Anglers become deep thinkers when the dog days of fishing make it tough to get a bite.
Successful fishermen on the region’s lakes work lures 10 to 20 feet deep in July and August when the quarry is black bass. Top-water lures might work when there’s a window crack of shallow opportunity at first light.
Beaver Lake bass
Beaver Lake is home to the three species of black bass: largemouth, spotted and smallmouth.
The daily combined black bass limit is six. Largmouth and smallmouth bass must be 15 inches or longer to keep. Spotted bass of any size may be kept.
— Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
The catching is best down deep once the sun beats down. Plastic worms and other offerings of supple, soft plastic are a favorite for summertime bass fishing in the Ozarks. After sunrise, they’re about the only lure Dwayne Culmer has tied to his fishing line.
Culmer lives near Beaver Lake in the Rocky Branch area and managed to wrangle several fish into his boat on a hot and muggy Friday, June 26. A cloudy sky at dawn was welcome, but the overcast burned off shortly after sunrise.
The morning found Culmer in one of his favorite spots, a quiet cove in one of the creek arms close to Rocky Branch park. He cast a 6-inch plastic worm, greenish in color, and worked it down underwater ledges.
There are lots of ways to rig a plastic worm. Culmer prefers the simple shaky-head rig. It’s basically threading the worm on a jig head so the tail of the worm swims free to entice a strike. Cast the lure out and work it toward the boat with the rod tip, giving it a few shakes. Reel up the slack line and repeat.
It wasn’t long before Culmer fought his first fish, a fine spotted bass that he admired and released. By noon, he’d caught and released eight or 10 bass all on plastic worms worked 10 to 15 feet deep. He scored a trifecta by catching all three species of black bass — largemouth, smallmouth and spotted.
Fishing with plastic worms is easy, but Culmer said there’s a learning curve, particularly feeling strikes.
“Sometimes you just feel a little extra weight. That’s how I feel most of my bites,” he said. Other times, bass hit like a freight train.
Bluegill can give a bass fisherman fits. They’ll peck at a plastic worm and an angler thinks Mr. Big is biting. Bluegill pecks are fast and quick, almost electric in sensation. When a bass hits, an angler may only feel the fish pick up the worm, or feel nothing at all.
“You get where you know those bluegill hits and you don’t set the hook,” Culmer said.
A spinning rod is his favorite for casting plastic worms. His reel is filled with 20-pound test braided line with a 4-foot leader of 10-pound test fluorocarbon line. The fluorocarbon is invisible to the fish, Culmer said.
The set up is similar to what pro angler Greg Bohannan of Bentonville uses for summertime bass fishing at Beaver Lake. He fishes the FLW Tour with Old Spice as his lead sponsor. Bohannan has qualified to fish the FLW championship Forrest Wood Cup, which starts Aug. 11 at Lake Murray in South Carolina.
Bohannan fishes his plastic worms on fluorocarbon line, but rigs them differently. He likes a Texas rig, which utilizes a slip sinker that slides up and down the line above the worm and the hook. Bohannan also uses a Carolina rig. It’s similar, but a stop is used to keep the slip sinker 12 to 20 inches above the hook. The worm has a freer swimming motion.
Wacky style is the utmost in simplicity and popular on Ozark waters. Just push the hook through the center of the plastic worm and let the ends dangle. Insert a small finishing nail into one end of the worm for weight, or purchase special wacky worm weights.
“Once the water temperature gets up into the 80s, bass definitely prefer a soft plastic bait,” Bohannan said.
He uses small finesse-style plastic worms in spring, but likes a big 10-inch worm this time of year.
“They go through a phase during summer where they want that big meal. I’ll fish it on a Texas or Carolina rig 10 to 25 feet deep, mainly around brush piles,” Bohannan said. “I do best with a worm that has some red color, like watermelon red.”
He catches largemouth bass 10 to 12 feet deep. Spotted bass are generally deeper, he said.
Plastic worms are versatile. An angler can drag the lure across the bottom, hop it along or swim it through the water column.
“I like to use big hops if I’m fishing a dropoff. It gives the worm a yo- yo effect. As soon as I feel the fish, I set the hook,” he said. Bohannan works plastic worms the same for day or night fishing.
Anglers will catch more bass, he added, if they keep their hooks sharp and use a stiff rod. Both ensure a good hook set when bass bite during summer.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAFlip
Sports on 07/18/2017