Shad busting out of the water while being chased by largemouth bass.
Bass jumping two and sometimes three feet out of the water while pursuing shad (or lures).
Boils of bass and shad churning the large areas of the lake into a white water frenzy.
A big bass hitting a topwater lure and shaking its head back and forth like a coyote with a freshly caught rabbit, then plunging to the depths and stripping line off the reel like a runaway elevator.
The search for the fountain of youth was no more intense than many topwater bass addicts who scour the lakes for bass and shad boils. The summer and fall topwater action can get intense at Arizona’s warmwater lakes. Sometimes, it is not there at all. But when it is. . . get ready for some thrills. Largemouth bass are often the primary target. White bass at Lake Pleasant sometimes provide great early morning and evening topwater action. Striped bass along the Colorado River chain of lakes are into their topwater season. Smallmouth bass at Powell, Apache and Canyon lakes can get going any time, but fall is best.
During the recent full moon, shad were very active at night pursuing photo-plankton and bass were actively chasing the shad. By first light, most bass had left the underwater shad smorgasbord and settled down into their after-feed lethargy (kind of like us after a Thanksgiving feast). Topwater action at Lake Pleasant, and many other lakes, slowed significantly.
With the moon waning, morning and evening topwater action began picking up and will hopefully reach a crescendo with the new moon. Glowing reports are already coming in from Lake Pleasant and Roosevelt. Alamo in August can be superb at times.
Daytime topwater action is also possible this time of year, especially if there is a thermocline that results in a higher oxygen levels in the water column near the surface. Shad gravitate into that water with higher oxygen. Bass sporadically attack the schools of shad. There are times when it can be 100-plus degrees at high noon and you find an surface acre or more of the lake erupt with boiling bass. Pleasant and Alamo have traditionally provided this type of summer daytime action.
Summer topwater can often occur in open water away from the shoreline, or along the shoreline. It varies depending on where the balls of shad are moving. Schools of bass will use shorelines, reefs and islands to trap shad and attack them. Other bass will wait in cover, such as submerged bushes, trees or boulders, and ambush shad.
A monsoon rainstorm can also cool the surface water. The cooler water attracts plankton, shad and bass in that order.
When bass are in a feeding frenzy, lures that mimic wounded or stunned shad often work the best. There are all kinds of "poppers" on the market that you work in quick jerks to create "pops" or splashes of water like a wounded shad, or a bass hitting a shad.
Some anglers like to "chug" these lures, which means reeling in while giving the rod tip quick jerks down to make the lure go through a long series of pops or chugs all the way back to the boat. Others like to cast the popper, make a few pops, then let it sit still for awhile like a shad that has been stunned. Then they repeat the process. Try both techniques, or come up with your own.
Another technique is using shallow running, lip-less crankbaits that look like shad. There are literally hundreds on the market. Cast past the boils and work the crankbait back through the boil, or the area where a boil just occurred. Often times you want to avoid casting directly into the boil because it can spook the fish. Other times, when the crankbait hits the middle of a boil, it is immediately attacked by a bass. Once again, experiment and find the technique that is working for that point in time.
My favorite topwater lure on our clear Western lakes is a type of "stick bait" called a Zara Puppy, or its larger sibling the Zara Spook. These lures, when worked properly, have a back-and-forth motion like a wounded shad that is called "walking the dog." It can drive bass crazy.
Watch what the shad do when attacked or wounded and try to mimic that action. Sometimes working the Puppy fast and then slowing down is best. Other times, working it slow, fast, then slow can get results. Or racing it as fast as can trigger a bass to strike.
Another bait that can be very effective is the soft-plastic jerkbait, such as Bass Assassins and Slug-Gos. These soft plastics are worked just below the surface in an erratic retrieve to simulate either wounded shad, or darting shad. A good tip is to use a wide-gapped worm hook for these baits; that will help you get better hooks sets.
Before you can bring all these techniques into play, first you have to find the action. At first light, start checking in the backs of coves. Look for "boils" or splashes of water when bass might be hitting shad at the surface. Binoculars can help – big time. Or more to the point, they can save you time.
If you don’t find boils, work the shorelines along the sides and backs of the coves. Secondary points inside coves, or little pockets or indents (especially if they have structure) along the shoreline can also hold shad or bass. Once the early morning bite has slowed, try the major points, islands and reefs.