Fast baits for slow bass

Gary Dobyns
Gary Dobyns

"Slow fishing is boring."

"There are always some bass in shallow water, and at least a few of them are aggressive."

"When fishing is really, really tough, power fishing can be the difference between catching bass or not."

"Even in extremely cold weather, I just burn the lure as fast as I can reel it."

These are just a few of the comments from tournament-winning BASS pros Gary Dobyns and Kelly Jordon, both of whom absolutely seem to break all the rules of fishing when conditions get tough. When bites are hard to come by, these two anglers do not change to finesse tactics with light lines and small lures; they go in the opposite direction with larger lures and much faster presentations.

Dobyns and Jordon are not alone in their thinking, either. Other well-known pros, like Rick Clunn, Edwin Evers, Mike Iaconelli, and even finesse expert Gary Klein, are all firm believers in power fishing presentations. Clunn, in fact, has long incorporated speed-reeling as a standard part of his crankbaiting strategy, and certainly none can argue with his success.

Even with these endorsements, if you're still in doubt about how effective this technique can be, consider that both the 2002 and 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Tour events at Lake Seminole were won by power fishing under some of the worst conditions the pros faced each season: spawning bass hit by a huge cold front.

"It's all about covering as much water as possible to find an aggressive bass," explains Dobyns, winner of the 1998 Bassmaster Invitational on Lake Shasta and runner-up in the 2003 U.S. Open at Lake Mead. "It works year-round, in clear or dingy water, and with a lot of different lures.

"It's been my standard way of fishing ever since the early 1980s, when I discovered jerkbaits." Up until that discovery, Dobyns was a jig fisherman who cast and crawled his lures around the rocks in clear, deep water lakes like Oroville, Shasta, Powell and Mead. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find a jig in his boat.

"Power fishing becomes a simple equation of how many casts you can make into potentially productive water," echoes Jordon, winner of the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Tour event at Santee Cooper.

"It is purely a reaction bite, but it can frequently produce big fish. During the 2002 Tour event at Seminole, I brought in 25-14 for second place the first day. I only had six bites that day, burning a lipless crankbait over the grass after a severe cold front."

Jordon admits that it's not easy fishing for six bites per day. "Often it can turn into a battle of willpower because it's hard to convince yourself to keep casting and reeling that hard hour after hour. But believe me, it does work."

Why does it work? Dobyns and Jordon both believe finesse techniques, such as drop shotting and split shotting, bring feeding strikes, and as a result take away the purely instinctive reaction strike. Since bass are not feeding more often than they are feeding, it makes sense to at least try for reaction strikes, which come most often with fast retrieves.

Adds Jordon, "I believe a fast moving lure must trigger a natural predatory instinct in a bass. The lure seems to represent something trying to escape, and the bass simply hits it before it can get away."

Dobyns' favorite power fishing tool is the Lucky Craft Stacey 90 jerkbait, and he likes to use it over the longest main lake points he can find. He begins in deep water and eventually works his way shallow into depths of less than a foot. He moves the lure so fast and violently at times, he calls his fishing style "ripping."

"With the jerkbait, the cadence of your jerks and pauses can be the key to catching bass," explains the California pro, "but when I'm power fishing, I don't really ever stop the lure. I'll reel it down, then start ripping it. The lure never stops moving from the time it hits the water until it reaches the boat.

"Again, the bottom line, even with a jerkbait, is to cover as much water as possible. That's the problem with finesse fishing; you simply can't cover enough water."

With a spinnerbait, Dobyns prefers either a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce model, because the heavier weight makes longer casting easier and his fast retrieve won't cause the lure to roll. Favorite targets include long riprap walls, like those often found around dams. There he makes parallel casts and covers different depths, but never slows down.

When he's fishing a lipless crankbait, especially in warmer water (summer and autumn), Dobyns doesn't hesitate to use the lure in water 100 feet deep. "Depth is not that important if you can find schools of shad, because bass will be underneath them. That's how I was fishing at Mead this summer, ripping a lipless crankbait over the shad and bringing bass up from 30 and 40 feet to hit it.

"This was in the heat of the summer, in extremely clear water, too."

In other places, like the San Joaquin Delta, Dobyns has been known to throw a lipless crankbait for three straight days without ever slowing down. His gamble? That sooner or later he'll put it in front of one of the Delta's famed 10-pounders.

