I pride myself on being a multispecies angler, but if I had to choose one species to go after in the summertime it wouldn’t even be a debate. This is the best time of the year to be a bass angler. I wouldn’t want to, but f I had to, I’d trade in all that time spent chunking muskie baits, cranking for walleye, and speedtrolling pike.
Trade it all for a summertime sentence of working the weedlines for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Better yet, give me a pair of polarized sunglasses and let me work the shallows for the most explosive action you can find on inland waters. Tarpon, redfish and other saltwater creatures might be tougher than bass, but why waste all that travel time when I could be bass fishing?
The cool shallows of lakes throughout northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are perfect throughout the summer months, but no better time than in June. The lily pads are emerging and not yet so dense that you can’t see largemouth bass lurking through them. Smallmouth bass are still close by their beds and their dark silohuettes stand out so nicely against the sandy backdrop.
Both conditions are great for throwing on an unweighted worm and doing whatever it takes to entice a bite. Sometimes a slow lift and drop retrieve does the ticket, other times it requires a more aggressive walk the dog. Either way, a tussle is awaiting. Sometimes a Texas rigged worm on a 3/0 or 4/0 hook is best while other times those bass can’t resist a wacky worm wistfully wiggled in their presence.
Fishing is so visual this time of the year and it’s fun to see your lure a work through the cover. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you see that bolt of lightning and watch the strike. Smallmouth bass swing in and hit it as they turn sideways while largemouth dart up and open their gaping mouth, inhaling your lure.
As you work the miles of shoreline on a big lake like Leech, you’ll find little pockets of weeds and there are almost always bass cruising the area around it or hunkered down in the weeds. Either way, it’s time to slow down and fish the location thoroughly. If you spook one as you roll into the area, don’t worry about it. If that largemouth saw you, often they’ll tuck back under the cover and await your lure once you toss it out there.
On a small body of water, like the hundreds of Forest Service lakes chock full of bass, you’ll find rock piles, sparse pockets of lily pads at the edge of a bog, submerged timber, and plenty of weedlines. If there’s a dock, skip cast under it and let that worm settle. If you don’t pull a fish from under there cast again. If you don’t pull one out on the second cast, curse under your breath and move on.
The best worms are ones that fall nice and slow undulating the entire way down. Any self-respecting bass in the area is going to feel compelled to at least check it out if not absolutely inhale it. Don’t be afraid to use five or six inch worms, even in early June. Four-inch worms work great but bluegill and rock bass go crazy for these too and you’ll have to beat them off with a stick unless there’s a tough bite, then downsizing seems to be best.
Cabbage is king, but don’t overlook coontail clumps. If you don’t know the difference, grab an aquatics plant book or google it and learn the difference. Cabbage weeds are like tall forests with a lush understory while coontail are like a alder swamp. If you deer or grouse hunt, you know which one is best even though it’s the tougher option. You must go where the beasts reside.
When the cover is thicker then it’s time to throw on a skirted-jig tipped with a trailer of plastic. For jig colors don’t get too fancy. Clear water means black and blue while stained water is best with green and brown. For the best results, don’t follow that rule everytime. Just when you think you have it all figured out, bass will change the game on you so be versatile.
Keep an eye on your electronics as you work those shallows and mark those spots with the best weedbeds. Oh sure, it’s a leisurely outing but when you need to cover water quickly you are going to want these spots pinpointed. Weedbeds that hold bass today will usually hold them tomorrow and the next day—especially coontail clumps.
It’s amazing how many weeds you find across the hundreds of yards of a large flat. Each of them are going to be good to fish and especially take note of those that are away from the edge of the flat. Those patches are going to be the most under fished throughout the summer and if you mark them now, the more you can keep coming back again and again and pull fish off that structure.
As the water warms up, those bass will begin chasing faster moving lures. That’s when most bass anglers toss spinnerbaits or horizontal swimbaits. My favorite is swimming a jig with a four-inch grub. This works great in the lake and phenomenally on the river.
Warmer water also means a stellar topwater bite is sure to follow. Work topwater across the water’s surface and you’ll be rewarded with a bassy explosion of power. My favorite topwater times are dusk and dawn, especially when the water is glass calm. Remember that jumping bass are awesome, but bass that slurp a topwater under are real trophies so keep your eye on that bait.
The great thing about the summer bite is that on most lakes you can catch plenty of fish both shallow and deep. Some of the big bass slide up to the slop where they get most of their food and others move out to the breakline to cruise the deep weedline.
A few anglers I know like to eat bass, and more power to them. Don’t beat anybody up if they put a knife to a legally caught fish because that’s what limits are for. Unless I am in a survival situation, I myself will never put a knife to either species of bass. If catch and release isn’t your cup of tea, at least practice selective harvest and let the big ones go back.
It’s summertime. Get out there and do some bassin’!