Opinions & Philosophies

Giving Myself a Fishing Report Card

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Last Winter, I spent some time debating on five lure categories I wanted to improve on in 2011. Some geared around the bass fishing holes that I frequent. And some just geared towards making me more well-rounded angler. I think as an angler I was getting into a rut with my bass fishing.

If it was cold I threw finesse cranks or jerked jigging spoons. If it was warm and the bass were offshore I threw a big worm or a football jig. If it was spring I flip and cast soft plastics around. If it was fall I threw a spinnerbait. Just choosing lures based on “we’ve always done well with this” type of beliefs can really limit us as we move from various fisheries and the fish become more conditioned to the same old offerings.

I often advise folks to pick up other lures when they are really catching the fish, especially ones outside their comfort zone to help them build confidence with them. Confidence is everything in fishing, and building confidence in various lures will make you a better angler.

So I picked 5 lures which I had thrown some and in a few cases had thrown a lot. A few I had put away for a while because the fisheries I am around a lot now don’t really fit that type of fishing anymore. Or so I thought. But that’s just it. What if you could find fishing spots that fit those patterns? An angler could have them virtually to himself if everyone else wasn’t doing it.

So I picked through Tackle Warehouse and looked at various categories of baits and came up with five categories of which I wanted to improve my skills. The five baits I decided on were bladed jigs, deep crankbaits, dropshot worms, big spoons, and swimbaits. Here is my report card and hopefully a good lesson in how you can develop your skills with new lures.

1. Bladed Jigs

The Rad Lures Chatterbait created a new category of jigs. Not a swim jig and not a casting jig but a jig with a blade on the front of it that made it shake violently on the end of your line and attract bass with a new thump. Now owned by Z-Man, the Chatterbait has become a staple in my fish after a year of implementing it in various situations.

I started the season using it as an alternative to shallow prespawn bass with my crankbait and flipping baits. I found it extremely effective around bushes and along hard wood areas and what was key was making multiple casts with it to likely cover. One instance in particular in the early prespawn, I found some bass stacked up where some current was funneling through a bottle neck in fairly dingy water. Usually dingy cold water can be tough but the Chatterbait really gave them something to hone in on and the fishing was pretty fast and furious.

Later this year I took the Chatterbait around stake beds, or cribs as they are often called up north, and fished for bass that were relating to the shad that was congregating around manmade wood cover late in the summer.I would make casts beyond the target then lay my line between the wood posts and run the bait through there. We had some big bass on this technique throughout the summer in a relatively small window when the bait was congregating around the stake beds.

Then we got on the docks and started skipping Chatterbaits under docks, something I’d seen pros like Andy Montgomery and Bryan Thrift do with great success during my years with FLW. Well it still works. And worked for big fish and keepers often. The key to skipping the chatterbait was choosing a trailer that helped it glide. I found the smaller Rage Tail Craw, Zoom Ultravibe Speed Craw and Optimum Double Diamond to be some of my favorites for this technique.

Report Card Grade: B-

Reason: I got the bait hung quite a bit. I’ve got to learn to run the bait around obstacles and not let the line lay over the obstacles. Also need to improve my accuracy when skipping around docks and I lost a few big fish this year on it, so I’ve got to work on my hookups, fighting and landing with the bladed jigs.

2. Deep Crankbaits

I’m a dragger at heart. That means when the fish get out deep, I’d rather drag a jig slowly than burn a crankbait. But goals are about improving on things you’re not comfortable doing as much.

I have caught plenty of bass on deep crankbaits and have had some good fish on them but I wanted to do it more consistently when the fish grouped up offshore. I played around with a lot of crankbaits this season but really focused on finding the fish and then triggering them with big crankbaits.

A Strike King Series 6 XD was the first bait to really get me on the right track. I found several groups of fish staging next to deep water but positioned in 10-14 feet of water. I was able to grind the Series 6 XD through the schools and pump and pause the baits with fast erratic retrieves and get the schools going. For at least a month we were having 50 plus fish days every time we went. I also found how competitive the fish can be on those fast erratic retrieves, often catching doubles or catching bass in odd places like the back, tail and or side of the face. A sign that multiple fish are slashing at the baits as they shoot through the school.

I also found that changing from one bait like the 6 XD to another productive crankbait like the Spro Little John DD or the Bomber Fat Free Shad can re-trigger a school or get a few more bites at the end of a feeding session.

Report Card Grade: A-

Reason: Probably the most fish I’ve caught in a single season on a deep crankbait was this year. I had several days over 100 bass, albeit mostly just keeper to non-keeper in size. I also had several 20-pound days early in the post-spawn period on crankbaits. So I gained some more insight on making the fish bite with varying retrieves and angles and figuring out the exact cast in relation to my lineup on the buoy. But I still have a lot of experimenting to do with colors, different baits, line sizes, etc.

3. Big Flutter Spoons

Kelly Jordon unlocked Pandora’s box when he brought to light the effectiveness of big flutter spoons on deep schooled bass. We have had several big catches on the spoon but again I wanted to understand how to make it more effective in fishing.

What I found was it’s particularly effective when the bass aren’t locked on the bottom. I spend a lot of time just driving and looking at Lowrance Structure Scan on my HDS 10. I was finding big schools of fish on ledges and a lot of times they would be 8 or 10 feet thick up off the bottom. With the spoon you can move it 8 or 10 feet on a hard sweep and work it all through the school.

