Ever wonder how a BASS pro would fare on your home lake — that little body of water down the road where you and your buddies fish for bass? That's the premise behind Bassmaster's reality series, "A Day on the Lake." Here, we put the leading competitors on the pro BASS tour on small "mystery" lakes, then give them seven hours to figure out a viable pattern while we log everything they do to locate and catch bass.
This month, Bernie Schultz takes the Bassmaster challenge. The veteran Gainesville, Fla., Elite Series pro has fished the BASS tour for 20 years and has qualified for the Classic seven times. Besides being a respected competitive angler, Schultz is a talented illustrator and lure designer. Here's what happened April 30, 2007, when we put Schultz on Lake L, a 1,000-acre reservoir. Readers who have difficulty catching bass "on the bed" should pay close attention to what follows.
> 5:17 a.m. I meet Schultz at his motel. There's a full moon of epic proportions overhead as we hook up his Ranger Z-20. "This has been a weird spring," Schultz says as we head for the lake. "It got hot early, and then cooled back down for several weeks; now it's hot again. Some bass may have spawned weeks ago, but I'm hoping another wave of fish will move up to spawn on this full moon."
> 6:30 a.m. It's 59 degrees with clear skies when we arrive at Lake L's remote launch ramp. Schultz pulls the cover off his boat and removes several Shimano rods and reels from storage. His rig, colorfully wrapped with Rapala graphics, is equipped with a 225-hp Mercury Pro XS OptiMax outboard, MotorGuide trolling motor and Lowrance electronics.
6:50 a.m. We launch the Ranger. What's Schultz's game plan on a strange lake? "The most important information to know right off is the water temperature and clarity," he says.
"With this full moon, I'm going to visually search sheltered, protected areas of the lake for bedding fish. The weather is mild and stable and there's no wind, so this should give me an opportunity to spot some bedding fish if they're indeed spawning."
> 6:52 a.m. Schultz cranks the Merc and runs 100 yards to a big rockpile protruding from the lake. The water here is 66 degrees and moderately stained. He makes his first casts with a Rapala Skitter Pop topwater popper in the foil shad pattern: "This is an awesome spitting bait! I've caught some real monsters on it."
6:56 a.m. He switches to a Carolina rig with a watermelon Zoom Fluke soft jerkbait rigged on a 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook on the business end. The rig features Tru-Tungsten's 3/4-ounce Carolina Weight and Peter T's Force Bead, a standard swivel and a 2 1/2-foot leader of 12-pound fluorocarbon. We're sitting in 16 feet of water; he's casting into 3.
> 7:00 a.m. Schultz detects a bite on the Fluke and sets the hook, but there's nothing there.
> 7:02 a.m. Another bite on the Fluke; another swing and a miss: "Those might be bluegill."
> 7:06 a.m. Schultz catches his first bass of the day on the Fluke; the keeper weighs 1 pound even: "There may be a bunch of small fish on this rockpile." 7:10 a.m. Another fish pecks the Fluke: "They're so small, they're not even swallowing it!On some lakes you've gotta fish your way through 25 dinks to catch a good one."
> 7:16 a.m. Schultz moves shallower on the rockpile and casts deeper, but can't come up with another bass.
> 7:18 a.m. He moves to a nearby sea wall and drags the Carolina rig in 5 feet of water.
> 7:22 a.m. Schultz spots some baitfish flipping at the surface in an adjacent cove and heads that way with his trolling motor on high, casting the Skitter Pop as he goes.> 7:24 a.m. He picks up a spinning rod rigged with a 5-inch green pumpkin/purple and copper flake Yamamoto Senko sinking worm rigged on a 5/0 EWG hook and casts it around a dock.
7:25 a.m. Schultz casts the Skitter Pop to the dock and a big fish explodes on it, but doesn't hook up: "That fish totally missed it! That's typical of how bedding bass react to a topwater — half the time they're just trying to scare it away rather than eat it."> 7:30 a.m. The pro ties on a pearl shad Rapala DT Fat 3 square-billed crankbait: "This is the prototype of a lure I've been working on with Rapala; it runs about 3 feet deep and bounces off cover like crazy." He roots it around some boat docks, but there are no takers.> 7:31 a.m. Back to the Skitter Pop: "I'm a notorious junk fisherman — I like to rotate through a bunch of different lures until I can get a handle on what's up with the fish." 7:32 a.m. Schultz bags his second keeper, 2 pounds, 1 ounce, off the sea wall on the Skitter Pop.
