BASS tournaments are held on sprawling lakes over several days of competition. But did you ever wonder how a top pro would fare on your home lake — that little body of water down the road where you and your buddies fish for bass? Welcome to Bassmaster's reality series. Here, we put the superstars of competitive bass fishing on small lakes they've never seen before, then give them seven hours to figure out a viable pattern, logging everything they do to find and catch bass.
This month Dave Wolak takes the Bassmaster challenge. The 30-year-old Warrior Run, Pa., pro has qualified for two Classics, was the 2005 Toyota Rookie of the Year and won the 2006 Bassmaster American event at Lake Wylie, S.C. Here's what happened on Sept. 8, 2006, when Wolak took on Lake Y, a 700-acre reservoir.
› 6:48 a.m. We arrive at Lake Y's remote launch ramp. It's foggy with an air temp of 60 degrees; a high in the mid-80s is forecast for later in the day. Wolak is towing a Toyota-wrapped Ranger Z21 equipped with a 250-hp Yamaha outboard, Minn Kota trolling motor and Lowrance electronics. He uses custom rods wrapped on G.Loomis blanks.
› 7:00 a.m. Wolak launches his boat. The water in Lake Y is stained and 78 degrees. "I'm gonna take a quick tour of the lake," he says as he dons his life jacket.
› 7:11 a.m. We've run to the lower end of the lake. "Did you see all those balls of shad up on top?" he asks. "That's a good sign — maybe there'll be some schooling activity."
› 7:12 a.m. Wolak makes his first cast in a shallow cove with a homemade green shad 3/8-ounce buzzbait.
› 7:13 a.m. Wolak bags his first bass of the day, 1 pound, 12 ounces, off a laydown log in the back of the cove: "Who stocked this lake when I wasn't looking?" he jokes.
› 7:15 a.m. The Pennsylvania pro starts working down the dam with the buzzbait.
› 7:20 a.m. He tries a 5-ounce green pumpkin Zoom finesse worm on a homemade 1/8-ounce jighead around a culvert on the levee: "This is the same lure I won the Lake Wylie tournament on." But there are no takers here.
› 7:25 a.m. Back to the buzzbait. A bass boils on the lure; Wolak swings and misses.
› 7:26 a.m. He immediately pitches a homemade white surface popper at the boil: "I've used this lure for years; it spits as well as pops, and I've caught a ton of bass on it."
› 7:27 a.m. Wolak catches a tiny bass on the buzzbait.
› 7:28 a.m. On his next cast, another undersized bass smacks the buzzer: "It's common to find a bunch of small bass spread out on rocks along a dam early in the morning. The bigger fish will usually be bunched up in a sweet spot where the rocks are dished out deeper or stacked up higher."
› 7:34 a.m. Wolak nears the end of the levee. He's retrieving the buzzer with intermittent twitches of the rod tip so it jerks and sputters erratically. Another bass rolls on the buzzer, but doesn't hook up. "Somethin' big's gonna eat this thing any minute!" he predicts.
› 7:35 a.m. He tries the homemade popper on a rock point at the end of the levee.
› 7:38 a.m. Wolak puts his trolling motor on high and moves to a nearby bank. I ask him about his fishing experiences while growing up: "As a kid, I fished for everything — bass, trout, salmon, walleye, musky, stripers, you name it. I think it's a mistake to focus too narrowly on any one species when you're just starting out as an angler — the multispecies approach is the way to go. It's amazing how I've eventually folded knowledge I gained from, say, fly fishing for brown trout, into my bass fishing."
› 7:45 a.m. "What happened to all that bait we saw when we were running downlake?" Wolak wonders as he retrieves the buzzer. "The lake looks dead now!"
› 7:46 a.m. He pitches a black and blue 3/8-ounce Fin-tech Title Shot jig with a matching Venom Dream Craw trailer at a submerged tree. A light breeze blows out of the southeast, peeling away the fog.
› 7:51 a.m. He flips the jig into a submerged tree.
› 7:53 a.m. Wolak retrieves the buzzbait past the tree; a bass sucks it in and instantly spits it out: "I saw that fish; it was a 2-pounder."
› 7:55 a.m. He tries the finesse worm around the tree.
