The fun and excitement of springtime bass fishing is over. Gone are the cool mornings, relatively empty lakes, and glorious shallow water action. Springtime fishing is replaced by heat, humidity, and boat traffic. Now it’s time to grind. The lake is battered by jet skis, pontoon boats, ski boats, wake boats, sail boats, catamarans, small fishing boats, big fishing boats, dinghies, and water taxies. There are days when the water is so rough I can’t feel the bottom using a boat anchor for a jig. Summertime Bass Fishing is here.
I go to the lake on Friday’s to avoid the traffic. One particular Friday I left work early, hooked up, and drove off. Arriving at the lake, I expecting 5 to 10 MPH winds. After launching my boat, I looked down the long alley of a “no wake zone” leading out to the main lake and got a big surprise. The wind forecast was drastically incorrect. In fact, Mother Nature was in serious violation of the “no wake zone” pushing white-capped rollers all the way into the launch. The good news was there wouldn’t be boat traffic causing problems today, and the bad news was mother nature would be creating problems even worse.
I pulled up my weather radar to see what other good news might be coming my way. The radar showed a huge blob with two distinct waves of the “violent colors”: yellow, red, and purple. I call them the “violent colors” because when those colors get near me on a weather radar, I usually have a brush with death. These colors signify increasing levels of dangerous weather in the near future. Yellow is bad, red is really bad, and purple is horrendous.
I sat at the helm looking at lead-grey skies pushing 15 to 20 MPH winds whipping up a fury on the lake. At this point, my truck was just 80 yards away. I thought, “Maybe I could stay here until it passes.”. When I animated the radar map, it showed the violent blob moving away from me. With renewed confidence, I idled out of the marina on my way to my first spot.
I began by working a long ledge lined by tan pea gravel. With trees and boulders lining this bank for 300 yards, I figured it would be a good place to fish until the weather settled down a little. The wind was pushing the waves onto the bank with a constant crashing sound. The front had come through cooling things off a bit, and with a 20 MPH wind, I was almost getting a little cold despite the region having set a record high temp the day before.
With all the noise and commotion on the bank, I decided a big, thumping Colorado blade might be worth trying. Perhaps it would make my lure stand out a little more. Also, because the skies were overcast, I chose a dark color skirt. With those decisions out of the way, it was time to start fishing.
I picked my way down the bank, casting around every piece of cover I saw. I would throw to the shallows, then thump-thump-thump it past the cover, off the ledge, and repeat. It wasn’t terribly effective, but at least I was fishing. I got no action in the first 100 yards or so.
The bank here rises very steeply from the water’s edge. It’s a hardwood forest dropping down steep leaf-strewn hills until it’s bedrock foundation is visible at the water’s edge. The last 5 feet of the forest give way to the very foundation of these hills. Rocky outcroppings of big square boulders and long thin sheets of rock pop out near the waterline. At the very bottom is a ribbon of pea gravel joining the woods and the water like a seam.
The wind and waves continued non-stop. I was only 30 yards from the bank, and it felt like I was watching the beautiful scenery from a see-saw. Uuuuppp and doooownnnn I’d go on the bow as the waves pushed under me and then crashed into the shore. Every now and again I’d look behind me to keep an eye on things. When I did, I’d switch from looking at a gorgeous hardwood hillside, to an angry, white-capped, heaving mass of water wanting to smash my boat on the boulders. It was kind of strange being in between those two scenes. If I looked behind me, I saw danger, in front of me was beauty. If I looked back and forth real fast, it would be danger, beauty, danger, beauty, danger, beauty. It could get overwhelming, so I just fished.
As I approached the point of the very small cove ahead, I grabbed a 15-foot diving crankbait. I was in 25 feet of water, and would be throwing up to the shallows and dragging it back. The pea gravel gave way to the big blocky boulders creating a fortified point at the mouth of the cove. The forest grew right down to where it ran out of dirt. The edge of the forest was defined by a slender green tree sprouting out of the rock itself. Then there was just a six-foot drop to deep water.
