This Kind of Fishing Will Make You Jumpy

Above- double hook-ups aren't uncommon as the fish attack everything that moves Photo- Brent T. Wheat

During the late summer, Hoosier members of the true bass family (not largemouth or smallmouth bass, which are actually sunfish) exhibit a behavior known as “firing,” also called “the jumps” and a variety of other local names. Whatever it is called, it makes for some of the most frenzied fishing of the year.

This phenomenon occurs when a large school of white, yellow, hybrid striped or true striped bass surround a school of baitfish and chase them to the surface. Once the hapless minnows are near the top, the feeding fish slash into the school and create a disturbance that can be seen for a considerable distance.

If you’ve never seen a firing, don’t expect to see fish leaping willy-nilly into the air. What you will actually most of the time is the baitfish swirling and splashing in their desperate bid to escape the jaws below. On a typically late summer day, a group of firing fish will appear as a slightly ruffled patch or group of small splashes on the otherwise calm lake.

If you can quietly slip your boat to within casting distance, the fishing action will be nothing short of incredible until the school stops feeding or is spooked down by boat traffic.

Firing usually starts in late July and concludes about the time the lake “turns over” sometime in September. By midsummer the various bass have finished all spawning activity and join into large schools that roam open water in search of prey.

White bass are the most common fish that becoming involved in firing. Found in huge numbers in virtually every Indiana impoundment, these panfish can be seen firing in groups that sometimes stretch across acres of water. Hybrid and striped bass fire somewhat less frequently though more dramatically.

You can find fish firing at any point of the day but the activity is more pronounced during the first three hours of the day and again as dusk creeps across the water. Unfortunately, the heavy boat traffic endemic to Indiana reservoirs often prevents or short-circuits the mass feeding, so less-busy times are better for this type of fishing.

When fish are firing, the standard procedure to waste no time getting to the scene of the crime and throw a lure into the maelstrom. If you see three or four boats suddenly start up and race across the water then shut down abruptly to begin casting madly, there is probably a firing in progress. You need to join the crowd.

However, rushing willy-nilly into the area is often responsible for running the fish back into deep water. While some anglers swear that the feeding fish pay no mind to a boat sliding into their midst, a better approach is to shut the engine at least two hundred yards from the school and use a trolling motor to ease onto the fringes of the activity.

If the fish are actively feeding, virtually anything that makes a flash in the water will attract a bite; most fishermen use a minnow-type diving plug or small spoon. A quick diving lure such as spoon will often produce larger fish that are usually hanging below the school, eating wounded bait that fall toward the bottom. A light lure will get hit by the more aggressive and abundant smaller fish before it can reach the big boys that are casually lounging around in the deeper water, waiting for snacks to fall on their heads.

It is also a good idea to focus on the area around the firing. I have found that larger fish are not only below the feeding frenzy, but frequently cruise the outer perimeter looking for an easy meal. This is another good reason to pull up short of the actual disturbance and begin casting on the outer fringes before putting a lure directly into the school.

One final tip: in the excitement of the feeding frenzy, watch your footing. I have found that the splash of a fisherman falling overboard tends to put the fish off their feed. Trust me on that one.