The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch takes the nation's best bass anglers to big bodies of water — some so huge that pros may scout the lake from an airplane, or run 100 miles one way before dropping their trolling motors.
But did you ever wonder how a BASS pro would fare on your home lake, that obscure body of water down the road where you and your buddies fish for bass? And suppose that pro knew absolutely nothing about the lake until he arrived at the launch ramp … how would he go about finding and catching bass?
That's the premise behind Bassmaster's "Day On The Lake With A Pro" series. Here, we turn the cream of the competitive bass fishing crop loose on a small mystery lake and give each pro seven hours to unlock its secrets while we log everything they do to catch bass in timeline fashion.
This month, Paul Elias accepts our challenge. The veteran Pachuta, Miss., pro has qualified for 13 Classics, and won the 1982 Classic on the Alabama River. Elias helped popularize cranking among the nation's bass anglers two decades ago and remains one of the method's superstars. Here's what happened May 29, 2002, when we put Elias on Lake S, an 800-acre reservoir somewhere in the mid-South. If you're having trouble connecting with fish during the difficult postspawn period, Elias' pointers should prove invaluable.
» 6:12 a.m. I meet Elias at his motel. It's 67 degrees and cloudy with scattered thunderstorms forecast; the area was buffeted by storms during the night. His cherry-red Triton Tr-21 is rigged with a Mercury OptiMax 225 outboard, MotorGuide Tour Edition trolling motor and Bottom Line and Lowrance electronics.
» 6:28 a.m. We arrive at the launch ramp at Lake S. Elias pulls a dozen rigged Quantum rods and reels from storage and fans them across the deck. "I just returned from a light line tournament at Lake Ouachita (Ark.) and had to completely reorganize my tackle before driving here last night," he says. "At the tournament, I caught the new Arkansas state record largemouth for 4-pound line; it weighed 4 pounds, 1 ounce." For this outing, his reels are spooled with 10- and 14-pound Trilene XT.
» 6:37 a.m. Elias launches his boat, cranks the Merc and checks the lake's surface temperature: 73 degrees. "The bass should be postspawn, but this has been a cool spring, and there may still be some bedding fish. I'll start with topwater, then later in the day, hopefully catch 'em with crankbaits."
» 6:42 a.m. Elias runs to the dam and begins flinging a white 3/8-ounce Lunker Lure buzzbait on a 6 ½-foot heavy action rod and fast retrieve reel around riprap lining the structure. There's a light breeze blowing out of the east, and the water is clear. "There's no reason for the fish to be deep in mid-70 degree water," he notes.
» 6:50 a.m. A small bass swirls on the buzzbait. "Come back when you've grown up," Elias suggests.
» 6:51 a.m. He changes to a watermelon Mann's Dragon soft jerkbait rigged on a Daiichi Trailer Hitch hook. He fishes it with a moderate speed jerk/pause/jerk retrieve.
» 6:55 a.m. A bass hits the jerkbait; Elias swings and misses: "Small fish."
» 6:56 a.m. Another bass attacks the jerkbait; this one bites the tail off. He digs through a tacklebox for a replacement.
» 7 a.m. Behind us, a big bass chases a bluegill to the surface. Elias spins around and casts the jerkbait at the boil, but can't coax the fish to strike.
» 7:02 a.m. Elias moves off the dam and cranks a 1/4-ounce Mann's 15+ in the citrus shad pattern. "There's a shelf that runs parallel to the dam; we're sitting in 21 feet, and I'm casting into 5." Unlike most pros, Elias uses an ultraslow (4.1:1) reel for deep diving crankbaits: "A slow speed reel is much less fatiguing to crank all day long, and helps the lure attain its maximum depth." He's using a 7-foot medium action rod.
» 7:07 a.m. Still crankin' the shelf by the dam. I ask Elias about his rather unorthodox cranking style: He holds the rod at hip level, with the tip pointed straight at the lure. "Pointing the rod tip directly at the bait lets me feel everything the lure is doing. If it bumps cover, I can slow down or stop reeling altogether so the bait rises, which helps keep it from getting hung up."
» 7:12 a.m. Elias begins cranking near a wood retaining wall fronting a small residential development on the lake's eastern shore. The boat is in 15 feet of water, and he's casting to 6.
» 7:15 a.m. He hangs the 15+ in a ball of fishing line at the mouth of a shallow pocket and uses scissors to clear the hooks.
» 7:18 a.m. Following the 15-foot contour, Elias cranks the retaining wall. "Where are you, fish?" he wonders aloud.
