If you’re from South Jersey, you know the struggle we face to find deep water. We have only a couple of lakes in this part of the state with any deep water at all that actually have any size to them. We’ve been raised on the small lake environment and have learned how to effectively fish shallow water. As a result, even on the hottest days in the waning days of summer, I am able to catch quality fish in skinny water. You just need to know what to look for and you too can catch big fish in hot, shallow water.
First, bass don’t normally like water temps over 78 degrees, but they can live in water that reaches 85 degrees if there’s enough shade, cover, and oxygen. In the “dog days” of summer in lakes with a max depth of 4-5′, bass become sluggish and hard to find. If you’re not having much luck in the deepest part of the lake, get to the bank with the thickest, ugliest laydowns you can find. I know I’ve found a good spot when I can feel the air get cooler due to the shade. This can be combat fishing. Don’t be afraid to get a couple of scratches from the overhangs- or spiders on the boat for that matter. Tuck up in the heaviest, shadiest spots you can find, and don’t worry, it’s not “too shallow”.
When I get to one of these shady laydown havens, the first bait I like to throw is a ½ oz All Terrain rattling jig. I know the water is very shallow but in this situation, I’m looking for a reaction bite. Feeding isn’t the bass’s first concern in warm water, they want to be protected and will protect their space aggressively. I use a 6’8″ MH St. Croix Rage because it has the backbone for a big hookset, but it’s short enough to flip a jig in a very tight area. If I don’t get bit on the initial fall, I’ll twitch the jig a couple times and repeat the sequence two or three more times. If the jig get’s no response, I’ll move to either a Gary Yamamoto 5” Senko rigged weed-less, or, if there’s enough room, and I’ll throw a 4” wacky style.
Now this is typical South Jersey fishing, but what I do that’s different than most is a technique I learned while fishing Newton Creek- flipping a square bill crankbait. When this technique is called for, I throw a 2.0 or 2.5 Strike King square bill. I’m not worried really focused on the size of the bait, but rather its weight. I’m more confident when flipping a heavier bait because I know I’ll get more accurate flips. Of course when you are doing this into cover your first rule has to be DON’T BE AFRAID to lose the crankbait- it’s probably going to happen. It may even happen more than once in a day, that’s all part of the toll Mother Nature is going to extract to get into the big fish- totally worth it in my opinion! When you flip your crankbait, try and get it right up against the bank- you want that bait in the water as long as possible. Don’t slow roll it! A lot of fishermen naturally want to slow roll through brush and laydowns, but I’ve had much more success burning it and burning it results in a lot fewer lost crankbaits. The quicker retrieve keeps the bait on a hard angle with hooks behind the bait instead of hanging below it. This means fewer snags. Using this technique, try to hit every log before throwing in the towel. If there’s a bass there, it will very likely take at least one swipe at your bait.
Finally, if all else fails, I get out a drop shot and hit the heavy cover. I say “when all else fails” because I get a little nervous throwing light tackle in thick cover. Rig your drop shot weed-less using a small flipping hook. When I throw a drop shot in heavy cover, I like to up-size my rod from my normal drop-shotting ML St. Croix Premier, to a medium power rod. I also use a heavier leader (15 lb fluoro) with braid as my main line. I add my all-time favorite bait, a Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver, to the 2/0 Gamakatsu flipping hook. I love this bait’s small but bulky size and how it darts around brush and wood like a baitfish would. If you get a good fish on the drop shot, she might dig down into the laydown and bury the hook in a log. Luckily, you’re in shallow water, so just hold that line tight, put your hand on your line, and follow the line on down to that hog! Success!
So, the next time you are struggling to find deep water, the sun is scorching and you are losing hope, head into the shallows, look for a wood filled bank and try these different bass luring methods! My experience says you’’ be glad you did.