Ever wonder how a B.A.S.S. pro would fish that little lake down the road where you and your buddies fish for bass? And suppose that same pro knew absolutely nothing about the lake until he drove up to the launch ramp. How would he go about locating and catching bass?
That's the premise for BASSMASTER's "Day on the Lake With A Pro" series. Here, we put the biggest names in competitive bass fishing on a mystery lake, then give them seven hours to unlock its secrets while we log everything they do to catch bass in timeline fashion.
This month it's Charlie Ingram's turn at bat. The veteran Santa Fe, Tenn., pro has qualified for eight Classics and once won three out of four consecutive B.A.S.S. events, a feat he accomplished in 1985. Besides competing on the CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail, Ingram is the host of two television shows, Fishing University and Outdoor University, both on The Outdoor Life Network. Here's how he fared Oct. 9, 2001, when he fished Lake O, a 400-acre Tennessee reservoir.
» 6 a.m. I meet Ingram at a truck stop off the interstate and lead him to Lake O, an obscure reservoir I knew he had never fished before. He's pulling his television cameraman's boat, a Ranger 518 equipped with a 130-horse Honda 4-stroke outboard, Minn Kota trolling motor and Bottom Line electronics.
» 7:36 a.m. After an hour and a half traversing back roads, we arrive at Lake O's launch ramp. "How'd you ever find this place?" Ingram wonders in amazement as he unhooks his boat tie-downs.
» 7:40 a.m. We launch the Ranger onto the steep ramp. Skies are clear and the air temperature is 48 degrees; the water near the ramp is 64 degrees. I ask Ingram what his normal strategy might be during early fall. "As clear as this water appears to be, I'm going to go for a topwater bite first, then target some areas where baitfish concentrations are most likely to be, such as shallow flats, the back ends of creeks and long points."
» 7:45 a.m. Ingram makes a run into a large cove in the upper end of Lake O to fish a shady area on the eastern shore, where a big flat juts out and drops into a 10-foot channel. A thin fog covers the area. He opens his rod box and begins choosing his arsenal of tackle. He uses Fenwick rods, Mitchell SpiderCast reels and SpiderWire Super Mono line.
» 7:50 a.m. He ties on a Berkley Frenzy Walker stickbait in a blue shad color. "In the water, this clear, subtle baitfish-imitating color usually works best," he says. He fishes it dog-walking style on a fiberglass 6-foot medium action rod with 12-pound mono. He's also rigged up a white 1/2-ounce Lunker Lure buzzbait with gold blades on a 6 1/2-foot medium heavy spinnerbait rod with 20-pound mono.
» 7:53 a.m. Ingram makes his first cast across the shallow flat with the stickbait. "This is a good search bait in a clear lake; you can fish it fast and cover a lot of water," he says. On his second cast, a bass pops the lure, but misses it. His boat is sitting in 5 feet of water, and he's throwing at the bank.
» 7:56 a.m. He works the shallow, shaded flat at a moderate speed with the stickbait. He casts to an isolated stickup and lets the lure sit several seconds before beginning the retrieve. "This time of day, most topwater strikes occur as soon as the lure hits the water," he says.
» 8:01 a.m. Ingram continues working the shady flat. He casts the stickbait in mere inches of water right next to the bank, and it disappears in a swirl. He reels in his first bass of the day, a 12-inch keeper that weighs 15 ounces on digital scales. "I'll take it," he grins. "The weatherman is forecasting an east wind today, and that could put a serious hurt on the bass bite." A blue heron takes off from a nearby tree. "That's always a good sign, 'cause they go where the bait is," he remarks.
» 8:05 a.m. Ingram's depthfinders are reading 0, and his trolling motor is kicking up mud. He backs off into the middle of the cove and pauses to tie on another bait. "Here's something you've never seen before," he grins as he shows me a most unusual-looking homemade lure: He has cut the tail off a shad-colored soft jerkbait, leaving only the trimmed-down front section, and has attached a 3-inch streamer fly as an attractor. The jerkbait's 4/0 Mustad worm hook passes through a ring at the head of the fly to hold the streamer in place, and a wire spike attached to the fly sticks into the soft plastic body to help keep the streamer properly aligned. He drops the lure into the clear water to demonstrate its action, which is pretty amazing. "See? You can fish it like a jerkbait or floating worm, but when you stop it, it falls horizontally and the streamer fly breathes like a living thing. There's no hook on the streamer, so you can fish it around cover and it won't hang up. I've been working on this for a couple of months."
