FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE
A Pitch for Winter Spoons
Brush Pile Basics
December and January are the two months when anglers really start preparing for the coming season, whether it’s firming up sponsorships, planning tournament schedules or restocking baits and equipment. This is also the time of year when a lot of anglers plant cover in the lake or the lakes where they fish so they’ll be productive the following year.
The umbrella rig sort of follows its own script on Lake of the Ozarks and some other highland reservoirs. While it’s a good producer on other lakes in warm weather, we don’t catch bass on umbrella rigs around here in the summer. Instead, the bass will get on them starting in late fall and continue on until the spawn next spring.
A strong, gusting wind can really have a negative effect on fishing. If you’re sight-fishing, fishing drop-shots or fishing targets in clear water that you need to see, wind definitely works against you. It affects the action of a lure, your ability to feel the bait and how you present it.
For some reason, this time of year smallmouths like to hang around objects in the water, whether it’s just a small feature or something as big as a car. They’ll still move around, but it’s like they move from rock pile to rock pile – or whatever – instead of just swimming around aimlessly. So you’re target-casting at objects that are likely to be holding fish.
I jumped on the big-spoon bandwagon and got some just in time to be in on the tail end of the prime-time season for them. It seems to me that it’s another one of those typical niche-type deals where it’s a heck of a bait when they’re on it, but not so much at other times.
In late summer, one fishing pattern is to flip and pitch jigs or soft plastics, or to fish frogs, in matted grass where bass are hunting for bluegills and minnows to eat. When does this pattern stop?
Fall weather can provide some of the best fishing of the year. Lakes are usually not as crowded because the water gets too cool for some water sports, and a lot of guys give up fishing temporarily for deer hunting.
First, I slide the keeper down the shank and away from the eye about 1/8 inch from its original position. Then I place the hook in a fly-tying vice and use either black or red thread to lash around the base of the keeper.
Fishermen are starting to catch on to the importance of profile when using buzzbaits, especially in the fall when the fish are more particular. When you’re fishing a buzzbait and the fish either miss it or just swirl at it, usually it’s a speed thing or the profile in the water isn’t right. They’re keying on something, and you’ve got to figure it out.
We’re still not done with summer yet, but the season is changing and putting the fish closer to the bank again. My three go-to baits for this time of year are a Brian’s Bee, a small Yamamoto buzzbait rigged with a Zoom Horny Toad instead of a skirt and a Yamamoto Chikara 100 square-bill.
A lot of the guys in the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray caught fish by skipping buzzbaits under docks. A buzzbait isn’t a lure that you would normally associate with skipping docks, but you can’t argue with success. The only rule is that the flatter the bait, the better you can skip it – like a flat rock skips better than a round one.
A lot of anglers equate smallmouths with rock and gravel bottoms in the summer, but they shouldn’t overlook weeds. Depending on the time of year and available forage, smallmouths will feed in vegetation just as heavily as largemouths.
First, if the school you’ve marked in a certain place – say, a long underwater bar or stretch of vertical ledge – isn’t there next time, the fish are likely to be somewhere in the range of maybe 50 yards in any direction from where you waypointed them in the first place. You idle around using your StructureScan until you relocate them, then make a few casts and try to get them fired up.
It’s July, and time to deal with some of the hottest weather of the year. Whenever surface temperatures start bumping the upper 80s, it can make fishing tough. Unless I’m fishing a lake where ledge fishing is about the only game in town, I look for the thickest cover I can find, wherever I can find it.
There’s a topwater bite all summer somewhere on the lake you fish; it’s just a matter of finding it. There might not be enough topwater fish to win a tournament, but it’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re just out fishing for the heck of it. Topwater fishing in the summer is all about the baitfish.
Go Subtle for Pressured Ledge Bass
What I use to fish a ledge usually depends on the time of the year and my judgment on how much the bass have been pounded.
Finding the right angle for ledge bass
The best part of the ledge-fishing season is when bass first move out in late spring and early summer. The fish aren’t pressured too much yet so they’re not hugging the bottom and they’re more aggressive. When I find fish on a ledge, the first thing I’ll do is move to the outside and cast a crankbait in over the fish.
Go shallow for drop-shot bass
Drop-shot rigs are popular for when bass are holding in deep cover or suspended offshore, but I have found they will work very well in shallow water too. I like to fish them around grass or boat docks, or anywhere there are fish from the prespawn to the postspawn time.
Cheez-It pro Shinichi Fukae
Sizing up shad spawns
The shad spawn is going on in a lot of lakes now, probably later than usual because of the cold winter and cooler spring. Typically, the shad spawn occurs during or just after the bass spawn, when the water temperature rises into the low 70s. Because a shad spawn is a bass magnet, this is the time of year when you want to draw an early flight in a tournament.
