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Late Summer Bass Fishing
By Joe Wilkinson
Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Just about everybody but the air conditioner sales guy is breathing a sweaty sigh of relief, as a cool front replaces the hot grip of August. On the water, too, the cooler temps trigger a pickup in fishing activity; sort of a preview of the fall feeding binge as fish get ready for Iowa's other weather extreme…an ice-locked winter.

A drop of a couple degrees can change where you catch fish, even what time of day. "They're going to start moving into the shoreline," predicts Paul Sleeper, fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. "Especially here at Lake Macbride where we have so much deep structure added (during the recent lake renovation). The game fish take advantage of that during hot weather. As the weather cools, they'll be in shallow, chasing crawdads and little fish. That makes them more accessible; not just the bass, but walleyes, too."

Still, Labor Day water temperatures were still 'summertime hot'. That's why Sleeper and his son, Wes, were casting crankbaits at the end of a rock pile, about eight feet down. Wes's pole bent double, and they watched the show from five yards away, as a big bass broke water several times, trying to throw the plastic crawdad. Once on board, the 19½-inch largemouth went 4.7 pounds; the largest bass Wes-and almost every other Macbride angler-had ever hooked.

Bigger than anything Greg Hall has caught on Macbride, too. Hall, of Iowa City, fishes bass tournaments through the year with his brother, Chris. With many of them falling through the summer, he's learned that hot weather bass fishing means going where the fish are. On lakes, that means morning or evening fishing in the shallows…but going deep during the day. "By midday, you're going to start losing that (shallow water) bite and the fish will go deep," says Hall. "A good 'deep' lure is a crankbait; a big lipped one, in a shad color really does well."

I caught up with the Halls late on one of those oven-like late August days. Despite the heat, they had been having a pretty good day and held on to a few in the live well; including a nice 3-pounder which Chris had hooked. "We caught all our fish on the rock reefs. I really encouraging fishing there in hot weather," urged Greg Hall. "The water temperature was 78 degrees today-81 at the surface-so the deeper rock structure did present the best opportunity."

All of the day's bass came on crankbaits-this time. Hall says, though, not to overlook tubes, lizards, crawdad or shad imitators. "Rock piles; pallet beds; anything down deep, yeah, fish are going to be eating crayfish or shad; anything along those lines." He also recommends going with heavier weights; even ¼ ounce or higher, to get the jig down to the deeper, hot weather fish. And while 'deep' in Macbride might be eight to 10 or 12 feet, after it's recent renovation, those same fish might be hanging in four to six feet in another lake. Look for the thermocline; the point where high oxygen and low oxygen water, as well as temperatures, stratify in summertime lakes. In Macbride, that is about 12 feet. In smaller lakes, it might be eight or 10 feet. Fish around structure close to that.

On the other hand, early or late fishing might send you to the shallows; as fish come into the more tolerable temperatures, to feed on insects and smaller baitfish. "Scum frogs; or any type of frogs work well early morning and evening," suggests Hall. "Especially on the Mississippi or anyplace with a lot of vegetation; even a (three inch) torpedo works really well."

When fishing for the freezer, most Iowa anglers would be hard-pressed to give up their favorite bluegill, catfish, crappie or walleye spots. For the pure fight, though, smallmouth and largemouth bass often get the nod. "The largemouth is a fish we have in abundance around here," emphasizes Hall. "There are a lot of opportunities to catch them. They fight extremely hard and they are not extremely hard to catch."

Catch and Release. Do It Right.

Probably more than other Iowa fish; largemouth (and smallmouth) bass are prime 'catch and release' candidates. They are often the top predator in their environment. A certain number must remain-especially the bigger bass-to keep the overall fish population in balance. A good catch and release starts with a quick retrieve, to avoid tiring the fish. Once it is alongside your boat, handling is important. "You want to hold the fish parallel to your body; to avoid wear and tear on the jaw muscles," explains bass angler Greg Hall. "That is how this fish eats. Too often, people hold that lip and the body hangs over it. If you hyperextend the jaw, that bass will have a hard time eating anything. Period."

Another handling tip is to keep it 'off the carpet'. Your boat deck covering might make it a little more comfortable for humans on board, but Hall notes that a fish flopping around on it loses its protective slime coat. Loss of that slime leaves the fish open to sometimes-fatal infection, when it is released.




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