› 7:56 a.m. Back to the buzzer. A bass pulls it under but doesn't hook up. Wolak removes the trailer hook from the bait and turns it upside down: "Maybe that'll stick those short strikers!"
› 7:58 a.m. We move to the back of a cove, where Wolak tries the popper and buzzbait without success.
› 8:14 a.m. He catches a short fish on the popper. "There oughta be one or two big bass back in here," he says. "I'm sure not seeing any bait, though."
› 8:17 a.m. A 2-pounder follows the buzzbait to the boat, but doesn't strike it.
› 8:27 a.m. Wolak sheds his jacket as the sun rises to the tops of the trees. He cranks the Yamaha and moves to the next tributary uplake: "Generally I prefer banks with a gradual slope and subtle transitions on them this time of year. The better-quality fish will stick to those seemingly insignificant areas where there's a little high spot or depression."
› 8:40 a.m. Wolak has slowed his pace considerably, pitching a jig to scattered cover along a tributary bank.
› 8:43 a.m. A dink taps the jig in a treetop.
› 8:46 a.m. He catches an undersized bass on the buzzbait: "Shoreline rat!"
› 8:58 a.m. Wolak pitches the finesse worm around a stump 10 feet off the bank.
› 9:04 a.m. Wolak idles 50 yards off a main lake point and rigs up a green pumpkin Zoom Baby Brush Hog on a Carolina rig. The rig features a 2-foot leader of 15-pound fluorocarbon.
› 9:09 a.m. He approaches the point with his trolling motor, fancasting the buzzbait as he goes.
› 9:10 a.m. A good bass slurps in the buzzer off the point; he sets the hook, reels the fish to the boat, and it comes unbuttoned as he goes to swing it aboard. "That was the best bite I've had all day, and there were two others just like it swimming with it while I was fighting it!"
› 9:22 a.m. Wolak follows the point around to where it transitions into a tributary channel bank. He presses into the creek, chunking the buzzbait as he goes.
› 9:28 a.m. He moves out of the cove and tries the Carolina rig on a secondary point.
› 9:30 a.m. Back to the buzzbait. A small bass rolls on it as it sputters past a stump.
› 9:32 a.m. Another small bass attacks the buzzer, but doesn't hook up.
› 9:40 a.m. The wind has picked up considerably. Wolak tries the jig on a big submerged stump: "If this were March, there'd be a 10-pounder on that stump!"
› 9:42 a.m. The popper fails to produce a strike along the bank.
› 9:48 a.m. "I'm hurtin' down on this end of the lake — let's try the upper end," Wolak suggests as he stows the trolling motor.
› 9:55 a.m. Wolak runs to the extreme upper end of Lake Y; here the water is shallow, stumpy and a bit murkier. He ties on a Bass Pro Shops Lucky Craft Rick Clunn 1.5 shallow running crankbait.
› 10:02 a.m. The crankbait deflects off a stump and a bass loads on. Wolak's second keeper of the day weighs 1 pound, 1 ounce: "That stump was at the end of a little point coming off the bank. I saw the fish hit it."
› 10:05 a.m. "This lake looks like it's down about a foot from what it normally is," Wolak observes as he continues cranking the 1.5. "I'd sure like to fish here when it is up a foot or two and all this shallow wood is submerged!"
› 10:07 a.m. The crankbait spooks a big carp off a sunken log.
› 10:09 a.m. He flips the jig into a treetop.
› 10:15 a.m. Back to the crankbait, still poundin' wood.
› 10:19 a.m. "I can't believe I'm not getting more hits up here — it looks awesome!" Wolak exclaims. He casts the buzzbait to a fallen tree and hauls water.
› 10:30 a.m. He catches a big bluegill on the crankbait.
› 10:36 a.m. He crosses over to the opposite bank and cranks the 1.5.
› 10:40 a.m. Wolak catches his third keeper, 1 pound even, on the crankbait: "Exact same scenario as the other two keepers; it was on a piece of wood that was jutting farther off the bank than the cover around it. You really need to keep your eyes peeled for those subtle differences in a lake like this that has so much seemingly identical cover."
› 11:00 a.m. Wolak has cranked the entire stretch of bank, but hasn't come up with another bass.
