"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres
July 2007

Aside from the ripening of blackberries, there is one thing you can chalk up as a “mortal lock” in the month of July. It is simply early-morning and late afternoon bass fishing with surface lures.

The more splutter, the better. However the reverse tactic, at times, is just what Ol Bucketmouth prefers.

“What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” it is said, so I will point out here that the unwritten laws of hot summer bassin’ applies to smallmouth bass as it certainly affects largemouth bass, and I am dead certain that one can also throw in Kentucky bass and other members of the black bass family. After largemouth, smallmouth (Broncebacks), and Kentuckys (alias spotted) you just don’t find the other members of the ilk in our neck of the woods. 

The important thing to remember in early-morning and late-afternoon bass fishing is that the watchword is “slow”--the slower, the better. Still, there are exceptions.

When I think of bass fishing just at daylight of a day that is destined to be a “scorcher,” the episode of yore that pops into my mind occurred on a bend of the Muscatatuck River with my good friend, Billy “Pooch” Miller, of Crothersville.

With Billy Pooch’s Model A Ford parked at Tobias Bridge (east of Uniontown in Scott County) we had gone downstream on foot to this deep hole, on the Scott County side. 

The hole was at least eight or ten feet deep and bordered on our side by a steep clay bank (undoubtedly fashioned by floodwaters. But the river was normal at this time, and “clear as a bell.”

As we approached the hole, it was obvious to both of us that this would be the place to find bass. Rigging our bait-casting outfits with arificials, Billy selected (of all things) a Heddon Crazy Crawler (surface lure), while I opted for a Johnson Silver Minnow, explaining “expertly” that an underwater lure was more likely to do the job. Billy said he would stick to the surface even if I thought it was too late (the sun, by this time, was rising in the east like a big red ball).

We both made a few introductory casts to awaken the fish (sort of to announce our presence). Then Billy shot his lure upstream and allowed it to settle on the water a foot or so from the steep clay bank. Before the ripples of the lure subsided there was a gentle slurping motion and Billy set the hooks on a nice 14-incher.

“An accident!” I told myself, continuing fruitlessly to flail the beautiful pool with my sinking lure. In the meantime, Billy continued to place his lure along the steep bank and “cackle” it slowly back, nailing other bass with arrogant regularity.

 As I recall, the score was 4-0 in Billy’s favor when we trudged back to the car, and I was prompted to name the spot “Miller’s Hole,” a name it carries between us to this day even though the old river has since changed in many ways. 

A perfect example that bass fishing in the early morn, late afternoon, or the middle of the day is, at best, is a matter of hit or miss at times. Furthermore, I must point out here that no matter when you are on the water, bass are where you find them for no rhyme or reason. Sure, bass, like other children of Mother Nature, will live by the unwritten laws 99 and 98/100 of the time. But, at the same time, I am never surprised or abashed at any turn of events. The exceptions to the rules are what makes the out-of-doors so interesting.

So the things I tell you about bass fishing here are just the things you start with. From there, you try what works. And it is possible--even probable on some days--none of your tactics will work.

There are times in the early morning and late afternoon when you will not make the skillet smell good in the early morning or late afternoon. I went to school on the “Miller’s Hole” episode (lesson). Surface lures now may even be in my bag of tricks at the middle of the hottest day of summer.

Generally, though, early morning and late afternoon are made for surface lures. It is, at least, the place to start.

Another thing I have learned in some 70 years of bassin’ is that if one lines up several different types of surface lures, any one of them may do the job. One could make a blindfold stab at picking the best lure and catch fish

The late Rocky Haulk, one of my boyhood bass-fishing mentors used to admonish me: “Hell, Bill! All of them (artificial lures) will catch fish” as he horsed in a scrapper with a bait I had discarded in the bottom of the boat. 

Still another example comes in the form of a neighbor’s generosity when I was a teener. He didn’t fish, but one summer when the Muscatatuck River was very low, he plucked a handful of artificial lures from logs exposed by the low water level. “I’ll never us them,” he said, handing the lures to me.

