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I’ve spent a some time this year chasing the Bassmaster Elite Series professional bass anglers around on lakes like Guntersville and Dardanelle and the FLW Tour guys recently on Kentucky Lake. I noticed some fishing trends and had some thoughts on those as well as some observations about professional tournament fishing at the highest levels.

And I’m very interested to hear what you think about any and all of these so please comment below or on Facebook.

Here are 5 trends or observations I’ve had chasing the pros around so far in 2014:

  • Ledge tournaments good or bad
  • Keeping it simple still works
  • Confidence is still king in tournament fishing
  • Big spoons got bigger
  • Return of big hair

fishing-crowds-on-ledges

Ledge tournaments good or bad for professional fishing?

I’ll go on record and say, I am not a fan of ledge fishing tournaments with big fields. Don’t get me wrong, I love ledge fishing, likely due to the fact that I live on one of the best ledge fishing lakes in the country. But when you know the fish are going to get on about 80 ledge spots on a given fishery and your field is 100 or 150 boats in size, what happens then is probably not the best for the sport.

Now practices like hole jumping and hole sitting start to rear their ugly heads. Hole jumping is when anglers pull in on other anglers already fishing a spot because “they supposedly also found the bass” here in practice. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell who “really” found them in practice and who saw someone else fishing there in practice or worse yet in the tournament. And worse yet is hole sitting where someone parks their boat on a good fishing spot to protect it, and when a competitor boat pulls in, they leave so they can fish it. I didn’t witness this first hand but unfortunately I heard two accounts of this happening in the last event.

The problem you have with ledge tournaments is not easily solved. There are anglers who were raised that you didn’t pull in on another angler because it was not only discourteous but also made you look like you couldn’t find your own fish. So there was your own credibility at stake. Another generation of anglers seems to believe this is the way tournaments are fished. You just go to the places with the boats and mix it up. While still many anglers will find the same schools of fish in practice and go there if boats are there or not.

Do ledge tournaments make for fun stats or weigh-in photos? Maybe. It also unfortunately makes for lost friendships, confrontations, and anomosity among the competitors as well as an underlying speculation of dishonest fishing.

The problem comes with the fact that in a ledge tournament, there just simply aren’t enough spots for every boat to have their own spot. So then it becomes who gets a good draw. Then what are the later boats supposed to do? Just not catch fish that day?

Never mind the local pressure that is always evident, especially along the TVA. I saw locals fishing on spots after pros left during the tournament, and pros unable to get on spots on the weekend because locals who followed them Thursday and Friday were locked on the spot come Saturday before a pro had even launched yet.

But I’m a local on a popular ledge lake, and while I make a point not to fish or even turn my sonar or GPS on during a tournament while I’m filming, I also know the pros don’t own the lakes or spots they fish. Sharing the lake is hard on the pros and the locals in these events.

Do ledge tournaments make for fun stats or weigh-in photos? Maybe. It also unfortunately makes for lost friendships, confrontations, and anomosity among the competitors as well as an underlying speculation of dishonest fishing.

There are guys that are very uncomfortable about getting too close to another angler out of respect. There are other anglers who have no problem coming within 10 yards of another angler and setting their boat down off pad and dropping the trolling motor. Whether its because they believe thats how you have to fish to survive on trail or they really don’t care about the other anglers, it quickly becomes a case of the haves and the have-nots with anglers trying to take the morally high road at the losing end.

The tournament organizations have somewhat facilitated that this is acceptable behavior for ledge fishing tournaments because there is not a rule that you can’t come in on another competitor other than the anchoring rule. And nothing is ever said or made of these on-the-water confrontations and practices. But then we complain when locals who watch pros do this do the very same thing.

I personally would like to see these tournaments go to Guntersville or Pickwick in March or April and Kentucky Lake in early May. Spread the fields out and have guys have to fish for fish instead of scan for fish or other anglers. But like I said I don’t have a good answer how to work around the issues you have in these tournaments which is why I’m not in favor of them.

Hackney-fish-table-rock-day-4

Keeping it simple still works

I’ve seen a lot of tournaments won recently by doing very simple things in very simple places. Hackney won grinding a shallow crankbait on a shallow flat on Pickwick to win a ledge dominated event. I watched Wesley Strader bust 23 pounds including one bass nearly 8 pounds on a spot 3 feet deep during the Kentucky Lake FLW Tour event. Brett Hite has won twice this year throwing the bait he’s now synonymous with, the Chatterbait.

