by M.L. Anderson
What the heck are the “dog days” anyway? The term actually comes from an ancient Greek term for the time in the summer when the dog star, Sirius, rises just before the sun. Sirius is called the Dog Star because it’s the brightest star in the constellation of the dog that follows Orion the Hunter around. The dog days might not actually be the hottest days of the year, but they often feel like it. If you can tough it out, this time of year can be really hot bass fishing, too.
Right now in the middle of Arizona the heat is unbelievable, but there is a whole lot going on when it comes to fishing. Getting out on the lake as the sun is rising is a fantastic time for topwater baits. Our favorite ones this time of year are Zara Spooks, Yamamoto grubs, and Ricos.
One of the best things about Spooks is that you can throw them a mile, and you can fish them effectively even in a wind. We throw them on flats first thing, when the fish come up to eat, and when they start to move out a bit deeper, you can still get them to come up on a Spook fished over submerged rockpiles and points. The Rico is better for calmer days, when the ruckus they make on the surface is more noticeable. It can be difficult to fish a little popper when there’s chop on the water. If the wind is calm, my partner and I each throw a different bait, just to see what it is the fish want. He’ll throw a Spook and I’ll throw a Rico or a prop bait, or vice versa.
On those flats that have tons of stick-ups, it’s hard to beat a Yamamoto single-tail grub (18-series) fished on top. Choose any size and color you like – we usually go for a 5-inch in a shad color or just plain white. Rig it on an EWG hook with the tail curve opposite the hook curve, so that the tail rides curling down into the water. Cast it right to the bank and crank it back fast enough to keep it on top. The tail churns and makes a subtle commotion, and you can work it past almost anything. We fish them through stick-ups, over debris, and even through cockleburs. A bait with trebles would never make it through that stuff, but the grub will, and the fish just hammer it.
Spinning gear with 10- to 12-pound-test fluorocarbon line, or even light braid, makes this a lot easier because you can get the hook home and muscle the fish out before she has a chance to wrap you around a bunch of branches. It’s hard to throw a light rig like this on a baitcasting outfit, but the spinning rod you use for splitshotting will do just fine.
If you have no idea where to start, grab a Carolina rig and head for a point. Pick a point that goes way off into deep water. Some of the best ones go out a ways, flatten out, and then dive back down. The fish will often hang around on those small flat areas in between, especially if there are rocks or dead trees or brush on them. Since we have a lot of rocks and not so much vegetation, we like the big egg sinkers for Carolina rigging. They make noise on the rocks and stir up mud like a crawdad.
There are a couple ways to tie up a Carolina rig. One of my favorites is to use a Carolina Keeper, which is a plastic cylinder with a tiny slit through it. You hold it with your needle nose pliers (the slit should point at the two jaws) and give it a squeeze to open the slit enough to slide the line through. First, put the weight on, then the Keeper, then tie on the hook. The great thing about the Carolina Keeper is that you can move it when you want to, but it stays put otherwise. It also eliminates two knots, and those are always weak points.
The traditional way is to slide a weight, then a plastic or glass bead on, then tie on a swivel. The bead helps protect the knot from the weight. Then you can tie on whatever length of leader you like, and add the hook. We usually use a really long stout rod for Carolina rigging – the same one I use for my jigs, actually. So I use 14-pound-test fluorocarbon. I like it because it has little stretch, and I usually have a lot of line out when I’m Carolina rigging.
We just find a point, sling the rig out shallow, and then fish it back, keeping it on the bottom. I’ve found that the best way for me to do that is to use the rod to pull the rig slowly, by moving the rod to the side. When I run out of room, I move the rod back to the starting position, take up the slack, and start pulling it again. If I feel weight, a tick, or something that feels like I caught a rubber band, I set the hook by swinging the rod hard and fast to the side, reeling like mad the whole time. A fast reel helps you keep up with the fish. Make sure your hooks are sharp! You can cover a lot of territory with a Carolina rig, and I’ve caught some of my biggest fish this way.
When the fishing is really tough, especially on a big clear lake like Mead or Powell, fishing a grub can be even better than using a finesse worm. It simulates a bait fish better, and it’s incredibly versatile. You can fish them on dart heads and swim them, you can rig them on a pea head and hop them down the rocks or let them fall next to pilings or docks, or you can Texas or Carolina rig them. Since their little bodies are so chubby, a 1/0 EWG hook works great. You want the hook short enough to hook through some meat on the grub, but you need it wide enough to give you plenty of hook to go into the fish. I fish my grubs on a 6’6” heavy rod with a medium-fast tip. It’s easy to cast them, even easier than with a light rod.
Depending on whether you are swimming or crawling the grub, you can choose a baitfish color or a craw color. They are particularly good for smallmouth, and on our Arizona lakes we’ve noticed that the smallmouth really like the bright colors like chartreuse. They also like bright craw colors like orange. Grubs are also great sight-fishing baits.
For fishing heavy grass, rig a grub on a small shaky head so it’s weedless, then fish it over the grass and let it sink into small openings. On a nice open flat, we often split-shot grubs across them. Flats are great morning and evening, and during the day if the fish are suspended off the edge of the flat, they’ll run up and grab a grub as it falls off the side. Finally, if the bass are hiding in trees, a grub is a heck of a flipping bait.
At night, a Texas rig is my favorite thing to fish. We use a black light and fluorescent line, which makes things a lot easier. The black light not only makes the line glow so you can see bites, it also lights up the shore so you can avoid casting into trees and such. We just move right along the bank, tossing the rig out, letting it sit for a second, then picking it back up to cast to the next spot. If you find that you’re catching mostly small fish, try fishing a bit deeper. We found that even at night, some real toads hang around on deeper rockpiles out a ways from shore. Maybe that’s how they got big. Baits for the Texas rig can be just about anything – one of my favorites is the PsychoDad. I really like the way it moves, and you can stick rattles in it if you want. It’s almost 4 inches long, so it casts great and flaps around under water perfectly. We’ve had good luck with the bigger 4-1/2 inch Flappin’ Hog, too, especially on those deeper rockpiles. Bigger baits get plenty of bites, and darker baits show up better against the night sky.
BIG BAITS ON SUMMER NIGHTS
Fishing a very large bait on tiny weights is a big-bass technique. It takes forever, so it’s not the best tournament tactic, but if you’re looking for a trophy, you should try this. Elite Pro and Arizona native John Murray told us about this years ago, and that man is a fishing machine. Use a long, heavy action rod, or a “wimpy” rod with braid if you’re fishing really deep. The braid gives you a better feel. Grab a 12-inch curly tail worm and rig it on a big hook – like a 4- or 5/0. Squirt it with some scent if you want, and then the key is to drag it super slow – you’re looking for a big, lazy fish that wants an easy meal. Use a tiny bullet sinker – like an 1/8-ounce Water Gremlin Bull-Shot. The sinker actually isn’t really for getting it down there, it’s more for helping it not get pulled off the hook by dragging it over rocks. You can actually get Bull-shot weights as light as 1/32-ounce.
Stealth isn’t the key here – a bait that big with that tail displaces a lot of water and they can feel it a long way off, and since the bait is so big there is plenty of room for adding rattles or whatever. This is also a killer technique as fall approaches. Murray says the shorter days seem to trigger something that makes the bass want to feed up before winter.
So there you have it – some of my favorite ways to catch bass when the heat is on. Give them a try and I think you won’t be disappointed.
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