Milking Schools of Summer Largemouth Bass

Have you ever found a school of bass — caught a bunch right away — and then caught nothing? This scenario is very typical because the initial flurry of bass are jacked up and willing to strike a variety of options. The school cools down eventually because fewer aggressive bass remain.

Additionally, these remainders may also have some bias, for whatever reason, to your presentation. Some of these holdovers can still be caught, however, but they won’t be as easy to catch. An angler will have to make some adjustments. In my fishing experience, these adjustments revolve around:

1) Changing Locations

2) Changing The Retrieve

3) Changing Lures

4) Changing Casting Angles, and;

5) Assessing The Timing

By implementing these strategies/adjustments, I can milk out more bass from a school. Here’s how to do it.

Jim Moynagh (Photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors)
Jim Moynagh (Photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors)

1) Changing Locations
Sometimes it’s simplest to just move on to another school. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. On a busy weekend of fishing, it’s possible other fishermen are already fishing the other schools you know about. This happens to me all the time in tournament competition. I’ll discover the locations of a half a dozen schools while scouting the lake before a tournament. And when the competition day arrives, I’ll realize that other competitors have found the same fish. Consequently, jumping from school-to-school isn’t an option, forcing you to milk what you do have available. Also, think about what can occur on a small lake. Sometimes there is only one place where a school may be set up at any one time! So then again, you’re forced to milk what’s there.

2) Changing The Retrieve
This is a very simple change, just use a different retrieve. By that I mean change the speed and/or cadence. For example, with a crank bait, wind your reel either faster or slower and also mix in stutters and pauses. Or with a jig or worm, hop it instead of dragging it or vice versa. Maybe a large hop off the bottom will trigger more bites, or simply shaking the bait on the bottom. Experiment and play with retrieves.

3) Changing Lures
I’ll do this after I’ve changed retrieves with my original lure and exhausted the bites. When I go out fishing knowing that I’ll have to milk a school, I always rig up several rods all designed to milk more fish. First of all, I’ll rig a second rod simply with a different colored lure from my primary lure. In other words, I’ll have two rods rigged with the same lure, but just different colors. Sometimes I’ll even extend this to three rods. Then, of course, other rods will be rigged with completely different lure types. For example, when I fish grouped-up bass on the ledges of the Tennessee River reservoirs in summer, I’ll have two or three rods with football jigs (each a different color), three deep-diving crank bait rods (different brands, colors and running depths), a spoon rod, a Carolina-rig, and finally a Texas-rigged 10-inch worm. Oh yeah, and a drop shot rigged one, too.

4) Change Casting Angles
This adjustment is overlooked so easily, even by me, when I know better. And it pays off over and over again! Like the time I won my only FLW Tour tournament. In that event, I had seemingly exhausted all the bites from a spot. With time ticking down and not confident in looking for something new at the last minute, I instead repositioned my boat so that I was casting at the school from a different direction. This decision caught one more fish, a fish that made the difference between finishing first instead of second! And that’s really how simple it is; just reposition your boat so your lures are hitting the school from a different angle. It can be kind of tricky making certain you’re still casting dead on the spot, but just take careful notice of your GPS and maybe use a marker buoy or two.

5) Assessing The Timing
If you plan on leaving a school of bass that won’t bite, always keep in mind that they may fire up again later. Changes in the environmental conditions often reset the bass for aggressive feeding. Keep an eye on changes in wind speed and direction. For example, calm waters that change to choppy waters can often increase the aggressiveness of bass. Also keep an eye on the skies because changes in light conditions can affect feeding behavior.

You might surprise yourself by revisiting a school at sundown with how many more bass you catch as compared to earlier under midday light conditions. Another common trigger can be changes in current. Reservoirs regularly open and close gates to allow water to flow. When the water starts to move, bass often become more aggressive. Be aware of predicted flows and actual flows so you can have some framework to operate with. Often the timing is rather mysterious and it may be best to just camp on the school. I’ve done this and caught fish in flurries throughout the day. Why the bass turned on when they did, remained a mystery. Sometimes I wonder if it has to do with the movement of bait.

We can never catch every fish, but if you leave a school of bass without assessing the situation and implementing a few adjustments, you’re definitely leaving those bass for the next person. I’m not saying to never leave a school, but just be aware that there are adjustments that will produce more bass.

Check out more of Jim’s tips here!

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One Response to “Milking Schools of Summer Largemouth Bass”

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    Geary Long

    Good advice. But the avg fisherman doesn’t have 9-10 rods rigged up in advance. Also, I have not experienced a school of bass staying in the same place like you describe. They usually move with the bait fish. Then I have to try and relocated them again. Don’t really get revisiting a school. Their never in the same place.