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Stay Shallow for Summer Bass

It’s that time of year. The bass is done spawning and there’s a mass exodus from the shallows as the beat-up post-spawners migrate to the cooler, deeper waters offshore to recuperate. But there will be no rest for the weary, as eager anglers already await the bass before they can even get there.

Jacob Wheeler just did this to perfection in route to his 6th MLF Bass Pro Tour victory on Lake Guntersville. Wheeler chose to forgo lots of bites during practice in an effort to be where the bass were headed once the tournament started, not where they were during practice. His anticipation of the offshore bite coming alive resulted in a $100,000 payday.

So if we know where the bass are headed, why don’t we all pile up out there and wait for them to come to us, so we can load the boat too? Well, that’s the way a lot of anglers think, and it’s far from that easy. There’s only one Jacob Wheeler, and you nor I are him. So you end up with a lot of guys piled up on top of each other targeting highly pressured bass that typically aren’t in the mood to bite.

Though I don’t doubt I could go out there and elbow my way into the crowd and catch a few fish, I prefer to stay shallow where I have more water to myself. The way I look at it, I’m better off being one of five fishing the bank as opposed to one of a hundred competing for water offshore, especially knowing that a decent number of bass stay shallow year round.

How to catch them

Catching bass in the summer while staying shallow requires specific tactics. Weather is a key factor; having a bit of wind or cloud cover often enhances the shallow bite. However, bright sun can position fish in shaded areas, making them easier to catch.

In general, some wind, rain, or clouds are beneficial for making fish more active and less line-wary. Using buzz baits or spinnerbaits, cranking up the trolling motor, and working down a bank during a gentle ripple on the water is effective. Covering water is crucial.

During summer, there are fewer bass in shallow areas than in spring and fall, so covering more water improves your chances. Exceptions include situations like bass gathering near mayfly hatches or bluegill beds. For a basic approach to summer bass fishing in shallow waters, seeking unsettled weather and hitting the water with your rod is a sound strategy.

When bass group up shallow

Fishing offshore in the summer offers the advantage of locating grouped bass in brush piles and on ledges, while shallow waters often hold solitary fish. However, there are exceptions when bass group up near the shore, usually related to baitfish.

An example is bluegill beds. As the bass spawn season wanes, bluegills create beds, continuing through the summer. You might find multiple beds within close proximity, with baitfish concentrated in this area, drawing in bass.

Groups of bass, or wolfpacks, often patrol these shallows, ready to strike at anything resembling injured or unaware bluegill. Topwater lures and wacky rigs excel in these situations.

Localized insect hatches also gather bass groups. Insects fall on the water’s surface, and various fish, including bream, bluegill, and small bass, start feeding. The noise attracts larger bass and other predators, leading to a feeding frenzy in a relatively small space over several days.

The importance of freshwater

During summer, bass move offshore because they follow the larger schools of shad and other baitfish. Deeper, cooler waters provide the optimal conditions for their survival. This shift aligns with the movement of the shad, driven by the thermocline’s deeper placement as surface temperatures rise.

However, for successful summer shallow fishing, focus on running water and shade, unless baitfish abundance in scenarios like bluegill beds or insect hatches. In a choice between two pockets, one creek-fed and the other not, the creek-fed pocket prevails. The reason is that this running water tends to be cooler and oxygen-rich compared to stagnant water.

Analogously, consider live wells: just as an aerator oxygenates water, the gurgling creek, miles before reaching the pocket, infuses it with oxygen. Turning one side of your life well off while leaving the other on recirculating mimics this difference, but I don’t recommend it. You’ll swiftly learn why one pocket outperforms the other.

The importance of shade

Shade and running water are essential for successful shallow-water fishing. Though a combination of both is ideal, each offers significant benefits independently. Like finding a shady spot for your car on a hot day, bass seeks refuge in the shade. This can come from docks, bushes, trees, and boats offering overhead cover. Submerged structures, like laydowns and brush, also create hidden shade where bass rest.

Many bass remain in shallow waters throughout the year, making it tempting to stay close to shore. To maximize your success, understand why bass moves offshore. During changing weather conditions, covering water can yield surprises. On challenging days, look for areas with abundant bait, freshwater inflow, or ample shade. Employing these tactics will set you apart from the crowd and lead to more fruitful summer fishing endeavors.