Alice Cooper’s classic rock anthem “School’s Out” always takes me back to my younger days, but for me it meant more than a few months of freedom. Each summer I left the brick-and-mortar school behind, but actively sought out other schools – schools of fish!

I wasn’t there for an education, but I sure learned a lot. When the temperature rises to stifling, schooling fish show themselves by herding bait to the surface and then attacking. My years of tutelage at the fins of Old Professor Bass taught me a lot about catching these hot-weather schoolies.

Almost every angler has caught fish schooling at least for a little while. Some days schooling fish will bite any lure you cast into the feeding frenzy, but other times, they ignore your offering like it was the smelly kid in the cafeteria.

Finding the school is your first challenge. On some reservoirs, fish will school in different spots every morning and evening. Usually this is a result of the presence of blueback herring or a nomadic shad population, making it essential for the bass to follow the buffet wherever it goes. In other reservoirs, baitfish are more predictable and the same point, hump or ledge will see schooling action day-after-day.

I guide on Beaver Lake in Arkansas, a highland reservoir with largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass, as well as big striped bass, hybrids and white bass. Some days the schooling action will begin with stripers busting shad on top, then schools of other bass move in to keep the feeding frenzy going.

Bass school on lowland reservoirs like Toledo Bend or Sam Rayburn, too, but in general they do it in shallower water than in clear-water highland lakes. In highland lakes, fish are more apt to school over deep water near river or creek channels. Lowland fish are more likely to school near shallower structure such as points or ledges, or over a hump.

Lure selection doesn’t have to be overwhelming. A good rule of thumb is to match the hatch. If you can snag one of the baitfish or simply get a good look at one, start your lure selection by matching the size of the baitfish.

If I’m guiding on Beaver Lake and see the schools of threadfin shad are about 3-inches in length I automatically reach for a 3 ½-inch Heddon Super Spook Jr. If I’m fishing a lake like Rayburn and the baitfish are bigger, I throw a One Knocker Spook that measures 4½-inches.

But just because you’re fishing a lake like Rayburn, which is known for producing plenty of big bass, doesn’t automatically mean that a bigger bait is better. Baitfish may spawn several times throughout the year, and when that happens bass will key in on these small fry no matter the time of year. This is a good case for having a few tiny topwaters in your box just in case. At times like these, a 1 ½-inch Heddon Teeny Torpedo or 2-inch Rebel Pop-R will be the only baits the fish will hit.

Color patterns for schooling bass also should match the baitfish. Patterns like Foxy Shad, Pearl Shad, Bone and Ghost all match the look of a baitfish, although when the fish are keyed in on tiny baitfish fry, the best color you can throw is clear. Baitfish that small are tough to match with size and color, so you really don’t want the fish to get a good look at the bait. With a tiny, clear bait, the fish are striking more at the action than the color pattern.

Topwaters aren’t the only lures you need for schooling bass. You also need to have a few lures made for working the mid-depths. The middle zone probably has more actively feeding fish in it than up on top, and you can cast these lures to the area after the fish go back down. One lure that has probably caught more fish in the middle zone is a lipless crankbait like an XCalibur Xr50.

Just like with topwaters, an angler needs to select lure size according to the size of the forage. Consider water color when determining color pattern. Gin-clear water requires a subtler, transparent color pattern like Pearl Melon or Ghost, but in murkier water you need some shine and brighter colors, such as Citrus Shad or Foxy Momma.

If the fish turn away from your topwater and lipless crankbait offerings, your best move is to a spoon. A spoon can be used at any depth. It can be cast to fish and counted down or dropped right over the side of the boat and vertically jigged.  

When casting to schooling fish, the best technique is to cast past the fish and rip it back across the top, pausing in the melee to allow it to flutter down through the school like a stunned baitfish. A spoon like the Cotton Cordell CC Spoon also can be simply reeled steadily through the school to catch fish. When jigging vertically, the CC Spoon flutters and flashes, but if you’re fishing really deep water, say, 30 feet, the Bomber Slab Spoon gets down to the fish faster and still produces that wounded baitfish action.

There’s more to catching schooling bass than lure selection. Here are a few non-lure related tips to maximize your schooling action.

  • Stay a cast-length away from the fish. Nothing shuts down the topwater action like running into or over the school.
  • Likewise, slip up on the school with the trolling motor rather than rushing in with the big motor.
  • In highland lakes, fish often school in the same area for a few consecutive days.
  • Schooling action is most pronounced early in the morning and late in the evening, but super-hot temperatures can get them up and schooling all day long.
  • While it seems counter-intuitive, you can fire up a school that has quit hitting the surface by doing a couple of circles in the area with the big motor. This scatters the baitfish and excites the predator fish.