In bass fishing, little to nothing compares to that feeling of working your favorite stretch of water on your home fishery. Whether it is a farm pond, stream, river, or major body of water, anglers find it hard to match the comfort and confidence of fishing their “juice” on known waters. No matter the conditions, you constantly expect to feel that tug at the end of your line.
Imagine having a similar comforting feeling all the time, on any fishery, all over the country. You’d think an angler that harnesses that comfort and confidence would be able to catch them most anywhere and everywhere; and for the most part, you’d be right.
Zack Birge, an FLW Tour pro coming off an impressive rookie season began with a victory at the Rayovac Championship on Wheeler Lake and ended with the Rookie of the Year title with a ticket to the Forest Wood Cup. Not bad for a first year in the professional ranks of bass fishing.
What is so intriguing about Birge’s award-winning year is that he was able rack up these accolades fishing his way; fishing in his comfort zone.
FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE
“With the exception of Lake Chickamauga, my boat didn’t see water deeper than 8 feet all year,” Birge said. “I grew up fishing the Arkansas River in water no deeper than your fishing pole. Fishing shallow is what I know how to do best, so it’s usually what I look for when fishing a tournament.”
It’s like you’ve moved away from home but you brought along your favorite old recliner. Your surroundings may be different, but hey, you get to sit back and relax in your homey chair each night. Same deal with fishing your comfort zone; whether you get five bites or 50, you’re going to be happy because you’re doing what you like to do.
Birge keeps it as simple as possible when he is looking for his comfort zone on any fishery. He noted that of the six stops the FLW Tour made this year, he had only ever fished Beaver Lake. Instead of getting all hung up on dock talk or where and what he “should be” fishing, Birge would go out and let the current conditions tell the story.
“When I fish, I just launch my boat on the lake and go with my gut,” Birge said. “I prefer to fish shallow, so I go out with a handful of lures I have confidence in and cover water till I find quality fish. I learned pretty early on in my fishing career that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.
“Take Lewis Smith Lake for example: I had heard time and again that you needed to be fishing for big spotted bass to win there. But after my first day of practice, I had pretty much committed to fishing for largemouth in skinny water. And wouldn’t you know it, that largemouth pattern turned into me leading days two and three of the tournament.”
Unfavorable weather conditions coupled with local pressure resulted in Birge finishing the Lewis Smith event in sixth place. Even though a victory slipped his grasp, Birge was able to go against the grain, fishing his comfort zone, with great results to show for it.
Even though this was Birge’s first year as a professional angler, he didn’t lack confidence in any of the events. Birge attributes that to focusing on the shallows of the fisheries the FLW Tour visited.
Fishing shallow works for Birge, but whether you like fishing shallow or deep, focus on fishing your strengths and be confident in what you’re doing. This helps top anglers like Birge and will help you as an angler immensely.
“For me confidence is absolutely everything in fishing,” Birge said. “It gives you that positive mindset that you need throughout a day of fishing. It is much easier to lose your composure or psych yourself out if you aren’t confident in what you’re doing. Being confident is also going to make you ready for the bites you do get, helping with your execution.”
When you look at the sport of bass fishing, there is a long list of anglers who have thrived with this plan of attack. Whether it be guys like Tommy Biffle or Denny Brauer, who have made careers out of flipping and pitching in shallow water. Or Kevin VanDam, who favors fishing fast with a crankbait; these anglers have found what works for them and parlay that into longterm success on any fishery.
Instead of trying 20 different lures and techniques that the fish should be biting, they stick to what they know and make it work regardless of the body of water, the conditions, or time of year.
My dad often stressed the importance of using the K.I.S.S. philosophy (keep it simple stupid). That is exactly what we as fishermen oftentimes fail to do. If you’re confident in a certain style of fishing, there is usually a way to catch fish doing it on any given fishery. There is no need to over-complicate the game of fishing at any level.
Of course, if we’re talking about winning high-level events there are going to be some exceptions to this rule. But if you’re looking to catch some fish on an unfamiliar fishery, take Birge’s advice and give fishing in your comfort zone some time.
CONFIDENCE BAITS ANYWHERE
Much like the other facets of his game, Birge keeps his bait selection simple, especially when dissecting the shallows of a new fishery. He sticks to a few staple lures that have produced for him and expands on these baits when necessary.
- Squarebill Crankbaits – “There are few baits or techniques out there that cover water as efficiently as a square-bill crankbait,” Birge said. “I use the 6th Sense 25x and 50x Square Bills. I like the little plug to fish shallow rock piles, laydowns, edges of bushes, grass lines; really whatever I see in front of me. I’ll adjust the size and color depending on the forage present in the body of water I am fishing. But if there are fish in the area, they will usually eat a squarebill.”
- Swimbaits – “Much like the squarebill, I will use the Spooltek Fatty Swimbait to cover a lot of water,” Birge said. “I’ve found that a lot of guys will ignore throwing a swimbait in shallow water and bass are not yet conditioned to it. I throw the 4-inch version of this bait because I grew up fishing for numbers of fish.“It’s not really my forte to go out and fish for five big bites. I’d rather catch 20 or 30 in a day and weed through some smaller fish. That’s exactly what this bait will do, while also giving me the opportunity to have a few of those bigger bites.”
- Buzzbaits — Birge was able to capitalize on key topwater bites throughout the entire season of the FLW Tour this year. Even tournaments as far back as early March like the Lake Toho and Lewis Smith events.“It is hard to beat a Santone buzzbait or a topwater frog for tournament fishing,” Birge said. “Not only can you put these lures in places you can’t get a lot of other lures, but they’re also so fun to fish. Watching a topwater bait come across the water, you just always have that feeling that a giant is about to come grab it.”
- Beavers – “If conditions call for a slow presentation or getting real tight to cover, I am going to pick up a Tightlines UV Beaver or Tightlines Whisker Beaver,” said Birge. “Again, since I like fishing shallow, I want to show the fish something they haven’t seen. Something like 80 percent of the light in shallow water is UV, so I believe fish can see these baits better, which gets me a few more bites.”
Whether you favor shallow water power fishing like Birge, or you would rather use your electronics and fish offshore, make a habit of giving your comfort zone a chance next time you go fishing. The time of year and transitional phase the fish are in certainly moves them around, but it’s worth trying to fish with what you’re confident in no matter the conditions, or the fishery.
You are likely to find that you can apply “a little home cookin’” to most any body of water throughout the year. It will give you confidence to stick with proven techniques longer and find ways to apply them to different bodies of water. Many guys in professional bass fishing go on stretches of top finishes because they carry one technique from lake to lake and keep making it work through confidence and that comfort with what they are doing is the right thing for their fishing.