Every fishing trip is better with a plan, and every plan is better if it anticipates some challenges. When you watch an NFL quarterback step up to the line before the snap, he’s already called the play in the huddle, but he might call an audible at the line if the original play doesn’t look so good anymore.
You can call it Plan A and Plan B, but when it comes to summer smallmouth bass fishing, I call it my “one-two punch.” It involves a horizontal (search) and a vertical (recover) approach that covers most of the bases (my third sports reference, and we’re just getting started!) at this time of year.
First, let’s talk conditions. Believe it or not, August is a great time to catch smallmouths in shallow water over much of the country. What’s “shallow”?
Well, it varies from fishery to fishery, but for our purposes let’s call it shallow if we can see the bottom. In some places, that means “shallow” is 6 or 8 feet deep. In other places, “shallow” could be 20 feet deep.
So, my one-two punch is for shallow-water smallmouths, and shallow will depend on your water clarity.
For the search part of my approach, I use lures that allow me to work them fast and cover a lot of water. That includes hair jigs like the Andy’s E Series Synthetic Jig, swimbaits like the Berkley PowerBait Power Swimmer (rigged on a 3/8-ounce ball head jig), jerkbaits like the new Berkley Stunna, crankbaits like the Berkley Frittside, and spinnerbaits.
I’ll usually have more than one of these options on the deck of my boat so I can rotate through them and figure out what the bass want at any given time.
The recover part of my approach uses a wacky-rigged, 4-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General (especially in water less than 5 feet deep), a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm on a drop-shot rig, or a Ned-type finesse jighead and a worm like the Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Lil’ General (in water more than 5 feet). Most of the time, I’m fishing these soft baits in green pumpkin or black. If you see me using a different color, it probably means I’ve run out of both green pumpkin and black!
The rods, reels and lines I use are covered in this Project E video.
Now, the reason I call this a “one-two punch” is because the switch from the horizontal bait (No. 1) to the vertical bait (No. 2) can be just that fast. I’m usually targeting sand patches, grass patches, or rock, casting past them with horizontal-type baits and working the lures quickly back to the boat.
I expect a strike when my lure is close to the cover, but that may not happen. So I watch my bait all the way back to the boat. Many times, I’ll see a good fish follow it but not take it. Instead, the fish will spook and swim away, often just as it sees the boat. I make a mental note of what direction the fish is moving. Then I pick up one of my vertical bait options (The General rigged wacky-style is a favorite in really shallow water) and fire out a cast in that direction.
You’d be surprised how often this technique catches those fish that don’t commit to the search bait. I bet I catch more than 90% of them.
But there’s a trick.
The strike on the follow-up bait doesn’t usually happen right away. You have to be patient, and anglers who aren’t patient will miss most of these fish after they spook and turn away.
The key is to make your cast very quickly after the bass turns. I usually throw 10 or 20 yards ahead of them, especially if the water’s really clear and the sun’s out. Then I open the spool on my spinning reel and let the bait fall on a completely slack line. I don’t want to do anything to interfere with the lure’s fall.
Then I wait. Ten seconds. Thirty seconds. A minute. Two minutes.
In that clear, shallow water, I’m confident the bass knows the bait is there. He might have seen it hit the water, and he certainly watched it fall. That fish is interested in feeding, and if you’ll just let The General (or the drop-shot or the Ned rig) do its thing, you’ll catch that fish almost every time.
Don’t believe me? Check it out right here.