Here in South Carolina, and throughout much of the southeast, when the bass complete the spawning ritual, the next place to target them is following blueback herring. The herring spawn comes almost immediately afterward and as the bass try to regain their strength from the struggles of reproduction they find bluebacks to be an easy target. Look for them on shallow, tapering points with hard bottoms composed of clay, rock or gravel.
You can almost follow the bass out. The earliest herring feed will take place close to where the bass hatched their fry, but as spring ends and summer begins, look to main lake points for the most activity. This is some of the most heart-racing and exciting fishing you’ll ever experience – because the fish tend to be super-shallow, they’ll crush topwaters, and there are times when you simply can’t retrieve a bait too fast. They’ll track it down – the faster the better.
Some of my key lure choices include topwaters like the various Live Target walking baits, swimbaits like the Live Target herring imitator and the Black Flagg Slick Shad, and of course you can never discount soft jerkbaits skipped across the surface. When it’s cloudy and/or windy, the bite can last all day, but don’t stop looking for it just because the sun pops out. You may be surprised how long the bite continues even then. The only adjustment you’ll probably have to make is to upsize your baits when it’s windy, and favor smaller ones or soft plastics when it’s slick.
Once the herring are done reproducing, a large percentage of bass will move offshore and stay there until fall, but discount the ones that stay permanently shallow. They’ll key in on bream beds, darting in and out of the big pods of craters for an easy meal. Sometimes I’ll spend all day targeting shallows, grassy banks with frogs, wacky worms and swim jigs while everyone else is out deep.
If you’re convinced that the better quality and quantity of bass are offshore, use your electronics to find the best brush piles, focusing on natural structural elements like humps and main lake points. There exists a wide range of baits that produce in those circumstances – including crankbaits, swimbaits and big jigs, but as the pressure increases on those areas I find that day in, day out, plastics including dropshots and Texas rigs will produce most of your better catches.
When it gets really hot and you start to notice bait suspending in open water on your electronics, you’re sure to find bass following them. Sometimes they’ll push them up to the surface, and once again walking baits, swimbaits and soft plastic jerkbaits are my go-to presentations. Look for these situations both on the main lake and in larger tributaries, especially on the lower end of the lake where the clearer water exists. Make sure to cover lots of water, make lots of casts, and fish fast. Many times, the bite will last basically all day.
If you’re looking for a backup pattern during the dog days, focus on shallow brush and other heavy cover in backs of creeks or river arms where the water is stained. Unlike the offshore fish that are often over 20 or 30 feet of water, in this situation it’s rare that I’ll look deeper than 6 feet. When that’s my primary pattern, I’ll only have a few rods on the deck – usually a Buckeye Jig, a dark-colored Texas rigged Black Flagg Grande Worm, and usually a buzzbait and a frog as well. Start off with the surface lures, but don’t put them away after the early morning bite. They can be deadly in little pockets of shade that you find throughout the day. They might not produce a lot of bites, but they’ll be some of your best bites.