Why You Should Be Using Finesse Techniques this Summer: Bass Fishing When the Pressure’s On

Savvy bass anglers know that a combination of heat stress and fishing pressure can really make largemouth finicky in the summer. But with finesse techniques, you can beat the heat - and other fishermen.

 

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Experienced anglers know that when the mercury’s high and the sun is baking everything in sight, the bass will seek shelter from the heat.

Not only does that mean that they’ll search for cooler, more oxygen-rich water, but they’ll also get downright picky and the heat stress can suppress the urge to feed entirely.

Hot weather and clear skies mean lots of fishing pressure. Do you know how to adjust?

As if that weren’t enough of a problem, summer draws hordes of weekend anglers to your favorite ponds, lakes, and rivers, and tournament crowds can crush even the best lakes for quite a while.

When looked at from this perspective, summer is second only to winter as a tough season to fish.

That’s why savvy fishermen will switch to night-time bass fishing, hit the water hard when a cold front drops water temperatures and the rain increases oxygen levels, or switch to finesse techniques.

In this article, we’re going to drill down on why you should be thinking more about finesse techniques this summer.

Heat stress

Notice that tiny paddle tail? Finesse is the way to go when the summer sun is boiling the water.

Heat stress is a much bigger problem for largemouth bass than you might imagine.

The ideal water temperature for bass growth - spurred by very active feeding - is a balmy 81 degrees.

But as the water continues to warm in the summer sun, as it does across much of the South, bass feeding drops off precipitously, and they start to lose weight rapidly and suffer other problems as the water gets into the low 90s.

In addition to this temperature-driven anorexia - and yes, that’s the scientific term for their loss of appetite - the heat will suppress the largemouth’s immune system allowing opportunistic infection to decimate the population.

As the authors of a recent paper studying heat stress in bass summarize the issue, “Excessively high temperatures negatively affect the growth performance and innate immunity of bony fishes, which disturb their normal physiology and increase the risk of disease outbreaks.”

Heat stress has also been linked directly to increased rates of cell death, helping to explain why high water temperatures are lethal.

Now you might think the easy answer for bass is to go deep and stay put, finding a channel or hole where the water is cool and comfortable.

Nope.

Most of the dissolved oxygen in a lake or pond is within a few feet of the surface. There, sunlight allows microorganisms to produce oxygen through photosynthesis, releasing the life-giving gas into the water where it’s available for bass.

As you get deeper, where the cooler temperatures would be just right for largemouth, sunlight drops off, as does photosynthesis. The practical result is that bass have a choice: boil or stop breathing.

When the heat is one, the bass will stay shallow - but they’ll look for shade and oxygen-rich water.

As Dr. Wes Neal explains, “Phytoplankton are releasing oxygen where photosynthesis is occurring. This is typically the upper 3 feet of the pond. There is not enough sunlight deeper in the pond to allow photosynthesis, so no oxygen production occurs. On the contrary, animal, plant, and bacterial respiration continue, using up oxygen. Thus, oxygen in deeper layers can drop to levels that are too low to support fish.”

What this means for you as an angler is that even when the heat is unbearable for largemouth bass, leading directly to cell death and crushing their immune systems, they’ll remain in relatively shallow water because they need that oxygen to breathe.

Bruce Whitmire, a Professional Bassmaster Open angler, agrees with the science. “This is the time of year when the thermocline is important. Fish will not be below it, because the oxygen is depleted,” he says. “Because of this, fish can still be found shallow in temperatures more than 90 degree[s]. Weeds that produce oxygen are critical. Keep in mind these are ambush predators and are going to find places to help them ambush and keep them comfortable.”

That notwithstanding, the bite will be sporadic and decidedly picky, and the strikes can be sluggish and torpid, much like cold-water angling.

Of course there are exceptions to this: a cold front can drop water temperatures precipitously, giving the bass a break from the heat. And rain can cool the water and increase dissolved oxygen levels.

At night, especially in the early hours before dawn, water temps will be at their lowest, allowing bass to actively feed in the shallows.

And finally, ponds and lakes that are fed by underground springs can stay cool as the source water is much colder.

But generally speaking, Carolina-blue summer days mean heat stress for bass.

Fishing pressure

As unbearable as the heat can be across the South in June, July, and August, clear sunny days draw weekend anglers to the water like an all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet. That. combined with tournament pressure, can encourage a lot of bass to turn wary, spooking them and discouraging the bite.