My casts with the crankbait dissected the area, starting deep and working shallower. On my third cast, my rod got a little heavy, almost as if I had snagged a branch. A few seconds later, and with no fanfare or excitement, a small bass came to the top. My first bass of the day was caught with the boat bobbing up and down 2 or 3 feet at a time. It wasn’t a large bass, but it signified the first success of the day. It also gave me some confidence in this crankbait.
Over the next hour the wind died down, the lake began to calm, and I had more flexibility. I hadn’t caught anything else since the first bass of the day, and it was time to move. I wanted to check out a nice break-line I found on my GPS. I plotted the waypoint on my GPS and pointed the boat towards the spot. As soon as I got on plane, I could see someone was already sitting on the exact spot I was headed to. Ugh. Those are the highs and lows of GPS. Finding cool spots is easier—for everyone. On the fly, I canceled the navigation and found a new break-line to recon a half mile up the creek.
The water was now officially calm, the temperature was nice, and there was no humidity. I idled up to a triangular point dropping off a big flat in 15 feet of water, then into the main creek channel 30 feet below. As I “climbed” the underwater ridge I saw all kinds of stuff on my side imaging sonar. I couldn’t tell exactly what I was looking at so I went around for another pass. Everything lit up again, and I could see stumps, suspended fish, and what looked like an angry mob on a brush pile full of bait. It was so crazy, it reminded me of Clinton supporters at a Trump rally.
I dropped a marker buoy and got to work. I started on the shallow side and worked all around with my crankbait. Twelve casts later, I found myself on the deep side, passing over more brush and angry fish. Next, I found myself casting parallel to break-line on the flat. I ran my crankbait down the edge like it was just walking down a sidewalk to the store. Somewhere along the way, he got mugged. The rod loaded up pretty good and suddenly I had a decent fight on my hands. I was in deep water, using my sonar to find offshore structure, and I had hit pay dirt. Offshore fishing is classic summertime stuff. It’s also stuff I’m not very good at, so this fight came as a bit of a surprise.
I dragged this scaly miscreant from its shadowy ambush spot and was shocked to discover I had just caught dinner. A 13-inch crappie was caught red handed with my crankbait in its mouth! It was a nice surprise. I took a picture, tossed him in the live well, and fired the crankbait again in the same direction. Again my innocent little crankbait came wobbling down the street, and again he was assaulted by a crappie individual. Boom, dinner guest number two was in the live well.
With the fish feeding actively I made a difficult move. I put down the rod and got behind the wheel. I wanted to get a good look at what these critters look like on the graphics so I knew what to look for in the future. This was an awesome opportunity to learn something.
I hit the “record” button on my HB 1198, then idled around the area at 3 MPH. All of the data I captured will be viewable later at home. That way I can take my time and study the area to learn what I’m seeing. I can also change all of the settings of the sonar while watching my recording, this way I can get the unit dialed in just the way I want it. It’s a cool feature I’ve just begun using.
With the sonar recording out of the way I bid adieu to the crappie and renewed my search for bass. My next stop was the Gravel Buffet. The Gravel Buffet is a special place to me. I caught my personal best largemouth there a few years ago. It’s an area a lot of people miss, and I rarely see anyone sitting on this spot.
The Gravel Buffet sits just inside the mouth of a large cove. The mouth of the cove is probably 150 yards wide with big rocky points dropping down into 25 feet of water on both sides. Moving a little deeper into the cove, the bank turns from steep rocky ledges to a gravel bank for about 60 yards. After getting past the gravel, the bank rambles back and forth between ledges with submerged timber and more gravel banks before it dwindles away in the back with a wide, muddy flat covered in vegetation.
I think most people are drawn to the logs and timber they see sticking out of the water just past the first gravel patch. It looks incredibly fishy. In fact, the entire rest of the cove looks great. But this first stretch of gravel when coming in is a huge clue many anglers overlook. When looking at sonar while going over this stretch, it’s easy to see the gravel isn’t just on the bank. The gravel spreads out in the shape of a giant clamshell underwater. The bulk of it is a flat slowly transitioning from 2 feet down to about 12 feet. After which it drops off quickly all around the edges into 15 and then 20 feet of water.
