Slay ‘em on structure

One reason David Fritts enjoys fishing in July is because bass are biting a wide variety of lures. (Picture by Dan Kibler)

July is a month where a lot of variables come into play when it comes to catching bass in the Carolinas. It’s the first real month of summer. But in a lot of lakes, fish won’t be on a summertime pattern, depending on location, water level and how early or late a spring we had. And what part of the calendar we’re on is also a factor.

What matters the most in July is probably where you are fishing. At most of the lakes in South Carolina, including Lake Wylie on the border west of Charlotte, bass will already be in deep water. In other North Carolina lakes that are farther north, bass will just be starting to move out when July arrives. They’ll be deeper by the end of the month.

Wylie and Norman are the North Carolina lakes where bass move out the earliest. At High Rock and other reservoirs around the middle of the state, they’ll start moving out in June, but they’ll still be moving in July. The lakes along the Virginia border – Buggs Island and Gaston – they don’t even start moving out until July because the spawn is usually not done until June.

At places like Hartwell and Murray, they’re long gone from the shallows when July arrives. Wylie is close to the same thing; they start moving out at Wylie in May. Wateree is about a month ahead of High Rock; they’re out by July.

Pick your poison

Wherever the fish are, July is a great month to structure fish. Even though we’ve had a late spring, for some reason, most fish will be moving deeper. Fishing has definitely changed with Active Target and all that stuff, but you can catch fish on vertical breaks, or you can go up in the river section of a lake and catch  ‘em a little shallower.

You can catch fish just about any way you want this month. You’ve just got to find them. When you find them, the hard part is over with. Where they are depends on the season, and this year, I think the fish are behind.

You can fish big worms and lizards, crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, even buzzbaits. You can carry your whole tackle satchel with you. I can remember one year, at Buggs Island, when everybody was catching 20-pound stringers on a buzzbait the first of July – because the water level was still up.

Most places, however, once you get to July, fish are moving out. I start halfway back in creeks and work my way out to the main lake. I also like to fish around the mouth of little creeks and pockets off the main lake.

I am going to be looking for rock. They won’t get on wood, around brush piles, until the end of July.

Start shallow

The first of the month, you have to fish shallow around rocks and move out. Riprap can be good, because it’s hard structure. A lot of the time, at places like Buggs Island and Gaston, you’ll still have some shad spawning on little rocky corners, and that gives you so many ways to catch them. You fish Norman or Wylie – you can’t even think of the shad spawn.

David Fritts shows off a Carolina bass that’s typical of what he catches this month.

Always keep deep water in the back of your mind; bass will be moving toward it, and they will be close to it – at least the best numbers will. You may have a single fish or two on piers, but they’ll be piers closest to deep water.

When the fish first move out, they’ll be in about 7 or 8 feet of water. The next week it will be 10 to 12 feet, then the next week deeper. It depends on when the spring ended and what stage they’re in – and individual lakes. At High Rock, 14 feet is deep. You go to Wylie or Gaston, they can get 20 or 22 feet deep. Sometimes when they’re all off the beds, they’ll go real deep and lay there and you can’t catch them. Then, they’ll move back up to about 10 feet. You can still have a good early topwater bite, especially if the water level is high. You’ll get that topwater bite at Buggs Island more than anywhere else. There’s always been a super-late spawn there. And it depends on how deep the shad are – how late their spawn is. You might even get some bream moving to beds, and the bass will be paying attention.

Fish should be ganged up on these spots; that’s why it’s my favorite time of year to fish. You have to use a combination of lures to really catch them, especially at this day and time. Crankbaits are a little easier to get them triggered, get them to start biting, but a Texas- or Carolina-rigged worm or plastic will work if that’s your preference.

If the water is really clear, I like a Carolina rig better. If there’s a little color in the water, I’ll go with a Texas rig. I like darker-colored worms. If the water’s clear, use watermelon or some kind of translucent red. With crankbaits, old blue or pearl, anything related to shad, will work. You can fish brighter colors later, in August. If the water has a little bit of color, something like brown/chartreuse will work.

I will change crankbaits day to day as I see fish moving out. I might start July fishing with a Berkley Dredger 10.5 if the fish are 7 or 8, maybe 10 feet deep, fishing them on a 7-foot Lew’s David Fritts cranking rod with a Lew’s BB-1 pro reel spooled with 10-pound Sensation or Trilene. Later in the month, I might be using something as big as a Dredger 25.5, fishing it on a 7-foot-6 or 7-foot-11 rod, depending on how deep they are and how long a cast I need to make.

Catch ‘em on anything:

This month, anglers in the Carolinas can catch bass on a wide variety of lures, so take your favorites to whatever lake you’re fishing, start shallow, then move out to deeper water.

About David Fritts 128 Articles
David Fritts is a 61-year-old pro bass fisherman from Lexington, N.C. He won the 1993 Bassmasters Classic champion and the 1997 FLW Tour Championship, and he was the 1994 BASS Angler of the Year. He is sponsored by Ranger boats, Evinrude outboards, Lew’s, Minnkota,and Berkley.

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