On the other hand, I really look forward to late June and July, because I love to fish big crankbaits, and that's the kind of fishing you need to do.
Catching bass on a crankbait around deep, offshore structure is a classic summer pattern, and because we had a cool spring and the fish are still a little behind where they've been the past couple of years, I think crankbait fishing is going to be really good this month and on into August.
I love to fish crankbaits all year, but especially now with fish out on main-lake structure. They're not as easy to catch, because they're not schooled up and they're not feeding as much, but it's really fun to catch 'em on a big crankbait. That's the way to go in July, especially on our lakes that have blueback herring, like Murray, Clarks Hill and Hartwell.
You tend to fish a lot of the same places you fish in the winter. You're out on the main lake, not in a feeder creek, and you're fishing structure like outside or inside channel bends, humps and places where creek channels or ditches intersect with the river channel.
You need to start out, even before you get on the water, with a good map. You can use a paper topo map, but most of your GPS machines will have maps as applications. I've got three Humminbirds on my boat, and although you can find places on a paper map, it's just easier on your GPS. What you're looking for is deep, offshore structure. I want to look for anything unusual offshore: inside or outside channel bends or creek-channel intersections. If I see 'em on a map, I can find 'em, and I can look at 'em with sonar, down imaging or side imaging. With the two Humminbirds I've got on my console, I can look at everything in the immediate vicinity at the same time, all the different ways I want to.
Now, what I think so many people worry about or get frustrated with is they don't know if they're seeing baitfish or bass on their depth finder. The way I look at it, bass are only thinking about two things in July: eating and being comfortable. If you mark anything around a ledge or a dropoff, stop and make a couple of casts. Even if you don't catch anything, you know you were fishing around some fish; they're just not going to eat every crankbait that comes by.
I really like to find bass holding tight to the cover or structure, because those fish are feeding. But on our lakes with herring, a lot of the time during the summer, the bass are going to be suspended over really deep water, around those baitfish. They're going to be 15 feet deep, over 30 feet of water. That's when it's hard to keep something like a Mop Jig or a Trigger-X Hammer worm on a Carolina rig at the right depth, but the depth the bass are holding is where you've got to run your lure through. That's one reason the Rapala crankbaits I fish are so great; you know the depth they're going to run: I'll have a DT-20, a DT-16 and maybe a DT-14 tied on to fish different depths where I might find the fish.
If I find fish on a ledge or a channel bend, I'm going to make multiple casts from all different angles, especially in July, because fish are not typically really active. You want to make it easy for them to hit the bait. Some days, making casts from all different angles is going to be the difference between catching bass or not. When fish are suspended, it's more about getting your bait down to the depth you need to be fishing – more than what angle you present the bait.
I'll be fishing crankbaits on a 7-foot-6, heavy All-Star cranking rod, with 10-pound fluorocarbon on a Pfleuger Patriarch reel. I've heard great crankbait fishermen do seminars about reels with all kinds of retrieve rations from 4.3-to-1 to 6.3-to-1, but my personal preference is to use the same reel I do for other baits. It's what I'm comfortable with, and that's what's most important. Most of my crankbaits will be shad patterns, with a little chartreuse. Rapala has a great blueback herring color I like to use on Lake Murray.
One thing to pay attention to is current. A lot of our lakes are power-plant lakes, and the power company is running water through the dam to make electricity, and when there's current, that's when those bass are going to pull up and get tight to cover and go into ambush mode. So I look at all the buoys I see, look at the pier pilings or anything else I can see to decide whether there's current or not, because if there is current, you need to be fishing your best places right then. It's like saying you've got to make hay while the sun shines. Sometimes the current will be running downstream, and sometimes the other way. When the power company stops pulling water, it takes a little while for the lake to level out, and the water will push back the other way. One thing you can do is contact the power company and get a generation schedule so you'll know when to be there.
Anyway, bass won't be feeding all the time in July, and you're not going to catch a lot of fish from one spot, but if you can pick one off here and there all day, you're going to have a good day.