Even such topwater lures as Zara Spooks and buzzbaits can be used with this fast retrieve technique. When he's fishing buzzbaits, Dobyns uses a clacker model for largemouth and a nonclacker for spotted bass. With the Spook, it's a long cast followed by a quick but steady jerking action that literally causes the lure to "run" rather than "walk" across the surface.

Most of the time, Dobyns uses 30-pound Power Pro braided line for this technique, primarily because it gives him better lure action at a higher speed. At the same time, its lack of stretch allows him to rip his lures free whenever he's fishing around vegetation. Naturally, his reel has a fast 6.3:1 ratio.

Jordon's thoughts and experiences of power fishing for sluggish bass mirror those of Dobyns. Not only does he speed-reel spinnerbaits and crankbaits, he also turns flipping into a power fishing technique and jigs into reaction-strike lures simply by the way he rigs and presents them.

"Speed is what generates reaction strikes," Jordon explains, "so in flipping, that means increasing your lure's rate of fall. To do this, you increase the weight, and then you move the lure faster when it reaches the bottom.

"At Lake Okeechobee, for example, where I finished 13th, I was flipping a tube with a 1-ounce weight through the hyacinths, and once the tube hit bottom, I would shake it up and down really fast four or five times, nonstop. Sometimes, I would yank the jig up and bang it into the underside of the hyacinths, too.

"I was making a lot of commotion, and the jig was always moving. When I'm flipping to standing timber or stumps, I let the jig hit the bottom, shake it twice, and pull it up for another flip. Again, I'm covering as much water as I can."

Even in the hot summer, when bass are usually considered to be lethargic, Jordon has proved during his guiding trips on Lake Fork that power fishing can bring strikes when other slower, more deliberate presentations fail.

"Frequently, you can see fish on your electronics when they're stacked up on points," he says, "but you can't buy a strike with a Carolina rig, which is what everyone wants to throw. When I see this taking place, I tie on a big, deep diving crankbait and start reeling it as fast as I can. Most of the time you can't pull it through the fish without getting a strike, even though you just worked a Carolina rig through the very same water.

"Part of the key to this particular situation seems to be making sure the crankbait hits the bottom and really bangs around down there. Of course, this is exactly what we try to do with crankbaits in shallow water, too."

When these summer bass are deeper than the range of his crankbaits, Jordon will use a jig, but again, the presentation is fast. It's a 3/4- or 1-ounce model, and once it's on the bottom, he hops it vigorously to create multiple falls. Like the ricocheting crankbaits, a jig fished this way generally out-fishes a Carolina rig.

Interestingly, during the 2003 Tour stop at Seminole, Jordon used his power fishing presentation with both a lipless crankbait and a jig. Initially, he started fast-flipping the jig, nailing one bass over 6 pounds, another over 5 and a third over 3 pounds. The next day, trying to let his flipping spot rest, he tried his lipless crankbait technique, but at noon, when he was still looking for his first strike, he returned to his flipping spot and caught 12 pounds in just 30 minutes.

"Gary Klein won the Seminole tournament flipping a heavy jig and getting reaction strikes," Jordon points out. "I think the important lesson to realize from that tournament is that even a technique like flipping, which is usually a pretty slow and deliberate presentation, can be totally changed just by how fast your lure moves."

Although he power fishes throughout the year, autumn is probably Jordon's favorite season for the technique. This is when he ties on a big spinnerbait and tries to wear out his reeling hand.

"I'll use either a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce spinnerbait and wake it just below the surface and close to cover," he explains. "If I'm using a 1/2-ounce lure, I'll normally have size 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 willowleaf blades, and if I'm throwing a 3/4-ounce model, I'll have size 2 1/2 and 4 blades. When you reel a spinnerbait really fast, like we're doing, it's easy to overfish it and cause it to roll over. But using a heavier lure and then matching the blades really helps."

Speedy retrieves like this work in both dingy and clear water. Jordon won the 2001 Bassmaster Top 150 on Wheeler Lake power fishing a crankbait in off-colored water. "In dingy water, a wide-wobbling crankbait or a spinnerbait with Colorado blades often works better because the lures push more water," he says. "If you can crash them off stumps or other cover, it's even better. At Wheeler, I was fishing a tributary creek where the stumps were in just 3 to 6 feet of water, and I was hitting them as fast as I could.

"The idea that you may be moving your lure too fast for a bass is totally false, regardless of the conditions. There is no possible way you can reel your lure too fast. If a bass instinctively decides to get it, he can."

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