By M.L. Anderson
Here in central Arizona during the warmer months, the water temperatures in our big reservoirs can climb to the high 80’s by 6:00 a.m. We went out with Yamamoto Pro Marty Lawrence on Bartlett Lake to see if we could find some bass, and the water temperature was 88 degrees when we hit the water at dawn. Up the river it was 92. High temperatures like that make it harder for the water to hold oxygen because the molecules are farther apart when it’s warm. Colder water has a tighter structure with the molecules closer together, which makes it harder for the oxygen to escape.
One of the consequences of low oxygen levels in water is that fish are less active. Aquatic plants give off oxygen, but in our reservoirs they are fairly scarce except on a couple of lakes. Other things that can add oxygen to the water are rain and choppy waves. The water coming out below a dam or a very windy shoreline are examples. One of the reasons that frog fishing is so great in the summer is that the pads and grasses that frogs are usually fished over do two things for the fish: provide shade and produce oxygen. At Bartlett, however, we have no pads and no grass.
Fresh off the FLW Tour, Lawrence hadn’t had a chance to pre-fish Bartlett, so our mission was to find fish. There were a couple of things working against him besides the very warm water — a full moon the previous night, and skies that were blue and bright, with a rising barometer. Generally speaking, bass eat a lot better at night on a full moon in the summer, but like a lot of bass fishermen we didn’t have much choice as to when we could get out. In bass fishing, you play the cards you’re dealt.
Start With the Time of Year
In summer and winter bass tend to go deep for much of the time if they are able, but they will still come up shallow at times to eat. If the water is really hot the strike zone may be smaller because they don’t want to waste energy chasing something they might not catch, so Marty started in a small cut off the main lake — it had a great little channel straight out to deep water and plenty of rocks along the shoreline. On summer mornings he first targets areas like this that have shallow water but either a good steep bank or a cut or channel leading to deeper water.
“First thing in the morning I like to throw a little crankbait on the rocks before the sun gets up, targeting rock piles and points,” Lawrence says. He was fishing a crankbait designed to go as deep as twenty feet, and was using it to bump the rocks, starting right next to the bank. For deep-running cranks he uses ten-pound-test fluorocarbon line. Fluorocarbon not only helps you get a good hookset, it also sinks, which helps a deep-diving crank get maximum depth. His crankbait rod is a Dobyns Champion 806 with a nice soft tip but plenty of backbone so he can make extremely long casts. Marty was using a 5:1 reel to keep him from fishing the lure too fast.
At other times of the year he’ll throw a little square bill crankbait. “They’ll eat that just about everywhere I’ve been to,” he told us, “but it only goes down about three or four feet.” If he’s fishing a brushy area he’ll go to 20-pound-test fluorocarbon. He’s a power fisherman and prefers to fish reaction baits, but there are times when you just have to slow down. At times like these, he says, you just can’t beat a wacky rigged Senko or a Neko rig. You can fish the Neko a bit faster because of the weight in it.
Find A Pattern
We were fishing a main-lake bank that had several different types of structure including bluffs, shallow gravelly areas, rocky outcroppings, gradual banks, points, and small cuts and coves. It was the perfect place to fish a variety of baits and find out where the fish were and what they wanted. Marty had a bunch of rods on deck, each with a different kind of lure tied on. As the bank changed, he picked up a different rod and lure so he could fish each area effectively. He was switching baits constantly as the rocky bank had a lot of cuts, creases, and small shallow coves.
He had a couple of fish smack at the crankbait, but the first actual catch came on a Yamamoto Stretch 40 in color 297. This bait is a stretched-out, 6-inch grub and Marty’s been playing it close to the chest with this one. “I haven’t really told many people about this bait,” he said, “but I really like it — it reminds me of a Senko with a tail.” He Texas-rigs this bait with as light a weight as he can get away with, preferably tungsten. On this day he was fishing it on a green 3/16-ounce tungsten weight. If wind is a factor he’ll go heavier, but he prefers to keep the weight light, especially when the bite is tough.
“That fish was twenty feet deep on a 45-degree bank,” he remarked as he brought it to the boat. One fish does not make a pattern, but it sure gives you something to go on. He was casting to the water’s edge, letting it hit bottom, then giving it a little shake before beginning to drag it slowly over the rocks. He had first cast a line in at just after 5:00 a.m. It was now not quite 6:00, and he put several fish in the boat fairly quickly. “I’m fishing it really slow,” he said, “and with the tungsten weight you can feel every rock. They’re either pecking at it or they’re just holding it. You lift it and you can feel pressure.” The fish hold on to the salty Stretch 40 which makes it a lot easier to get a hookset, especially when the bite is as tough as it was that day.
Once he had a few fish in the boat he simply ran the bank and threw the Stretch 40 on all the parts that had a 45 degree slope and rocks. By the time it got hot, which was around 8:00, he had a dozen fish in the boat. “That full moon really hurts you,” he says, “they probably ate all night last night.” In spite of that, he managed to put a pattern together fairly quickly by being methodical and not getting locked into an idea without trying a bunch of things. He had thrown a variety of reaction baits, but that day the fish wanted the Texas rig, and the Stretch 40 in particular. Marty thinks the tail is key — every time the bait moves, that tail waves and puts out vibrations in the water. He’s moving it slowly, giving the fish plenty of time to find it and eat it, without trying to make them rush in the warm water.
I noticed he had a Hydrowave on the bow, so I asked him if he thought it actually worked. I remember when these sound makers came out at ICAST years ago. At first they were all the rage, then it died out but now they are making a comeback. Marty says that he has seen fish come up and look at it, so there are times when it lets you know that fish are around, but he’s not sure if it actually makes them eat.
Start with what you know about general fish locations in different seasons, but don’t be locked in to thinking that seasons are necessarily certain months. In Arizona this year we had a particularly wet and long winter, so our summer was at least a month late. Try a variety of lures on a variety of banks, cover, and structure, and at a variety of depths. If you see baitfish on your graph, try concentrating your efforts at that depth, because bass like to be where the food is. When you catch a fish, try to repeat it. If you can, then you have a pattern. As Marty says, once you have a pattern, fish it until it doesn’t work anymore. Then find the new pattern. A pattern can last hours or days, and you just have to be versatile and persistent.