» 7:22 a.m. Spotting two buoys delineating a submerged hump 50 yards offshore, he idles closer, then shuts off his outboard, noting, "I never idle over a place I'm going to fish if its shallower than 15 feet." He adds, "Because they have both deep and shallow water, humps are ideal transitional places for bass, and they'll spawn on 'em if they're shallow enough on top."
» 7:29 a.m. Elias casts the 15+ into 5 feet of water and works it back to 12.
» 7:31 a.m. He switches to a 1/2-ounce Mann's 20+ crankbait, also citrus shad.
» 7:45 a.m. Elias has worked halfway around the hump without a strike. "It's as bare as a baby's backside — I haven't touched a piece of wood yet. It may be too soon for 'em to be on this type structure; 84 degree water is perfect for fishing humps and ledges."
» 7:51 a.m. After cranking the 20+ two-thirds of the way around the hump, Elias switches to a Mann's Dragon finesse worm, watermelon, rigged on a 1/8-ounce jighead. He fishes it on a 6 ½-foot medium heavy spinning rod with 6-pound line. "In this clear water, those crankbaits may look like Greyhound buses to bass, so I'm gonna downsize and see what happens." He retrieves the straight-tail worm with short hops across the bottom, but hauls water.
» 7:59 a.m. Elias changes to a soft plastic Mann's Mosquito Hawk, also watermelon, rigged Carolina style. He uses a 3/4-ounce Water Gremlin teardrop-shaped sinker with red beads at either end, and a 3-foot leader. "This sinker is heavier at the bottom, so it rolls around and makes lots of noise. Placing a bead at either end helps keep it from getting wedged between rocks."
» 8:04 a.m. He backs the Triton off into 18 feet of water and flings the Carolina rig to the top of the hump. "I'm feelin' all kinds of stuff down there now," he says as he drags the Mosquito Hawk across the structure.
» 8:10 a.m. "Let's go check out some points." Elias fires up the Merc and eyeballs his console-mounted Lowrance 1240A flasher while running uplake: "A flasher, unlike an LCR, instantly shows what's beneath you."
» 8:15 a.m. Elias pulls up to a rounded point on the eastern side of the lake and cranks the 15+. I ask him what improvements he's seen in crankbaits in recent years: "When I first started crankin', you were lucky to find a bait that ran 12 feet deep or one that didn't need constant adjustment to run straight. Now there's a full spectrum of lures available to fish everywhere from 30 feet to 6 inches. Most run true right out of the package and stay in tune. Today, there are smaller baits that run deeper — a great asset when fishing highly pressured lakes. They have improved noise chambers and better quality hooks."
» 8:26 a.m. The pro hops to a clay point 200 yards uplake; a 30-foot channel runs fairly close to its tip. He drags the Mosquito Hawk completely around the point, then turns back and cranks the 15+ down the structure. "Man, look at the bait!" he exclaims, pointing to his graph.
» 8:39 a.m. Having saturated the point, Elias begins quarter-casting the 20+ along an adjacent clay bank.
» 8:53 a.m. After patiently cranking the long stretch of bank, Elias says, "It's hard to know what to do with absolutely no feedback from the fish. But I'm not discouraged, because in postspawn, the bite often picks up as the day progresses."
» 8:55 a.m. Elias runs the 20+ down the length of a big tree extending from shore into the lake. "He shoulda been there," he insists.
» 9 a.m. He continues up the lake's eastern shore, now dragging the Carolina rigged Mosquito Hawk. There's some scattered, submerged cover here in the form of logs and brush. He eases the lure through a crappie bush in 12 feet of water: "Pretty gnarly down there."
» 9:09 a.m. Elias does a 180 and cranks the 20+ through the bush, "trying for a reaction strike." No luck.
» 9:12 a.m. He momentarily hangs up the crankbait, lets his line go slack, and it floats free. The light breeze has shifted out of the south, and the clouds are dissipating.
» 9:14 a.m. Elias tries the finesse worm around the submerged brush. He lets it sink, shakes the rod tip, then hops the lure. We're a cast away from the bank, sitting in 17 feet of water.
» 9:22 a.m. The bow graph displays a big fish suspending off a brushpile. He moves the boat out from the bank, then casts the worm to the cover. Nothing.
» 9:30 a.m. Elias turns the MotorGuide on high and zips to the next point uplake. He hangs the 20+ on a stump, moves behind the cover, and it pops free.
