream along the surface are your best bet. Walking toppers, poppers, Plopper style baits, buzzbaits and hollow body frogs all work extremely well.
When deciding whether to fish shallow or deep in the late summer, keep in mind a few things. You’ll likely get more bites deep, but likely to have more fun and excitement shallow catching and interacting with some bigs ones. If you do go deep, be sure you have the proper tools to care for the fish like a fizzing needle and a water additive like Rejuvenate. It’s also a good idea to have some way to cool the water carefully and slowly like with ice packs, but be sure not to just dump bags of ice in the livewell as that can be too big of a shock.
If you decide to go shallow, just know there may be hours of inactivity interrupted by moments of sheer insanity. You can go a while without a bite, but there’s nothing quite like stumbling up on a swarm of fired up big ones looking to explode on the first thing that hits the water. Either way, don’t let the dog days of summer get you down. Fall is almost here, but there’s still a little fun to squeeze out of this sweltering heat first.