The Summer Angling Equation

When summer weeds threaten to choke your bass fishing, you need to keep a handy formula in mind.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Mr. Tate's 10th-grade algebra class was an exercise in sweaty anguish, and Buddy Fisher and I were definite back-row material. We would cower behind our unread books, each huddled in private misery as the round clock on the wall ticked in tiny, torturous arcs. Mr. Tate would pace back and forth, waving his pointer, pausing only to scribble confounding equations on the blackboard.

My greatest dread was to peer over Algebra for You and see Mr. Tate aiming like a swordsman, extending the black tip of the pointer straight at me. "Mr. Doggett! To the board!"

My greatest relief was to see the pointer sweep past my desk and hear, "Mr. Fisher! To the board!" When that happened I knew I was safe for another day.

Now we both were safe, not just for another day but for three whole months. And the second best thing about summer vacation was that we could fish Uncle Henry's pond. Uncle Henry was a relative of Buddy's who lived on a modest farm in the Pineywoods, northeast of Houston. The pond, when we saw it during spring, covered about 4 acres-plenty of mossy green-clear water filled with bass and bluegills. The little lake was tucked behind a locked gate, hidden from the road and seldom fished. It had been stocked by the state, as many private waters were in the 1960s, but Uncle Henry had little interest in angling.

"Sure, boys," he said. "Come on up and fish it anytime you want."

But when we arrived several days later, the fondly remembered water had dwindled to approximately 2 acres, the result of dry weather and hot days. What remained was soupy and stale, rimmed with mats of slimy goo and tangly moss, virtually impossible to cover with our bank-bound spincast tackle. A softshell turtle sunning on a log raised its long neck and slipped like a yellow flapjack into the steamy water. Buddy and I looked at each other. It seemed that algebraic applications could be found outside the classroom as well: Prolonged Drought plus Summer Heat plus Bright Sun, multiplied by Aquatic Vegetation, equals Frog Water.

**Do the Math **
The unhappy equation of (PD + SH + BS) x AV = FW is common in ponds and shallow lakes all across the country during the extreme conditions of summer. The hot months typically are dry. Any small lake this side of a tropical depression (or a costly pumping program) almost certainly will shrink through evaporation during summer.

The problem of reduced surface acreage is compounded by the fact that most species of aquatic weeds grow fastest during the long summer days. As the amount of water decreases, the amount of vegetation increases-a poor combination for the bass angler reaching for a crankbait, or most any other popular lure. The bass are there. The problem is reaching them. However, the summer angler faced with an anorexic pond choked with weeds can improve his chances by making the apparently negative equation work in his favor. First, the low water tends to concentrate bass along reliable dropoffs rather than scatter them amid swollen shallows. Second, the mats of vegetation that rim the shorelines are well defined, with obvious breaks into deeper water. These edges provide protection and shade for ambush-oriented predators.

This latter circumstance can be a major advantage; the cool shadows under surface canopies can expand the prime early and late feeding periods. Also a plus during stagnant heat, the photosynthesis of blooming green vegetation can help oxygenate the water amid the weeds.

By following these basic guidelines, the summer angler on a low-water pond can concentrate on visible targets with fish-holding potential rather than rely on "chuck and chance" across open water. The key is to have adequate tackle and a go-for-it attitude, and to not be intimidated by soupy tangles and steamy backwaters.

**Strikes and Bites **
Fishing from the bank may or may not be worthwhile. Thelat-footed approach sounds good in theory, but reaching productive areas might be difficult. Thick rims of vegetation, both on the land and in the water, can block the approach.

Even if the bank walker has reasonably open footing, shoreline surface mats of moss and weeds can clog the deep-to-shallow retrieve angle. The cast may reach promising water, but cranking the lure back to the rod without fouling can be difficult, perhaps impossible, depending on the salad bowl in question.

Wading is a legitimate option for the determined summer pond rustler. The ability to ease into thigh- to waist-deep water can open a lot of angles and alleys that the caster restricted to the bank cannot reach. Of course, mucking through the swampy shallows is not without potential drama. You may wallow into an alligator hole or bumble over a sunning snake. Take heart in the fact that alligators less than 6 or 8 feet in length seldom pose a threat to humans, and most snakes encountered along marshy banks are harmless species such as water snakes, ribbon snakes, king snakes, and rat snakes.

A more realistic danger for the pond wader or walker poking through thick stuff might be blundering into an irritable bull-especially for summer-vacation stealth artists who take a cavalier attitude toward posted signs. Trust me on that. It turned out that Buddy and I were no better at geography than algebra, suffering the occasional loss of direction, and this affliction soon found us on the wrong side of Uncle Henry's back fence. The neighbor's pond was deep and "bassy," showing great potential until Ole Diablo rumbled across the far bank.

Terrestrial insects are another concern, as any preoccupied angler who has bounced off a hornets' nest will agree. Various aquatic insects can be annoying for the warmwater "wet" wader. For example, a type of small swimming beetle infests the moss in ponds of southeast Texas. I'm not certain if this hateful creature relies on pinchers, stingers, or fangs, or all three at once, but the burning wound is abrupt and painful.

