As the air temperature climbs and short sleeve shirts take the place of sweatshirts, there’s a window of time across the country when catching numbers of quality bass can become an arduous task. That doesn’t mean it is time to sulk around wasting life. It is time to go searching for those first bass of summer.
During this transition period, bass take their time migrating from spawning areas to summertime quarters, and success on the water often hinges on identifying exactly when they have reached their destination for the hottest months of the year.
Elite Series pro Ott DeFoe says that it takes some detective work when it comes to determining whether or not bass are in a full blown summertime pattern, and the first clue all comes down to getting the first bite.
“When you’re trying to figure out if the fish have transitioned to a summertime pattern, the first fish that you catch can really give you a lot of valuable information,” he explains. “If it has a bloody or red tail, sores on its body, or just generally looks really beat up, that’s a good sign that the fish are still in an early postspawn phase.
“If the bass’ tail is starting to heal and is a healthy green color, or if the fish looks really healthy and clean, that’s a good sign that most of the fish have been done spawning for a while and are moving to the areas where they’ll spend the summer months,” he continues. “Regardless of where you live in the country, you can usually tell what phase the bass are in just by inspecting that first fish and gleaning as much information as possible.”
Once DeFoe has indentified that the bass are in a summertime pattern, he narrows his search down to two areas on the fishery. He’ll either key on the main lake or the very back end of the lake where there’s a creek or river flowing in. “It is one extreme or the other,” DeFoe allows.
By eliminating transition areas, the Tennessee pro is able to target a larger class of fish. “It’s common knowledge that the biggest fish in the lake are typically the ones that spawn first,” he explains. “As a result, those fish are the first ones to either migrate to the main lake structure or take up residency in the shallows for the remainder of the summer.”
Regardless of whether he’s fishing for summertime bass offshore or up shallow, DeFoe keeps his arsenal fairly simple.
When targeting schools of bass on the main lake, his go-to offerings include a 5″ Berkley Hollow Belly swimbait in Tennessee Shad color rigged on a ½ oz. jig head, a deep-diving crankbait, and a 10″ Berkley Power Worm in Plumb color fished on a Texas-rig.
“During the summer, I almost always fish a Plumb colored worm,” DeFoe divulges. “I’m not sure why, but a red worm in the summertime just catches fish.” He throws the swimbait, crankbait, and worm on structure like points and humps, but also targets shell beds and brush piles if he’s fishing on a lake where that type of cover is available.
When targeting summertime bass that are living in the shallows, DeFoe opts for a compact Texas-rigged plastic like a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss or a weightless soft plastic shad imitator like a Texas-rigged 5″ Berkley Havoc The Jerk.
“Fish that stay shallow during the summer months will hold around whatever cover is available like rock, grass, wood, and overhanging trees,” says DeFoe. When the 4″ creature bait is Texas-rigged with a 5/16 oz. bullet weight, DeFoe can use a variety of retrieves without wasting time changing lures. “I can flip it, crawl it along the bottom like a crayfish, swim it back to the boat, or burn it just below the surface,” he states.
If bass are chasing baitfish in the shallows, a soft plastic jerkbait gets the nod. “Especially when there’s current, the bass will be feeding on baitfish just below the surface. When I encounter that scenario, it’s hard to beat a soft plastic jerkbait like The Jerk.”
DeFoe prefers to use a 7’4″ Fenwick Aetos medium-heavy spinning rod and Pflueger Patriarch spinning reel spooled with 10 lb. test braid and a 2 ft. leader of 15 lb. test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. He uses a barrel swivel to connect the braid to his fluorocarbon leader, and ties on a 3/0 standard offset worm hook.
“The barrel swivel adds enough weight to keep the bait just below the surface, and the braided line helps with setting the hook when a bass bites at the end of a long cast,” he explains. “The fish will often slash or nip at the bait when they’re up shallow chasing baitfish, so that setup really allows me to set the hook and capitalize on every opportunity.”
With a single bite, some key observations, and a simple yet effective game plan, the time that it takes to locate bass in early summer can be greatly reduced.