And Skip Johnson just won the FLW Tour throwing a worm and a jig when the rest of the field was throwing prototype magnum crankbaits, swimbaits, gargantuan spoons, and 30 year old hair jigs. So there is something to be said for just sticking to one spot, throwing the lures you have confidence with and riding it out to the end without following the dock talk or preconceived notions for a fishery.

Confidence is still king in tournament fishing

Did you hear about this guy Anthony Gagliardi getting DQed at the first FLW Tour event earlier this year? Yep. And the championship just happens to be on his home lake. Bummer right? Well, some say a blow like that can kill an angler’s confidence if they let it. Even end a career maybe.

So what did Gagliardi do? He pulled up his big boy pants and went on to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup anyway … in just 5 events. Now you can say there have been other cases of anglers having a horrible near last or dead last first tournament and still qualify for a year-end championship. But the emotional battle that ensues is what is of interest. To convince yourself you’re never out of it. Even when you finish near 50th in an event or two. That’s just incredible to me.

How about Brett Hite winning an FLW Tour event and an Elite Series event this year. Just doing what he does. That’s pretty impressive. What was more impressive to me was 2012 was the worst year of Brett Hite’s career, and I can remember how dejected he was that year at ICAST about not making the championship and only making a couple of checks along the way. His confidence was tested. Fast forward to this year where he’s already bank rolled around $300,000 in winnings. And he’ll tell you, he’s really not doing that much different.

What about Andy Morgan? Back-to-back FLW Tour Angler of the Year Titles is pretty impressive. Or is it more impressive that he hasn’t been outside the top 10 in the Angler of the Year race since 2006. Morgan might be the epitome of confidence in professional fishing.

Oh yeah then there is this Mark Davis fellow. He just finished in the top 5 in 4 of the first 6 Elite Series events. With Greg Hackney one point behind him, who subsequently has also bankrolled more than $225,000 between BASS and FLW competitions this year.

What do they all have in common. Confidence. They feel good about how they are fishing. When you fish like that, you do well. When you question your decisions and your confidence wanes, you struggle. When your confidence returns, it carries from tournament to tournament.

big-spoons-hit-bass-fishing

Big spoons got a lot bigger

The buzz at the recent FLW Tour event was more about a big hunk of shiny metal that wasn’t the winners trophy. Namely discussions and parking lot bartering centered around the new Ben Parker Magnum Spoons from Nichols Lures. Parker had gotten his first shipment in just before the start of practice and got several out to pros fishing in the event.

The spoon measures 8-inches in length and weighs more than 3 ounces. They simply dwarf what most people thought was already a big spoon for fishing deep ledges on lakes with big shad and other forage.

I saw a lot of anglers throwing the spoon and I’ve thrown it a bit myself now. It certainly will attract a big fish and average fish to bite it alike. I found, however, what didn’t happen with the spoon more intriguing. It didn’t win the FLW Tour event. In fact, to my knowledge, the winner never even threw a spoon.

It did, however, account for several big catches and several more lost fish. In fact one could probably argue that the big spoon cost a few anglers the win. Not that it wasn’t the right bait. But keeping a bass hooked up on an 8-inch, 3-ounce piece of metal proves to be very difficult.

So there is going to be a learning curve around not only learning how to throw and work the bigger spoon to trigger bites, but more importantly how to get the fish from bite to boat effectively. One might say right now, in its infancy, that it’s the hollow-bodied frog of deepwater fishing.

By that I mean it gets crazy cool strikes, but it will break your heart as much as it will wow you.

I know I had 35 private messages in the last two weeks asking me for a hook up on the spoons or to sell the few I had. I gave one to Terry Bolton to test out and kept the other one for myself. But I know guys are clamoring to get their hands on them after the FLW Tour event, the College BASS event that Bethel won on Pickwick that same week, and photos like the one Randy Haynes posted of his 35-pound catch a week later on Pickwick. Hopefully those spoons show up this week so my inbox will clear up.

The sociology and psychology around new lure introductions always fascinates me. Kudos to Ben for the buzz he created, literally.

I’ll save you a little time and tell you if you’re not around good fish to begin with, you won’t get big bites on the spoon. And the two schools of thought on landing the fish are to either a) baby the fish after you set the hook hard like you would a crankbait bass you don’t want to jump or b) turn the handle as hard as you can and wrench them into the net like those big swimbait guys do out west, taking total control of the bass.

big-hair-jigs-for-ledge-fishing

Big hair is in again

No. I don’t mean the “poofy hairdos” our girlfriends had in the 1980s. I’m talking about hair jigs, specifically a hair jig called the “Preacher Jig” that became very popular and sought out in the 1980s when a bunch of big ledge fishing tournaments were being won down on Eufaula.

