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May: Fishing in the summer shallows, Part 2

May: Fishing in the summer shallows, Part 2
This bass took a Pad Crasher Jr. fished on top of the duckwort in the background then maneuvered out through the spatterdock. (Bill May photo)

In part 1 I covered fishing the summer shallows by fishing in morning and evening low light and fishing edges and holes in cover such as weed and pad fields. Part 2 covers “going in after 'em.”

Some Types of Cover

I’m no expert on aquatic plants, but some major types are lily pads (and there are many types) which have dark green, large round and oval leaves that lie flush on the water’s surface and also have beautiful white flowers; spatterdock (aka spadderdock) which have tough lighter green, arrowhead-shaped leaves that protrude from inches to up to a foot above the water’s surface; duckweed (aka duckwort) a tiny green plant that forms large, floating mats; and various types of emergent weeds that form in mats on the surface. Often several types combine in one area.

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Tackle

While some anglers recommend heavy tackle with braid of 60-pound test or more, our little group gets by with standard 6½ to 7-foot, medium to medium heavy spinning or casting rods with 15- to 20-pound braid with 20- to 30-pound mono leaders where toothy species like pickerel or snakeheads are present.

The differences in tackle mostly reflect styles of fishing. The heavy tackle types fish from bass boats with frog lures and punch jigs and yank bass out of heavy cover. Our group fishes from kayaks, canoes and light rowboats. When a bass, pickerel or snakehead buries in the cover, we take our craft on top of the cover, stripping weeds and pads from the line until we get to the leader and pull in the fish. This method avoids tearing a fish’s mouth and allows a more healthy release.

Lures

Light. Hollow frogs are the top choice for fishing on top of cover. Specifically I recommend Pad Crasher, Jr. Since it floats, it can be fished very slowly in a series of twitches or, with a high rod tip, “walk the dog” style. It hits the water with low impact, making it ideal for fishing shallow water and right up against the shore. Sharpen both hook points and cut about an inch off one set of rubber legs and 1½-inch off the other for better movement and hook ups.

Unweighted 3- and 4-inch swimming flukes-inch are a second good choice.

Impact Lures. I like these lures for getting a fish’s attention by moving pads and other cover when retrieved across the tops, and they drop quickly into open holes, when the retrieve is slowed. Swimming frogs like Charlie’s Hoppin’ Frog or Jak’s Buzz Frog, 3 to 5-inch flukes and even plastic creature and crayfish baits can be used. Inserted nail weights into any of these lures increase impact and sink rate.

The Johnson Silver Minnow and other weedless and weed-walking spoons also are effective.

Open Hook Lures. With precise casts single hook spinners, spinnerbaits, floating Rapalas and chatterbaits can be worked through open holes. A single hook size #3 Mepps has proven particularly productive for me.

With any of the frogs or plastic lures, most days don’t set the hook until you feel the fish.

Where to Fish

Seeing big fields of pads and grass can be overwhelming. Where to start? In his book “Shallow Water Tips & Techniques,” Joe Bruce offers some valuable tips: In the early morning, fish the edges a few feet outside the pad fields with a series of lengthening casts. Then begin working holes in the pads, making at least three casts to every area and fishing into the wind.

Always fish duckwort, from right against the bank on out. The thin, floating mats form a cooling, protective cover that shows every little movement of a lure. The best lure is a floating hollow frog or unweighted fluke, twitched slowly.

Bass hooked on unweighted fluke swum through narrow slot explodes from a pad field taking a pad with him.
Bass hooked on unweighted fluke swum through narrow slot explodes from a pad field taking a pad with him. (Bill May photo)

Duckwort layers move with wind and tide. On one occasion Joe Bruce and I were fishing opposite side of a narrow Delmarva pond. I was working the side with more cover, shade and duckwort, while Joe fished more pad fields. As he worked back to the launch point, he found duckwort moved to cover a small bay he fished in vain on the way out. He took six bass in about a quarter hour thanks to the bass following the bait and duckwort there.

Look for “the cover within the cover.” A trifecta that has paid off frequently is shaded shallows with piers, stumps or fallen trees and weed and/or pad cover. I’ve had some good days on various Delmarva ponds fishing only such duckwort-covered spots.

Joe Bruce recommends a two-pronged approach where the angler has two or three rods rigged with different lures. So, for example, if a fish hits a frog and isn’t hooked, just leave the lure and immediately cast back to the area with a fluke. Usually a fish won’t hit the original lure if cast back but often will hit the second lure.

Bank Shots

Even in summer fish can be right up against bank structure. Look for small strips of open water or smaller, lighter pads between the shore and the heavier pad or weed cover or for strips of pads or weed cover extending only a few feet from the bank then opening into deeper water. With a boat, position it right against the shore and cover the inside or outside edges with hollow frogs or unweighted flukes, casting onto the shore or pads to lessen splash down of the lures.

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Sometimes you can fish such places walking quietly along the bank. I have had success in Piney Run and in a number of ponds with these techniques. At one pond I fished a spinnerbait right along the outside edge of pads extending a few feet from shore and could see bass dart out from under the cover to hit the lure.

This fishing can be tedious — until the rewarding strikes.

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