Water carries less oxygen the hotter it gets, and that’s when baitfish and the predators that feed on them, head deeper for cooler water. Now, we are not saying you can’t catch fish shallow in hot water, but for the purposes of this blog article, let’s just focus on what it takes to catch these deep-water off-shore late summer fish. This can be frustrating enough, especially for amateur anglers, who have just stepped into understanding the nuances of deep-water fishing. Often times, it’s the immensity of all that water and where to find those schools of fish that have gone deeper, plus not having the comfort of being able to cast to visible targets like they can with shallow water fishing. Add to that, inexperienced anglers find it challenging to decide which lure to choose, from all the numerous options available, that will produce the best results for catching these deeper fish.
Let’s solve the “WHERE” question first off, by eliminating 90% of the water out there. Ideally, the number one tip we can give to solving the mystery of finding deep water late summer gamefish is to find where their preferred structure and cover intercept with the thermocline, that stratified line between the coolest most oxygenated water, and the relative dead zone that lies below. The key is to find the thermocline, easily done with today’s hi-res electronics, followed next by locating baitfish. No baitfish present, no matter how good the deep structure looks, no bass, plain and simple, this time of year. Once you have located the thermocline and baitfish, then simply fish nothing but that depth or just above and you have increased your odds twentyfold. As you probe these deeper thermocline waters with the lures we will talk about below, than you can put the pieces together as to what cover or structure is available at that corresponding depth, and what the fish might be orientating to, thus fine-tuning your presentations and improving your catch rate even more.
Now, let’s discuss the “WHAT” question, with some time-proven, result generating lures, baits, and techniques guaranteed to help you land more and bigger deep-water fish this summer.
If you are still in the “search” stages of trying to determine what deep-water cover and structure are available, the best lure to start with is a deep diving crankbait, and importantly, deep being relative to where you found the thermocline and just above. For this, you can’t beat having a mixed selection of Strike King crankbaits from their XD series, in varying dive to depths, making sure you select colors / hues that match the hatch with what bait is present and the strain level of the water. For example, taking into consideration that line diameter and cast length will both affect the depth at which a lure will dive, generally speaking, the Strike King 3XD will dive to 10 feet, the 5XD to 13 feet, the 6XD to 16 feet, the 8XD to 20 feet and the 10XD to over 24 feet.
If you have found deeper weeds, wood or rock, nothing beats the new KVD DEEP 1.5D Square Bill which allows you to bang into deeper cover and bottom structure, causing deflections that trigger reaction strikes. With all these crankbaits in your tackle box, you can easily tie on the appropriate lure that will dive to the depth level or just above where you think the bait, cover or school of targeted gamefish are. Also, avoid the mistake of selecting a lure that goes too deep, or below the thermocline, as the most active catchable fish generally feed looking up and close to the water surface of the water column.
Other great search type lures would include deep diving jerkbaits like the Strike King KVD Slash 300D, a 3/4oz lipless crankbait like the Redeye Shad Two Tap, a 3/4oz Tour Grade Spin Head or a 1oz Bottom Dweller Spinnerbait. The key again is to make sure you are covering water and counting down the baits to keep them in the right area of these deeper water columns.
Now let’s go over some lures that are perfect for when you are out of search mode, have located a deeper school of fish or good-looking cover with baitfish present, and need to fine-tune your presentation to a more targeted approach. Start with active lures like a swimbait or where allowed, an Alabama rig. Good options for swimbaits would be any of the baitfish species specific options from Live Target, a Hollow Body Paddle Tail Shadalicious from Strike King, a soft jointed Zako from Gary Yamamoto or a Shockwave from Missile Baits. Rig on a heavy ¾oz to 1.5 ounces Jighead or weighted Extra Wide Gap Hook, cast out, count-down to the areas we discussed above, and slowly reel the bait back to the boat. Avoid overworking the bait as the built-in natural swimming action of the lure provides the needed trigger to stimulate a fish into biting.
Another faster but more targeted presentation option would be to fish a flutter spoon like the Strike King Sexy Spoon or a feathered jigging spoon like the JCs Tungsten Hopkins Spoon or a couple lure options you would normally associate with late fall / early spring cold water or ice fishing but which work remarkably well in the hotter deep water of summer, a silver buddy style blade bait and a jigging Rapala. By this time of the fishing season, the deep bass has seen a steady dose of jigs, rigs and soft plastics, so these baits that imitate a dying baitfish are ideal alternatives to inducing strikes from neutral fish with presentations the fish haven’t been accustomed to seeing day in day out. The key is to keep the lures in the strike zone while providing an aggressive rip up / fall back presentation, letting the lure fall on slack line. Repeat this all the way back to the boat making sure to watch your line on the fall, as most strikes are generated when the lure is flickering back down.
