Conjuring up action before Magic Hour even begins!
When does the late bite begin? You might think shortly before sunset. I used to think so but no longer do. Since I’ve shot a lot of outdoor photography in recent years, I pay attention to light. In the late afternoon, it has somewhat better resonance and softness compared to sunlight at lunchtime, but do bass turn on at 5 p.m.? They do sometimes. I’ve enjoyed the action.
Some local lakes you may fish have shallow, weedy flats in the middle of them. Go out and worm those weeds at noon in the sun, and you might as well go hike a desert instead. You’re putting that worm through plate-sized pockets as if there’s got to be bass in that thick stuff, but nothing’s happening. You give up and fish shadows close to shore and catch a few, but when late afternoon sunrays have lengthened, you notice the light has a mellow feel. You go out and try those mid-lake weeds again and begin hooking up.
It’s not just the quality of light matters, though that quality does have to do with a bite coming on. As sunrays lengthen, a warm hue on the red end of the color spectrum begins to develop; slightly darker than white light. The sun still burns brilliantly overhead. It’s not until it settles down on the horizon that it darkens to orange or behind haze to redness. But I can tell the difference between the light it casts at noon and 5 p.m. Even my camera sensor can capture color from it if I turn the dials and push the buttons appropriately.
The longer length of those rays gives the hint to the second factor – the increase of shadow space. Pads, floating algae, thick milfoil, and other vegetation now casts longer and larger shadows than they did at noon. That’s a big advantage. Casting accuracy still matters, but you do have larger targets to work with, and the shadows having grown significantly means the bass have more room to move, which translates to activity.
I’ve written before about the shadow-line. The immediate temptation – I still feel it when I’m casting a worm – is to lay the lure down in the shadow space. Another approach is to direct the first cast so the bait touches down in sunlit water just outside the shadow. Bass will see it illumined in the light, rush out, and grab it.
What should you throw? You do have a lot of options. You might not rule out topwater plugs at 5 p.m., but I would recommend a weedless frog or mouse. They touch down easier, and besides, you can lay them right on top of weeds and ease them over edges. Plugs seem too heavy-duty until later on when bass move further out along edges and cruise flats. Jig and pigs are an option especially along deep weedlines. Any sort of plastic lizard will work in a lot of situations. Chatterbaits and spinnerbaits have their uses. But especially where weeds occupy depths of less than 6 or 7 feet, I’ll invariably throw an unweighted traditional-style worm 8 inches long. Rigged on a 2/0 worm hook tied to a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, I tie braid of the same test to that leader by uni-to-uni splice.
The traditional worms are subtler than Senkos, which sink quickly. Besides, I always fish a Senko Wacky. You can rig Senkos on inset hooks if you want, but I’ll stick to the slender worms and use Senkos where they won’t get hung up in the weeds, a plain shank size 2 hook slipped under an O-ring. Maybe when evening comes on, I’ll swish a Senko among the same weeds at the surface.
The late bite has its ups and downs. You catch a few quickly, then an hour passes before you get another take. But, once again, you put multiple bass in the boat. Maybe after that you catch only one or two, but hold on. One of them might be the best.