June marks a period many bass anglers have anticipated since the spawn. Fish stir from their post-spawn funk, slip into their summer pattern and tie on the feed bag. And it’s when Chris Phinney of Raleigh, N.C., hammers the thermocline at Falls of the Neuse Lake with bottom-bouncing baits.
Phinney, president of the East Carolina University bass fishing club, said that finding the thermocline with his electronics is first and foremost.
“In June, the thermocline at Falls is going to set up around 15 feet or so, but it varies,” he said. “You can see it as a steady line across your sonar screen. That’s where the cooler, more-oxygenated water is. You want to be fishing anywhere plus or minus 2 feet of that.”
With a depth range in mind, Phinney separates the lake into two sections and scans areas that have cover or contour changes within that window. In the shallower section, west of the NC 50 bridge, he targets ledges on the main-river channel, seeking irregularities such as channel bends, brush, rock piles or stumps.
But if heavy fishing pressure or a need to find cleaner water pushes him east and downstream, he switches gears. Here, the river channel falls too far below the thermocline to be profitable, so he addresses points off the main lake near creek channels, seeking out rocks, woody cover and contour changes. In either case, once he marks a school near the bottom, he backs off and fires an offering that gets down to them.
“I’ll throw a Picasso Fantasy Football Jig or a crankbait, like a Spro Little John. Blue and chartreuse is a popular crankbait color on Falls,” he said. “I’ll also throw a Carolina-rigged Zoom Trick Worm or a Texas-rigged Zoom Ol’ Monster. Even a magnum spoon is a good bait to use.
“I like green pumpkin or darker colors for soft plastics and jigs, depending on the color of the water. A lot of times, I’ll use the Picasso football head and put a skirt on it from Outhouse Tackle.”
Phinney most often anchors his Carolina rigs and Texas rigs with a ¾-ounce Picasso Pro-Metal weight but will switch to a lighter, tungsten model in heavy cover. In 15 feet of water, he also uses a ¾-ounce jig, but he goes lighter in shallower water.
For crankbaits, he uses 12-pound fluorocarbon from Sunline. On his jigs and rigs, he goes to 16- to 20-pound, depending on cover. The medium-heavy, Lithium Series Denali rods he uses are specifically designed for jigs and crankbaits.