For Long Island’s bucketmouth fans, the shallows are a place of plenty as the regular season opens on the first Saturday in June. By now, post-spawn bigmouths have regained their appetites. With sun-warmed flats sporting comfortable water temperatures, bait fish, frogs and aquatic insect life abound amongst the rapidly growing weeds. The weeds themselves also help invigorate the fish by pumping daily rations of fresh oxygen into their liquid domain while doubling as cover and shade for species big and small.
Largemouths live well this time of year, and they prime themselves for action. So too does the serious basser for at no point during the season will the fish be more willing to intercept artificials than during the next few weeks. There are thousands of lures for the bassing angler to choose from these days but for June’s aggressive bigmouths I keep coming back to the simple floating/diving plug. Oh, sure, I’ll throw a variety of lure types poppers, buzz baits and spinnerbaits from time to time, and later in the summer I’ll depend on additional lure styles like jig-&-pigs, weedless frogs and soft-plastic creature creations. But for working the shallows in June, a lightweight outfit and smallish plug is my favorite ways to go.
The floating/diving plug is a wonderfully versatile tool for working largemouth bass that will also fool pickerel, perch, trout, crappie and sunfish from time to time. It is, in fact, the lure type I most enjoy using at this time of year. These lures are designed to look like small baitfish and little imagination is required to see the resemblance. As the name implies, this lure style is designed to float at rest and dive on the retrieve. The faster you reel, the deeper the lure digs into the water column. Most of the smaller versions measuring less than 5 inches long will dive from one to three feet below the surface. Those with more length or larger lips can run a little deeper.
I tend to favor smaller plugs at this time of year for two reasons. First, a 2-1/2- to 3-1/2-inch plug best approximates the length of the baitfish to be found in our sweet water hot spots as bass come off their spawn. As June transitions to July, larger plugs will eventually win out in terms of catching bigger bass if you have enough open water to work them. For this early bite, though, the smaller models win out because they catch a wider variety of fish and still have the ability to tempt a bass of bragging size.
There are four plug patterns I make a point to include in my tackle box wherever I may wonder. The first is basic black and silver. This seems to work well on just about any body of water. The pattern is so natural that any predator could easily mistake it for live fodder. This is the lure I’ll use to test a new lake or break the ice when my confidence levels aren’t up to par. The second pattern I never leave home without is black and gold. This color produces in any lake containing golden shiners, a favorite prey of bass. My third plug is usually a chartreuse or bright, multi-colored pattern that will be easy for predators to see in cloudy, stained or murky water. For fishing in gin-clear waters, the kind you’ll sometimes find when the wind lies down for two or three consecutive days, a blue/white pattern works well.
The above are my standards but I’ll add another choice if I plan on fishing any bass lake that is stocked with trout. For those waters, the rainbow trout finish on the Rapala and Rebel brand plugs is my ace in the hole. Think about it from a bass’ point of view. Each spring, a big truck pulls up sometime in April and dumps a few hundred small, scared and colorful fish into the lake. The trout scatter about in no particular direction as they attempt to get orientated. Undoubtedly, many large bass and pickerel take advantage of the mass confusion. While it’s a good bet that most of the more vulnerable stockies are consumed in the first couple of weeks, you can also bet that the thought of an easy trout dinner lingers with the bass well into mid-summer.
Working these magic plugs isn’t very difficult. A simple, straight and steady retrieve will often be enough to score. Still, knowing a few simple tricks can increase your success. One approach you’ll surly want to incorporate into you attack is to twitch the lure on the surface before beginning a retrieve. Once the ripples created by the splash of the lure landing have cleared, give it slight twitch, just enough to move it an inch or two. Wait a few more seconds and twitch it again. Often a bass will strike at this point, or one which has had its interest raised by the commotion will belt the lure within the first foot of your retrieve.
On days when the fish strike on the twitch, you can try working the lure across the surface and all the way back to the boat or shore. Let the plug lie still for a minute every three feet or so. Yet another variation on the twitch theme is to reel for three or four feet, let the lure surface and then reel in a few more feet. This works especially well over weedbeds where a straight retrieve would do little more than bury you offering in the grass.
Before I let you go, let me just mention that it’s a good idea to crush the barbs on the treble hooks these lures carry. Simply use and small, long-nosed pliers to squeeze the back of the barb on each point tight against the hook shank. This will make releasing your fish much easier and shouldn’t cost you any lunkers as long as you keep a tight line during the fight.
No matter which retrieve you choose to try, keep in mind that even in the spring and early summer, bass love structure. Cast your plugs alongside downfalls, weedbeds, docks or other wooden debris. Work them in the back coves, off points, and under or around overhanging trees. Take your time and cover those bassy looking areas thoroughly, for it sometimes takes a few casts to provoke a mammoth strike.