This is especially true for lures and techniques they’re seeing time and time again.

Tournaments decimate the bass population and spook fish for days, if not weeks.

Researchers tested whether bass that were exposed to high, medium, and low fishing pressure behaved differently, essentially looking at whether pressured bass learned to avoid lures.

Three ponds were simultaneously and equally stocked and then subjected to varying amounts of fishing pressure. 

The effect of pressure on capability was dramatic.

“The more experienced bass in the higher pressure ponds certainly learned, and were less likely to bite,” Dr. Dave Willis and Bill Cody note. Moreover, they report that “Several fisheries studies have shown largemouth bass exposed to high levels of fishing pressure do become more difficult to catch. Conditioning (or learning) of bass to avoid fishing lures throws a wrench into the concept that angling can be a good sampling method for largemouth bass.

This should be a serious heads-up for bass anglers.

If you’re throwing the same lures and rigs with the same basic technique as everyone else, and you’re working a pressured lake, pond, or river, you’re missing bass that could be caught by smarter fishermen.

What are finesse techniques?

Realistic colors and patterns are the key to enticing strikes when the water is hot and clear.

Finesse techniques typically involve a combination of factors that make them subtle, seductive, and ideal for heat- and fishing-pressured bass.

Finesse techniques typically size down the sinkers and weights, allowing for slower descents that provide more time for the bass to key in on them. They typically size down the soft plastic trailers or lures as well.

They also demand slower movements, longer times in the strike zone, and more subtle presentations, much like cold-water bass angling.

The reasons are as clear as the sky: torpor isn’t just an effect of cold water in largemouth bass, but also a response to dangerously high temperatures. They’ll slow way down, feed less actively, strike less savagely, and generally become pickier about what to pursue.

Finesse techniques adapt to this complex set of circumstances, offering bass options that are far more enticing than chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and other fast-moving, loud, large lures options.

These lighter lures and weights demand reels that can cast them without backlashing, leading most anglers to switch to spinning tackle and lighter, more sensitive rods.

Finesse techniques for you to try this summer

Ned rigs

A short, fat trailer on a Ned head isn’t something bass see every day, and they won’t immediately recognize it as a lure.

Ned rigs unite a small, mushroom-shaped jig head with a soft plastic trailer that’s typically less than 4 inches long.

The idea behind this combination is to minimize the jig’s off-putting presence, keep your trailer on the bottom, but allow that soft plastic to move, pop, and glide like it’s alive.

As a result, Ned rigs provide unparalleled action for your trailer, and your range of choices is limited only by your imagination.

Keep in mind that you really want a slow, long glide from your soft plastics; you’re not trying to nail them to the bottom or get deep fast.

The bass will still be in relatively shallow water, kept there by the lack of dissolved oxygen in deeper water. You want to give the bass time to see your Ned rig as it flutters toward the bottom.

Smaller and lighter are the name of the game with Ned heads.

I always start small with my Ned's heads, choosing 1/15- and 1/10-ounce Z-MAN Finesse ShroomZ. I only go heavier when I’m casting into the wind or just can’t get enough range of my casts.

Some of my favorite trailers include 3-inch Yamamoto Fat Senkos, Z-Man TRD TicklerZ, Z-Man Finesse TRDs, YUM Tubes, and Zoom Tiny Flukes.

Your trailer options are only limited by your imagination with the Ned rig. Just keep them small.

Fishing a Ned rig in the dog days of summer isn’t rocket science by any means, but it’s important that you remember two things.

First, bass will hold in relatively shallow water, as close to the oxygen-rich surface as they can stand. As a result, they’ll be heat-stressed, finicky, and sluggish - and they’ll seek shade.

Second, the bass will not be slamming everything you throw when the water is in the high 80s or low 90s. You’ll need to seduce them into a strike, using subtlety rather than loud vibration or flashy action.

Everyone else is throwing topwater, spinner baits, and flashy jigs.

And the bass have learned to watch these popular options pass them by.

In mid-summer, I target the edges of thick vegetation like lily pads, tossing my Ned rig right at their edge and letting it flutter downward for a second or two before popping it back up in the water column with my rod tip, picking up the slack, and letting it fall again.

