We had nudged the family ‘toon atop the gradually sloping shale bank of the inland reservoir, selecting the secluded spot for a mid summer cookout on our rail-mounted gas grill.
After several hours of trolling and vertical jigging in the midsummer heat with little to show for the efforts, I figured we’d beach the boat before it got dark, toss out a couple bottom lines in a haft-hearted attempt at catching a stray catfish, and chill out. The three of us would settle in for a relaxing evening of dining aboard, watching those lines, and then head back to the dock.
Dark had just settled around us when Ethan said, “Hear that, Dad?”
We had finished our meal, straightened up the boat for our ride in and were about to reel in the untouched tight lines when my son noted the sound.
“That splashing,” he added without waiting for my answer. “Sounds like something feeding out there.”
Sure enough, it did sound as though a fish—perhaps more than one—was busting the surface on the point to our starboard. Before I could react, Ethan had grabbed a spincast rod and was ready to cast a blade-bait we had been using earlier.
“Take that lure off and tie on a Jitterbug,” I told him. “Then just cast as far and you can and reel it steadily in.”
The 10-year-old didn’t need to be told twice, and he jumped off the bow and sprinted along the dark shoreline until he was almost out of sight before launching a cast into the darkness.
The next thing I heard was a loud whoop and a “Got ‘im, Dad!” that told me—and every boater within a mile—the boy had hooked up.
It turns out that some largemouth bass had entered the lagoon to feed on whatever bite-sized critters happened to dare swim over them. That black Jitterbug dancing loudly across the surface didn’t stand a chance.
Soon I had a torpedo-shaped Zara Spook knotted to my own line and the buzzing sound from the bait’s tiny propeller was every bit as appealing to the bass as the gurgling of the Jitterbug, and Ethan and I both hooked up several times before the action stopped.
The after-dark experience served as just another example of how gamefish such as bass come to the surface to feed during certain low or no-light times during the summer months—a period when most anglers are looking deep to locate fish seeking cooler water.
An avid bass fishing buddy turned me on to the summer surface option when I interviewed him for a hot weather bass tactics feature article for a fishing magazine. When the going gets hot in the summer months, he launches his boat at first light and heads to the nearest rip-rap dam face or bank and starts tossing surface lures hard against the rocks. Both largemouth and smallmouth bass pounce on his offerings—at least until the sun’s light hits the water and turns the action off as fast as hitting a switch.
The baits Ethan and I used the night we discovered after-dark surface fishing for bass at our local reservoir are classics; the Arbogast Jitterbug lure was named for a dance popular at the time (way before even mine) and the Zara Spook was made famous by Heddon about the same time. Today there are dozens of surface baits available, some with beads and rattles to amp-up the sound attraction.
The mere sight of a lure on the surface can be seductive too, and soft plastics are all the rage right now for surface fishing in fresh and coastal salt waters. Rigged weedless using a special worm hook with the tip hidden in a pocket molded into the bait, the soft plastics rarely hang up and are great for working weedy shallows. They stay at or just under the surface, where aggressive, shallow-feeding gamefish find them especially attractive. We’ve had pike actually leap out of the water to hit soft plastics purposely dangled overhead or by accident as the baits are lifted from the water to make another cast.
If you’ve limited your surface fishing to the cooler shoulders of the fishing season, try breaking out a surface plug or soft plastic very early or way late on a hot summer day. The action you attract might be as explosive as fireworks.