> 7:35 a.m. Schultz's rod bows as a lunker bass sucks in the Skitter Pop on the sea wall. He leads it around the front of the boat, drops to his knees and lips it; his third keeper of the day weighs 5 pounds, 14 ounces: "I bet this one and the last one I caught were a spawning pair. It hardly even dimpled the water when it struck; it just pulled the plug under. Notice that I've been fishing this bait with a real light touch, not hard pops — bedding fish are spooky, and you can turn them off with too much sound or action."
> 7:45 a.m. He spots a bass wake near the sea wall and backs the boat away from the structure a bit to avoid spooking the fish: "There could be a whole gang of bass spawning in here!"> 7:50 a.m. Schultz moves farther along the sea wall and sees a pair of 3-pounders bolt off their bed. He opts to return to the spot later when the sun is higher and he can see them more clearly.> 7:53 a.m. A bass boils on the popper, but misses it.> 8:00 a.m. Schultz pitches the Senko to the sea wall and catches a 3-pound, 2-ounce bass: "I saw it chase a bluegill off its bed right before I made that cast. During the spawning season, you need to watch the water carefully for any signs of movement that reveal a bass' presence."> 8:06 a.m. A family of geese swims right over the spot he is casting to: "Go play somewhere else!"
> 8:10 a.m. Schultz casts the Senko to a docked ski boat and bags his fifth keeper of the day, 2 pounds, 1 ounce. "Now I can start culling!" he grins. I ask him about the swivel that's positioned several inches above his sinking worm: "It really helps minimize line twist. I use this same setup with a Fluke, Senko and floating worm."> 8:17 a.m. Schultz probes a shallow pocket with the Skitter Pop and Senko.> 8:21 a.m. He spots a 4-pounder on a bed and shakes the Senko in front of it. The pro is wearing amber Costa Del Mar sunglasses, which he claims help him immensely when sight fishing.
> 8:24 a.m. Schultz pauses to Texas rig a 6-inch watermelon Yamamoto lizard with a 1/4-ounce Tru-Tungsten Flippin' Weight and Smart Peg: "I'll use this on and off throughout the day on bedding fish." Why tungsten sinkers on his soft baits? "They're about half the size of lead sinkers of equivalent weight, so they allow a more subtle presentation."
> 8:31 a.m. Schultz casts the Senko to a boat dock and catches a 2-pound, 4-ounce largemouth; his sixth keeper culls the 1-pound bass caught earlier.> 8:37 a.m. We move to the next pocket uplake, where Schultz tries the Skitter Pop. A fish smacks it, but doesn't hook up.> 8:41 a.m. He tries the Senko around a boat dock, first skipping it under the structure, then casting to the outer corners. Nothing.> 8:45 a.m. It's warming up quickly as Schultz makes his way around the pocket, alternating between the Skitter Pop and the Senko.> 8:48 a.m. He casts the Rapala square bill to a point. A bass smacks the lure, but gets off: "That felt like a good fish!"
> 8:51 a.m. "Look at the size of that turtle!" Schultz exclaims, pointing to a massive soft-shell that's risen toward the surface to catch some rays.> 8:57 a.m. "Big fish," Schultz grunts as a lunker bass slams his crankbait. He runs to the back of the boat to lip his seventh keeper, a chunky 5-pound, 1-ounce largemouth; this bass culls one of his 2-pounders: "The lure banged off a stump and she crushed it!" 9:05 a.m. He gets another missed strike on the point with the square bill. 9:07 a.m. Schultz's crankbait dredges up "about 500 yards" of monofilament line from the point. He stashes it in his cooler.> 9:09 a.m. Schultz does a 180 and goes back around the point, this time dragging the Carolina rigged Fluke. Why is he switching lures on the structure now when he's just had three strikes on a crankbait? "I'm trying not to bypass any fish that may not be very aggressive."