The idea here is to cast parallel to the edge of the cover, running your Ned rig down its length in a series of slow, fluttering dives and quick pops back up to the surface.

Shady banks, especially where there are stumps, blowdowns, and other covers to hide in ambush are also good places to look, and shooting a Ned rig up underneath a pier or dock can be a special kind of magic when the mercury’s high.

And the relatively shallow water beneath piers, docks, and thick vegetation like hydrilla or lily pads can be great places to work a Ned rig on the bottom, as the lower water temperatures found there encourage high oxygen levels, especially around aquatic plants.

Shaky heads

Shaky heads like these from 6th Sense are a deadly finesse option in hot weather.

If there's a finesse technique that’s most easily misunderstood, it’s the shaky head.

I’ve met anglers who see the shaky head as a pegged Texas rig, using them to punch heavy cover and keep the jig head and trailer compact.

But that misses the point of the shaky head entirely, especially when the heat is on.

Instead, shaky heads are a fantastic finesse option that works just as well when water temperatures are pressuring bass as when cooler water makes them torpid.

The trick is to learn how to fish them properly.

A shaky head is just a small, unusually shaped jig head that imparts a unique action to slender trailers.

Just as with Ned rigs, a shaky head should be as light as you can go without killing your casting. 

My personal pick is the 6th Sense Divine, but there are plenty of other good options out there.

I typically run a 5/16- or 7/16-ounce shaky head and work up if that weight is too light for the conditions that day.

My trailer choices for shaky heads are longer and thinner than they are with Ned rigs, mostlyto take advantage of the motion imparted by the shaky head.

I like finesse worms like the 4-inch YUM, Zoom’s Finesse Worms, and 5-inch Zoom Salty Super Flukes.

Flukes and finesse worms are fantastic options for shaky heads.

I'll let my shaky head hit the bottom in shallow, shady water under docks, piers, or overhanging trees, or beneath lily pads and hydrilla mats. Then with the most subtle movements of my rod tip, I’ll just get that tiny jig head to lift an inch and go right back down. 

I’m just looking to wriggle my lure, not really move it forward at all. Slower than slow, slower than your grandfather makes a left turn on a busy road, slower than dinner cooks when you're hungry - keep it that slow.

One tip here is to work that shaky head on a slack line. The action will be much better than when your line is taught.

Creep that shaky head across the bottom in water that’s less than 10 feet deep and wait - bass will notice your trailer, figure out that it’s an easy meal, and that dinner bell will start ringing in their heads.

Weightless Senkos, flukes, and paddle tails

The final finesse options that you should consider when heat and fishing pressure are crushing the bite are weightless soft plastics.

There is nothing out there but perhaps the very best jerkbaits that can rival the action of a weightless Senko, fluke, or paddle tail - but I’d experiment with everything from tubes to trick worms, too.

The idea is simple: rig the trailer of your choice on a bare offset-shank hook and swim it with a series of darting pops, starts and stops, and slow glides.

In summer, I like to throw these near lily pads, grass, under overhanging vegetation, and anywhere else that can give the bass a bit of break from direct sun. In water that’s more than 5 or 6 feet deep, I’ll run my weightless soft plastic in the upper 3 or 4 feet of the water column, and let the fluttering glides carry my lure through the oxygen-rich upper layer.

The trick is to keep your lure moving, but turning in circles, darting, stopping and starting, and fluttering on the descent.

In more oxygen-rich water below vegetation, I’ll be sure to rig my soft plastic needlessly, and I’ll let it sink slowly to the bottom.

I’m not trying to imitate a Texas rig, punching the salad with a heavy sinker.

I want my lure to glide and sink slowly. I want to give finicky bass time to see my falling soft plastic. And I want a slow-moving, tempting presentation that doesn’t force the fish into a sudden, make-it-or-break-it rush.

Final Thoughts

When you sit in your car or truck in the middle of summer, and it’s more like climbing into an oven than a vehicle, you get some sense of what bass feel when the water temperature hits the upper 80s.

You slow down when the mercury is unbearable, seek shade, and eat less. 

They do, too.

But if you understand that bass will still hold in shallow water - not search out the deepest holes in your lake or pond - you’ll better understand why targeting the top 3 feet or so is critical. 

And if you remember to size down and slow down, you’ll find that finesse techniques can change the game when the heat is on this summer.

As always, we’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!

 

About The Author
John Baltes
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.