Every sport has devious competitors who try to get around the rules. Sadly, bass fishing has Phoenix's Ish Monroe, who freely admits to using what he calls a "cheat rig" whenever he can get away with it.
Technically, Monroe hasn't broken any official rules, so his appearance at the 2003 Classic can't be contested. Even so, Monroe claims his cheat rig is so effective at catching heavy, temperamental, postspawn bass that he almost feels guilty using it.
Though you could bring this to the attention of Bassmaster's Tournament Rules Committee, your complaints would fall on deaf ears. There's nothing they can do about it. Your best recourse is to emulate Monroe's cheat rig so you, too, can load up on postspawn bass when other anglers are struggling to get bites.
Monroe has fished his cheat rig for 10 years all over the country without getting caught. These days, his bait of preference is a watermelon red soft plastic flippin' bait from Reaction Innovations, called the Sweet Beaver. He dotes on the smallest 3.5-inch Smallie Beaver, which he calls "barely legal." (The man just has no shame.)
"The Sweet Beaver is a cross between a Zipper Worm and Brush Hog," Monroe says. "It has a tail-pinching action and looks just like a crawdad."
After he rigs the Sweet Beaver Texas style with a 1/0 EWG Gamakatsu hook, Monroe threads an unpainted 1/32-ounce Gambler Florida Rig screw-lock sinker into the head of the bait. The bantamweight sinker lets the Sweet Beaver fall in slow motion, which is crucial to Monroe's cheat rig.
"A big female often suspends and rests immediately after she spawns," Monroe says. "She won't make the effort to grab a bait that sinks quickly past her, but she can't refuse a Sweet Beaver when it practically floats there right under her nose."
Monroe matches his cheat rig with a 7-foot Team Daiwa Tough & Light medium action spinning rod and a Daiwa TDS 200 reel. When he fishes open water, he fills the reel with 8-pound Maxima. If the bass are hanging around brush and other abrasive cover, he opts for 20-pound green PowerPro, a superline that has the diameter of 6-pound-test monofilament. The light sinker dictates thin line.
Monroe pitches the bait to likely targets and lets it slowly sink to the bottom while deadsticking the rod. The bites are so light that he usually doesn't feel them.
"It's almost like bed fishing, but there's no bed," Monroe says.
Where does Monroe cast his cheat rig to tempt weary postspawn females? He calls these overlooked spots "shade pockets."
Many anglers, of course, cast to shady areas, but few bother with the isolated patches from which Monroe plucks bass. Though a small shadow cast by a single bush, small tree, or clump of cattails on an otherwise barren shoreline appears inconsequential to most anglers, it looks like money in the bank to Monroe.
It matters not if the shadow falls on muddy, stained or clear water — or, if the water in the shade is 6 inches or 20 feet deep. In any of these conditions, the shade pocket has high bass potential, especially if it lies near a spawning area.
"Postspawn females are so beat up that they back away from the beds and hover in shade pockets to rest and get away from the males," Monroe says. "If an easy meal comes to them that doesn't look like a threat, they'll eat it."
The cheat rig must not have looked threatening to the bass in California's Clear Lake during a Bassmaster Western Invitational in April 2000. On Day 1 of the event, Monroe sight fished for bedding bass, as did most of his competitors. Though he did weigh in 17 pounds and was well up in the standings, he knew the spawners had been hammered. He decided to switch to his cheat rig and go for bass that weren't being pestered.
Monroe spent Day 2 running and gunning banks, looking for shade pockets where he could pitch his cheat rig. He snatched an 8-pound bass from a shady spot created by a rock wall. A tiny tule patch that shaded a bit of shallow water yielded a 5-pounder. Most of his other fish that day, a total of 23 pounds, 11 ounces, were lying on the shady sides of docks, rather than under the docks. That catch helped Monroe finish the tournament in ninth place.
Docks, of course, are popular targets for bass fishermen, so not all shade pockets lie off the beaten path. Other common shade pockets, for example, include indentations in rock walls, and reed lines. The advantage with more innocuous shade pockets is that they are rarely visited by fishing lures.
The sun's location determines where shade pockets form and how large they will be, which means timing is critical when you find a shady spot that attracts clusters of bass. Monroe found such a spot a few years ago while fishing an open pro-am tournament on Clear Lake.
In a narrow cove lined with boat docks, a lone, large tree would cast a shadow over water 20 feet deep at about 11 am. Prior to the shadow, Monroe could catch a few bass from the docks, but the action was hit-or-miss.
"When that shadow covered the water, all kinds of baitfish would move into it," Monroe says. "And the bass would come out from under the docks and feed on them."
Monroe repeatedly cast his cheat rig into the shadow and let it sink, and bass repeatedly nabbed it when the bait reached 8 to 10 feet. He eventually culled a limit that weighed 18 pounds.
When the sun failed to show on the second day of the tournament, Monroe knew he was in trouble. He returned to the cove, fished where the shade pocket should have been and caught one 2-pound bass.
Which brings us to the major drawback of Monroe's cheat rig — if the sun doesn't shine, he feels cheated.