> 9:15 a.m. Having gone strikeless with the Fluke, Schultz resumes cranking the square bill on the point.
> 9:20 a.m. Schultz has spotted a shallow ditch running across the point on his graph. He follows it into a nearby cove while chunking the Skitter Pop.
> 9:25 a.m. He pauses to tie on a Rapala X-Rap suspending jerkbait, another lure he helped the manufacturer develop. The water here is 73 degrees: "A suspending jerkbait isn't just for prespawn; it'll work in warmer water, as well."
> 9:31 a.m. Schultz spots a 3-pounder on a bed near the bank. He pitches the Texas rigged lizard onto the nest and shakes it. The bass swims off, circles around and eyes the lizard.
> 9:42 a.m. Schultz has cast the lizard to the same bedding bass repeatedly for more than 10 minutes. I ask him why he doesn't try another lure: "My experience has been that if you change lures too quickly on a bedding fish, you can confuse it instead of provoking it to strike. I usually do better by staying with one lure at a time, then making a change only after I've determined that the fish isn't responding to that particular bait."
> 9:45 a.m. The pro finally entices the spawning bass to pick up the lizard; keeper number eight weighs 3 pounds, 13 ounces and culls his other 2-1: "Most weekend anglers would have left that fish when it didn't bite immediately, but I could tell right away from its body language that it would strike if I just kept after it awhile.
Learning to read bedding fish only comes through hundreds of hours of fishing for them, and it's one of the challenging and exciting aspects of our sport."
> 9:48 a.m. Schultz stomps on the trolling motor and moves along the bank at a faster clip: "I'm gonna try to spot some bigger fish."
> 9:59 a.m. He whacks a 4-3 largemouth from between two boat docks on the Senko:
"That's the easiest bass I've caught all day — it hit the lure on the way down." His ninth keeper culls the 2-4 taken earlier.
> 10:08 a.m. Schultz hasn't cranked his outboard since launching, yet he's having a dynamite day on Lake L. As he runs the square bill around a shallow pocket, I ask for his take on the day so far: "This is amazing! The fish are doing exactly what I'd hoped they would. The weather's stable, the bass are responsive and I'm gonna keep trying to upgrade my stringer with some bigger fish."
> 10:18 a.m. A 1-pounder plasters the square bill near a stickup; his 10th keeper is no help to his total weight.
> 10:20 a.m. With his five biggest bass so far weighing over 22 pounds, Schultz opts to go exploring. He runs uplake to a deep point, where he fancasts a green back X-Rap on the structure.
> 10:29 a.m. Schultz ties on an emerald shad Rapala DT6 diving crankbait on the point.
> 10:42 a.m. He moves to the next point uplake and tries the X-Rap. No takers.
> 10:49 a.m. Schultz hangs the jerkbait in a submerged tree limb and retrieves it.
> 11:04 a.m. He tries the lizard on the point, crawling it slowly across the bottom.
> 11:07 a.m. Schultz switches to the Carolina rigged Fluke on the point: "There ought to be some postspawn fish on this thing!"
> 11:10 a.m. A small bass follows the Fluke to the surface.
> 11:16 a.m. He moves around the point to a sloping channel bank, where he tries the Texas rigged lizard. A bass pecks the lure, and then drops it.
> 11:21 a.m. After casting the lizard repeatedly to the same spot, Schultz gives up on the bass: "It's not gonna bite, at least not in my lifetime!"
> 11:25 a.m. He tries the square bill in a narrow cove. The air temp is now in the mid-80s and it's uncomfortably humid. "I have seen hardly any beds uplake," Schultz allows.
"They've probably already spawned up here. Normally the lower end, where we started out, is the last place they'll spawn." So will we be heading back downlake? "I'll spend my last hour back where we started, but first I want to see if there are any shallow humps or long points up in this part of the lake. Both of those structures will hold postspawn fish."
> 11:34 a.m. Schultz motors farther uplake and comes to a long, slow-tapering point. The wind is making a good chop on the water here; he opts to try a silver 1/2-ounce Hildebrandt Tin Roller double willow spinnerbait on the structure.
