Angler Catches 14-Plus-Pound Largemouth Bass on Swimbait

Multiple catches of double-digit bass don’t happen by accident. Putting in the hours casting where giants live is the first step, but having the right equipment also helps. Just ask 41-year-old Alex Niapas of Boulder Creek, California.

On Dec. 3, 2022, when Niapas caught and released a 14-pound, 8-ounce largemouth from one of his favorite lakes, the fish were shallow.

Press release provided by St. Croix

Niapas has fished the lakes and impoundments of North-Central California’s Delta Region and Sierra Nevada foothills for nearly 30 years. His occupation affords him the opportunity to spend ample time pursuing his bass-fishing passions. Those passions have yielded experience, and that experience has led to remarkable angling success.

A St. Croix pro-staffer and tournament angler, the techniques, presentations, and gear Niapas employs are purposefully deployed to target the biggest bass that swim – spotted bass that can exceed ten pounds, and largemouth that have been known to grow over 20 by foraging on the abundant trout that thrive in California’s clear, deep lakes and reservoirs. His lures of choice are huge, trout-imitating swimbaits whenever forage and bass are shallow, and large, heavy jig combinations when fish are driven deep.

“I made a last-minute decision to drive up to New Melones Lake where I’ve had pretty good success before,” says Niapas, showing his humility. The truth is, the soft-spoken angler who carries a big stick has caught numerous double-digit bass at New Melones over the years, including a 15-12 during a tournament in February of 2015 and a 17-14 in March of 2013. And he’s caught many more on other California lakes as well.

“Once these lakes turn over in the fall and you’ve got water below 60 degrees, the trout and shad move shallower and the biggest bass follow,” Niapas says. “These are largely stocker rainbows around 10 inches, although a big bass will ambush trout up to about 15 inches. Those are the conditions we have in many of our lakes right now, and that’s what was happening at New Melones.”

Niapas says he was rigged and ready when he pulled up on a secondary point at the south end of the 12,500-acre Stanislaus River impoundment.

“I was fishing a Hawg Hunter Mag-X Swimbait and 25-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon line on St. Croix’s new Mag Swimbait rod,” he recalls, referring to the most powerful rod in the GRASP-equipped Legend Tournament Bass swimbait series that earned Best Freshwater Rod in the ICAST 2022 New Product Showcase Awards (LBTC86XXHFT). “I think it was only my third cast across the point in 15-20 feet of water. My lure came through a tree but got hung up when it hit the next one.”

What happened next – part of it, anyways – makes sense, when you consider the 12-inch, 9.5-ounce swimbait stuck in the standing timber some ten feet below the surface retails for $180.

“I eased up over the snag and stuck my rod tip straight down into the water and was able to pop the lure free,” Niapas recalls, “and I got hit immediately.”

He says the fish tried to take him back into the wood, but the extra-extra-heavy power rod and locked-down drag on his reel allowed him to pull the bass away from trouble. “She came up to the surface and jumped about 25 feet from the boat and I saw it was a giant,” Niapas says. “I realized just how big it was when I finally put my hands on the fish, and it barely fit in the livewell. That’s when I took a little break to relax my breathing and my nerves. I was fishing by myself, so I took a few minutes to gather myself and get the camera set up on my phone, so I’d be able to get some decent photos.”

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Niapas says the giant weighed 14-8 on his scale and – after a couple photos – swam strongly from his hands back down into the cold water

Niapas on Big-Bass Gear

Alex Niapas is fortunate to live and fish in one of the foremost big-bass regions the United States, if not the world. But simply casting where trophy bass live doesn’t guarantee positive results. As in any form of fishing, consistent success comes from preparation, knowledge, and using the right gear.

“Big swimbaits that are so popular in today’s bass-fishing world started right here,” he says. “And they’ve come a long way – getting bigger along the way – as have the rods we use to throw them. I’ve only been on staff with St. Croix for a little over a year, so I’ve used a lot of different swimbait rods,” Niapas says. “Casting and retrieving a half-pound swimbait all day is a potentially exhausting affair that takes its toll on arms, elbows, wrists, shoulders, and backs. Anything a rod manufacturer can do to make the act easier or more comfortable is a big deal because it means anglers can keep their lures in the water longer and earn more success.

“The advantages of the new Legend Tournament Bass swimbait rods (LBTC710HF Light Swimbait, LBTC710XHF Mid Swimbait and LBTC86XXHFT Mag Swimbait) start with how incredibly light and well balanced they are for such powerful rods. Add the ergonomically correct GRASP reel seat – something I was somewhat skeptical of before I tried it – and you’ve got the best swimbait rods on the market today… best being described by their performance in ease of casting, accuracy, fish-fighting power, light-in-the-hand feel and all-day comfort.”

St. Croix GRASP handle

 

The swimbait specialist drills down on the GRASP reel seat design. “You see this thing in photos, and it might seem a bit bulky and excessive. It did to me at first,” Niapas reports. “But it’s magic once you put your hand on it. It’s much smaller than it appears and it’s incredibly light and soft to the touch. What it does is keep your wrist locked in parallel with the rod handle. It gives you a very comfortable and secure grip on the rod and reel and keeps the wrist in the same position throughout the cast and the retrieve. Limiting wrist movement means less fatigue and less opportunity for injury when effectively catapulting the giant baits we use. St. Croix always talks about creating rods that elevate anglers’ experiences, and GRASP is a solid example of that.”

The moral of our big-bass tale? Luck always helps, but only gets anyone just so far. Consistent catches of trophy-size bass start with casting into the right locations where numbers of giant bass live and only become reality when executed with experience and the proper gear.

And, oh yeah… never ever leave a $180 lure hanging in the trees.

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