An easy way to hit the right depth with a jigging spoon
It might be old-school, but a jigging spoon is still one of the best techniques there is for fishing deep lakes with shad in winter and early prespawn. The shad will collect around deeper structure such as ditches, creek bends and that sort of thing during the day and bass will stay under them and feed from time to time
Time to dust off the jerkbaits
Now that the water temperatures are cooling down, jerkbaits are coming into their own again. Jerkbaits are hard to beat in highland lakes or Tennessee River impoundments where there are a lot of gizzard shad.
The odds favor a tight-wobbling crankbait
The rule of thumb has it that tight-wobbling crankbaits are better to use in the colder months and during prespawn. In my experience, that’s generally true, although I don’t have a bulletproof explanation for it. Maybe it has something to do with water temperature, color and depth.
Slow down and fish the windy side
Early cold fronts affect fishing, but probably not as much as some fishermen think. Unless it stays really cold for several days, the water temperature isn’t going to drop much and the fish aren’t going to move from where they are unless the baitfish move. If they do anything, they’ll hold tighter to cover for a while
Get in gear with crankbaits
You hear a lot about picking just the right gear ratio for fishing crankbaits, but to me it’s not a big issue. I favor a reel with a gear ratio that’s pretty much in the middle, about 6:1. I can use it for just about anything – top to bottom.
Use a label maker to stay organized
My boat is full of soft-plastics, and it used to drive me nuts trying to keep them all sorted out. On too many occasions, I would waste a lot of fishing time digging around in bags and boxes looking for something. However, what saved me was one of those handheld labelers.
Root up the shallows with a rattle bait
Bass are wandering all over lakes now, fattening up for winter. During fall, the bass tend to get more scattered and that’s when a rattle bait becomes a good search bait. Keep the trolling motor running and cover a lot of water quickly. Then, if you do get on a bunch of fish, you can slow down and fish something else if it calls for it.
Burning a spinnerbait is a good autumn ploy
It kind of goes against conventional wisdom, but about the only time of year when I speed up my lure retrieval is now – in fall. Bass are following shad in toward the banks and major feeder creeks and seem to be more eager to strike baits that are moving faster than usual.
Crankbait colors for any season
Fall is one of the best times of the year to use crankbaits, either on ledges or secondary ledges, ambush points leading into creeks or old roadbeds – anywhere bass are likely to stack up as the water and baitfish transition. During this time, you can still catch bass offshore as well with deep divers or along the banks with square-bills.
Face to face with the fish
When I’m fishing a tournament, I pay attention to how the grass is laying over, or the wind is blowing, and which way fish are likely to be facing relative to the current. Bass are professional eaters, and they know where the baitfish should be coming from.
As summer drifts into fall, explore all options
This time of the year when you head out for a day of fishing, don’t be close-minded; be ready to try anything. In fact, it’s a good time to practice all the different techniques you’ve wanted to try and to learn
Get the net!
There are all sorts of landing nets, but not all of them are good for bass fishing. I have three I use most often. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I carry a net with a telescoping handle that extends to about 6 feet. In a tournament, this is the net I want my co-angler to use.
Rig up for long-distance topwaters
I really like throwing a topwater in late summer and early fall because a lot of fish are returning to the shallows and roaming the banks in small schools looking for shad. Because you tend to cover a lot of water to find these wolfpack bass, use a surface lure that you can get some distance with on the cast.
Bag up next year’s tournament season
Once I find out where the next season of Walmart FLW Tour events are going to be held, I start loading tackle that I’m going to need for each of those tournaments. These are things I know I’ll use on a particular lake at a certain time of the year.
A drop-shot rig that’s trouble-free
The best new things for drop-shotting now are the special rigs that keep the line from twisting and make it easier to get tangles out of the line when you catch a fish. The Gamakatsu Swivel Shot with octopus hook is one of these.
Sight fishing isn’t just a spring fling
The dog days of summer from mid-August to mid-October are tough to fish because it’s hard to find a consistent pattern. Grass and other heavy shoreline cover can be good, but some older lakes don’t have any. Ledge fishing can be hit or miss because a lot of bass will roam all over the place trying to keep up with schools of shad. But a third pattern, and one of my favorites, is to ease down a bank fishing for wolfpack bass when they’re in the shallows hunting for bedding bream.
