Summer is the season of agreeable weather, except for periods of severe heat some find
uncomfortable, and storms. Largemouth and smallmouth bass feed on various tidbits throughout stable days, and if you know how to tease a reluctant take, you can count on catching them in the fair weather. Other gamefish species, too. For outstanding action, though, don’t rely only on the predictable bites early and late in the day. When the barometer falls as a storm approaches, fishing may be even better.
Every summer promises plenty of thunderstorms. For anglers, the fury is in the feed, not the mock heroics of offering graphite as a lightning rod. Long before the situation gets dangerous, fish become active, so don’t get greedy and stay out too long. On Lake Hopatcong during a July morning when clouds covered the sun, we began catching smallmouth bass steadily, a number of them weighing nearly three pounds. Twenty minutes later, we heard distant thunder. After the same interval of time passed, I judged it was time to go in. Though we left the bass biting, we felt satisfied.
Stand ready to fish, where bass might stage, as soon as clouds come. It’s important to get your lure in the water where bass will feed. Changing light advantages bass eyesight over the forage fish they prey on. So, although they’re less inclined to chase fish during summer, you can bet on them using that talent of seeing better when they can.
I switch from using plastic worms to throwing any of a variety of plugs resembling fish, including topwaters, and I’ve also caught smallmouths on Mann’s Little George- a 1 ounce tailspinner. With its lead body the size and shape of a diminutive banded sunfish, and a Colorado blade for a tail, the Little George casts forever, sinks fast, and clicks against rocks while retrieved if you let it. Round Valley Reservoir’s rocky rip-rap holds smallmouths when the water level is close to normal. Under darkening skies, not all of the bass will move into the shallows. The Little George is most effective in water 10 to 30 feet or deeper, but also fish 10 to 15 feet down as a storm comes. Lipped and lipless crankbaits are also good for the same depths. If you find bass active and eager to hit, burn these lures at top speed and cover range.
Largemouths also look upward for prey silhouetted against darkening light. Rather than
concentrating only on weedlines, fish topwaters over weedbeds. The biggest bass hide in thick vegetation during the day, but a frontline will prompt them to take leave of this lazy habit to score a big meal. Poppers, tailspinners like the Hedden Torpedo, commotion plugs like the Jitterbug or Crazy Crawler work when the barometer falls. As a front begins to approach, poppers might work best. Easing into action by fishing them subtly and slowly at first might be wise. Then change the rhythm. Jitterbugs and Crazy Crawlers come into their own if bass become intensely active.
Working a jerkbait by irregular rhythms is very effective for both largemouths and smallmouths in shallows of 12 feet or fewer. Smithwick’s Perfect 10 Rogue will get down 10-12 feet, but many other plugs-- from Rapalas to Rebels and other brands—also prove effective along weedlines and shorelines. Also, shallows associated with points, the bellies of coves, flats, timber fields,
and docks, all hold bass that suddenly are less dependent on cover, and are moving outwardly along edges, closer to open water. Forage fish gravitate to structure and cover, but they use open water to escape bass when they attack.
Since storms can happen any time of day, they summon the question of when they’re best. In my experience, a mid-morning event may be no less productive than a late afternoon’s, but don’t expect a blitz with every approaching storm. Every one of them you can fish safely, though, will feel exciting as it develops, because you never know. You just might find bass more willing than you would expect.
Bruce Edward Litton is an outdoor journalist and photographer who makes Bedminster, New Jersey his home. In addition to articles in a variety of fishing periodicals, Bruce's outdoor interests are best followed on Litton's Fishing Lines, a blog that connects anglers in New Jersey to experiences mostly in the Highlands region of the state. The blog essays and articles on fishing and other outdoor pursuits are very wide-ranging reflecting his outdoor and fishing explorations up and down the East Coast