It’s the tail end of summertime and many anglers living in the northern states – or those making the pilgrimage north to beat the heat – are thinking smallmouth. Bronzebacks get the bulk of the attention in places like Michigan, Wisconsin and New York, but there are plenty of largemouth (and some big ones), as we witnessed at Stage Six on Cayuga Lake.
When thinking largemouth, Mercury Pro Team veteran Kevin VanDam uses two opposing approaches – fishing deep grass or going ultra-shallow.
One of the first things VanDam looks for is vegetation, whether it’s milfoil, cabbage, coontail or another variety.
“This time of year the bass are firmly in a summer pattern, and on northern lakes, it’s all about the grass edges,” he said. “If it’s tall and matted, you can fish right through it with soft plastics, but I’ll also look for the deepest grass I can find. The grass will grow as far as the light penetration and the last grass will grow as deep as 20 feet or more if it’s clean water.”
To find likely areas, VanDam utilizes his mapping, looking for the biggest flats he can find.
“I use my Lakemaster card and search for those big flats in that 10- to 20-foot zone – that’s where they’re going to be set up on this time of year,” VanDam said.
There are many ways to catch deep summer largemouth in the northern states, but VanDam’s preferred method will be no surprise to those who’ve followed his illustrious career. If he has his way, it will be with a crankbait.
“A Strike King 5XD is perfect for summertime up because it works great for largemouth and smallmouth and I like it because it’s so efficient for covering water,” VanDam said. “The 15- to 17-foot zone that it runs is the right depth for most of the lakes where bass get on the outside grass edges. I’ll fish it with quartering casts and also go parallel right down the grass line. My Humminbird MEGA 360 and MEGA Live make it easy to locate the grass and stay in position. I want the crankbait to tick the grass, and if it gets hung up, you can snap the rod to clean it again.”
In addition to a crankbait, VanDam will also mix in a jig, Neko rig or drop-shot once he locates groups of fish.
“If you find the right areas with baitfish present, the fish will be stacked up in small areas,” he said. “Once I find them with the crankbait, I’ll slow down with those baits.”
VanDam will search for shallow docks on the opposite end of the spectrum. The shallower the better.
“It’s 2 to 3 feet at most and some of the best docks are the ones that are in a foot of water and you have a hard time getting to with your trolling motor,” VanDam said. “It can be better if there’s no grass around because the fish gravitate to those shallow docks, because it’s the only shade. You’d think deeper docks would be better, but shallow docks are usually better. It’s always a viable pattern for summer largemouth in the northern states because there is always a population of bass that live up there.”
There are several ways to target these shallow docks, from skipping a soft plastic on spinning gear to a jig or frog on heavy gear. VanDam prefers to go with the big guns.
“I like to skip a jig or frog around because the fish are very aggressive and you can cover water much faster,” he said. “You can still catch them skipping a Strike King Ocho around on a wacky rig, but it’s a lot slower. It’s crazy how much they like a frog and you’ll skip it under docks or pontoon boats and just listen for the sound when they explode on it.”