Offshore bass are on the move, but not in any rush
Don’t overestimate how far fish go when they move from where they were yesterday to where they are today. And don’t be surprised if tomorrow they might be back where they started from.
Ledges aren’t the only places to find big summer bass
Summer and ledge fishing go together, but you can get burned on an offshore bite where the fish are averaging about 3 pounds when you need them to be averaging 4 pounds or so to do any good in a tournament setting.
A one-two punch for grass bass
When fishing heavy grass in midsummer, it’s a good idea to keep both a frog and punching rig handy on your deck. If you have a bass blow up on a frog in a mat of milfoil or other grass, but it fails to connect, a lot of times a punching rig will catch it. My favorite punching rig is a 1- or 1½-ounce Reins tungsten weight with a 4/0 Cobra straight-shank flipping hook and either a Gambler Ugly Otter or a BB Cricket.
Lighten up on line size for more bites
There was a time when just about all fishermen used heavy line to fish worms or soft plastics because they believed they had to really rear back to set a hook or get a fish out of heavy cover fast. In some instances that’s still the case, but considering today’s fishing line and the sharpness of modern hooks, most of us don’t need to be fishing heavy line.
How to keep deep divers from rooting bottom
In the summer, there’s nothing that bass love to eat better than gizzard shad, which is probably why larger-profile crankbaits work so well on ledges during that time of year. The problem with most of the big crankbaits is that they’re deep divers, which means they dig too much when you’re fishing a ledge or hump in, say, 10 feet of water.
When the pressure is on
It’s not uncommon for several fishermen to find a bunch of fish in practice and then wind up beating them up during a tournament. After a couple of days, the fish that aren’t already caught are feeling the pressure and not as eager to bite. If you’re fairly confident there are still a few fish to be caught, go after them.
Two ways to fish a worm down deep
Shaky heads and Texas rigs catch a lot of bass off ledges in the summer and even though they have some of the same components, they provide two totally different looks when they get in the water.
Are you ready for the tournament?
I’m very serious about preparing for a tournament. I probably spend four hours or more the day and evening before a tournament getting everything ready. I make sure any mechanical issues with my equipment are settled. I put fresh line on the reels that I used in practice, and maybe change lines because of something I’ve noticed about the water clarity.
A rod for every fishing job
Cast right, reel left
I’m right-handed and I cast with my right arm. But the first baitcasting reel I ever bought was a lefthander, and I taught myself to reel with my left hand. It made sense to me that it saved time and was a more efficient way to fish, rather than having to cast and then swap hands to work a bait.
Fishing knots for all occasions
There are three knots that I use most of the time because they’re simple, quick to tie and dependable. When I’m fishing with monofilament and tying on a topwater lure, buzzbait, soft jerkbait, floating worm or frog, I’ll use the Palomar knot. If I’m fishing braid with a single hook for soft plastics, I’ll snell the hook. I’ll also tie a Palomar with braid or fluorocarbon.
A good starting point when fishing for bass
When you go to a lake you’ve never been to before, and don’t know anything about it, chances are you’re going to be baffled at first as far as knowing where to start.
What do you know about bass?
In more and more lakes now there are good populations of smallmouths and largemouths, or spots and largemouths. In some lakes like Beaver, there’s a pretty fair population of all three. That being the case, a fisherman needs to develop an understanding of the feeding preferences and likely hangouts of the different sorts of bass.
Dig bottom with a crankbait
Always use a crankbait that will dive deeper than the depth you’re fishing. You always want to be rooting up the bottom. A lot of times that will stir up the fish and get reaction strikes, even when they’re just down there with their bellies on the bottom and not wanting to eat.
What to do when bass are just bumping swimbaits
When I’m not getting good hookups, there are a couple of things I try. For one, I might add a small treble to a belly-weighted hook, or even to the hook where it comes out the top. If the fish are just grabbing at the tail, I might make a short leader of monofilament or braid and connect one end to the main hook and the other to a small treble.