The hair jigs incorporate both feather and bucktail into 1/2 ounce to 3/4 ounce jig that is around 6 inches long. The jig was originally tied by an old preacher in Alabama for anglers before being bought by Mann’s Bait Company. After learning how labor intensive it was to build the jigs and declining sales, Mann’s discontinued them. And, like many lures in bass fishing, they became probably more well guarded and sought out by professional anglers as “another cricket” for fooling bass.

The FLW Tour events on Pickwick Lake and Kentucky Lake, and the BASSFest on Chickamauga Lake made it clear that the hair jig is back as another weapon in the arsenal of professional anglers for catching bass on ledges.

Jacob Wheeler caught several of his key fish on a homemade hair jig as did Kevin VanDam at BASSFest. Many of the top finishers at both Pickwick and Kentucky Lakes had hair jigs on their deck and on film catching bass on them. Personally I’ve been throwing a hair jig a lot more this year. It’s another good presentation for bass that may not be tight to the bottom but feeding on shad. It’s always nice to have another lure in the rotation to try to trigger one more fish to bite before moving to the next school.

I’ve caught several bass on one that is a pretty good replica of the original Preacher Jig called a Prayer Jig from Cumberland Pro Lures. You can see some video of it in action here.

Conclusion

There is always a lot about bass fishing that comes from following the trends aired by professional fishing tournaments. And the dynamics that surround the sport of catching the 5 best bass each day are always fascinating. Fishing trends can be anything from hot new lures or techniques, to how anglers conduct themselves on the water.

At any rate, I consider myself a student of fishing — bass, crappie, bluegill or otherwise. I’m always trying to learn more and I think we should all avoid living in a vacuum when it comes to improving sport fishing from the common angler, to the professional angler, to the tournament organizations and the media that covers it all. We should all be looking for ways to get better.

What do you think of these trends or observations and what other ones have you seen this year?

 

 

 

28 thoughts on “5 Observations or Trends from Professional Bass Fishing in 2014

  1. This really got my interest peaked, the reason is the hair jig. I tie a lot of hair jigs, but 99% are on a size #1 or 1/0 light wire hook in sizes not exceeding 1/4oz. So I was getting asked by a ton of local anglers for 1/2oz and 5/8oz hair jigs and I didn’t question it, I just made some and now I know why!! Thanks for making the observations public, we all reads these thing from various sources but sometimes it is long after the fact, it feels good to know right away and that is what you guys do, I can’t wait for your ICAST coverage!!!

    • Thanks, Dan! I’m pretty pumped for ICAST myself. I’m an avid angler and tackle junky at heart. So ICAST always helps fuel my OCFD (obsessive compulsive fishing disorder). And Yes I coined that acronym several years ago. LOL

  2. As far as ledge fishing goes I wish they’d really minimize it in tournaments. From someone watching the tournament on TV it’s a boring thing to watch, not to mention it doesn’t take much talent to scan for fish. I’d much rather see guys on a lake that is dominated by a pitching/flipping style technique. It’s more exciting to watch this style not to mention it makes the pros have to find a bait that is effective as well as a what kind of cover/depth the fish are relating to. I think an interesting concept would be technique or lure specific tournaments or tournament days. For example a 3 day tournament 1st day soft plastics only, 2nd day crank baits, 3rd day jigs. Or something similar, it may minimize bag sizes, but it’d keep people on there toes as well as bring a whole new challenge to the sport.

    Also on the hair jig side of things, I’m going to have to pick a couple up and give em a shot this fall.

  3. Pickwick is my home lake and I fish it a good bit. Not really into the tournament scene recreational only for the most part. I fish it 12 months a year and can’t wait for the deer hunters to get off the water. I got back into bass fishing in 07 after taking a break for several years due to a job that kept me moving around the State. I take three to four professionally guided trips a year spring summer and fall. The ledge bass have become harder to catch for me the last several years and I think they are just getting hammered from early June on. I watch certain spots get one boat after another and have found it harder and harder to find fresh fish the last couple of years. I pulled up and caught bad wth 3 to 4 holes in their mouths and I move on. I’ve also pushed my range out further into Alabama than I used to fish due to pressure. JP Coleman is my normal starting point, but find myself fishing more and more past the Trace Bridge just have a little peace. I will not fish weekends anymore only during the week. I’ve had anglers blow in right on top of me, swing by a mark a spot I’m on if I’ve sat there for awhile. I fish with respect but sadly there are less and less out there with that attitude. My 2 cents for what it’s worth… Good article..