I put them in my tackle kit, and used--or lost--all of them except one that was so crazy looking that I could never bear to try it. It just occupied a niche in my tackle kit.

Finally, one day, as I stood quietly on the roots of a large maple tree, searching through my shoulder-strap canvas bag that housed my gear, I spied this strange looking lure and decided to try it. None of my other lures was producing.

I never had a name for it--something from some mail-order house--but it looked like half a penny attached to a sturdy wire post with a willow-leaf spinner fore and a one-hook bucktail aft.

After tying on this contraption (I was sure it was as bad as I had thought it would be), I (out of habit) dropped it into the water to view its action in water. As the nondescript sank swiftly to the bottom past inundated tree roots a nice bass flashed out of the roots and grabbed it. My luck had turned the corner.

In the days of yore (the 30s and 40s) my basin’ was largely in the Muscatatuck and other streams and rivers. The farm pond movement did not hit Indiana with much force until after World War II. Artificial lure angling was not a household phrase, but a small corps of us was well into it. None of the so-called flood control projects were even on the board then (and frankly, we probably would have been better off without an Army Corps of Engineers) or the reservoir system). The small watershed system, might otherwise have handled the flood threat if we had maintained the earth at the 1936 pace of life. But that’ all water under the bridges, in more ways than one.

Now a greater percentage of the sports fishing is done on impoundments of one kind or another. That is good, if you find the fish.

I, personally, like farm ponds that have the advantage of little management, few anglers and fish populations that are well understood by the anglers that fish them. 

Take, for example, a two or three-acre farm pond fished several years with good results because I seldom kept a bass unless I hurt it, and thought it would probably become mink food. However, a band of “yahoos” (no offense to anybody) heard of my prize and started sneaking in to take big strings of bass. Needless to say, the bass fishing fell off decidedly. But the yahoos were caught and punished (without me “ratting them out”). In a few years the bass population improved. Bass fishing is a vicious circle--“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

Several years ago Bill James’ Fisheries Section, and the entire Division of Fish and Wildlife, recognized the importance of the bass fishery to sport fishing in Indiana and has since rode herd on bass population with many types of regulations. In addition, the fishing public embraced the catch and release theory that a bass should be caught several times. Combined, the two concepts have been parlayed into a whopping bass population.

When I do early-morning or late afternoon bassin’, I often fish from the bank on foot. This means that because of my position my surface lures are cast to deep water most of the time and retrieved into shallow water. One can, of course, angle the casts almost parallel to the shore and keep the lure in shallow water a greater part of the retrieve. However, when I fish from a boat (preferred for early and late bass fishing), I position the boat over deep water and direct my casts to the shallow water adjacent to the shore.

This is important to early and late success because of the habits of bass and other game fish. During the bright sunshine hours bass tend to seek cover as they literally hide from the sun. Sure they will hit a lure if it comes close to their hiding spot and the urge to strike is there. But when the sun drops behind the tree line to the west--or is shaded out by trees or hills--they often go marauding for food. That is the magic time for surface lures.

Slow, of course, as noted above, is the big thing on the retrieve, but it is no more important to success than allowing the water to return to the peacefulness that ruled the water before the lure hit. At least until I find differently, I have an unwritten rule that when my lure hits the water I will not move it until the ripples of disturbance on the surface have dissipated. Then I give the lure a tiny twitch with my rod. This often produces a smashing strike or a “slurping in” of the lure by a bass that came from some distance to investigate the ruckus on the surface. This is more or less the procedure bass follow; often hanging at an angle in the water, their noses very near the now-quiet lure. The twitch convinces them, like pulling the trigger.

If the “slow and easy” retrieve does not provoke strikes, it is well to speed up the entire procedure now and again.

If surface lures do not do the job, it is always a good idea to switch to a shallow-running floating lure that can be nudged in short spurts inches below the surface and punctuated by what seems to be little surface struggles. Rocky, my old master mentioned above, often would spend five minutes or more on a retrieve. He caught bass. 


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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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