A lot of these young dudes say you don^t have to worry about patterns to catch bass in the reservoirs. They say there is so much grass in them that you^ll catch all the fish you want by fishing the grass beds.
They may be catching all the fish they want, but I don^t want those little punk fish they are catching and culling out to win tournaments on the reservoirs. They are catching 20 to 30 fish a day. Most of them don^t measure and they just hope they have five that they can step on and make their nose touch the line.
To me bass fishing is catching the big hummers that will go five pounds or better. These fish are still in the reservoirs, but with the coming of the grass beds many are taking the easy out to catch fish instead of putting forth the effort to catch the big ones.
I have been fishing reservoirs for bass for about 45 years. They are a little different from when I first started, but they are the same, too. Besides the grass, which is the big change, silt keeps collecting in the reservoirs and has covered up all or parts of the structure I have been fishing over the years. Standing stumps that used to be exposed for ten feet may only have six feet above the silt, but they are still there and good structure for bass.
When you have been fishing for as long as I have, there^s one thing you learn and that is that largemouth bass do the same thing year after year and at about the same time of year giving a little deviation due to weather quirks. The professional bassfishermen call them patterns. Years ago, we didn^t have a name for them, but we knew they were happening all the same. I wish I had thought of the word pattern. It^s perfect.
These patterns will be general because they fit everything that happens to bass in any reservoir in the state. The schedule may be a little different in each reservoir, but the patterns prevail. A mountain lake, because of the colder weather, may lag two or three weeks behind lowlands reservoirs in the spring because it warms up slower. Likewise, it will cool down faster in the fall. One reservoir may lag a week behind another because of its steeper banks or other physical differences. But they all go through the same patterns and bass react the same to these conditions.
Should there be a warm spell in February, I^ll start looking for bass near the points at the mouth of spawning coves. I look for those coves where the stream channel will be within casting distance of the bank.
If there is some type of cover like stumps, rocks or brush on the edge of the channel into the cove, this is a good place to cast jig-n-pig or deep running crankbaits.
Jig-n-pigs should be worked slow with short movements.Just move the lure six to eight inches by raising the rod tip,then let it rest. Repeat the action until you are a good distance from the cover. One thing most beginners do wrong when fishing this lure is to move it too fast or in movements that are too big. A good way to get an idea how far your rod action moves a jig-n-pig is to work it in a clear swimming pool. Most would be surprised at how just a little rod action moves the lure a foot or two.
Dark colors are best. I^ll use either brown or black 1/4 or 3/8 ounce weedless jigs and put either a black or brown pork rind frog or pork rind worm on the hook. My favorite jig is brown with orange rubber skirt because I think the orange makes it look more like a crawdad.
Crankbaits should be ran so that the lip digs into the bottom, which means cranking as hard as you can. The task is eased somewhat if you use a high-speed retrieve reel.
Over the years, I have found that lures in brown colors resembling the color of crawdads work best. And I use the biggest crankbaits on the market.
Sometime in March the bass will move off the points and into the coves. It might be after a warm spell or it could be a combination of warm weather and light breezes. Warm breezes will speed the warming of the water.
When the bass first move into the coves, they will not goal I of the way up into the heads, but will look for cover perhaps a hundred yards into the cove. They will be closer to the mouth of the cove than head of the cove, maybe one fourth of the way up the cove.
Use the same techniques with pig-n-jig or crankbaits to take these fish.
With the continuous warming of the water into April in my state, but earlier in southern states and later in northern states, the spawning urge is taking over the bass. They move into three to five foot of water, usually near some cover, and begin preparing their spawning beds. The date is insignificant. What is important is that the water temperature gets near to 70 degrees.
These fish are protected by regulations during this time in many states, but they are still fun to catch. I release every bass that I catch no matter what time of the year it is. I may keep it long enough to take a couple of pictures and than it goes back in the water. I just think bass are too important to kill.With all of the fun they have provided me over the years, I owe them the right to live and entertain someone else.
While the female is fanning the nest, she can still be caught with jig-n-pig and crankbaits.
After the spawn is completed, the female bass moves off the nest and is replaced by a male bass, which is usually smaller and his job is to protect the fry in the bed from predators.
Since the male is not feeding at this time, he can be difficult to catch. Best way I know of to catch one is to toss alive crawdad into the bed and as soon as he picks it up to move it out of the bed, set the hook. If you hook him, it will always be in the lips since he is just moving the crawdad out of the bed. There is little chance of hooking the fish deep enough to hurt it at this time.
Another way to catch these bed-guarding bass is to cast a Rapala beyond the bed and bring it right over the bed and using a wiggling action keep the lure just shimmering over the bed.Eventually, the bass will smash at it to drive it away. This can be done with a floating lizard or worm, also.