› 11:08 a.m. He bags an 11-inch largemouth on the 1.5.
› 11:12 a.m. A school of bass chases baitfish to the surface two casts from the boat. Wolak ties on a 1/4-ounce chrome and black Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap and burns it through the shallows.
› 11:20 a.m. Back to combing the shoreline with the 1.5.
› 11:22 a.m. He retrieves the buzzbait past a submerged stumprow: "C'mon, big fish, eat it!" The air temp has risen to 80 degrees.
› 11:28 a.m. Wolak's fourth keeper, 1 pound, 4 ounces, smacks the buzzbait. "He was in 6 inches of water!"
› 11:34 a.m. Wolak has run out of water; he turns the boat around and fancasts the buzzer to scattered wood cover.
more water under 'em than most of the other cover I've been fishing."
› 12:10 p.m. A bass chases baitfish to the surface ahead of the boat as he pitches the jig down the bank.
› 12:15 p.m. Wolak catches his sixth keeper on the crankbait; the 1-pound bass is no help to his weight total.
› 12:23 p.m. Wolak moves to the next tributary downlake and tries the jig around some shallow wood cover. Cloud cover is beginning to form and the wind has died.
› 12:36 p.m. A 2-pounder takes the buzzbait under. No hookup.
› 12:40 p.m. Wolak shakes the jig through a submerged brushpile.
› 12:53 p.m. Wolak reverses the buzzbait's trailer hook so it's riding up again instead of down.
› 12:57 p.m. "I need the big bite!" Wolak admits as he flips the jig into a sunken tree. Nothing.
› 12:59 p.m. He ties on a vintage blue and chartreuse Poe's 400 deep diving crankbait: "I'm gonna spend a few minutes cranking the point leading into this creek arm.
"›1:10 p.m. "The Ole Grump is sittin' down there just waitin' to eat this crankbait!" Wolak says as he dredges the point with the Poe's.
› 1:19 p.m. "So much for deep structure fishing!" Wolak announces, stashing his crankbait rod. He roars to the back of the tributary arm.
› 1:23 p.m. An immature bass attacks the buzzbait.
› 1:37 p.m. Wolak catches his seventh keeper, 1 pound, 2 ounces, off a sunken log in the back of the creek on the RC 1.5; it culls the 1-pounder he caught earlier.
› 1:38 p.m. He bags his eighth keeper, 1 pound, 1 ounce, on the 1.5; it's no help to his weight total. "I'm on fire now!" he laughs.
› 1:46 p.m. He catches his ninth keeper, 1 pound, on the RC; again, no help: "There must be a million bass that size in this lake!"
› 1:52 p.m. He zips to a nearby steep channel bank and soaks the jig around some deeper wood cover, but can't shake a fish loose.
› 2:00 p.m. Back to the ramp. Wolak ends his day on Lake Y with nine keeper bass, the five biggest of which weigh 6 pounds, 5 ounces.
THE DAY IN PERSPECTIVE
"Not knowing the lake, I'm convinced I made the right decision by staying shallow most of the day," Wolak told Bassmaster. "Fishing offshore structure is a good strategy this time of year if you know where the deep stuff is. The bite definitely picked up in the afternoon, which isn't uncommon this time of year › often the baitfish get more active and the bass move shallower as the sun warms the water. If I were to fish here tomorrow, I'd concentrate on the extreme back ends of the creek arms and hope I'd catch some of the bigger fish we saw cruising around today."
Where And When Dave Wolak Caught His Five Biggest Keepers
1 pound, 12 ounces; laydown log in shallow cove; 3/8-ounce green shad homemade buzzbait; 7:13 a.m.
1 pound, 1 ounce; shallow isolated stump; copper perch Bass Pro Shops Lucky Craft Rick Clunn 1.5 crankbait; 10:02 a.m.1 pound, 4 ounces; shallow wood cover; same lure as No. 1; 11:28 a.m.
1 pound, 2 ounces; channel bank beneath overhanging bush; 3/8-ounce black and blue Fin-tech Title Shot jig with matching Venom Dream Craw trailer; 12:06 p.m.
1 pound, 2 ounces; shallow wood cover; same lure as No. 2; 1:37 p.m.
TOTAL: 6 POUNDS, 5 OUNCES