Also how you sweep it and sometimes just barely shaking it up off the bottom can really trigger the fish. And it seems once you get one to bite, getting that one unhooked and your spoon back in the water is the biggest key. The flurry usually only lasts for several minutes, and the more you gawk over your catch, the more fish you miss.

Report Card Grade: B

Reason: I lost my personal biggest bass I’m sure this year on the big spoon. I hooked it in  21 feet of water and it shot to the surface like a submarine missile. It jumped probably 5 feet out of the water. I about had a heart attack. I survived two big jumps, but when the fish surged under the boat it pulled off. My fault for not thumbing the spool after seeing how big it was. But the fact is I lost several fish on the spoon. They jump and knock that metal off their head and pop the hook out. I also need to experiment on line size and types of line.

4. Drop Shot worms

Another bait that I thought I was pretty well versed on was a drop shot worm. I lived on Beaver Lake for 10 years and fished a lot on Beaver and Table Rock for bass in ultra clear water. But this season I dedicated myself to using it to catch bass that were grouped up deep to see if you could catch good fish, especially on those days when current was slack, there was no wind and extreme heat — the summer doldrums.

I experimented with light line and also braid with fluorocarbon leaders. But I was able to refine how I worked the worms both casting and straight vertical fishing and I was able to really master my hookset with the drop shot in deep water. Two things that had limited my success in the past. We hooked hundreds of bass this summer on a variety of soft plastics. but a 4-inch or 6-inch straight-tail worm was usually the winner.

Using a good rod with a soft tip but a good back bone for driving a hook in deep water on light line. I found that just barely moving the bait, imagining it undulating slowly under the surface, then moving it again slowly. Detecting bites gets easier with time but a lot of times all we felt was a slight added pressure. Then you could start to raise your rod up slowly and if the pressure was increased you would just reel into them while raising the rod up in the air. Nearly every bass was hooked in the roof of the mouth and stayed buttoned up all the way. Now if I could figure out how to keep them from throwing my nose hooked worm off while fighting them to the boat, I’d be a happy camper.

Report Grade: A

Reason: I had as much fun as I’ve had in a long time getting back to a technique I had used a lot in ultra clear water and making it work in stained to slightly stained water. I hooked an landed a very high percentage of fish using Eco Pro Tungsten weights and the new VMC Spin Shot hooks all summer. I figured out how to coax fish I saw on my graph and that I marked with Structure Scan and buoys on several different fisheries this year. That’s ultimately what I want to do is improve with each lure on a variety of fisheries.

5. Swimbaits

This is my sixth year of throwing swimbaits off and on, and I really wanted to spend time learning to adapt them to the bass fishing lakes I frequent. I played around in the past with a wide variety, but I wanted to spend more time this year applying some specific ones to how and where I fish.

I fished several different kinds like the Berkley Mullet, The Bull Shad and then of course several soft bodied baits like the Zoom Swimming Fluke on the new craze with Alabama Rigs and castable umbrella rigs.

The swimbait bite on the deep schools never really played out this year like it had in years past. I still caught fish on it with long casts and slow retrieves through schools I’d found on Lowrance Structure Scan but it didn’t seem that the schools had as many big bass in them this year on several fisheries due to high water. But we did find some different retrieves like lifts and drops that yielded some good numbers in the schools.

The Bull Shad was one hard swimbait that I wanted to really learn about this season. I got a custom painted one from Baitwerks and threw it quite a bit in the late summer and early fall. I did manage to catch a few fish but where the fish were holding never seemed to intersect with where the bait would work effectively. My version was the slow sink and it meant fishing it in the upper water column. I did catch some fish in the bays, casting around points, docks and schooling fish with just a slow retrieve or a stop and go retrieve.

The Alabama rig came on like a wildfire this fall although the rig had been out since early spring. But after seeing what Paul Elias did on Guntersville, Dan Morehead did on Kentucky Lake and hearing what others had done with it, I was pretty excited to try it out. Wouldn’t you know it we caught the fish like crazy on an old umbrella rig I had for striper fishing. I still have a lot to learn, mostly when and where it will work and won’t work, because it’s not a magic pill. You still have to be around bass. And you still have to fish it right, which for me has just been a steady retrieve.  But the bait already has me to thinking about other possibilities with multi rigs.

Report Card Grade: B-

Reason: I still have a lot to learn, especially when it comes to fighting and landing fish on swimbaits. I had some big fish, landed some big fish and lost some big fish. And I need to work on when and where to throw the hard swimbaits. I think with another season of fishing with baits like the Bullshad I can figure out the times and approaches on my fisheries for catching big foraging bass.

I’m pretty settled on bigger line like 20 to 25 pound fluoro or mono and using a longer rod to heave the baits pretty far so I can maximize the time in the strike zone while keeping the big splashes away from the areas I intend to entice bass.

So overall I’d give myself a B on the five baits I wanted to improve on this past bass fishing season. I feel like I got better at each and every one of them, but that I still have a lot to learn on fighting and landing fish on the various baits and about their applications. Timing, seasons, conditions, forage all impact our bait choices and be versatile in many types of situations with many types of baits will make catching bass a lot easier from season to season.

What baits did you work on improving your prowess with and what ones do you want to work on for 2012?