And these diminutive beetles, unlike the celebrated alligators and snakes, seem to go out of their way to attack, often seeking the most vulnerable and painful targets (the determined wader in waist-deep water can draw his own conclusions). Several of these beetle attacks can make all but the most explosive topwater strikes not worth the misery.

Keeping this in mind, and despite the potential for 85-degree water and 95-degree air, you might consider donning chest waders for summer pond duty. Lightweight, breathable waders are tolerable and do a fine job of discouraging riffraff.

**Think Small **
Various setbacks can be annoying but by virtue of the soggy soft-shoe you might be able to reach and cover prime bass water. The wader who takes quiet steps and a low profile can work amid close quarters with minimum risk of spooking fish. The weeds, themselves, serve as a buffer. As another advantage, the wader along a mossy bank can cast parallel to the dropoff, raking intercept areas beyond reach of the bank walker.

But wading is not always effective. Steep banks, for example, can put a major crimp in the program. It's hard to cover much water when the first step is knee-deep and the second step is overhead. Gravel pits are notorious for sheer banks and shrill curses.

Fishing afloat is the best way to thwart rims of deep vegetation. Once in the open, the angler can direct casts to the prime outside edge of shoreline cover and work the retrieve back through unobstructed water. This shallow-to-deep angle has it all over the deep-to-shallow dredge from the bank, and allows most lures with exposed hooks to track effectively without fouling.

But think small when preparing to launch. A low-water, weed-choked pond is no place for a 20-foot bass boat and a 200-horse outboard. Just cranking the big motor might wash leopard frogs across the far bank.

All sorts of innovative approaches are available for the stealth angler. A 14- to 16-foot aluminum johnboat is the standard, but kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, pontoon kick boats, and float tubes are among the legitimate options. An electric trolling motor of suitable size is the go-to choice on small boats, but do not discount the time-honored paddle for silent, effective maneuvering amid thick vegetation. Paddles don't tangle, which is more than can be said for whirring propellers.

And don't be reluctant to experiment or improvise. I recently used a 10-foot surfboard on a 20-acre lake south of Houston. Placing a casting rod between my legs, I was able to knee-paddle the wide noserider with ease, clipping silently and smoothly across the riffled surface. When I reached the first likely weedbed, I straddled the board as if waiting for a wave and had plenty of stability for casting.

Two friends in a nearby johnboat were laughing and pointing, making all sorts of rude remarks ("Hey, dude, Gidget went that way!") until I threaded a maze of flooded timber and picked up several fine bass by pitching a spinnerbait into tight pockets difficult to reach by conventional patrol.

Ahead waited a shaded corner of uncommon potential-the obvious mother lode on that side of the pond. It became a race. The boaters jacked the trolling motor to full power, humming and threshing across the open water. I wheeled the board and began paddling at a sprint. Surfing training took over and the board zipped ahead; I was pulling away and glanced back, flashing a big grin. Then the 10-inch fin slammed into a submerged log, and the abrupt jolt sent me sailing over the nose of the board. It seems that not all wipeouts occur at the beach, a fact not lost on the crew in the boat as they swept past. Memory sometimes lapses, and I do not recall if they caught a 6-pound bass or not.

But, regardless of conveyance, the summer pond rustler can make low water and thick weeds work to his advantage. Had Buddy and I understood this formula, I am confident we could have taken a toll from Uncle Henry's pond. It is a simple angling equation that turns a negative into a positive, and one that any small-water fisherman should be able to follow.motor might wash leopard frogs across the far bank.

All sorts of innovative approaches are available for the stealth angler. A 14- to 16-foot aluminum johnboat is the standard, but kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, pontoon kick boats, and float tubes are among the legitimate options. An electric trolling motor of suitable size is the go-to choice on small boats, but do not discount the time-honored paddle for silent, effective maneuvering amid thick vegetation. Paddles don't tangle, which is more than can be said for whirring propellers.

And don't be reluctant to experiment or improvise. I recently used a 10-foot surfboard on a 20-acre lake south of Houston. Placing a casting rod between my legs, I was able to knee-paddle the wide noserider with ease, clipping silently and smoothly across the riffled surface. When I reached the first likely weedbed, I straddled the board as if waiting for a wave and had plenty of stability for casting.

Two friends in a nearby johnboat were laughing and pointing, making all sorts of rude remarks ("Hey, dude, Gidget went that way!") until I threaded a maze of flooded timber and picked up several fine bass by pitching a spinnerbait into tight pockets difficult to reach by conventional patrol.

Ahead waited a shaded corner of uncommon potential-the obvious mother lode on that side of the pond. It became a race. The boaters jacked the trolling motor to full power, humming and threshing across the open water. I wheeled the board and began paddling at a sprint. Surfing training took over and the board zipped ahead; I was pulling away and glanced back, flashing a big grin. Then the 10-inch fin slammed into a submerged log, and the abrupt jolt sent me sailing over the nose of the board. It seems that not all wipeouts occur at the beach, a fact not lost on the crew in the boat as they swept past. Memory sometimes lapses, and I do not recall if they caught a 6-pound bass or not.

But, regardless of conveyance, the summer pond rustler can make low water and thick weeds work to his advantage. Had Buddy and I understood this formula, I am confident we could have taken a toll from Uncle Henry's pond. It is a simple angling equation that turns a negative into a positive, and one that any small-water fisherman should be able to follow.