» 8:10 a.m. Ingram is casting his prototype lure, which I've dubbed "Charlie's Chicken," on a 6 1/2-foot medium heavy rod with 17-pound mono around isolated brushtops and stumps, retrieving it with gentle twitches. At one point, a school of shad follows the lure back to the boat. A light breeze is blowing out of the northeast. "Let's go find some points with a little deeper water on 'em," he suggests as he cranks up the Honda.
» 8:18 a.m. Ingram runs downlake to a tributary on the eastern shore and begins casting the Chicken around a shaded bank with laydown wood cover.
» 8:19 a.m. A bass grabs the Chicken near a stump. He sets the hook but misses the fish. "I moved it one time, let it sink almost out of sight and the line took off," he says.
8:26 a.m. Still pounding the shaded bank with the Chicken. The water here is about
2 1/2-foot visibility. "I don't see any baitfish up in here, but there's better cover," he allows.
» 8:30 a.m. Progressing farther into the creek arm, Ingram casts the Chicken around tree limbs jutting off the bank into the water. No takers.
» 8:35 a.m. "We're out of here," he says as he cranks the Honda. "I need to find some more points and big flats before that wind cranks up."
» 8:41 a.m. He stops in a short tributary on the western side of the lake. The Tennessee pro casts the Chicken around laydown wood lining a shaded bank.
» 8:44 a.m. While twitching the Chicken around a sunken log, Ingram's line tightens. He swings and misses. "Man, they're just barely taking it." A trio of deer watches us from the back of the cove.
» 8:47 a.m. The wind is blowing harder now. He removes the stickbait and replaces it with a Berkley Frenzy crankbait in a blue shad pattern.
» 8:59 a.m. He idles to the tributary mouth entrance and casts the Chicken to a submerged treetop. A fish pecks the lure as it sinks slowly out of sight, but Ingram fails to hook up. "Small fish," he surmises.
» 9:02 a.m. The wind is blowing 15 mph out of the east as he fan-casts the Frenzy around the creek mouth. No takers.
» 9:08 a.m. "This is gonna be a fun day," Ingram laments as the wind howls out of the east, occasionally gusting to 25 mph. He cranks for a while, but no luck.
» 9:12 a.m. He moves a short distance to the next tributary downlake to escape the chilly wind. The water here has more color to it, and the banks slope off deeper than other places he's fished so far. He casts the Chicken around a brushtop close to shore. Immediately, a big bass swirls on the bait. "Man, I saw that fish; it was a good 5 pounds," he says excitedly. "It never even opened its mouth. I wonder if it saw the boat and got spooked."
» 9:15 a.m. Ingram hooks a nonkeeper bass on the Chicken. The fish rips the jerkbait body off the hook. "I've only got two more bodies with me," he says as he re-rigs.
» 9:17 a.m. A small bass short-strikes the Chicken as he twitches it around a beaver dam.
» 9:24 a.m. Ingram skips the Chicken under some overhanging trees. No takers.
» 9:27 a.m. Moving to the back end of the tributary, he casts the Chicken around some scattered stumps. Some baitfish are dimpling the surface.
9:30 a.m. He picks up a flipping stick loaded with a green pumpkin Lunker Lure Rattle Back Jig and a Slider Frog trailer rigged on 30-pound mono, and begins pitching the lure around laydown wood and stumps in the back of the tributary arm. After 10 minutes of patiently pitching, he surmises, "There really aren't many fish on this wood; I need to fill out a limit, so I'm going to try some offshore fishing. This time of year, bass should be relating strongly to points with the wind blowing on 'em, and there's definitely some wind today." He pauses to rig up some Lunker Lure jigs, pulling all the bright-green strands from their skirts "because I think a natural look is going to be very important in this clear water." He also rigs up a 3/4-ounce Lunker Lure Triple Blade spinnerbait, which has three small willowleaf blades. "This lure puts out more flash than vibration, which is important in clear water. It resembles a school of shad."
» 9:47 a.m. Ingram motors to a main lake point. "I ran across this spot on my way up the lake early this morning; it runs halfway out into the lake and ought to hold plenty of bait and bass this time of year," he says. As the east wind howls, he begins casting the heavy spinnerbait, allowing the wind to blow his boat across the structure. "I first want to see if any bass are holding tight to bottom; later, I may try a lighter spinnerbait and go for suspended fish," he explains. "When there's a real strong wind, you're often better off drifting with it than you are fighting it with your trolling motor and spooking the bass, especially when the bite is as slow as it is today."
» 9:58 a.m. He wind-drifts across the point, following the structure out into the middle of the small lake, then cranks up his big motor and returns to his starting point for a second drift. This time he pulls the 3/4-ounce jig/frog combo along the bottom, but hauls water.