By the middle of June, the spawning activity is usually over. However, there are occasional late spawning fish. Anyway,the bass seem to disappear once the reproductive cycle has been completed. Actually, they have just moved off a short distance into deep water where they can feed and regain their strength.
This is when many fishermen fail to change their tactics.They think of largemouths as creatures of the shallows and continue to work the banks where they found them in the spring.
I have heard fishermen say that they would rather not catch bass if they have to fish for them in deep water. These people may as well put their bass fishing gear away for the summer if they want to catch big bass in the reservoirs.
Nobody has to tell me that a big part of the enjoyment of bass fishing is making that perfect casts under the branches of a tree right up against the tree trunk or dropping a lure right into the break in a weed bed. Even if you don^t get a strike, you feel good because you made a good cast.
That^s one kind of good. But it doesn^t come close to the good you feel when you do battle with a big old hawg and win the battle. I don^t think it matters how deep you have to go to get the fish.
During the warm months, most bass have a tendency to school on deep water structure or suspend. In the reservoirs that stratify or form layers of water with different temperatures,most bass will collect where the thermocline meets some cover or structure. The thermocline is the layer of water just below the hot surface water. It is several degrees cooler, has the right dissolved oxygen content and the most comfortable environment for largemouth bass during the hot months.
Why bass seek deep water is not important, but finding and catching them is. If you can locate the depth of the thermocline by studying the water temperature with a temperature gauge down to where there is a noticeable change in the temperature, you are way ahead of the game. If you ascertain that the thermocline is at 18 or 21 feet, all you have to do is fish a lure where there are bass at that depth. In reservoirs that I fish mostly, the thermocline is usually between 18 and 21 feet.
A recording depthfinder makes this a much easier task. Just look for creek beds, drop offs, road beds, stumps, foundations,stump fields or other structure that show up on the chart at the same depth as the thermocline. Sometimes fish will show up on the chart.
A flasher depthfinder under the scrutiny of a knowing eye will do the job just as well as a recorder. The novice may see only the depth when he looks at a flasher, but with experience one can detect such things as hard or soft bottom, brush piles, stumps, ledges, and even individual fish.
When fish suspend during the summer, there are only two ways to find them. The first is by lucky chance, but the only practical one is locating them with a depthfinder.
If you don^t own a temperature gauge, it takes some experimenting to find the bass. There are two methods that I used in my early days before the fine electronic gear was available to find bass under these conditions.
My numero uno trick was to drift plastic worms on points, bars, humps or in old creek beds. The advantage of this method is that the lure is always on the bottom no matter what the depth.most of the time that is where you will find bass this time of year.
There is nothing complicated about drifting plastic worms and I am surprised that more anglers don^t use the technique.
I used a Texas rig with at least a quarter ounce sliding sinker. Never use a worm longer than six inches. My favorite colors are blue, black and red. When I reached an area that I want to check, I made a cast and let the lure settle to the bottom. Then I take up slack until when the rod is parallel to the water the worm is still bouncing on the bottom. As soon as you feel a tap or strike, swing the rod upward to set the hook.You can actually work two rods, one in each hand, with this technique.
The ideal situation is to have a light breeze that pushes the boat along, but at a speed that allows the worm to bounce along the bottom. If there is too much wind or no wind, the trolling motor must be used to move the boat.
It is a good idea to have a fish buoy so that you can mark the spot where you caught the fish by tossing the buoy over as soon as you feel the strike.
Sometimes you can drift over the same area and catch more bass on the same spot. If I catch two bass in the same general area, I will anchor the boat and try casting. If the bass are schooled tightly, it doesn^t take long to get a limit.
My second tactic for locating deep water bass was to troll deep running lures over bars, submerged islands and along points. I use Bombers because I have found that they will catch fish even with sliding sinkers on the line in front of the lure. What I try to do is troll so that my lures are at three or four different depths. I do this by rigging one Bomber by just tying it on the line. Then I will put a half ounce sliding sinker in front of one lure, three quarter ounces in front of the next and one ounce on the other. The sinkers ride right on the lure^s lip and do not kill the action.
Increasing speed will increase the depth these lures will run. Also, the lighter the line you use the deeper the lure will run. Once you establish the depth by catching a fish, rig all of the lures the same way and try to maintain the same speed. When you hook a fish, toss over a marker buoy and troll through the area again. If you hook another bass, it is a good idea to anchor and try casting with plastic worms.
These are good techniques to know even if you own the finest electronic fish locators. You never know when you might need them because of mechanical failure.
Largemouth bass are not always on structure. I remember a July day a couple years ago when I had one of those days when we tried just about everything and never had a strike.