The above approaches, when mixed and varied, can get or keep a school of fish fired up for a good while but lets now cover the lures needed when the bite slows, or you are faced with post cold front conditions or the cover / structure dictates you need a more precise slower lure and presentation. Options now include drop shotting, shakey heading, Carolina rigging, dragging a football jig or stroking a soft plastic tube.
For active fish but which are tight to the bottom, nothing beats an All-Terrain Rock Jig dressed with a Yamamoto Hula Grub for boulder and gravel strewn bottoms and a Strike King Tour Grade Football Jig dressed with a Rage Tail Craw Chunk for depths covered with wood laydowns, stumps or standing timber. These jig setups are designed to be a dragged slowly across the bottom and depending on color and trailer selection, can mimic perfectly a crawfish, sculpin minnow, goby, sunfish bluegill, perch or shad. Anglers can begin with about a half-ounce model when water is 10 feet to 15 feet in depthand step-up to a three-fourths to one-ounce as they move deeper. Make a long cast, let it fall on slack line, and then slowly drag the bait thru the cover, maintaining bottom contact for as long as possible, back toward the boat. Again, this is an excellent technique when the fish are feeding aggressively but are tight to bottom structure, and this tactic generally will produce bigger fish, as compared to the other slower presentation options we will discuss. Another related option, especially effective with deeper summer Smallmouth and Spotted Bass, is to drag / snap a Mizmo Tube, the presentation being just that, a slow drag with a sudden violent stroking snap, letting tube fall back to bottom and then repeating.
When faced with more neutral fish, especially when they are scattered over larger expanses of less cover laden deep water, nothing beats a Carolina Rig. It is a relatively easy way to fish, making it perfect for the more in-experienced co-angler or partner in a team tournament situation, but don’t be fooled, there are times in the dog days of late summer when it out produces all other presentations for numbers and size. To setup a Carolina rig, first place a free sliding JC’s Tungsten barrel Weight thru your main line running to your Kistler Rod.
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The non-pegged tungsten provides great feel of the bottom, far better than lead, and allows the fish to not feel the weight when they strike. Now, you will want to add a brass bead (plastic will crack) after the sinker, to protect the leader line, which you create by tying on a small swivel, then attaching a 12-inch to 36-inch length of McCoy Co-Polymer Fishing Line, to which you tie on your favorite soft plastic hook. Now thread-on Texas Rig style your favorite bait, one that best matches the water color, forage and aggression level of the bass your after – a Strike King Rage Tail lizard, Missile Tomahawk Worm or Yamamoto Kreature for more action, or a KVD Perfect Plastics Finesse Worm, a RoboWorm 7” SL Series or a Yamamoto Senko for less action. Simply make long casts and drag the rig slowly around deeper off-shore points, humps, ledges and road beds. The key to fishing a Carolina rig is once you feel a bite, give the fish a little slack, then reel fast and set the hook hard, at the same time, with a long sweeping action to the side (not over your head), to insure you drive the hook home hard.
Finally, for negative fish, or for bass buried in deep heavy cover like sunken brush piles, standing timber or along deep dock or bridge pilings, your best option is to fish as slow and vertical as possible with a Texas rigged shakey jighead or a drop shot rigged with a finesse style hand-poured RoboWorm, a Strike King KVD Dream Shot, a Yamamoto Shad Shape or a Missile Baits Bomb Shot. If you find rigging a drop shot setup difficult, try utilizing the Daiichi Stand-Out Drop Shot Hooks, which easily allows your nose hooked bait to hang correctly while still giving you leader dropper line to run to your bottom slide JCs Tungsten Drop Shot Weight. An awesome option for anglers fishing small-mouth bass on the Great Lakes is to utilize a drop shot rigged with a RoboWorm Sculpin (Baby Gobie Looking Soft Plastic Bait) but as the dropper weight substituting instead a Koppers Live Target Goby Swimbait Jighead, effectively doubling their odds while providing a perfect presentation for the wind driven drag style bottom-oriented drop shotting these vast go by laden deep waters require.
To sum it up, deep water “late dog days of summer” fishing doesn’t have to be a challenging task for anglers, inexperienced or otherwise.
Our advice to any fishermen looking to master deep water summertime angling is to never forget the science, meaning fish are predictable and their metabolisms are at the highest rate of the season, which spells great odds for success for the guys and gals that focus on the tenants we spelled out earlier, thermocline + baitfish + cover / structure / bottom = fishing success when combined with the right lures and the appropriate presentations.
Period, end of story… now go get yourself a summertime deep water hawg!