» 9:41 a.m. He cranks all the way around the point to the adjacent bank uplake, without a strike.
» 9:45 a.m. Shifting gears, Elias picks up the rod rigged with the soft jerkbait and casts it to a laydown log near the bank. Immediately, a small bass nails it, but spits out the lure. "Maybe they're shallower than I thought."
» 9:55 a.m. Another squealer bass short-strikes the jerkbait. "I'm probably going about this backward; maybe I should have fished shallow this morning when we had that thick cloud cover."
» 9:58 a.m. Elias pitches a 3/8-ounce black-and-brown Mann's jig with a green plastic frog trailer at a stump in 2 feet of water. As he swims it past the cover, a big bass swims out and snatches the lure. He sets the hook, but the fish shakes free. "Did you see that? It was a 5-pounder!" he exclaims.
» 10 a.m. He casts the jerkbait at the stump, but the fish doesn't reappear. "I'm gonna target this shallow wood awhile," he says.
» 10:04 a.m. Elias is moving rapidly from one visible piece of wood to the next, pitching the jig. A giant bluegill swims off one stump and pecks at the lure, but he can't raise another bass.
» 10:11 a.m. Elias idles across the mouth of a tributary to examine a long point jutting from the opposite bank. The shallow point runs halfway across the lake before dropping into 20 feet of water. "Let's see if some fish have ganged up out here," he suggests, fan casting the 20+. We're sitting in 12 feet of water.
» 10:15 a.m. Elias hangs up the 20+ on a stump, then moves onto the point to retrieve it. "Man, it's shallow way out here in the middle!" he exclaims.
» 10:22 a.m. A bass nails his crankbait as it roots bottom. The fish, a 4-pounder, jumps and throws the lure.
» 10:23 a.m. Another bass, this one around
2 pounds, grabs the lure, jumps, and comes unhooked. "Talk about overpowering your water — it's so shallow, the lure's rootin' bottom and the fish aren't gettin' the hooks in 'em when they grab it!" He switches to the 15+.
» 10:24 a.m. Elias casts to the same spot and catches his first keeper of the day; the largemouth weighs 2 ¼ pounds on digital scales: "They're stacked up right at the shallow tip of the point."
» 10:28 a.m. Elias hangs another bass in the same spot and plays it carefully before working it close enough to lip it. His second keeper weighs 3 pounds, 10 ounces. I comment on how long he took before landing the fish: "Crankbait bass are often only marginally hooked. With the small No. 6 trebles on this lure, I can't horse in a hot fish. When crankin', I try to play out the fish on a long line before working it closer to the boat, then I look to see how the fish is hooked — in fact, I saw one of the hooks pop out of this bass as it swam by the boat. I also release my spool and thumb the line when the bass runs so I don't put too much pressure on the hooks." He tosses out a yellow marker buoy because "it's easy to get disoriented when fishing open water structure."
» 10:31 a.m. A big bass pops the 15+ almost at the boat, gets off, hits the lure again and gets off again! "I think I've got 'em ticked off now," he laughs.
» 10:33 a.m. A heavy bass slams his 15+ on the shallow point. He plays it cautiously before lipping it; his third keeper weighs
5 pounds even. "Yes!! I cast where I had those two misses, reeled it down, killed it, and when I moved it again, he ate it!"
» 10:40 a.m. After a brief period of furious action, the bite has stopped. "Those fish have either moved or they're bunched up in one little sweet spot that I'm missing. When I moved up into that 2-foot water to get my lure unhung, I noticed the point dropped quickly to 8 feet. I think the fish I've caught were hanging on the drop in 5. This is definitely the key structure in this part of the lake; every fish that spawns in this entire area could use it to move into deeper water."
» 10:44 a.m. Another bass strikes the 15+ right at the boat, but gets off.
» 10:45 a.m. Two local fishermen spot Elias and idle their boat within a yard of his to chat with him. Rather than wave them off his hole, Elias is remarkably cordial to the anglers, and even suggests they try cranking long points. When they finally leave, he admits, "Well, this spot is probably toast for a while."
» 10:56 a.m. Elias is fan casting the end of the point with the 15+, trying to get back on the school. "There's often more than one concentration of bass on a point this big."
» 11 a.m. The sun has heated the water to 78 degrees and the air to 85. He begins cranking the point toward shore.
» 11:12 a.m. Having failed to connect with a bass closer to the bank, Elias heads back toward the marker buoy, now crankin' the 20+. A big bass busts a school of baitfish on the surface near the end of the point. "I've stayed on a point like this for four days in a tournament before," he says.
