BY GEORGE KRAMER, WON BASS CONTRIBUTOR
I know spring bass fishing and the potential for a larger fish in shallow water gets your juices flowing after a long winter, but I like the summer payback. For every bite I couldn’t get in January, I get twice those in July through September. Give me warm water — getting even warmer — and I have a chance to catch more bass than any other time of the year, especially in clear water reservoirs and river lakes.
There are probably three especially good reasons for this: A growing sunlight/shadow relationship, longer periods of daylight for bass to maximize their superior vision, and a water temperature rise that pushes fish from being just acclimated to seeking preferred temperatures. In this trifecta of conditions, there is both something for fish and something for the fisherman.
SUNLIGHT AND SHADOWS
You probably don’t like the summer sun frying the back of your neck, so you cover up. But “sunfish” and in this case, black bass, don’t worry about such things. They have no eyelids so their bigger concern is to position to a level or location where the glare isn’t so piercing. That may take finding an overhead umbrella of cover or a sliver of shade caused by anything from a single “stick” to a canyon wall. And, of course, a lot of in-betweens.
Shadows provide an obvious cue to where an ambush predator might hide or conceal, with an access to viewing any well-lit prey nearby. The new thinking regarding shadows is that they form “soft structure” (Big Bass Zone) in the environment as opposed to rocks, grass, bushes or docks.
It is true that there are situations where the edge of the shadow is indeed the positioning spot for a bass, active or inactive, where it feels concealed or safe. But still, the shadow is only a clue. While one end of a shadow cast may extend out over 60 feet of water, its best benefit only extends down to where light disperses and there are no shadows.
Thus, it is most likely that the most catchable fish associated with a piece of soft structure is the one closest (highest in the water column) to where the shadow falls. This is where the shadow is most pronounced and is closest to the “wall” provided by the surface of the water.
I would much prefer to fish the shadow over hard structure edges because fish seem to act more secure near these tangible pieces of their habitat. But when there is any question, keep your eye out for extended shadows, where bass could suspend at a comfortable depth and still be ready to ambush.
OPTIMAL VISUAL ADVANTAGE
I think it’s generally understood that bass vision is better than humans, but as far as anglers are concerned, knowing what fish see or perceive in summer sunlight is very helpful. The latest data suggests cues to both lure colors as well as motion possibilities.
With color, there have been studies that address these concepts, some even contradictory, yet even when the science doesn’t match your personal experience, you can’t dismiss it without a thought. Lure color trends, based primarily on sales figures, have seen wide variations. Since the 1980s there have been years when purple or black or natural were hot. And there were periods where glitter or metalflake were hot.
Today green pumpkin reigns in soft baits, yet, ironically, emerald green is the most detectible shade based on data published in 2002.
Still, as Dr. Keith A. Jones mused in his book Knowing Bass, if there had been one do all, end all lure color for all waters, all year long, we’d already be fishing it. I’m betting, like in the 1970s with a brown/black striped worm, we’d fish it all the dang time. Today, we each have favorites that we throw with confidence, and we all can access info on what is “working” at a given pond at a given time.
Now, that could be enough to satisfy ourselves, and maybe we shouldn’t worry about it. But, of course, we do.
The data that Jones cites is from a University of Kentucky study by Dr. Don McCoy. It concluded that the “color discrimination capability appears strongest in the red and green zones.” The fish see other variations, but a lot of the lure colors we use, say in Southern California, are only perceived as silhouette-like or translucent. Black, grape, dark red or dark blue are just dark. Pink, light blue and smoke are just light.
It would to me seem that contrast is probably a more important concern (though I wouldn’t tell Roboworm). Based on the water clarity and tint, plus the underwater backdrop (and the predominant forage type) — that would be the place where color would tip the scales, all other elements being favorable.
What bass have in a lighted environment is a key sense of movement. According to Dr. Jones, “Motionless objects are quickly classified as non-living and ignored.” I know, that sounds like it dismisses “dead-sticking,” but we know a ripple moving the boat, a yawn or mosquito swat all impart bait movement. When the lure moves, the fish know it.
But shivering, wobbling, shuddering, shaking are all favorable motions. Just consider this data, provided by Jones. To be detected, an item of prey (or lure) needs only to move four or five inches when five feet from the bass. At 20 feet, said lure only needs to move a foot and a half.
SEARCHING IDEAL CONDITIONS
We always say bass don’t care what the water temperature might be: they’re cold-blooded. But the fact is, they can acclimate to a lot of conditions, yet they actually seek preferred temperatures. Hopefully, though, they don’t find them — for our sake.
New information to me (again from Dr. Jones) is now available, but the “science” of the 1970s that I grew up with suggested that largemouth bass preferred the 74- to 78-degree range. Today that number is much higher — 86 to 89 degrees. What that sweet spot, higher range means to a bass is it can utilize the food it catches most efficiently and derive from it the ability to make its most powerful bursts to attack its prey.
The downside (if you think about it) is the bass will attack with abandon when it needs to in that perfect world, but it won’t have to do so nearly as often.
The X-factor is the fish’s cold-blooded nature. It can acclimate to 50 degrees just fine while waiting for spring to arrive, and when the water goes over the top of the preferred zone, it can “chill” in the shadows of grass or docks, hold at the mouth of tributaries (or temporary washes) or move around more on cooler nights — should those exist. Or it can just deal with it.
This is more of a bass characteristic, of course, so spending your whole day on the water looking for the “best” temperatures is going to cut into your fishing time. Nonetheless, you already spend time checking temperatures in the cooler months hoping for a tiny warm up. But in summer, fact is, you should probably peek at those numbers a little bit more. It could matter then as well.