  4. I think tournament fishing is following a definitive pattern of “meanspiritness” and bullying under the guise of aggression that presently permeates our society as a whole; and a ledge fishing tournament makes it that much more obvious. It’s my opinion that aggression is not only condoned but is also being viewed as an attribute throughout all levels of athletics and competitions; and like many things, a little goes along way in most situations. When a fan takes a pro’s tournament spot because he can’t locate his own fish it may be an aggressive move; but it’s actually low class. I think that younger fisherman (20′s to mid 30′s) have often been raised like this and are responsible for taking aggression up a notch. Fortunately, there are still a lot of Andy Morgans, Mark Roses etal. out there so all’s not lost. Maybe this trend of type-A personalities will soon phase itself out, but I don’t really see it happening anytime soon.

  5. I agree with your comments on the ledge fishing debacle. Somehow the tournament organizations need to better define their rules to prevent these nasty incidents. Money always causes problems – the need for it to survive.

  6. I fished the rayovac on ky lake this yr , as we all know it was a ledge deal , my problem was there was other tournaments out there at the same time and I heard 500-600 boats were out fishing , you would think they would not schedule events overlapping like that , in my case most of my spots had boats on them some times 2-4 boats , one ledge I stopped on , I was maby 80 yrds from another boat and had no intention of fishing his way , he got mad and started heading for me making long casts at me with a big crankbait as if to make me tuck tail and run , the point is were all supposed to be out there for the fun of it ,and should be courteous towards other fishermen !

    • I have to agree with you. I am a Florida angler while we don’t have ledges we have grass lines which can get crowed. Even when you inevitably get close to another boat or have to pass by we are generally friendly about it. I have never felt like I needed a gun in my boat until I almost got shot on Guntersville.

  7. I have to say that I hate ledge fishing tournaments. I am a UCF angler and down here we have no ledges to speak of and the atmosphere down here is much different. I fished the FLW at Guntersville and the Boat US national at Pickwick. Both tournaments were won on ledges. I even knew exactly where the winning ledges were and I couldn’t fish them because of “hole sitters”. Sometimes they weren’t even competing. When the FLW didn’t even let us launch till 2 hours after safelight we had no chance at beating locals to the spot. When anyone with Navionics and sonar can find a spot you have to expect to here company. Also when I pull onto a ledge that already has 10+ boats on it and then I almost get shot for doing something that everybody else is doing I have to say that I much prefer Florida fishing. If I’m on a productive grass line going south and another boat comes up from the north we say “hey how many have you caught”, polite and friendly, then go around each other and continue fishing. I don’t know what can be done to solve the “ledge tournament problem” but I hope a solution comes soon.

  8. Why is it everytime a big tourney comes to kentucky lake, or any lake, Sat and Sun the fishermen cant get on a spot because a local was setting because he saw the pro fishing it. Maybe the pro saw the local fishing it? I fish kentucky lake 3 times a week. Dont the pros think maybe out of the 156 times a year on the lake i might have fished that spot before? Im sick of the pros thinking they own the lake. They get a few waypoints from a local and they own it. The week of the flw pros had saw me fishing spots, that i seen those same ones fishing it on thursday. And i did see spot setting.

  9. We have 2 or 3 local tournaments up here in Ohio. Nothing big compared to the tournies y’all are talking about. But being someone who fishes these lakes week in and week out just trying to enjoy my saturday off, I can’t stand the rude contestants and their 300 HP boats who insist on buzzing within 20 feet of us locals at 60 mph. They can plainly see my 12 footer trolling along at 2 mph with my ’55 7.5 evinrude and know damn well they’re pulling a dick move simply because they can. Good luck in getting answers on what to do to curb all of the disrespectful behavior. I was brought up to be respectful even when my toes get stepped on.

  10. The problem here is not the tournament venues, but the overall attitude of tournament fisherman these days. Respect and pride have taken a back seat to cashing a check. I promise you, the practice of coming in on top of someone else in these major events is not specific to “ledge fishing” tournaments. If you are seen catching fish, you will have company. Its sad that this up and coming group of anglers choose to carry theirselves in this fashion, but i doubt it is going to change. It would be very difficult for tournament officials to regulate and the competitors are not likely to change their ways on their own. Best bet is to have a plan B when you get bombarded

