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Bill May: Summer Shallows, Part 1
A typical Liberty Shore largemouth taken at dusk on a Tiny Torpedo. (Bill May photo)

The common wisdom holds that shallow water fishing is over for the next few months, as bass and other gamefish move to cooler depths. But most fishermen prefer surface and shallow water action. And it can be found by working shallow water structure — with the right tactics.

In Part 1, I’ll review fishing over and around shorelines and shallow cover. In Part 2, I’ll tell of the exciting action in fishing on top of various kinds of cover.

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First Light

Often in summer, there is a magic time just before first light until the sun is distinctly round on the horizon. One of my favorite memories was a week in July when friends rented a camp on the shore of Back Bay in Virginia, the huge, weedy shallows forming the upper part of North Carolina’s famous Currituck Sound.

Wet wading and slowly twitching a Tiny Torpedo over the surface of open channels in the weeds, I was often rewarded by seeing surface bulging streaks of largemouth bass coming to take the lure. On many occasions bass came from several directions, and it was a game of who got to the lure first.

I had several days of this fishing, and on the last day we could access these waters my buddy, Scott Sparrow, joined me. Thick ominous clouds extended the low light conditions while the coming storms activated the bass. We each caught dozens of bass before the skies opened, and we retreated to the cabin’s covered porch. Shortly thereafter, our friends returned from church and invited us in for a blueberry pancakes breakfast.

In his “Shallow Water Tips & Techniques” Joe Bruce recommends fishing a few feet outside pad edges in early morning and on cloudy days, since the oxygen levels drop in the pad fields.

No pattern works 100% of the time, but this pre-dawn pattern can produce dramatic catches. Of course, there are two problems. First, to a lot of folks, “early morning” means “after breakfast,” and it’s hard to convince them to give the fish “breakfast” first. But this pre-dawn pattern has paid off with double digit stripers on poppers in the Inner Harbor, smallmouths up to four pounds in a Maine pond, and largemouths and stripers many other times.

The second problem is some waters like the Baltimore City reservoirs can’t be accessed that early. But all have some shoreline spots where surface action can be found predawn and just at dusk.

Last Light

For years I fished a shoreline section of Liberty Reservoir and found a magic half hour or so between sunset and full darkness. A typical night produced two or three bass in the one to 3-pond range (with one smallmouth over 5 pounds) on a Tiny Torpedo or Zara Spook.

Make Starret guides the Mattawoman area of the Potomac during summer evenings. One memorable evening as the sun set he guided Joe Bruce and I to a spatterdock-lined bank and began a mantra of “one foot in, one foot out.” Fishing hair frogs with mono weedguards on 8-weight fly tackle, we gently dropped the bugs one foot into the pads, worked them out a foot into open water, then picked up with a single backcast and repeated further up the bank as the boat drifted with the slow tide.

We hooked a largemouth about every third cast and finally quit in full darkness with the fish still hitting. On several other evenings with Mike we took bass and snakeheads dead-drifting Pop-Rs with the current along weed edges.

Joe Bruce with a Mattawoman largemouth caught fishing “one foot in, one foot out” along a spatterdock edge.
Joe Bruce with a Mattawoman largemouth caught fishing “one foot in, one foot out” along a spatterdock edge. (Bill May photo)

Typically bass and stripers stop hitting at full darkness then my resume feeding about an hour later. (Snakeheads and pickerel just shut down.)

In most of these situations, you’re working over and around weeds, along shorelines, the edges of grass, pads and other cover. Fly tackle is usually a poor choice unless you can work the fish, especially big ones, into open water. Casting accuracy is critical with any tackle, since you’re working the edges of structure. Flipping and pitching can be a big advantage.

With casting or spinning tackle weedless and semi-weedless lures are often the choice. On the surface, my favorite frog lures are the hollow Pad Crasher and Texas-rigged gurgling Jak’s Buzz Frog. I replace treble hooks with double hooks (which must be sharpened) with the barbs toward the body on some of my lures like Tiny Torpedo, Jitterbug, Pop-R and Zara Spook allowing them to be retrieved over emergent weeds. With sinking lures, try wacky rigged worms on weedless hooks and Texas-rigged super flukes and swimming flukes.

Work these lures along the edges of pad and grass fields. Flukes can be cast on the edges of pads then pulled off and allowed to sink and drift along the edges before being retrieved.

One bonus of morning and evening fishing is avoiding heat; it’s much more comfortable fishing in 70- to low 80-degree weather than 90-plus degrees.

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Safety

Of course scouting during daylight hours is mandatory. Know your walking, driving and boating routes. Once in the area carry a headlight or flashlight and use it sparingly to show the way to the launch site or shoreline spots. I recommend long-sleeved shirts and long pants and treat the clothing with permethrin to repel ticks and apply a small amount of deet to repel mosquitoes. When hiking through the woods to a shoreline spot I often mark easily missed turns with a stake or a rag on a bush. It also helps to count steps between key points.

When boating, use the mandatory safety lights and carry the prescribed whistle and horn plus a flashlight.

Although I often fish alone at these times, having another fishermen along is a good safety precaution. I recommend an emergency call showing GPS or a phone with such features, and carry an emergency whistle. Finally leave notification of where you’re going, and when you can be expected to return.

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