Switch gears and baits for muddy-water bass
It happens to just about everybody in the spring – you’re fishing a fairly shallow run of bank and catching bass on soft-plastics or topwaters. Then a storm front comes through and really muddies up the water you’ve been fishing. The next day, you can’t buy a bite. Most of the time, the fish haven’t left or haven’t stopped eating; they’ve just had to switch gears.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Whenever you’re sight-fishing in shallow water and moving around, you never want to take your eyes off of a potential target if you can help it. The reason is simple: You might lose track of it.
Sunshine is the fisherman’s best friend now
Staying in front of the fish is critical in the early spring. I believe that the first wave of spawning bass is the largest in the lake, and a fisherman needs to be there when they move up.
Keying on spring transition banks
It seems that the weather has been more up and down this year than usual, which makes it even harder to get dialed in to where the bass are and what they’re doing. Despite the dramatic weather swings this spring, though, the fish in general are gradually moving up toward their spawning areas.
Match buzzbait to the cover you’re fishing
Buzzbaits don’t all run in a straight line. A lot has to do with how the blade is cupped. When fish are taking buzzbaits, it’s important to have one that veers to the right and another that goes in the opposite direction, as well as one that tracks straight.
Rig up with a screw-lock jighead
Pretty much all umbrella rigs are the same, as far as I’m concerned, but the jigheads and swimbaits you use with them aren’t. In my experience I’ve found that screw-lock heads are the best to use rather than the kind where you just worm the swimbait onto it.
Treat hooks like the specialized tools they are
No matter what type of fishing you like, choosing the best hooks for the technique and keeping the hooks in good shape is very important.
Getting the most out of a spool of braided line
Braided line will last a lot longer if you take it off your reel spools and store it indoors when you’re not going to be using it much. I have my own system for storing braided line.
When to lighten up on umbrella rig hooks
Umbrella rigs are really effective in the Ozark mountain lakes I routinely fish, especially in late fall through early spring. These lakes typically have standing timber in them and when you snag an umbrella rig you’re often faced with one of two possibilities – either you’re going to lose the whole rig or you’re going to waste a lot of fishing time trying to free it.
Use electronics to figure out bass
Fishing electronics have really come a long way. There was a time when you couldn’t be sure what kind of fish were under your boat. But with the electronics we’ve got now, you can just about see their scales.
Keep time on your side during a tournament
It’s always best to keep up with running times from one place to the next. By the end of the day, no matter where you wind up, you should be able to estimate how long it’s going to take to get back from where you are at quitting time.
Choosing the best spinnerbait blade
I live around deep, clear lakes and I love to slow-roll a spinnerbait in deep cover. That’s how I won the Forrest Wood Cup in 2007. A spinnerbait can be used to catch bass at any depth, in any season, though. Most of the time I use a ¾- or 1-ounce spinnerbait for slow-rolling and it’ll have a No. 5 willow leaf and a small Colorado blade with it as a kicker.
Early-spring jig tactics
To me, the jig is the most versatile big-fish lure for late winter and early spring. In highland lakes, the bigger bass – largemouths, spots and smallmouths – are moving toward the shore and holding in groups in the places where the last deep water meets shallower water.
Yo-yoing a lipless crankbait for prespawners
A lot of fishermen think that using a lipless crankbait in late winter or during the early prespawn is all about chunking and winding, but I’ve had better success yo-yoing one off the bottom.
Giving fish a second chance with an umbrella rig
A lot of people don’t use an umbrella rig in the prespawn, but maybe they should. To me it’s a great follow-up lure to a lipless crankbait or square-bill when you’re fishing shallow flats or gravel banks.
House cleaning for next spring
If you fish all winter like I do, you don’t have to worry about winterizing your boat. Maybe a little maintenance is in order, taking stock of your rods and reels to see how they’re faring. However, getting the lure boxes ready for the next tournament season is a different matter.
Breaking the confidence barrier
Mastering a new technique or pattern isn’t an easy thing, but boy, it sure makes a world of difference in your confidence level. In 2012 I finally made the big move on fishing deep, finesse-style techniques.
Tournament scouting with lake maps
I’ve been enjoying crappie fishing and deer hunting lately, but in the back of my mind I’m also starting to think about the next tournament season. Every tournament is different, but there are things you can expect to happen on a lake at a certain time of the year. So I like to get out my lake maps now and try to figure out what the fish are likely to be doing when the tournament gets going and anticipate where I need to look for them.
