One for the birds

Stephen Headrick

About the author

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick is better known to the bass fishing world as the Smallmouth Guru. He lives in Celina, Tenn., and is the owner of Punisher Lures.

If you've done much bass fishing, you've heard the old saying about following the birds to find the bass. Well, like most old sayings, it's partly true. But this one is also partly false, and following it can lead you to some long, fishless days if you're not careful.

In my neck o' the woods, the only kinds of birds we really have to be concerned with are loons and seagulls. Yes, we have herons, but they're wading birds, and there's almost always something for them to eat in the shallows. Besides, they're targeting really small stuff that smallmouths — usually holding in deep water — aren't feeding on.

The problem with gulls is that they lie. I know what you're thinking: How can a bird that can't even talk, lie to me? Well, they do it by misleading you.

When you see a flock of seagulls (the birds, not the '80s band with the bad hair) diving on shad or other baitfish, that's the real deal. You can rely on that. The problem is that the same flock will respond just the same way to a pack of potato chips or half a sandwich. You just can't trust them.

My friend Ken Duke has a saying: "If gulls are marking fish, then the best fishing spot in the state is a Wal-Mart parking lot." Check it out sometime. I always see them in Wal-Mart parking lots, too.

But loons are a different story. You can trust a loon. They don't lie. I guess it's because they feed exclusively on fish or that they're a diving bird, rather than one that will just scavenge on the surface. Maybe it's because they always seem to be feeding, rather than just lounging around like gulls often do.

Whatever the reason, if you see a loon on the water, he's feeding and it's likely on the same small fish that the bass are targeting. Never in all my years have I motored through an area where I found a loon without also finding schools of bait... and bass.

The only problem with loons is that you can't always find them. Here at Dale Hollow, they show up around November and stay through the winter. Then they fly back north again and we're on our own — no trustworthy birds.

A buddy of mine, Charlie Bledsoe of Cincinnati, Ohio, is on a really strong loon pattern right now. He's finding loons on the water and then pinpointing baitfish in the area with his electronics. When he finds them, he gets over the top of them and fishes a drop shot near the bottom.

Charlie's drop shot rig looks like an injured or dying shad, and it's really working, too. In the past week he's caught 6-13 and 7-3 smallmouths on it. He's doing so well, in fact, that I may have to get out on the water with him.

If I do, I'll be sure to give you all the details.

Until next time, if you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. Please e-mail me atStephen@thesmallmouthguru.com.

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