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SEEK BASS IN SHADY SHELTER

Head for cover to find fish that are trying to dodge the sun's rays.

The bass hit so hard and so close, it nearly threw water on my feet.

I was casting from shore along the edges of a northern Hillsborough County pond when I noticed a gang of largemouths busting baitfish along the edges of a lily pad field just within reach of my longest cast.

I winged a plastic frog toward the outer perimeter and drew an unsuccessful strike. As I reeled up for another shot, my frog left the lily pads, crossed a small open spot and entered a stand of shallow shoreline grass.

I was seconds from lifting the bait when a 2-pound largemouth blasted the amphibian imposter maybe 8 feet away.

Before the summer rains, that spot was dry. (I know this because I live on this lake.) Anyway, the fish had wiggled its way into a little gully and sat hidden beneath a layer of tangled grass and summer algae. When my frog paddled overhead, the reaction was swift.

Such scenarios are common when summer rains send concentrated current through drain pipes like the one that had carved the gullies where I was fishing. Rain water washes out lots insect and amphibian food sources, while the nutrients flowing forth attract baitfish for a veritable largemouth feast.

Shelter me

Notwithstanding the attraction of a running spillway, the more important element of summer bass fishing is cover - anything that blocks the fierce heat. Bass are always partial to cover, as it aids in their ambush feeding. However, summer's extreme heat puts a premium on shady real estate.

Lily pads, which grow at the end of long stalks make excellent bass cover, as do rafts of floating hyacinth. Many lakes see rapid expansion of hydrilla - a subsurface weed that forms thick walls in which summer bass hide.

Fallen timber, known to bass pros as "laydowns," can also offer shelter. The more limbs the better, but a thick trunk will cast an attractive shadow.

Fixed docks, floating docks and boat houses are usually a gimme for summer bass. The tips of T-shaped docks offer broad cover, but don't overlook the shoreward ends of seawall docks. When sufficient depth allows, bass will often back themselves right up against the wall to leverage the darkest shadowy reaches.

Summer selection

"Hard baits" such as topwater plugs, poppers and suspending jerk baits can be effective when bass are active during the early morning and evening periods. Around bait schools, willow blade spinnerbaits can make good things happen.

In most summer scenarios, you'll consistently do best with soft plastics. Rigging options vary, but Junebug, purple, red shad and green pumpkin are dependable colors.

One of the simplest and most effective summer tactics involves Texas rigging a worm or a wide body bait like a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver or a Berkley Beast with a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce tungsten weight.

Flip the bait into pockets within vegetation, or use a 1-ounce weight to "punch" through thick mats. Either way, the bait's sudden appearance often triggers a reaction strike from snoozing bass.

Weightless, Texas-rigged stick baits like a Gary Yamamoto Senko, Wave Worms Tiki Stick or a Yum Dinger presents one of the most versatile bass baits you can fish any time of year. These dense worms will sink with an enticing flutter, but subtle twitches will keep them suspended in the water column.

End game

No matter how you catch a bass, it will invariably shake when you grab its lip to remove the hook. Soft plastics with single hooks present minimal hazard, but hard baits with multiple trebles can send you to the hospital.

Bass have no real teeth, but a rough gripping patch at the center of the lower jaw feels like spiky sandpaper. Typically, a hooked bass will exit the water in a tense position and then violently shake its head the second it feels your thumb touch its lower jaw.

Most folks panic and relax their grip at this point. Not only do you risk a hook flopping free and sticking you in the hand, but you give that little rough patch room to chafe your thumb by sliding back and forth.

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