At first glance, it didn’t seem to make sense. One week after winning the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on the Arkansas River in 2011 by fishing fairly deep structure, Denny Brauer went shallow on Wheeler Lake, where he finished 28th.
No one is dismissing a 28th-place finish and the points and money that goes with it, but why would a veteran pro like Brauer look shallow for bass in a tournament where the majority of the anglers – including winner David Walker – were fishing deep structure?
“Strategy plays a part,” explained the Camdenton, Mo., resident. “You’re going to know where the majority of the anglers are going to be fishing, plus the history of a body of water. In summertime fishing, most guys want to get out on structure – deep crankbaiting, Carolina rigging and that type of deal.
“I couldn’t get a bite deep in practice. And I think there are always fish shallow. So you’ve got a lot of water totally to yourself. That was really the case in that tournament (at Wheeler). I was fishing areas that most people, including a lot of the local anglers, didn’t think you could catch anything. It can work to your advantage.”
Brauer totaled 33 pounds over three days at Wheeler, as proof of his theory. Greg Hackney was another successful shallow water angler at Wheeler. He finished sixth with 58 pounds in four days. Hackney had his success on a topwater frog-type lure. Brauer went a little different route.
“They did not want a jig, so I went to a Rage Craw,” Brauer said. “It’s just a naked crawfish-type lure – no jig, just a crawfish Texas-rigged. My bites really picked up when I went to the Rage Craw in a watermelon red flake. That’s a clear water color for me, but it just seemed like they wanted that subtle, unobtrusive look.
“I guess if there’s a lesson to be learned, once you find fish, don’t abandon them, give them several different looks because there might be a better way of catching them.”
Brauer’s shallow bite came in the backs of creek channels that had water flowing into them. He believes that to be another big key – oxygenated water. It also helps if there is structure to provide a shade canopy in those situations.
“Many anglers will say when the water temperature is in the 90s, that bass can’t live there,” Brauer said. “Well, that’s not the No. 1 requirement. They can live in hot water, but they can’t live in an oxygen-deprived environment.”
Brauer knew that bass would likely be in these shallow creeks when he saw plenty of bait in the water – in the form of shad and bluegills.
“I had three different areas that I could just rotate,” he said. “Most of the fish I was catching were two feet or shallower on wood-type cover. They were just ambushing a bluegill or a shad right there in that little bit of freshwater coming in.”
Brauer picked up a key point during the tournament when he began finding bluegills in his livewells, after the bass he’d caught had spit them up. Paying attention to your livewells can provide some keys for success.
“That is the easiest way an angler has to figure out exactly what fish are feeding on,” he said. “Whether they are feeding on crawfish or shad or whatever, some of those bass are going to spit that stuff back up in the livewell. All you’ve got to do is look in the bottom of the livewell, and you can match the color and size right there.”
The watermelon red flake Rage Craw in the stained water of Wheeler Lake may have been the best bluegill imitation that Brauer had in his tackle box. At first glance, that might not seem to be the case. You can probably think of some better color patterns to imitate a bluegill. But you can’t see like a fish sees.
Brauer picked up on the fact that these shallow bass were suspended slightly under the wood cover, in a perfect ambush position.
“It was like they were totally set up to run out and bust something,” Brauer said. “Your bait would never get to the bottom. If it did, you could sit there and do whatever you wanted with it, but you weren’t going to get a bite. It had to be right in front of their face – a reflex-type bite.
“That’s why I think that the motion of the bait helps in those conditions because it really helps get those reflex bites.”
Finally, there’s one more key point of shallow water bass fishing from Brauer. He thinks that bass anglers as a group are much more efficient casters in shallow water situations.
“When we fish shallow, we know exactly where the strike should come from,” he said. “We can make our presentations a lot more precise, and we can make repeated presentations to try and aggravate a fish into biting.
“Whereas, when you’re throwing into deep water, why would I make that same cast six or seven times when I’m not feeling anything on the bottom that would make me do it?
“It’s not a deal of where the majority of the fish are, but where the catchable fish are.”
Originally published July 2011