B.A.S.S. Insider: Cover Story, Episode 9

  • Editor's note: April through June 2006, B.A.S.S. Insider presented by CITGO airs each BASS Saturday at 8 a.m. ET on ESPN2. Click here for details. The episode below re-airs Friday, June 23, at 4:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2

    The black bass is considered by many bass fishermen to be a shallow-water creature, most commonly found along shorelines where cover and feeding opportunities are abundant.

    While this description may hold true at certain times of the year, particularly in the spring when bass move shallow to spawn, it is not a hard-and-fast rule. Many variables dictate where the greatest number of bass will be located inside a lake at any given time and, consequently, where dependable strike zones will develop.

    The key to successful bass fishing is finding one of these strike zones, a place where bass will congregate in the greatest numbers. During the hot summer months, this strike zone will usually be located in deep water.

    There is a definite art to catching bass in the summertime. The trick is knowing why a deep strike zone develops, knowing where to look for it and knowing how to catch the bass once they're located, as you'll learn in this week's cover story called "Fishing Deep Water."

    Don't go away! We'll be right back with some valuable deep-water wisdom that you cannot afford to miss.

    Bass fishing is a three-dimensional sport conducted under a one-dimensional surface. At no time of the year is this concept more vital to an angler's success than in the summer months when bass move into deep water.

    Recently at Table Rock Lake, we went fishing with two certified experts on this subject — BASS Elite Series pros Brian Snowden and Brent Chapman — who showed us how they catch bass when the weather is hot.

    Over the years, Brent Chapman has been able to exploit the deep-water strike zone by taking a rather scientific approach to the sport.

    As Brent explains, once black bass have spawned in the spring, they begin a gradual — but very predictable — migration out into the safety and comfort of deep water.

    Deep water, of course, is a relative term. It will vary from one impoundment to the next, no matter where you fish. At Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri, "deep" is anything greater than 20 feet down, according to Brent.

    Although he readily admits that some bass will always remain shallow, as pro anglers like Greg Hackney have shown in BASS tournaments, most bass move deep after the spawn and will remain there until cooler surface temperatures return in the fall.

    This summer bass migration is driven by three factors: 1.) The search for cooler water; 2.) The need for higher dissolved oxygen content; and, 3.) The necessity of finding easy and abundant feeding opportunities.

    To locate deep strike zones, Brent utilizes two important fishing tools.

    One is a high-quality lake map that gives him a three-dimensional image of what lies beneath the surface, oftentimes several hundred yards away from the shoreline. He studies a topo map long before he ever arrives at any lake, trying to narrow his search to a few key locations.

    Exactly what he's looking for are depth changes adjacent to some type of cover or structure. Once he's found several promising "hot spots" on a topo map, he's ready to hit the water.

    Brent's next step involves examining potential hot spots in greater detail by idling over them in his bass boat while monitoring the structure below with his electronic equipment.

    In a nutshell, he's looking for baitfish activity that intersects with cover or structure. He found one such location at Table Rock Lake while the BASS Insider camera crew was with him. It was a long, tapering point created by chuck rock and gravel and was covered with submerged timber.

    Using a deep-diving crankbait that dove down to about 20 feet on a long cast and retrieve, Brent began proving his theory and quickly caught a 6½-pound largemouth with a Norman DD-22. Minutes later, he landed a 3-pound smallmouth with the same lure.

    Brent's decision to use this deep-diving crankbait was twofold. First, it "matched the hatch" of the forage he was targeting (in this case, baitfish); and, second, the crankbait is built to cover a lot of water in a short period of time — at the exact depth where a strike zone has developed, even if that strike zone is comprised of suspended fish.

    Many bass fishermen mistakenly assume that trophy bass fishing begins and ends in the spring. That's simply not true, according to Brent. Summer is when hard-core bass fishermen can score the most consistent fishing action of the year but only if you follow his advice.

    "This is one of the best times of the year to catch big fish because they feed heavily after the spawn. They're looking for food to rebuild their fat reserves. Plus, in the warmer water temperatures of summer, bass have to maintain a higher metabolism, which means they have to eat more and east more often. So once you find a place like this, it's going to be a hot spot for months. A deep-water strike zone will remain a consistent strike zone for a long, long time, even into September and October.

    Like fellow BASS Elite Series pro Brent Chapman, Brian Snowden looks forward to the summertime fishing season. The reason is obvious — Brian knows how to quickly establish a deep-water strike zone.

    Brian grew up fishing in California where deep-water bass fishing is the rule and not the exception. The lessons Brian learned on the West Coast have served him well in other parts of the country, particularly in the summer months when strike zones develop in deep water.

    The good news for fishermen is that a good fishing spot is relatively easy to locate if you know what to look for.

    Every summer, a lake's bass population gravitates towards deep water in search of three basic "comforts" — cool water temperatures, higher levels of dissolved oxygen and easy feeding opportunities.

    All a bass fisherman has to do is locate one of the three key ingredients.

    Brian looks exclusively for telltale signs of baitfish with his electronic equipment and nothing else. Because, in his words, "bass are never far behind the baitfish."

    Knowing why this summer migration occurs is important knowledge for an avid bass angler. In June and July, as the water surface temperature rises, a "thermocline" begins to develop and becomes more defined as summer progresses.

    The thermocline is a thin layer of water sandwiched between the warmest surface layer and the colder, deeper water along the lake bottom. Bass and baitfish typically take up residence in the layer just above the thermocline where an "activity zone" is created. Some biologists refer to this area a "comfort zone," where all things that fish require for survival merge together.

    Whatever you call it, the resulting "activity" is clearly visible on quality electronic equipment. And it's usually defined by massive schools of baitfish.

    Once Brian locates this activity zone on his X26-HD Lowrance graph, he notes the specific depth and expands his search by looking for places where this thin layer of water intersects with cover or structure, something that will hold feeding opportunities for bass.

    On Table Rock, Brian located one of these key intersections on a main-lake point that extended out far into the main river channel. As he points out, most of the baitfish spotted on his graph were located in 30 to 35 feet of water. To reach this activity zone, he used vertical presentation with a drop-shot rig.

    A vertical presentation is the key to this technique, he explains, which makes boat positioning especially critical.

    "Often with a deep strike zone, you have nothing to relate to like a shoreline. So you have to pay attention to the depthfinder — you want to follow the contour lines beneath the boat. And with a drop-shot rig, you have to keep the bait vertical so you always want to monitor your trolling motor speed and pay attention to the angle of your line where it enters the water," he advises.

    Like Brent Chapman with a crankbait, Brian's objective is to "match the hatch" and the small 4¾-inch worm Brent employs closely mimics the threadfin shad he has pinpointed with his electronics.

    Summer can be the best fishing season of the year if you know how to exploit the opportunity it presents.

    Take the knowledge of pros like Brian Snowden and Brent Chapman and head to your favorite fishery this month, armed with the knowledge and confidence that you, too, will be able to put more fish in your boat by simply going a little deeper than the next guy.