Don’t let the late-summer fishing funk get you down. There are plenty of bass to be caught, and Bass Pro Tour angler James Elam is just the guy to help guide you in choosing the best baits for what can be a tougher late summer bite.
According to Elam, all you need to do is thoroughly analyze the water column and choose some basic baits to get the job done at various depths.
Let’s start on top. Most anglers love to catch bass on topwater, and Elam is no different.
“By this time of the year, the shad are a little bigger and the bass will often be relating to more open water areas,” Elam said. “Late summer into early fall is an excellent time to be using topwater baits. Any and all kinds of walking baits in particular. On calm late-summer days, these are ideal. Bass will be relating to big schools of bait and often feeding up. It’s a great time to catch them on top.”
Elam keeps his color choice simple: bone or chrome. He sticks with bone on darker days and chrome when it’s sunny.
“A big walking bait with a rattle will draw fish from as deep as 20 or 30 feet down,” Elam said. “If the water is clear, they can see the bait from a long way away. I stick with more natural color baits. Make long casts and keep your ears peeled to listen for blow-ups close by. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sure you pay attention to sound and visual cues.”
To make long casts easier, Elam loads a high-speed 8.5:1 gear ratio Shimano Metanium reel with 40-pound Seaguar braid. The reason for the 40-pound braid and not heavier line is that he can load more line and make longer casts. The high-speed reel is to get the bait in quickly if he hears or sees a blow-up and needs to cast to it.
Prime topwater time for Elam tends to occur three times per day.
“You can catch fish on topwater all day, but it’s usually good early in the morning, then there is generally a lull,” Elam said. “Then midday it picks up again for a bit from around 11 to 3. The last hour before dark is also good.”
The middle of the water column is where Elam deploys his swimbait.
“I’ll fish a variety of swimbaits in the middle depths – anything from small to big, but usually a medium size bait is ideal to start,” Elam said. “I’ll fish the swimbait on a jighead tied to a 12-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon line and use a 7.1 gear ratio casting reel. Occasionally, if I’m using a small swimbait, I’ll use a spinning rod.”
Elam’s color choices are either pearl white, blue or red pearl. He always starts with white unless the bass are feeding on bluegill, then he’ll use colors that resemble a bluegill. But always experiment until you find what’s working that day.
“The bass aren’t deciding how many flakes there are in your lure as you drag it over their faces,” Elam said. “They’re generally not analyzing baits that closely. Once they commit, they commit.”
When fishing a swimbait, Elam suggests sticking with the old-school countdown method.
“If I’m out fishing deeper and the fish are related to structure, I’ll make a long cast, give it various counts to count down, and find the magic depth,” Elam said. “Remember your count and pay attention to what count you’re on when you get bit. Don’t forget the old principles, they really work.”
Elam opts for a drop-shot to fish the deepest part of the water column.
“It can be tough fishing all three bass species we usually pursue, but a drop-shot is something you can really benefit from when it’s tough,” he said. “Bass won’t follow baits like a jig or Texas-rigged worm all the way to the bottom. One of the great things a drop-shot has going for it is that the weight goes first and it looks like the bait is chasing the weight. Then the bait isn’t buried in the bottom and the bass will pursue it. It’s a great tool to use this time of the year.”
Elam uses a spinning rod with 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown; using an Alberto knot, he attaches 10-pound Seaguar Golden Fluorocarbon. Elam’s weights usually range from ¼ to ⅜ ounce. A Number 1 Gamakatsu Split/Drop-Shot Hook or a G-Finesse hook and 6-inch Roboworms in pinks and greens round out his arsenal for drop-shotting.
Elam loads his Plano EDGE boxes with various chrome and bone-colored walking baits, a variety of white, pearl, and bluegill-colored swimbaits and jig heads in varying sizes.
He also carries Size 1 Gamakatsu Drop-Shot/Split Shot or G-Finesse Drop-Shot hooks and plenty of 6-inch Roboworms in various pink or green hues.