> 11:44 a.m. After probing the long point with the spinnerbait, square-billed crankbait and Carolina rigged Fluke without a bite, Schultz runs back downlake to a cove with several boat docks.
> 11:50 a.m. With two hours remaining, Schultz burns the spinnerbait around a dock "to see if a suspending fish will mistake it for a shad."
> 12:07 p.m. Schultz spots a 4-pounder on its bed and casts the lizard to it: "This fish is so long and skinny; it must be a male. If it is, the female should be a whopper!"
> 12:17 p.m. He can't interest the bass in his offering, so he presses deeper into the cove, casting the spinnerbait.
> 12:22 p.m. "I haven't seen any bass bedding in the backs of these coves, just around the entrances," Schultz notes as he stows his trolling motor. "Let's run straight across the lake to that cove over there and check it out."
> 12:27 p.m. In the next cove, Schultz instantly spots a nice bass cruising near shore in a foot of water: "It's 4 to 5 pounds easy!" He casts the lizard ahead of the fish; it circles back around for a look, but doesn't strike.
> 12:35 p.m. The bass is skittish and fails to commit to Schultz's lizard after repeated casts, so the pro leaves it to look for other spawners.
> 12:41 p.m. Schultz spots another good bass. He pitches the lizard onto its bed and shakes it gently: "The trick with shaking is to make the lizard's legs and tail wiggle while its head and the pegged sinker remain stationary on the bottom." But the fish just isn't convinced yet.
> 12:49 p.m. Still gunning for the same bass, Schultz finally rears back and sets the hook. His lizard flies out of the water over his shoulder: "Rats, I thought it had eaten the lure, but it just swam over my line!"
> 12:55 p.m. With less than one hour remaining, Schultz exits the cove and follows the shoreline around to a steep clay bank, where he cranks the square bill.
> 1:07 p.m. He spots a good bass cruising the bank; he tries for it with the Senko but can't draw a response.
> 1:11 p.m. Schultz runs back to the other side of the lake and drags the Fluke across a long point at the entrance to a cove.
> 1:20 p.m. He tries the Senko along a sea wall.
> 1:25 p.m. Schultz snares his 11th keeper, a 4-7 largemouth, off a jet ski cradle: "That was so cool! The fish rolled right over the top of that cradle and ate it!" This bass culls the 3-2 caught earlier.
> 1:43 p.m. He makes a quick run to the cove where he caught his 5-14. Just as he pulls in shallower, he spooks a 6-pounder and tries to attract its attention with a Senko without success.
> 1:50 p.m. Back to the launch ramp. Schultz has had an outstanding day on Lake L; his five biggest bass weigh an impressive 23 pounds, 6 ounces.
THE DAY IN PERSPECTIVE
"My timing turned out to be perfect!" Schultz told Bassmaster. "I scheduled this outing around the full moon, and the warm, stable weather and water temperature in the 70s had a lot of bass spawning up shallow where I could sight fish them. The majority of my fish were caught in sheltered coves on the lower end of the lake, which is where the last wave of spawning usually takes place. Once I moved uplake, my success dropped off dramatically — the uplake fish were probably in a deeper postspawn mode, and required more time to locate than I had to spend on them. I caught my five biggest bass on four totally different styles of lures, which shows you that bedding fish will hit a variety of baits. If I were to fish here tomorrow, I'd stay on the lower end, hit those sheltered pockets early with a topwater plug and sight fish once the sun got high."
Where And When Bernie Schultz Caught His Five Biggest Bass
5 pounds, 14 ounces; spawning bed near sea wall; silver foil Rapala Skitter Pop topwater popper; 7:35 a.m.
5 pounds, 1 ounce; point with scattered stumps; prototype pearl shad Rapala DT Fat 3 square-billed crankbait; 8:57 a.m.
3 pounds, 13 ounces; bed in shallow ditch; Texas rigged watermelon Yamamoto lizard; 9:45 a.m.
4 pounds, 3 ounces; bed near boat dock; green pumpkin/purple and copper flake Yamamoto Senko; 9:59 a.m.
4 pounds, 7 ounces; jet ski cradle; same lure as No. 4; 1:25 p.m.
TOTAL: 23 POUNDS, 6 OUNCES