» 11:15 a.m. A bass knocks the 20+ and comes unbuttoned. He reels in the lure and finds a big scale on one of the trebles.
» 11:18 a.m. "Big fish!" Elias says excitedly as a bass puts a major-league bend in his cranking rod and rips drag. He fights the lunker for what seems like an eternity. When he finally gets the fish close enough to see, he drops to his knees, thumbs the reel as the fish dives under the boat, then slowly pulls it toward him until he can lip it. The hawg weighs 8 pounds, 1 ounce; it's the second-biggest bass any pro has landed in this series (Tim Horton's 9-2 is the biggest). "The plug ticked bottom one time, and she ate it," Elias says as he extracts the 20+ from its jaws. "What a beautiful fish!"
» 11:25 a.m. Elias hangs up the 20+ in a stump and breaks it off. The lure floats to the surface: "I'll pick it up later; I don't want to run in shallow and spook 'em."
» 11:27 a.m. He casts the brown-and-black jig to the end of the point and retrieves it with sharp hops "to give 'em something different to look at." Instantly, a bass grabs the jig, but gets off. He casts to the spot again, and another fish bumps and misses it. "They oughta hang on to the darn thing longer with that big, squishy trailer I've got on it," Elias mutters.
» 11:28 a.m. Elias hangs the jig in a brushpile. "This is not good," he says as he reels in a limb. "I was hoping not to disturb any cover on the end of this point."
» 11:30 a.m. Elias slow rolls a 1-ounce Mann's Legend spinnerbait, white-and-chartreuse with tandem willow blades, across the point. "I've caught some whales on this one," he says hopefully.
» 11:42 a.m. He picks up the marker buoy, retrieves his floating 20+ and takes a sandwich break.
» 11:47 a.m. He motors to a mud point on the lake's western shore and cranks the 20+. A bass bumps the bait but doesn't connect.
» Noon Elias moves 100 yards uplake to a flat point and fan casts the 20+. "This point doesn't have a good break like that other one did," he remarks.
» 12:07 p.m. He pulls in closer and cranks the 15+.
» 12:10 p.m. Ellias motors uplake to the next flat point, scouts it with his flasher, then speeds back to the point where he caught his keepers. He hangs up the 20+ on his first cast and moves up shallow to retrieve it. "Stumps everywhere!" he exclaims.
» 12:28 p.m. After fan casting both the 15+ and 20+ around the end of the point, Elias runs back downlake. "One more big fish would make my day."
» 12:35 p.m. He stops at a long point on the western shore, but before he can lower the trolling motor, a jet ski runs over structure. "Don't you just love those things?" he asks.
» 12:37 p.m. Entering his final hour of fishing, Elias hangs his 20+ in a stump in 5 feet of water, retrieves it, and scours through his tacklebox for a 20+ in chartreuse with brown stripes. But this point fails to produce a bass.
» 12:45 p.m. He speeds farther downlake to a short clay point and promptly catches his fifth keeper, 1 ½ pounds, on the chartreuse/
brown 20+. Thunder sounds in the distance.
» 1 p.m. The clay point fails to give up another bass, so Elias runs back to his four-keeper point and cranks the 15+. He hangs it in a stump, it comes free, and a bass grabs it but throws the plug: "That was weird!"
» 1:27 p.m. Elias can't buy another strike on the long point. With minutes remaining, he runs downlake a quarter-mile to a clay point, cranks the 15+ and catches a 2-pound, 3-ounce bass, which culls the 1-8. Storm clouds are visible on both sides of the lake. "We're about to get our tails wet," he announces.
» 1:30 p.m. A good fish attacks the 15+ on the clay point, jumps and throws the lure.
» 1:37 p.m. Back to the boat ramp. Elias has scored six keeper bass on Lake S; his best five weigh an impressive
21 pounds, 1 ounce.
The day in perspective
"This turned out to be a classic transitional postspawn pattern," Elias noted. "The bass were well offshore, but they hadn't moved deep yet — I don't think I caught a fish deeper than 5 feet. That long, shallow point was obviously the best piece of structure we came across. I hauled water until almost 10:30, then caught nearly 19 pounds in just 45 minutes. Bass will gang up on these places in midday once they move offshore. Granted, there were still some quality fish near the bank — remember that 5-pounder that hit my jig on that shallow stump? But I like to crank, and I'm glad I put my chips on those offshore fish."
When and where Paul Elias caught his five biggest bass