» 10:12 a.m. Ingram digs a small, battered crankbait, brand unknown, out of his box and scrapes the orange paint off the belly with his pocketknife "to make it less conspicuous in this clear water." The veteran pro fan-casts the lure around the point without success.
» 10:21 a.m. The wind is absolutely howling out of the east, sending leaves flying off trees on the surrounding banks. "I'm gonna make a couple more drifts across this point, and if I don't catch anything, I'll go back to the creek arms and fish tight to cover," he says, while motoring across the point and setting up another drift. "This wind has really hurt the bite, but at least I know there are some fish on the shallow pattern. I'm wondering if the bigger bass aren't suspending off these big points." He tries the Triple Blade spinnerbait on his third drift, slow rolling it in the middle of the water column. No takers.
10:36 a.m. "This is the primary piece of structure in the whole lake, yet I'm not seeing any bass or bait on my graph," Ingram says as he pauses to weigh his next move. He opts to try the Frenzy crankbait again, this time drifting in a wider arc across the point. "Maybe they're holding way off the structure," he wonders aloud as he cranks the point in 8 to 15 feet of water. With no feedback from the bass, it's hard to tell.
» 10:48 a.m. The cold east wind has rapidly chilled the water on the main lake — it's 58 degrees on the point. Ingram again tries the spinnerbait, alternately bumping bottom and swimming it in open water. Nothing.
» 11 a.m. "OK, back to Plan A," he announces as he cranks the Honda and heads for another tributary near the lake's upper end, wolfing down a tuna sandwich as he goes. This creek arm is on the eastern shore, which at least puts him out of the brunt of the wind. The water here is clear and 62 degrees. Ingram starts at the mouth, casting the Chicken around shoreline cover. The air temp has warmed to around 60, and some thin cloud cover has begun to form. "I'm gonna fish real slow and hardly move the lure at all; hopefully, I can scratch a limit together."
» 11:10 a.m. Ingram catches a nonkeeper on the Chicken. "I threw it by that log and just let it sink; I never even touched the reel handle," he said.
» 11:15 a.m. A tiny bass follows the Chicken all the way back to the boat. "Go back and wake up your mother!" he orders.
» 11:20 a.m. He casts the Chicken to the bank. He sets the hook and his second keeper of the day comes aboard; the 12-incher weighs 14 ounces. "I worked it past that log and killed it; the fish hit it when it sank out of sight," he says. "There was a much bigger bass swimming alongside it when I was reeling it in."
» 11:21 a.m. Ingram casts to the log again, and another bass hits the Chicken. This one pulls free.
» 11:23 a.m. While continuing down the tributary bank, a good fish grabs the Chicken while it's sinking past a submerged branch. He boats his third keeper, a beautifully marked spotted bass that tips the scales at 2 pounds, 2 ounces. "That was exactly the same deal as the last two fish; he wanted it sinking slowly," Ingram says as he straightens out the streamer fly on the jerkbait's body. "They're definitely around this shoreline wood, but with that east wind knocking the wind out of their sails, they obviously want very little lure action. If you went down the bank jerkin' and twitchin' the lure like you might if conditions were better, you'd never even know these bass were there."
» 11:27 a.m. The wind has shifted out of the southeast and has laid down a bit. A fish pops the Chicken as it's falling, but drops it. "Bluegill bite," he mutters under his breath.
» 11:43 a.m. He casts the Chicken to the bank, works it halfway back to the boat, sets the hook and swings his fourth keeper aboard. The largemouth weighs 3 pounds, 9 ounces. "I never felt anything and barely saw the line move; the fish just sucked it in and swam toward the boat," he says. "The lure was about 3 feet deep when he took it."
» 11:47 a.m. Ingram swings around to rework the 50-yard stretch of bank where he's caught two quality fish.
11:51 a.m. He casts the Chicken around a brushpile in a narrow V-shaped cut off the bank. No takers.
11:56 a.m. He pauses to rig a new body onto his homemade lure. "I've got one left after this one gets chewed up," he says.
» Noon: A bass hits the Chicken as it sinks through the branches of a submerged tree, wraps Ingram's line around a limb and escapes. "I saw that one; it was a good 3-pounder," he says.
» 12:05 p.m. A bass hits the Chicken halfway back to the boat, but pulls off. "Some of these fish are suspended way off the bank," he says as he realigns the lure on the hook.
» 12:24 p.m. The Chicken bite has subsided. He reworks the area where he caught/hung several bass with the Lunker Lure jig/Slider frog combo, making long-distance pitches to shoreline cover. The wind has slowed to under 10 mph, and thin cloud cover has moved in.
» 12:28 p.m. After changing the jig/frog to another rod rigged with 12-pound mono, Ingram makes the longest pitch I've ever seen to a shoreline stump.