This area has the main creek channel swinging by the mouth of the cove, then a wide gravel flat dropping off into deep water, and then the rest of the cove.
I pulled up near the deep edge of the Gravel Buffet and began casting around. The water was really calm, it’s glassy surface reflecting the trees above draws one’s eyes to the rocky, gravelly bank, and then curiosity pulls anglers gaze up into the hills surrounding the boat.
I began casting my big crankbait parallel to the edge of the flat. One or two casts into my search, the rod got a little heavy. It wasn’t much; it felt like I got snagged on a deep branch (a feeling I am very familiar with). I pulled, and it seemed to come free, so I began my slow retrieve anew. It felt funny again, almost like it wasn’t there, and then it went back to doing right. “Maybe there’re some weeds down on the edge,” I thought to myself. I glanced toward the mouth of the creek where a lone crappie fisherman was slowly trolling by, swatting at the biting flies which were such a nuisance today. Then I heard something in front of me. My crankbait had come to the top, and it was dragging something… a fish! I’d had a small bass on the hook the whole time and didn’t realize it.
He wasn’t much, but it confirmed there were bass in the area, and they’d be receptive to the crankbait. I laughed as I unhooked him and tossed him back. Now I fired in all directions, just trying to get a feel for the place. Two casts later, BAM! The rod got heavy on the deep side of the gravel. After a short fight, I pulled a 2 lb. largemouth into the boat. He agreed to take a quick picture to commemorate the occasion, and then I tossed him back with a stern warning to be nice to the other bass around him, or this could happen again. It was a fun fish to catch.
The sun was below the ridge now, and I was alone in the cove. I had the whole place to myself. Next, I cast to the left side of the gravel bar. This side is a transition zone where the gravel bank changes to ledge rock. The clean gravel bar drops off into deep green water filled with trees which tumbled into the lake over the years. It’s an underwater jungle of cover. My crankbait landed right on the seam of the transition zone, and I slowly wobbled it back toward me…BAM!! I got hit again. I could tell this bass was bigger than the others. It was heavy, and it did not like being hooked. My line was heavy and slicing through the water. This bass did not like what it had just been served at the Gravel Buffet.
I reeled as fast as I could, trying to keep up with him. Then he began to come up. I could see my line rising through the water. It didn’t feel right. It had the feeling of a horror movie. Sure, there was this peaceful backdrop of green forested hills, tumbling rocky ledges, and glassy green water; but I was alone where no one could hear me scream. The green monster ruptured the surface with its bucket mouth agape, shook lazily and tossed my puny crankbait aside. It then belly-flopped and disappeared. It had indeed turned into a horror movie, and I wanted to scream.
A crankbait has two treble hooks dangling from it, six barbed hooks in total. I can’t let one get within an inch of my fishing net, or it will become hopelessly stuck. On more than one occasion I have caught a rock with a treble hook…a…ROCK. I’m certain I could get a treble hook stuck in a bucket of WD40, but this bass eats a lure with TWO treble hooks on it and just spits it out. It makes no sense. How can something able to accidentally hook every undesirable thing it comes into contact with come free so easily from the one thing it’s designed to catch?
As maddening as it can be to lose a nice bass, I didn’t let it bug me too much. It was late in the day, and the weather was now perfectly comfortable. It had the feel of one of those evenings out in the back yard thinking “man it feels great out here, I wish I was on the lake.” But today I was on the lake, and the bass were biting, and life was easy. It was every bit as good as I usually picture it being when I can’t be here on a nice evening. The day had transitioned from a rough, windblown beating, to a focused search offshore with sonar, to a relaxed and easy pace of cranking on a school of bass under a setting sun with no place to go. For a few minutes, I had found heaven on earth.