If the bass ain^t on structure in the summer, they got to be suspended somewhere. I read a lot of bait in the open lake on my depth finder that day, but I didn^t pay much attention to them. However, I have kept several graphs from my from my chart depthfinder. I like to study them to look for clues when I don^t catch fish.
That night I studied the graphs and noticed dashes so close together that it was almost a solid band. They were schools of bait. On one graph I notice that there was a band of bait fish just like the first one. However, just under the band were five distinctly separated dashes.
I guessed that they were schools of bass and when I eased into open water the next morning I turned on the chart depthfinder. After cruising in mid-lake for about 45 minutes, I found the right reading. A school of bait with larger fish under it about 18 feet down.
My partner and I rigged with 3/4 ounce Hopkins spoons on the end of our lines. We let out enough line so that the lure just touched the water when we held our rods parallel to the water. Then we pulled about two feet of line at a time through the drag until the lures were about 16 feet below the surface. Bass will come up to strike.
We then commenced vertical jigging, which is just a matter of lifting the rod tip about a foot every 20 to 30 seconds and letting it fall until the length of the line stopped it. The bass strike the lure while it is falling.
It didn^t take long for the first strike. A three pounder was brought in by my partner. That was the beginning of a day that produced 13 bass between two and six pounds. We released them all.
All of the bass came from three schools that we found under bait fish. The schools were in about 30 feet of water with no structure in the vicinity. We also found that the bass were feeding on schools of small crappie because a couple regurgitated the fish when they were landed.
Many anglers consider vertical jigging a monotonous way to catch bass because of the lack of casting and lure presentation skills. However, there is something about a full stringer of bass to take the monotony out of any technique.
Vertical jigging can be done with just about any kind of tackle, but I prefer a medium action rod in either spinning or bait casting. Light rods tend to collapse when setting the hook or lifting the lure to give it action.
Going deep may not satisfy all your largemouth desires, but it is a simple fact of life that you will have to fish deep to catch them if that is where they are hanging. And in my experience, deep is where the bigger bass spend their summers.
That may not go down in bass history as one of the most astute observations, but a surprising number of people who don^t catch bass in mid-summer don^t seem to realize it.
As soon as the breezy days of September starts reducing the surface water temperature, the big bass start back in the coves towards shallower water. At first, the will make early morning and dusk raids for food along the shore line and ease back to deep cover for most of the day.
Since the fish are feeding up for winter, I will work the shoreline with spinner baits in the morning and than move back to deep structure for midday fishing with pig-n-jig.
As the water continues to cool down, largemouths will work there way up into the coves following the same stream bed channels that they used during their spring movements toward the spawning area until they locate structure in the seven to eight foot depth. This will be towards the end of September.
Early in the day, when bass are most actively feeding I will cast a fire belly crankbait that goes down about seven feet to catch these fish. When the fish are active. they will come off the structure to attack the lures. On bright sunny days, bass will stay active most of the day this time of year.
Later in the day, particularly when it is overcast, I will switch to jig-n-pig and work it slow in the structure where I believe they are holding.
This pattern will hold until the cold fronts of approaching winter keep pushing the bass out of the coves and into their winter haunts. One thing to remember, is that a front never move s bass very far. Maybe just 25 to 50 feet to a little deeper structure. He may return to the shallow cover after a couple warm days, but a series of cold fronts can keep moving them a few feet each day.
When you try to explain fishing on paper, it all sounds so easy. I guess it is because you are mostly writing about the catching and you tend to forget about the many hours of casting and looking for bass.
Catching little bass is easy, but there is nothing easy about outsmarting that lunker over five pounds. Lunkers are difficult to locate and even more difficult to get to strike. You have to be just a little better than perfect or really lucky to catch a big bass.
Big bass are ambushers most of the time. They locate themselves in some kind of cover or structure and wait for their meal to come to them. Their usual procedure is to dash just afoot or two from the cover and grab their prey. Therefore, the cast that never gets your lure within striking range will never entice a bass to strike -- even if everything else is right.
Casting accuracy is extremely important when fishing shallow water. Close isn^t good enough. You have got to be on the money.When fishing deep water, you have more leeway because you can work the lure into the ambush area. However, you have better have a good idea what the ambush area is like and where it is located or you will wear your arms out without getting a strike.
The patterns described in this article seem to make everything very simple. And it is simple. Largemouth bass do the same thing every year at about the same time of the year,depending on slight variations caused by the weather.
Next to spring bedding time, fall is the most predictable time to fish for bass. As an example, let us say we know that the bass will be on structure in eight feet of water near the deepwater of a stream bed. Think about that for a minute. Just how many places in a reservoir meet that criteria? Obviously, there are many such spots. And its just as obvious that everyone of them will not hold fish all the time.