Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Waning Days of Summer

It's starting to look like the dog days of summer are winding down, and the fish (in response to shorter days) are begining to enter the summer/fall transition phase of their year. The dominant fish holding in cover like grass, tules, hyacinth, or wood is becoming scarcer as falling water levels leave many areas high and dry. Bass (and most other fish) do need water.

Lakes such as Nicasio, Stafford, and Soulajule have areas of shoreline weeds that hold a lot of bluegill, red-earred, and green sunfish right alongside juvenile bass in the 6-10" range, and bass fry in the 1.5-3" range. They congregate here to stay safe from the bigger bass (2.5lbs-10lbs).

The weed beds are basicly like a cross between a sanctuary and a nursery, with bass fry hanging around the shallow side of the weed bed eating insects and insect larva whilst enjoying relative saftey from predation. On the outer edge (deeper edge) juvenile bass (dinks) in the 3/4lb-2lb use these weed beds as a home base from which to forage and hide from the bigger bass (3-10lbs) which stage raids up from the depths a couple times a day.

When the water levels fall it begins to squeeze these weed beds like a sponge. Lack of safe areas forces all of these smaller fish to play musical chairs in a desperate attempt to secure a safe chunk of the cover for themselves. All this active struggling keys the big bass to leave the depths and patrol back and forth on the outside weed line that is constantly pushing fish out to them. When the smaller fish lose their place in line, they become a larger fish's lunch.

During this period, I have had epic days taking advantage this dramatic struggle with swimjigs, spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, basstrix, super flukes, and shallow crank baits. I select which bait I use based on water clarity, wind, temperature, barometric pressure, and cloud cover (or lack there of).

Two years ago in august I was fishing a strip of soon to be high and dry weedbed with overcast skys and strong but warm wind on the golf course side of Stafford Lake - testing a new spinnerbait design . I noticed a V-wake zip up and down the little weedline so I turned and started throwing the spinnerbait directly into the wind and slow rolled it over the little strip of weedline and - bang - a 5.1oz bass with the tale of a 1/2lb bass sticking out of its throat. The next four casts produced four more fish all in the 4-6lb range until the wind stopped and so did the bite. Because I was testing I did not have much tackle with me so I grabbed a second spinnerbait (the exact same size and color) and cut the arm off of it about an inch above the head and rolled it over so as to create an eye that I could tie to. Other than the blades the bait was identical.

The first cast produced a 4.5 bass. Three more casts? Three more fish! Nothing under 4lbs. Then the wind started up again and I stopped getting bit. I tied on the spinnerbait again and bam, back in action. It went on for about 4 hrs like that and I ended up with my best 5 weighing almost 25lbs! Since Stafford is not known as a big fish lake so I was blown away.

You need to have a different approach for clear lakes like Alpine or Kent. In that type of lake, when the water starts to get really low and the cover is less available, you want to start looking for lay-downs that straddle two depths. In other words, you need to think vertically. My first cast would be to throw senkos or lite jigs.

A little research can be very helpful as well - this is a great time to look at either a topographical map of the lake and the hills around it or a hydrographic map if you can find one. Look for areas where the break line (edge of the old creek channel) swings closer to shore, or where a point reaches out into the creek channel itself .

Bass will still come up shallow and cruise around looking for food and can often times be found sitting in 10" of water right within about a foot from shore at dawn, but for the most part the bulk of fish will remain deep for most of the day. Another thing to remember about this period is that the fish school up. This makes makes it easier to catch them once found, because feeding bass are very compettive - even though they may not like the bait you are throwing when they are alone, they sure aren't going to stand by while some other fish gets it!

The baits to throw during this period are finesse stuff like drop shots, split shot rigs, shaky heads and wacky jig heads. Use Roboworms for these baits primarily but the slim Senko is great too.

These are the rigs that catch numbers of fish especially during daytime hours when the bite is tough. For the better quality fish, you can't beat a 5" watermelon w/black flake Senko rigged with a weighted wacky jig head, a Texas-rigged weightless 6" Senko, and my favorite the 1/2 oz-3/4 oz Jigmonster Chaos football head jig in P.B.J., or hell hound with either a Trixie Beaver, double tail grub, or chigger craw.

If you get a strong prolonged wind that is not significantly cold, expect fish to move up on the rocky banks where they will blast jerk baits like the Lucky Craft Pointer 100, or the Rapala x-rap. The Hildenbrandt blade is a "go-to" spinner bait, because it has much smaller blades then most others and performs great in clear water.

We're also heading into the time to rock the SPRO BBZ-1 slow sink trout for a couple bites a day (big bites). Best bet is to pick it up at dawn, dusk, or (my favorite) during heavy wind and make very long casts either across points, or along the breaklines, and then slow roll the bait just above your depth of vision, and every time you pass a potential ambush point rip the rod hard like a jerk bait and then go back to slowrolling. Stay focused! If the fish blasts right when you rip the bait, you need to set the hook hard and manage your line ( if no ambush points exist rip the bait about every 10').

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