» 12:43 p.m. The wind has started back up out of the southeast. He gets a bluegill bite on the jig as it careens off a stump. "Come on, bass, wake up!" he mutters.
» 12:55 p.m. Back to the Chicken, but no takers. "This is a screwy day," Ingram says. "You'd think the bite would pick up a little now that there's some cloud cover."
» 1:01 p.m. He works the Chicken near the stretch of bank where he caught the 3-9. No takers.
» 1:12 p.m. Fishing very slowly now, Ingram hooks a good fish on the Chicken several yards down the bank. He drops to his knees and lip-lands a largemouth weighing 4 pounds, 1 ounce, his fifth keeper. "That's more like it!" he sighs. "I threw the lure almost up on the bank, worked it nearly back to the boat, stopped reeling while I looked to see where I'd throw next, and the fish grabbed it. It was suspended right over the edge of the creek channel."
» 1:20 p.m. A good bass smacks the Chicken as soon at it hits the water, but gets off. Ingram fools around with the lure, realigning the streamer tail and bending the hook point outward slightly in hopes of getting better penetration. "I can see one of the problems is the hook groove in the bottom, which is typical of most soft jerkbaits; in this application, it prevents the streamer fly from staying properly aligned, and I think this may be part of what's causing me to miss fish. If I can get a lure company interested in the design and they get it into production, there won't be any groove in the body."
» 1:30 p.m. Still chunkin' the Chicken around shoreline cover.
» 1:48 p.m. He goes back to refish the 50-yard stretch where he caught three good bass.
1:55 p.m. He announces that his depthfinders have quit working. I check the outboard's power trim and turn the ignition key. The cranking battery is toast. "Glad I'm not far from the ramp," he says.
2:25 p.m. The wind has shifted out of the southwest. Ingram moves to the opposite bank of the tributary and casts the Chicken to the end of a submerged tree. He lets it fall, and the line tightens. He hammers the rod back, but the bass comes unbuttoned. "That was a big fish," he exclaims. "Real big. Bent the dang rod double." The bass ripped off the jerkbait body. "I may need a thinner wire hook with the lure; evidently, when they're taking the lure they're clamping down real tight, and I'm not able to get that heavy hook penetrated. But the hook I'm using is the right weight 'cause the lure falls perfectly. I'm gonna have to do some more research and development on it."
» 2:30 p.m. He makes a few more casts with the Chicken, then puts his trolling motor in high gear and heads for the ramp. He makes it back just before his 2:45 p.m. time limit. We jump-start his dead boat battery and load the Ranger onto its trailer. Ingram's final tally is five bass weighing 11 pounds, 9 ounces.
The day in perspective
15 ounces: blue shad Berkley Frenzy Walker; shallow shaded flat; 8:01 a.m.
14 ounces: Charlie's Chicken (prototype jerkbait/streamer fly combo); shoreline wood in tributary; 11:20 a.m.
2 pounds, 2 ounces: Charlie's Chicken; shoreline wood in tributary; 11:23 a.m.
3 pounds, 9 ounces: Charlie's Chicken; suspended off tributary bank; 11:43 a.m.
4 pounds, 1 ounce: Charlie's Chicken; suspended over creek channel in tributary; 1:12 p.m.
TOTAL: Five bass; 11 pounds, 9 ounces
When and where Charlie Ingram caught his keeper bass
"This was definitely a tough fishing day, and I feel really good having caught what I did," Ingram summed up. "The old saying, 'Wind from the east, fishing's least,' is true; I've seen few times when a hard east wind didn't give bass lockjaw. I'm absolutely convinced that having a realistic lure I could fish very slowly was the key once the wind started blowing. That, and being real patient when working it. Most of my Chicken strikes came when the bait sank horizontally out of sight. The lure must look totally natural to the fish. If I'd have worked it quicker with a lot of twitches and jerks, I know I wouldn't have gotten nearly the hits that I did. There was obviously a decent concentration of bass in the last tributary arm I fished; I caught four of my keepers and had most of my bites there. Fall is normally a real baitfish-intensive time of year; bass move into places where there is plenty of bait to eat to get fattened up for the winter. But I didn't see a lot of bait today; the water in this region has cooled down quickly due to several unseasonably cold nights over the past week or so, and the shad probably haven't gravitated into the creek arms yet. If the Chicken hadn't drawn a response, I would have spent the afternoon fishing a Slider worm on 6-pound line for suspended bass; this is a deadly tactic in cool, clear water."
(NOTE: As this goes to press, Ingram's prototype "Chicken" lure is under development by the Slider Co. of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., 800-762-4701.)