With the official arrival of summer later this week, bass anglers can look forward to many weeks of interesting fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth bass.
But summertime can also be problematic for catching bass. Natural food sources are plentiful, so efficient predators like bass don't have to look far for a meal. Fishing pressure peaks on many lakes during the summer along with recreational boat traffic, putting the fish into a heightened state of awareness.
Even the hot, bright summer weather can be a factor, making early morning and late evening the most productive times of the day. Rather than abandon fishing for most of the day, however, I've always preferred to change tactics and experiment with different lures and presentations when bass get tough to catch in the summer. Here is a tactic that I've found extremely useful under those conditions.
Plastic worms are obviously one of the most effective bass lures of all time. Besides being available in an endless array of sizes, shapes and colors, these versatile soft-plastic baits can be fished in a variety of ways.
Most of the time, plastic worms are fished on the bottom, either on a jighead or Texas-rigged with a bullet weight to make the lure virtually snag-proof. One summer about 25 years ago, I started fishing smaller plastic worms without weight and discovered this tactic often caught bass when few other options did.
My bait of choice in the mid-1980s was a 4-inch Charlie Brewer Slider Worm. Since then, many more types of so-called finesse worms in four- to five-inch lengths have appeared on the market, adding more variety to this technique. I usually rig the weightless worm Texas style on a 2/0 offset-shank worm hook. I prefer a standard J-style hook as opposed to the wide-gap models, but the most important thing is that the worm is rigged straight on the hook.
You want the bait to fall as flat and straight as possible rather than diving with a head-first attitude. When properly rigged, the weight of the hook will take the worm down very slowly, giving it a subtle, shimmying action that even pressured summertime bass seem to find irresistible.
I fish the weightless worm on medium-light spinning tackle and 6-pound line. That outfit allows me to cast the rig a fair distance, which helps prevent spooking bass in clear water. Once the worm hits the water, merely allow it to sink naturally without imparting any extra action as it falls. Watch your line carefully for any sign of a take, especially the point where the line enters the water. If a bass cruises by, grabs the bait and swims off with it, the signals will be obvious. But often the fish will merely inhale the lure as it falls past its nose. In that case, the only indication of the bite could be just the slightest twitch of the line.
One downside to this method is the smaller, slow-falling worm will also attract sunfish and other small panfish. Although having those little guys continually tugging on your bait can be somewhat frustrating, remember that they are bass bait themselves, and their activity might also attract what you are really after.
I've often pulled the worm away from a pesky sunfish, only to have a bass grab it a few seconds later. Of course, if the panfish get to be too annoying at a given spot, it is probably worthwhile to move on.
Because a weightless worm is more or less a vertical presentation, it works best when fished around specific targets in three to six feet of water such as the edges of lily pads, sunken trees or other cover where bass are likely to be hanging out.
The subtle action of the slowly falling worm closely mimics a sick or injured baitfish or other small creature, which is likely to trigger a response from a bass that might not be actively feeding.
One of my favorite situations to employ the weightless worm is along the edge of a well-defined weed line. Make a long cast and allow the worm to sink as close to the weeds as possible. When the bait gets to the bottom, let it remain there for a few seconds. Then raise the rod tip, slowly reel the worm back near the surface and then let it sink again.
Repeat this process until the lure is near the boat. After three or four casts without a bite, move along the weed line and fish a new section of it.
Fishing the weightless worm certainly isn't the most exciting method, but it is one that will often catch a few bass in the summertime when other techniques won't. And that's what made it one of my favorites for years.