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Fishing Outside The Box | Print |  Email
Written by John Kerr   
Saturday, 05 March 2011 04:54

Rethinking summer big-fish strategies

Fishing is full of misconceptions. There are certain "rules" anglers tend to follow--fish spoons in winter, for example. But they're not rules, they're just practices anglers have become conditioned to accept. Instead, I like to fish outside the box, and hunt big fish using common sense and experience. June fishing is a great example.

This is a great time to be on the water, especially if you're a big-bass hunter. The trout fishermen are gone, the tournament season is largely over and nightfishing is kicking into high gear. And sure, I throw swimbaits, a lot of them, but during summer, I actually work more worms, jigs and frogs for big bass. Plus, I routinely get on red-hot spoon bites out over the creek channels during the middle of the day. I know I won't spoon up a teen fish, but they're still the 7- to 10-pounders I never tire of catching.

Night Patrol

In Southern California, we get a lot of weedgrowth along the shorelines as summer progresses, but it seems most of the big fish I find are along offshore structure--your long, rocky points, as well as high spots like humps. They really seem to key more on rocks, as opposed to weeds, during the summertime. I think it's because of crawdads, so anywhere you can find some good rock and boulders along deep structure, especially atop a hump or along a point, that's a good place to start nightfishing. Of course, any weeds around those rocks are bonus.

My absolute favorite summer nightfishing spot is a high spot atop an offshore hump, and my favorite way to attack it is by stitching a big worm.

With the growth of swimbaiting, so many have gotten away from fishing these large plastics. But remember, before swimbaits took hold, most big bass were caught on big worms, big jigs and deep-diving cranks--discounting live bait, of course. These baits never stopped working; anglers just stopped working them.

I usually throw an SR Plastics 12- or 16-inch Snake worm, which Scot Richardson custom pours for me. Color, to be honest, doesn't make a big difference. It's nighttime, you're fishing a big worm, and a big bass is incredibly aware of its surroundings. If that worm comes anywhere near her, she'll know it's there, regardless of color.

I Texas-rig the worm with a light, 1/8- or 3/16-ounce bullet weight, which forces me to fish the worm slower. It allows the worm to swim more naturally, too. One important consideration is to use a big, wide-gap hook--I prefer a 5/0--because that's a lot of plastic to bite through. Then, douse it with as much Hot Sauce as you can--the scent lubricates the worm and lets its slide through a fish's mouth easier, providing better hookups.

Banging Boulders

To paint an example of how I work the worm, let's say I pull up to the outside of a deep hump. I usually start by making a very long cast, then stitching the worm uphill, onto the high spot, then back down the other side. A lot of people I see make too much noise, and sit on top of their spots. I like to stay away from the structure as much as I can, and be as quiet as possible.

If I throw the worm out and start getting smaller bites--the tap, tap, taps--I'll usually pick up and leave. Big bass dominate their spots, so if smaller fish are present, it's a good indication the big bass are not.

While stitching, if I feel like I'm coming up a boulder, I'll stop the bait and start shaking the heck out of it. And I really shake it. People who see me think I've had way too much coffee, because I constantly shake that slack line. By shaking, I can keep the worm running up and down on the rock, helping the bass hone in on it.

I really pick my spots apart, too. If I feel there's a big fish there, even in an area as small as 20 feet, I'll continue to hit the key spot over and over from different angles. I might scratch a single rock 100 times, but on the 101st scratch, a bass might come up and thump it.

With a big worm, a hit from a big fish is usually just a tap--one solid, sharp tap. Little fish will repeatedly bite it to reposition the worm in their mouths, but a big fish just sucks it in and you feel its mouth closing on it. When you get that thump, just reel down and swing for home. It helps to fish a stout rod--I fish a 7 1/2-foot, heavy-action Graphite-USA rod--combined with a good, abrasion-resistant line like 15-pound Maxima.

To help search out your spots, try visual identification. In very clear lakes with strong visibility, scout your spots during the day with both your eyes and your electronics. You'll probably be able to identify rockpiles or small weed clusters that will become a factor after the sun sets. Also, I use an Aqua-Vu underwater camera quite a bit. It really gives me a great view of how individual spots set up, and how I can effectively approach them at night.

If it turns out the fish don't want the worm, I'll usually turn to a big, 1/2-ounce jig paired with an Uncle Josh Jumbo Frog or Crawfrog. I'll make the same presentation, scratching the same rocks, quivering the heck out of the jig against any cover I find. I might also throw a 7-inch weightless Senko in the same areas, or a bit shallower, especially if I find a high spot with some weeds atop it.

Daytime Details

Good as the nightfishing can be, daytime can be just as good. As I mentioned, you probably won't catch a teen fish, but you can catch a very good amount of 7- to 10-pounders. In the clearer water, the bass tend hold deeper during the day, so instead of humps and points, I turn my focus to ditches and creek channels.

For example, a deadly daytime spoon bite can develop almost anytime during summer. It's a shad-driven bite, and a lot of times, the shad will be down in those 60- to 80-foot creek channels. If the bass have located those shad, and you have too, you might be looking at a 40- to 50-fish day.

It helps to fish a good spoon, and a few years back, I discovered the Megabait Live Jig Spoon. Now, it's the only spoon I fish. The paint job is unbelievable--my favorite is the blue and chrome finish--and the design creates the best flutter and fall I've experienced. Best part is, it gets that great flutter and fall without fouling up.

I catch 90 percent of my spoon fish by throwing the spoon out as far as I can, letting it sink into the creek channel, then mooching it back. I will fish directly below the boat once in a while when I meter fish, but for the most part, long casts are the key. My best success comes with aggressive retrieves--working the bait with high, violent pops, letting it flutter, then popping it again.

The best creek channels seem to be those near the feeding grounds--the high spots I fish at night. It works the other way, too--the most productive high spots are usually the ones closest to a creek channel.

The other thing you can do during the day is pull out the frog. No matter which lake you're on, if the weeds are matted up, there's probably a great midday frog bite. I think it's because fish can see the frog better against a high, bright sky, and when there's more light, your strike-to-catch ratio will be much better. Again, you won't get your mid-teen fish on the frog, but you will get a lot of 7- to 10-pounders.

Like many frog fans, I do some modification. Two years ago, I was fishing a tournament and got on a frog bite, but my partner and I only boated four fish. We dumped a couple of 8-pounders and lost the tournament by just 1 pound. Conventional wisdom says, if you hook 50 percent of your frog fish, you're doing pretty well. I couldn't live with those numbers, so I learned to rig stingers on my frogs. Now, my strike-to-land ratio is about 90 percent.

I use a Sumo Frog, and the modification is difficult to explain, but if you push the hook out, you'll see it's attached to a swivel. I take the hook off and run 50-pound braid through the eye of the swivel, then tie a few overhand knots so I'm left with two tag ends. I use a sewing needle to thread each tag end back through the hole and out each leg. Then I put the big hook back on, but now I have a tag end coming out each leg.

Next, I push on the nose of the frog just enough to create some slack in the tag end, then tie on a No. 4 or 6 Owner Bait Hook with a palomar knot. When I tie the knot, I make sure there's about a 1/2 inch of slack remaining, so when I release the nose of the frog, the slack disappears and I can push the eye of the stinger hook into the leg. This keeps the stinger upright. I repeat the process on the other leg, and now I have a total of four hooks on my frog--the stock double, plus two stingers--but I can still work it across the weeds. When they eat it, they're hooked.

This summer, try some of these techniques, rethink old strategies that still work, fish outside the box as often as you can and you'll be hooked, too.


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