Store hooks where the air can’t reach them
Over the years I’ve settled on my favorite hooks. I use a round-bend Gamakatsu worm hook in various sizes for soft-plastics. For hard baits I like the Daiichi Death Trap round-bend trebles. The only other hooks I use on occasion are Roboworm rebarb hooks.
Sometimes it pays not to stick to the script
In my first year as a pro staffer with Rapala, I was down at Lake Amistad for the Walmart FLW Series East-West Fish-Off. Rapala wanted to get photos of its pro staffers with some new lures after the tournament was over. I had finished third in the tournament, and I knew that the school I had been fishing would still be there, so that’s where we started.
Less action will get you more jig bites
In the prime fishing months when bass are in a chasing mood, all sorts of lures, patterns and presentations might produce. When the water temperature gets below 50 degrees, though, it’s time to slow down and simplify. In most lakes the fish get lethargic and don’t move around much.
Three patterns for winter bass in highland lakes
Bass aren’t as aggressive in the winter, but that doesn’t mean they don’t eat and that you can’t catch them. For me, it’s a matter of settling on a few lures and following a pretty basic game plan.
The finer points of winter spoon fishing
Fishing with jigging spoons is one of the most productive winter patterns, especially when bass are holding in deep brush and on ledges.
Washing a jig in a winter river
I grew up fishing the Coosa River of Alabama for big spotted bass and my favorite time to fish there is from late October through March.
Take care of your tackle
If you live in an area of the country where your fishing pretty much shuts down in late fall, it’s a good idea to give your rods and reels a maintenance going-over now so they’ll be ready to fish next spring.
Focus, but keep fishing fun
How many times have you practiced for a tournament and did well, but then, in the tournament, you bombed or didn’t catch nearly as many fish as you figured you would?
Docks are great fall bass hangouts
Now that the weather is transitioning into fall, shad are moving out of the open water and into coves – especially coves with creeks. I like to fish docks this time of year because bass will gang up under them and pick off bigger shad and other prey fish.
The buzz on fall swimbaits
Now that we’ve started getting more rain in areas where we had drought last summer, lakes are coming up again and bass are moving back to the banks – or at least toward the shorelines. They’re scattered out and looking for shad, which makes this a great time of year to fish soft-plastic buzzbaits and cover some water.
Leader length - not too short, not too long
One thing I’ve noticed when I use braid with a fluorocarbon leader on my spinning outfit is that the braid tends to wrap around the first guide on the cast if the leader is too long. I’ve found that the best way to keep the braid from wrapping the guide is to make sure that the leader connector knot is never on the reel spool.
Know when to fold ’em
Say you’re on a really good spot and the fish are biting everything you’re throwing at them. You’ve got a limit of 3-pounders and you’re hoping for a good kicker or two to give you a boost at weigh-in. But if you don’t get a big fish within the first few you catch, chances are you’re not going to.
Baitfish schools ring dinner bell for fall bass
As soon as the weather and the water temperature begin to cool off, the fish really start keying on schools of baitfish rather than bream or crawfish.
Think pink in the fall
I’ve heard a lot of pros say that lure color doesn’t really matter, but after 30 years of experimentation with different colors, I’ve proved to myself that it makes a big difference.
The smell of fishing success
The main purpose of scented baits is to attract more strikes, and to varying degrees they do their job. I’ve found that sometimes a scented bait will close the deal with bass when they’re not really in the mood to feed.
Almost time to head for the mats
Going against the grain for late-summer bass
Hot summer, fish deep – that’s the standard game plan for most bass fishermen, but every once in a while somebody proves that it doesn’t always work that way. Jacob Wheeler won the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Lanier by fishing in 2 feet of water or so. In any lake, there’s always a large population of bass that live super-shallow all year.
Electrician’s tape for emergency repairs
Make sure you carry some electrician’s tape with you when you go fishing and keep it handy. If you knock the transducer off the bottom of your trolling motor on a stump or rock, you can always tape it back on with the tape and go back to fishing.
