Elite Series pro and Table Rock fishing guide Brian Snowden has qualified for three Bassmaster Classics. Guiding keeps him sharp between tournaments and gives him a chance to develop new skills that pay off when he competes. Unfortunately for Snowden, he has never been able to use one of his most productive patterns in a Bassmaster tournament. That's because the pattern works from late September through November when no Tour events take place.
The beneficiaries of Snowden's fall pattern are his guide clients, though they usually need some convincing the first time they try it. Some of his novice clients learn what they know about bass fishing by watching The Bassmasters on ESPN2. They expect to be casting to aquatic vegetation, docks, laydowns and other cover, because most of the televised tournaments occur in the spring when bass are shallow.
When Snowden puts his bass boat in the middle of a clear cove and tells his clients to start casting, they give him befuddled looks and say: "What am I supposed to cast to?" Snowden patiently explains that they are fishing for suspended bass feeding on schools of shad. Then he tells them how to fancast Heddon Sonars around the boat, count the lures down to the bass and retrieve them.
The anglers tentatively follow Snowden's instructions while wondering what they've gotten themselves into. Their confusion changes to enthusiasm the moment they hook the first bass, which usually doesn't take long. Even more heartening is the fact that bass caught on this pattern typically weigh 3 pounds or more.
"I got onto this by trying to catch bass after I saw them busting shad in the center of steep creeks," Snowden says. "One or two bass would feed on the surface and then they'd quit. I would slide through there with my trolling motor and check things out with my Lowrance graph. I'd see schools of shad and some larger fish below them that were usually suspended 15 to 20 feet deep over 30 to 40 feet of water."
Snowden correctly assumed that the larger fish were bass, and he intended to find a way to catch them. When crankbaits failed to trigger strikes, he tried slow rolling spinnerbaits. But, spinnerbaits sank too slowly and didn't have the right action to provoke strikes. A 1/2-ounce Sonar, an all metal vibrating blade bait, was the answer. The Sonar sinks fast, flutters when it falls and delivers a hard, pulsating vibration when you pull it through the water. It is also about the size of the threadfin shad that Table Rock's bass feed on. Snowden opts for chrome and gray shad colors to match the baitfish.
Before fishing a Sonar, Snowden replaces the stock treble hooks with split rings and XCalibur Tx3 rotating treble hooks. You may attach the snap that comes with the Sonar to one of three holes along the back of the lure's blade. Each hole gives the Sonar a different action. Snowden prefers the middle hole because it lets the bait flutter more when it free-falls.
Instead of fishing the Sonar vertically, as many fishermen do, Snowden casts the lure to give him greater coverage. After casting the bait, Snowden counts it down to 15 feet. Then he pumps it up, cranks two or three times on the reel and lets the bait fall to 20 feet. He then pumps the Sonar back up to 15 feet and repeats this sequence throughout the retrieve.
"Pumping the Sonar mimics shad that have been injured by feeding bass, which are usually the smaller ones," Snowden says. "The bigger bass suspend deeper beneath the shad schools where they can pick off dying baitfish as they flutter to the bottom."
A 7-foot medium action Legend Elite St. Croix baitcasting rod handles Snowden's Sonar fishing duties. He matches the rod with an Ardent baitcast reel and 14-pound Silver Thread Fluorocarbon.
This fall pattern begins soon after autumn's first cold spell, usually the first week when nighttime temperatures drop to the upper 40s to lower 50s. It produces mainly largemouth and an occasional spotted bass for Snowden on Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Beaver Lake, and is likely to work on any clear, deep reservoir.
The most productive creeks are typically located along major tributaries, such as the James and White rivers on Table Rock. The mouths of the creeks are usually 80 to 100 feet deep and are 1/4 to 1/2 mile long. Snowden generally finds bass feeding on shad one-half to three-quarters of the way back in the creeks where the bottom is 30 to 40 feet deep.
"I idle around the creek and look for baitfish with my graph," Snowden says. "I usually see four or five little groups of shad instead of one big school. Sometimes you can see the shad up near the surface for a moment before they go back down."
The presence of shad makes the creek worth fishing, even when Snowden doesn't see bass on his graph.
Because the bass relate to shad and not bottom structure, they are constantly moving. This is why covering water with fancasting is more efficient than vertical jigging. The pattern holds up all day, and the bite is especially good when the shad are moving in tight groups, an indication that bass are actively feeding on them.
The ideal conditions are a cloudy or partly cloudy day with a good breeze blowing into the creeks. The overcast skies and surface chop cut light penetration, which puts bass on the prowl. "The wind is more important than the clouds," Snowden says. "When bass are on this pattern you can catch seven to 20 bass a day that weigh 3 to 5 pounds."
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SWIMMING A GRUB
When high, bluebird skies and flat water turn suspended bass off the Sonar, Brian Snowden switches to a 4-inch Yum Muy Grande Grub in pearl silver flake or smoke salt & pepper, two good shad colors. He rigs the grub on a darter-head jig. If the bass are suspended 10 to 15 feet deep, he chooses a 1/4-ounce jig; a 3/8-ounce jig reaches bass 15 to 25 feet deep.
Snowden fancasts the grub around the boat with a 7-foot medium action St. Croix spinning rod and 8-pound monofilament. He counts the grub down, just as when fishing the Sonar. But instead of pumping the grub, he cranks it in with a slow, steady retrieve. "The subtle swimming motion of the grub's tail is plenty of action when it's calm," Snowden says.