of summertime ba
During late summer and fall, largemouth and smallmouth bass feed on open-water preyfish in many natural lakes and reservoirs. Since bass themselves rarely maintain a pelagic (open-water) existence, they tend to feed along structures that intersect with deep open water.
As extensions of land masses, points are the most obvious of such structures, and they can be productive throughout this period. Point-hopping is a tried and true tactic that still scores tournament wins for pros and weekend warriors alike.
Farther from shore and out of sight lie humps; call them sunken islands, bars, ridges, or rises. Today’s sophisticated mapping chips reveal spots long held secret by guides and local experts, but fishing them effectively remains an art.
Brett Richardson is a avid bass angler who has fished all over the U.S. and Canada. He typically searches for bass on deep, offshore structure, where comparatively few anglers focus. With roots in the Northeast, he now lives in Las Vegas. Both these regions and most others he’s visited offer offshore opportunities for summer bass.
“Each hump has its own personality,” he says, “with key elements and specific areas that hold fish. Slopes and tapered areas, rises on top of the hump, sharp-breaking drops, finger extensions, and secondary breaks are high-percentage areas for midlake bass.
“Humps are at their most productive from the Postspawn Period in June through September in northern waters. The hump-fishing season is longer in southern states and out West. Humps produce during the day, but if you don’t night-fish, you’re missing great opportunities for big bass.”
Richardson emphasizes the need to learn a hump’s contours and characteristics before fishing it. “Explore during daylight before considering night-fishing,” he says. Over the years, he’s found trolling around a hump the fastest way to chart its features, and you may catch a big bass or two in the process. He slowly trolls breaklines, moving the boat in an S-pattern to determine how steep the break is and to pinpoint cover on the hump.
“If there’s current, pay particular attention to the upstream and downstream ends of the structure,” he adds, “but try to cover the sides as well, if you have time. Place marker buoys near any key elements you find. Avoid placing them on objects you want to fish, as you’ll tangle up the cord and foul the spot. Drop the buoy 20 or more feet away as a reference.
“Some spots are best fished from an anchored position. That’s particularly true at night,” he says. “You can easily get disoriented in the dark and waste time relocating your spot. Moreover, anchoring gives bass spooked by the boat a chance to return, unconcerned. It also makes you slow down and cover all angles with a variety of lures.”
Richardson feels that weather conditions affect positioning of largemouth and smallmouth bass on humps, just as they do along shoreline spots. “During stable conditions in summer, such as 3 to 5 days of consistent weather, both bass species feed on boulder areas or clean flats with access to deep water, particularly early in the morning and toward dusk. They occupy gradual slopes that taper into deep water as feeding lanes.
“At night, schools of open-water baitfish move closer to vertical structures. Bass have the option of cruising along the slope to pick off baitfish as they approach, or feeding atop the hump. With water temperatures warm, abundant crawfish also occupy these slopes, whether vegetated or rocky, and bass follow.
“At times,” Richardson continues, “smallmouth and largemouth bass herd baitfish onto the peak of humps, especially during prime night feeds and early mornings on overcast days. Again, smallmouths typically hold along the steeper sides of humps. Look for larger smallmouths on secondary breaks and shelves off the hump in 10 to 18 feet of water. Check stair-step ledges with hard bottom or rocky areas for giants.”
During post-frontal conditions, he reports that both bass species tend to suspend off midlake structure or hold deeper along gently sloping areas. In those conditions, fishing slower and deeper is the key. Bass that held in 6 to 8 feet of water may shift to the deepest edges of the slope, 12 to 18 feet down. Slow dredging with deep-diving cranks, using a crank-and-pause retrieve, works best. Make contact with the structure to trigger inactive bass.
Today’s crankbait arsenal enables a sophisticated approach to fishing offshore structure. Baits built to dive to specific depths help dial in your presentation to match the depth of different structures and the depth bass hold on them.
Mann’s Bait Company pioneered the depth rating game, offering their Manns 20+ in 1986. They added the 15+, 30+, and 10+, along with the shallow-running 1-Minus, while Norman’s Lures released the DD22 and DD14 models. Yakima’s Timber Tiger DC (depth control) series reached new levels of depth specificity with lures built for 1-foot increments from 1 to 5 feet, plus divers for the 8-, 13-, and 16-foot range.
Rapala has the latest lineup, their DT (dives-to) Series constructed of balsa, with a weight transfer system to enhance casting distance, plus a rattle chamber. Over the last 6 years, lure designers in Finland have collaborated with American crankbait experts such as David Fritts, to create baits that achieve depth goals while also offering bass a look and feel that’s hard to ignore. The DT-16 led the parade, followed by DT-10, DT-6, DT-4, and DT-14. The new DT-20 promises to be one of this summer’s hot baits.
Depth-rated crankbaits allow you to predictably contact bottom and humps at various depths and stay in the zone across the many features that adorn the best humps. Note that the Rapala cranks are designed to reach designated depth on a long cast with 10-pound mono. Other baits also run deeper with thin line.
Despite the presence of big bass, don’t be afraid to spool thin line. On a recent TV filming trip to Mexico’s famed El Salto, Senior Editor Steve Quinn and Mark Fisher of Rapala used DT-16s to scour offshore channel bends and humps with standing timber. Fisher had spooled with 10-pound mono and was able to root the baits down deep, nudging and bumping them through the limbs. Wary of break-offs, Quinn worked with 14-pound line but soon had to respool. The extra diving depth afforded by 10-pound made a big difference in the number of bites. And they didn’t break off a single bass, among the dozens over 5 pounds they caught there.
On humps with thick vegetation, shallow runners and rattlebaits that work cleanly over vegetation often are the ticket. But also try casting parallel to the edge of a hump, in deeper water. Despite attractive weedbeds or woodcover, bass often suspend off humps in stable weather conditions.
In addition to crankbaits, Richardson has had success slowing down and fishing jig-and-pig combos, short-arm spinnerbaits, and topwaters, after straining the area with crankbaits. He recommends options including jerkbaits, giant grubs, various other soft plastics, and Carolina-rigged lizards and worms.
These structures also are prime for swimbaits, particularly the weighted varieties that can be worked from 5-foot depths out beyond 20 feet. On the deepest humps, bladebaits, jigging spoons, and tailspinners come into their own as well.
Another crankbait tactic called strolling is worth noting, too. Classic strolling involves pulling deep-diving cranks or Carolina rigs along deep humps or roadbeds with the trolling motor, or by drifting if wind direction is favorable. To achieve maximum depth with crankbaits, strollers make a long cast, then freespool another 60 yards or so of line before engaging the spool. Forward movement with the trolling motor pulls baits across the structure. Crankbaits achieve amazing depth, Norman’s DD22s routinely bumping bottom in 24 feet of water on 14-pound-test mono.
Tournament anglers generally aren’t allowed to troll but they can achieve similar results, if in a more time-consuming manner, by casting a crankbait past a structure and then moving off, while freespooling lots of line. Once the lure is far enough back—again, 50 to 60 yards—it can be retrieved to dive well beyond 20 feet while banging rocks, stumps, and other prime cover.
There’s something highly satisfying about scouting structures far from the banks that most anglers target. Achieving correct casting angles and depth control also yields fantastic catches of summer time Bass.