Working the flats with a flutter spoon
When fish are really spread out, maybe because it’s a cloudy day or it’s in the fall and they’re really feeding and roaming around a lot following the bait, I like to fish a Strike King Sexy Spoon. With its vibration and flash, and the fact that you can cast it a mile, it’s a good lure for covering a lot of water.
A subtle approach for summer bass
Bass generally aren’t as aggressive and don’t tend to move around as much in the hottest part of summer. They’re often suspended or holding in brush near the bottom, but a subtle approach with a drop-shot rig can be effective. Keep it simple. For the leader, I always use fluorocarbon in 6- to 10-pound-test. The size and length of the leader depend on the clarity of the water and where the fish are likely to be holding.
Keep a marker buoy handy
Marine electronics are so good now that it seems like they’ll do almost everything but catch fish for you. Still, I never go fishing without one or two of those orange plastic marker buoys somewhere in my Ranger. When I mark a place I want to fish, I’ll toss out a marker buoy right on top of it.
Catching schooling fish early
Pickwick Lake is one of my favorites for schooling bass in the summer and it’s pretty typical as far as how the fishing is likely to line up on any given day. Usually I’ll begin fishing on a break from 5- to 10-feet deep over a hump or river ledge.
The basics of fishing summer ledges
I really enjoy fishing deep ledges in the summer. If you get on the right spot, you can catch a limit in a hurry. Not to oversimplify, but I have a couple of approaches that usually work for me. If there’s current, I’ll go with a jig or a crankbait. Usually, that’s all it takes and the current makes the fish active.
Wiggling or wobbling crankbaits?
I don’t know why it is exactly, but I’ve proved to my satisfaction that fish will very definitely change preferences as far as the action of a crankbait goes. For some reason, it seems that the colder the water, the tighter the wobble of the crankbait needs to be to draw strikes.
When braid is best
I don’t use braided line a whole lot because most of the time fluorocarbon fits my fishing style and approach. Still, there are times when braid works better than anything, such as when you’re fishing grass – milfoil, hydrilla, coontail or whatever.
Keep those high-dollar rods under wraps
The new high-modulus specialty rods available now are very sensitive and really great, but there is a tradeoff.
Closer to home is usually better
Some guys like to run a long way to get away from the pack of other fishermen. Other guys have to run a long way because that’s their only shot at finding fish. To me it’s better to start looking for fish a reasonable distance from the takeoff, basing my search on how I think the lake conditions and season are going to position the fish.
Good practice strategies can pay off in tournaments
When I’m practicing for an upcoming tournament, there are a couple of important things I take into account. For one, there’s the body of water I’m fishing. Is it a Lake Guntersville, or a Beaver Lake? If I figure it’s going to take stringers of 3- to 5-pounders, as it would on Guntersville, I go through as many fish as I need to until I reach that size range. Then I leave them alone, make note of where they are and what I caught them on, and go find some more like that somewhere else.
Keep your mind free of clutter
A lot of guys underestimate or discount the mental game involved in bass fishing. When you’re fishing in a tournament, or practicing for one, you don’t want any distractions or anything on your mind except figuring out the bass.
Seek out the shadiest docks
One of the best places to fish for postspawn bass is under docks that are near where they spawned. These fish will stick around for a while unless the bottom falls out of the lake. Of course, bass aren’t under every dock. This time of year they favor the ones that are shallow, low to the water, and have dark shade under them. And bass also like the docks that have a lot of bream, because they feed on bluegills until they move out. I don’t fool with the docks that are in deeper water, and whether they have brush under them is no big deal. I just fish the shallow ones and skip jigs or soft plastics under them as far as I can.
An easy way to keep rust at bay
Those toolbox liners that absorb moisture so that tools won’t rust will also keep fish hooks from rusting, which is why I use them in my tackle boxes.
Lining up your lures
When I choose line for fishing soft plastics, light jigs or shaky heads, I don’t worry about whether the fish can see it. My main concern is how the line will make the lure fall in the water.
Painter’s Tape is a good rod bundler
I always have a bundle of spare rods with me in case I break one or two during a tournament. I’ve found that the best way to keep them from getting beat up and banged around is to use some 3M Painter’s Tape to bind them together
Upsize trebles for surer hooksets
When I’m fishing crankbaits and the fish seem to be just slapping at the lure and missing the hooks, I’ll upsize the back treble from, say, a No. 6 to a No. 4. A lot of times fish are sluggish in the spring and will just nip at a lure or barely get hooked on the front treble.
