Catching Hot Water Bass
By Dan Turner
Late summer is here and in the Midwest that means heat, humidity, county fairs, and hot water fishing! Break out the 50 SPF, put the water or Gatorade on ice and let’s go!
Traditionally lots of anglers find themselves fishing slower in cold water and faster in warm water. While that method will produce, I tend to do exactly the opposite. In the cooler waters of spring and fall (40-60 degrees) the fish are schooled up and are going to give you small windows of fast action, usually in the afternoon. I spend most of my time with the trolling motor speed on 4 or above so I can cover as much water as I can untill I find the school that’s biting. With summer water temps over 75 degrees I work each spot slow and methodically. Hot water bass need less calories than a bass preparing to spawn or one that is fattening up before winter so they usually wait for the food to come to them.
What are the spots to focus on? What baits should I use?
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about summer bass is top water!! I love top water as much as anybody, but you are usually limited to mornings, evenings, or cloudy days. And the big fish in the lake tend to shy away from the shallow waters where most anglers concentrate their efforts. The big ones are in cooler water where the sun is diminished by water depth where they can still ambush prey. When the sun gets high, we need to go deep.
A typical Midwest lake is a reservoir, from 50 to 14,000 acres, has water clarity from 0.5 to 4 feet (sometimes more), and most have underwater structures that hold bass. Structure can be as complicated as man-made plastic devices, wooden pallets, planted rock piles, fallen brush and trees, or a simple drop off from a shallow water shelf to the main lake basin. This is where electronics are so important!! Not only is a good graph important, but the advances of side imaging and down imaging make them a must have in your boat. Side imaging will show you so many more targets and fish than you could ever see with a simple graph. You can easily distinguish fish, rock piles, trees, bridges, road beds, and even a single tire in 27 feet of water 100’ from your boat. If you only have a graph then use any map of the lake you can get ahold of. The Iowa DNR has done a fantastic job of publishing GPS waypoints of underwater structures on many of our Iowa lakes. From the Iowa DNR website you can download them into your boat GPS as a waypoint and go right to them.
It is important to note that just because you see a rock pile in 25 feet of water that doesn’t mean it is worth fishing. Every lake has a certain depth where the oxygen levels are depleted by sediment and decomposing organic particles; the same sediment that clouds up a lake when it turns over in the fall. Below this level bass and other game fish can only survive for a certain amount of time so we need to fish at or above it. And believe it or not you can usually see this line on your graph. Go to the deepest part of the lake and look for lots of small particles at a steady depth on your graph, usually somewhere between 10’ and 20’ on most Iowa lakes. On some clear water lakes such as Okoboji and Lake of the Ozarks this line may be over 30’ deep. This depth and the 3-5’ of water above it is your target depth. Try to concentrate on the structure in this depth range until the fish tell you otherwise. One of the best bass lakes I have fished in Iowa has no deep structure so most of the hot water fish are caught in 3-8’ of water on the endless bank weed lines. Sometimes you have to experiment and adapt.
Except for a few bigger lakes and river systems in Iowa the main forage is sunfish and crawfish, so match the hatch! We can “match the hatch” for bass with a few basic lures: bass jigs and trailers, Texas or Carolina rigged plastics, and crank baits. Jigs and plastics imitate both crawfish and bluegill so they are always my “go to” baits. The stores offer countless colors of jigs and plastics, but all you need is two: green pumpkin for shallow or lightly stained water, blue/black for dingy and heavily stained water or on overcast days. A 3/8 ounce jig or Texas rig is my favorite, but if it’s windy or if you are fishing in 15-20’ of water you may need to use up to ¾ oz weights. If you are using a plastic worm then sometimes 1/8 ounce is plenty to get to the depth you need.
I normally present these baits with a medium heavy or heavy rod with a fast tip and heavy braid. Braid is a must!! You have to be able to feel everything that bait touches and monofilament just won’t do that. I prefer 50# yellow braid. I want to be able to pull fish out of heavy cover with strong hooksets. I use yellow line so I can easily see when fish bite by line movement or giving the tell-tale “line twitch”. If the water is clear I will tie on a 20# fluorocarbon leader, otherwise I color the last 5-7’ of the yellow line with black magic marker to camouflage the line.
Your presentation is trying to imitate a bluegill, crawfish, worm, or snake moving along the bottom or through the brush looking for food. With a worm or a Carolina rigged plastic just slowly move the rod tip a few inches at a time, let it settle, and keep repeating back to the boat.
With a jig or Texas rigged plastic you are making small hops across the bottom, sometimes several at a time with a pause. I always keep a finger in front of my bait caster under the line to feel the smallest tic of the line. As you work the bait through trees you can feel each twig it hits. The hardest thing to learn is distinguishing a bite from a piece of the structure. A good rule of thumb is if the bait is moving up and you feel something, it’s a tree. If it’s falling it is the bottom or a fish. If you are not sure then put the slightest tension on the line and wait to feel the fish move. You usually have several seconds before he spits out your bait. Experience is the best teacher with this.
Once you feel the bite, and this is so important, set the hook HARD!! You want to reel down a full turn of the handle and really set it. You have to remember you have to set a fairy large hook through a brush guard (if using a jig), around brush and rocks, from deep water where your line may be bowed with slack, and into the boney part of a potentially big fish. You cannot set the hook too hard when fishing these presentations!!
The last method I have to discuss with hot water bass is crank baits. I usually use 2 types of crankbait presentations in hot water. My favorite is a square bill on drop offs just outside weed lines. I position the boat parallel with the weed line and cast parallel just off the weed line. I choose a bait that will get down to about a foot off the bottom. If you are not hooking the occasional weed than change your bait or presentation to hug the weeds a little closer. I vary the retrieve till I find what they want; sometimes it’s a steady retrieve and sometimes it’s a reel and pause. Another crank bait method is deep cranking. Using deep diving baits such as Rapala’s DT series or a Strike King XD series I fish parallel to rock dams or just above sunken rock piles. Choose a crank bait that just tics the bottom at your target depth. Again, match the hatch with a blue gill or shad pattern. I use a 7’-6” fiberglass rod with a medium action and slower tip to really extend my casting distance. I prefer 10# or 12# fluorocarbon to help me get as deep as possible quickly.
Don’t be discouraged or intimidated by deep water fishing. The water you need to fish is probably less than a boat length deep. You can avoid the crowds on the bank by going deep with a few basic baits and your boats electronics. And that’s where the big ones are waiting for you!