Frogs are on the menu
One misconception that a lot of fishermen have about frog fishing is that it’s an early morning deal for really shallow water. Actually, it will work in water as deep as 10 feet, and it will work all day if the conditions are right.
Pop the Top for Springtime Bass
Walking baits have their time and place, but I don’t think you can beat a popper at this time of the year, when the spawn is going full-bore in a lot of lakes. When bass are bedding or have just finished, working a popper over their heads is the best way to get bit. It’s a slower presentation and good for situations where you’re casting at a target such as under a dock.
Catching bedding bass that you can’t see
On lakes that get a lot of fishing pressure, it’s a lot easier to catch fish on bed that you can’t see. By that I mean that if you get close enough to a pressured fish to see it, it’s probably already seen you. It’s either going to move off, or not bite.
Working through the wear and tear
To be a successful fisherman, you’ve got to be casting a lot, using different types of fishing tackle and taking some pounding boat rides. Over time, you’re going to develop aches and pains from arthritis and other ailments that don’t go away.
What’s my line?
There are going to be times when you want to use the exact same lure on a different outfit with different line weights. Maybe you want the lure to dive deeper or shallower, or you’re fishing different type of bottom where it’s to your advantage to fish a stronger, heavier line. With experience, you can pretty much look at a rig and tell whether it’s got 6-, 8- or 12-pound-test line on it, but it’s still helpful to mark the rig somehow.
Take care of your tackle and it will take care of you
I used to not pay too much attention to keeping terminal tackle in good condition, but I’m more organized about it now. Buying new hooks every spring costs a lot of money, and in the past it’s been necessary just because I haven’t taken care of them like I should. Now I keep everything tournament-ready all the time.
Finding the right starting point for spring
Depending on the weather and where the lake is, bass are starting to migrate toward the shallows to spawn. As a result, your job is to find out how far the fish have moved up a creek or bay, both distance and depth-wise.
Putting a stop to short-strikers
A lot of times in the spring, bass tend to short-strike soft plastics, and maybe even bite the tail off. Some anglers just pass these off as small fish, but that’s not always the case. Bigger fish will do it, too, especially when the spawn is going on. They’re not really feeding; they’re just aggravated.
What do you think it’ll weigh?
A lot of people spend too much time culling fish when they ought to be fishing. I don’t use scales to cull with; my theory is that if I just caught a fish, I’m either into them pretty good or they’ve just started biting and I need to take advantage of it while I can.
When fishing in warm weather isn’t an option
It seems like this cold winter isn’t going to leave anytime soon, but it’s not stopping the fish from biting – if you can stay out there with them. Cold temperatures affect the fishing performance of you and your tackle and there are a couple of things I do to keep things working properly.
A line on savings
The best fishing line is expensive, which is why I use a couple of tricks to bring down the cost. For one thing, I always use backing, usually an inexpensive 20-pound-test monofilament that I get at a local Walmart.
How to get unsnagged in a hurry
When you’re practicing for a tournament, catching a fish isn’t nearly as important as finding places where you can catch fish. Because you check different places and put lures into all sorts of cover, you’re going to get snagged up once in a while.When you’re practicing for a tournament, catching a fish isn’t nearly as important as finding places where you can catch fish. Because you check different places and put lures into all sorts of cover, you’re going to get snagged up once in a while.
Downsize for more success
Cold water slows fish down. And depending on where the lake is, when the water temperature gets down in the high 40s to mid 50s, bass are less inclined to chase big baitfish because their metabolism slows way down and they don’t need to eat as much. The best thing a fisherman can do in this situation is to downsize his/her tackle and lures and fish a lot slower.
Play your hunches
A lot of fishing is mental. To me, going with your instincts can be a big deal. For instance, say you’re running to a spot and you see a stretch of bank with maybe a couple of laydowns that looks good. Something tells you that you need to give it a try, so you do. Maybe you hit the jackpot, maybe you don’t, but the few minutes that it takes you to stop and check it out could make a big difference in your outcome.
Position rod tip to optimize strikes
Casting and fighting a fish aside, where you hold the tip of your fishing rod can make a big difference in whether you get bit and how well you set the hook. For instance, now that the water is getting cold and bass are getting the slows, it’s time to break out suspending jerkbaits.
Be prepared to practice
There are lots of little things you can do as a fisherman that combine to improve efficiency in a big way. One mistake a lot of tournament anglers make, and I’m as guilty as anyone, is not being ready for the first day of practice before a tournament.
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.