  11. I have never understood how the pros can fish so close to each other without someone getting mad. I was raised if someone is fishing on a spot, then go somewhere else and fish, You can always come back later and catch fish after they leave if it is a good ledge the fish will replenish.
    I dont agree with the pros getting mad at the Locals, the pros are there for a few days out of the year. The locals either live on the lake like myself or are there every weekend after working all week trying to compete with guys who fish all the time. I fish some of the same spots that Ramie Colson fishes and if I know he is fishing a big tournament I wont fish those spots during my practice because he may fish them thursday or friday but when saturday comes I feel like I have as much right as anyone to fish anywhere.
    Holesitting: I havent witnessed hole sitting but I did see a Local who is a really good fisherman and has fished many of the FLW and BFL tourneys on KY Lake fish in front of a competior before he got to each spot. I noticed this guy idleing around while the pro was fishing then he would leave but he would be at the next spot the pro went to idleing around again. So I deceided to follow this guy the next time he left and sure enough he was going to the pros next spot and fishing it before the pro got there. This was a case of sour grapes because he got beat by the pro the year before by only a few ounces.
    I agree with Jason the big tourneys should be either in early spring on KY Lake or in the early fall September/October when the fish are not grouped up on a few ledges.
    Great article Jason!

  12. This trend hasn’t changed. We are still yanking the fish out of the water, flopping them down on the boat deck and knocking off their protective slim coat. What happened to lipping the fish? The survival of these creatures began with proper care prior to weigh in. Maybe we can start a new trend.

  13. Great article Jason!

    Several others have commented on how ledge fishing events bring out the worst in people and how the lack of respect and sportsmanship with rude bullying behavior is a product of ledge type events, and I agree. That being said, in my opinion the ledge tournaments though really only make that dynamic more visible than other type events. It still goes on in every other event.

    I have fished at the Proffesional level years ago, and I am still an active tournament fisherman. I have several touring friends on both circuits, and I am still appalled at the stories I am told, and of what I personally witness, with the continued bullying, lack of respect, and rude behavior that exists today at all levels.

    Sadly this behavior will not change until we as a society at any tournament level band together and focus on this issue. Tournament organizations can implement rules to curb this behavior, but need the support and backing of the majority to do so. I applaud you for the article, and bringing this issue to light. I hope we can all try and make this sport even better by treating others as we would like to be treated while on the water.

  14. Every group in life has its low lifers. Hole jumpers and sitters are what we as bass fishermen have for ours. These worms can only find fish under someone else’s boat. Their “fishfinder” is a pair of binoculars. I would starve on a circuit before I stooped to such behavior. I`m afraid there is no way to stop it. Maybe if the guys doing it were publicly called out on it and a boycott of their sponsors were initiated. Those pathetically starved enough for cash and “fame” to demean themselves so might grow up if the sponsor money dictates such

    • I would think that tournament rules about “Sportsmanship” , and more specifically things like hole sitting, encroaching etc , would come into play. Tournament Directors need to start enforcing the rules. I also think that publically calling out the offenders, DQ’ing a few of them would get the point across. Dont most if not all boats come with a GoPro camera set up? Ive been around long enough to remember where these “young offenders” picked up these tactics……it was from some of the big names in the business…some of the “old guys” were just as arrogant and pushy. The post above is correct…No one wants to sponsor the guy that is getting DQ’d. Complaints are flying……its time for action.

  15. It doesn’t matter how big the body of water is, folks will still buzz by other boats at a high rate of speed. I see it on our drought starved lakes like Castaic, and I see it out on the Pacific ocean! Someone can be anchored on the Huntington flats and another boat will race by 30 yards away. Doesn’t matter how big the body of water is. What matters is igorance…

  16. Great article. As for the ledge fishing, most tournaments are going to be won fishing something different than the rest of the field. So to the people who want to “ban” ledge fishing or whatever- Look back to the college national championship last year, the guys were throwing rat baits in shallow water while majority of the top boats were throwing drop shots on offshore deep brush piles. Greg hackney won power poled down at pickwick, and The majority of the other boats were out sitting in 30 feet of water! What I’m getting at here is that you can share water with boats all you want on the ledges, and yes you’ll have a better shot at a good finish. But, unless if you’re on your own fish or doing something completely different you’re just not going to win most of the time… Even if it takes throwing an 8 inch spoon, or throwing a regular ol worm when everyone else is throwing that 8 inch spoon!

  17. Just another outstanding article from Jason Sealock with some great input from readers.Thank you for taking our sport of bass fishing to the next level.It’s all good!

  18. GREAT article. I fish tournaments myself and see the rude behavior all the time. We were prefishing for a local club tournament about 3 weeks ago and the college boys would drive right by and mark the spots we were fishing. We even had a couple teams stop and start fishing even though they were prefishing as well. I asked one to backoff with rude returned words. If people knew the real pros when not in front of the camera i am sure they would not feel so impressed with they’re picked pro. In our club there is a 50 yard encroachment rule, which works pretty well but would like to see it increased to 100we yds. Thats my thought and opinion. Thanks

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