Take plenty of rods, reels along
In spring, it’s always a good idea to plan on covering water and throwing a lot of different lures until you find the two or three baits that work better than others.
Don’t wait too long to respool
I fish docks and shoreline cover a lot when I’m practicing for a tournament. On the last day of practice I’ll put on fresh line because the old stuff has gotten nicked and abraded. But I don’t wait until the night before the tournament starts to change the line.
Get to know a lake before you fish it
A lot of fishermen make the mistake of applying a good technique or pattern that works on their home lake to every lake. It’s a waste of time in most cases.
Take the lures you’re likely to need
A fisherman should work out the tackle management system that makes sense to him. By this time of year, I’ve gone through my boat and replenished everything I think I might need anywhere the tournament trail goes.
Lighten up on creature baits
Last year I won six tournament checks with a Gene Larew Biffle Bug that I fished in shallow cover. I really like that bait because every little leg and tail on it seems to be moving all the time when it’s in the water – whether you’re dragging it, hopping it or just letting it sit still.
Slow is the way to go for spring jerkbait fishing
In early spring when the water is still cold – say, in the mid to high 40s – I never want my jerkbait floating on top. It needs to be suspending or even sinking a little.
Adding a treble hook to a swimbait
Sometimes fish will hit at a swimbait as it goes by, but not get the hook inside their mouths because of the angle of their approach. When that happens consistently, I’ll add a size 2 treble hook to the bait and let it dangle under the belly as a stinger hook.
Spring fishing is as easy as one, two, three
During much of the year, bass fishermen have many choices to make when it comes to where to fish and which lures to use. In spring, when the weather is warmer and bass are spawning or preparing to spawn, the choices are fewer. We know that most of the fish will be in shallow water and that’s where we need to look for them.
Sunglasses: When fit is more important than fashion
Good fishing glasses are always important, but they are especially useful in early spring when bass are bedding or cruising the shallows. Distortion-free, polarized glasses will let you see fish, but they also will help remove any doubt that what you’re seeing in the water is really is a fish.
Fishing frogs fast
Buzzing a frog has been a great springtime technique for me, especially when the weather is just starting to get consistently warm and that first batch of spawners moves up into super-shallow water.
Drop-shotting in the dead of winter
Winter is one of my favorite times to drop-shot because the fish tend to stack up in certain places and stay there. Of course, it’s very critical that you pinpoint the locations where fish are holding. When I get to a deep, clear lake, the first places I look are rocky points, bluffs or rocky shorelines because rocks hold a little extra heat even when the water’s cold, and forage such as crawfish also are likely to be in them.
A couple Alabama rig casting tricks
A lot of people are still in the experimental stage with the Alabama rig, including me. There have been all kinds of variations that have come out since the original one, and I’ve tried a good many of them.
Follow the clues to big bass
It won’t be long before bass start moving toward the shallows and staging for the spawn. This is the time of the year when the most big bass are available to an angler because there are only a relatively few places where they will spawn. Find these places and you might catch the fish of a lifetime.
Making a pitch for practice
One of the best ways to spend your spare time in the bass-fishing offseason is to learn how to pitch a lure or cast underhand or sidearm underhand.
Lighten up your skipping load
I prefer spinning tackle for skipping lures under a dock because I can get even a lightweight worm or a Zoom Fluke a long way up under there.
Find a flat with isolated cover
At the end of the year, I like to reflect back on my tournament season and consider what worked for me. One thing I’ve noticed is that fishing flats produced some good catches for me in 2011.
Snell knot improves soft-plastic hookups
Nowadays when I’m flipping soft-plastics in heavy grass, I use a little trick that Peter Thliveros showed me. I tie the hook to my braided line with a snell knot. It doesn’t slip at all, and it changes the way your hook behaves when you set the hook on a fish. Because the line passes through the eye the way it does, the point goes up into the roof of a fish’s mouth for a more solid set. Guys like JT Kenney and Terry Scroggins are also doing this when they fish heavy cover. It’s improved my catch rate from about 50 percent to 90 percent.