(Editor's note: Mike Long is making lures! Every step is done by hand and by Mike himself —from A to Z, carving to painting. Check the baits out here.)
So far, we've covered (1) the right water, (2) the right attitude, (3) personal care, (4) baits and accessories, (5) equipment and (6) playing the percentages. It's time to cover eliminating water —knowing where to fish and (just as importantly) where not to fish. Keep in mind that these segments are not ranked in any way. They are all essential to your success and reaching your goal of catching the biggest bass of your life.
If you're fishing waters of any size, you have a big decision to make every time you go out: Where do I fish today? If your fishery is more than just a few acres, you can't possibly cover it all even on the longest day. To maximize your chances for success, you have to narrow your options and commit to the best one, two or three so you can fish with confidence in the very best areas, using the best approach possible.
"Eliminating water is extremely important," says Mike Long. "Aspects of it are sometimes very simple, but other parts can be very complicated. The biggest part of eliminating water should happen even before you get to the lake —when you're doing your homework."
"Homework" entails all of the things an angler needs to do to prepare for a day of bass fishing —from map and satellite image study to tackle preparation to reviewing fishing and weather reports. Any questions that you can answer, any distractions that you can eliminate, any situations that you can anticipate before making a cast should be taken care of before you go —not when you're on your way to the water or actually fishing. Taking care of these homework items will help you to maximize your fishing time, and that's going to make you a more successful angler.
You can eliminate most of a body of water long before you get there simply by doing your homework —by knowing about seasonal patterns and studying a good topographic map.
"It all starts with the questions you ask yourself," Long says. "What is the seasonal pattern right now —are the bass spawning, settling into their summertime patterns or is the weather cooling for fall or winter? What is the moon phase —full, new, in between? What will the weather be like —sunny, cloudy, rainy, hot or cold? What direction will the wind be coming from and how hard will it blow? What's the water level —is the area where you caught them last year 10 feet out of the water this year or is it 20 feet deeper? Is the water rising or falling?
"By answering as many of those questions as you can and studying a good topographic map of your fishery, you can eliminate 80 or 90 percent of the water pretty quickly and easily. You can identify the areas that have the most potential and even start to figure out from which direction you'll want to approach them when you factor in wind and current."
Long is old school when it comes to maps and preparation. He likes paper and pen and marks his topo maps (or photocopies of them) with copious notes a day or two before he goes fishing, factoring in wind and weather.
"The first thing you need to know is the current water level," he says. "Without that information, you really don't even know what lake you're fishing. Here in California, our lakes can fluctuate 20, 30 or 50 vertical feet from year to year. You can mark a lot of great-looking spots on your topo map, but if they're all high and dry or 30 feet deeper than you planned, you're not going to catch fish there. I get the latest lake elevation information and trace the closest contour line so I know what I'm working with out there."
Long believes too many anglers — especially trophy bass anglers —overlook the influence of the moon on bass feeding and other behavior.
"The moon is a driver of bass behavior for two reasons: gravitational force and light," he says. "We all know how the moon creates the tides through its gravitational pull, but the light it creates also influences feeding. During a new (dark) moon, there will be less nighttime feeding than during a full moon simply because there's little or no light to feed by. When the moon's full, the bass are going to be much more aggressive at night and feed more. Sometimes they'll become primarily nocturnal, especially in the summertime.
"Bass will use the light of the moon to hunt at night. When it's full, I treat it almost exactly like I treat the sun. I try to silhouette my baits against it and to fish the areas that are in the shade. No matter what, the period from about two days before the full or new moon to two days after can be critical."
Having narrowed the water to a few key locations, the fun starts for Long. He goes fishing.
"The last part of eliminating water happens when you get out there," he says. "That's where you see things like water color or changes in wind direction and finally get to do some fishing. All of these things enter the mix and help you narrow the possibilities to just the very best options."
Modern electronics can be incredibly useful for eliminating water once you're on it. "Conventional sonar, down-imaging, side-scanning and the like are super helpful at getting a better look at what's down there. You don't always have to see fish on your electronics, but you do need to see something that gives you reason to believe you're in the right place —structure, cover, baitfish or bass themselves.
"In the end, you have to eliminate water the old-fashioned way —you cast a lure into the water and see what happens," Long laughs. "Actually fishing and seeing how bass react to a bait can never be completely eliminated from the process, and that's a good thing. It's the part of fishing that brings me the most satisfaction —putting together a plan, executing it and seeing it come together in nature. There's nothing better than that."
If you find success, capitalize on it. Enjoy it. Catch a bunch of good bass —including maybe the bass of a lifetime —and release them to be caught again another day. Then look for more places with the same characteristics and try to repeat your success. That's basic pattern fishing.
And if you aren't successful, try to figure out why. Are you fishing too deep, too shallow, too fast, too slow? Is the wind coming from the wrong direction for your spot? Is the moon phase wrong? Are you too early or too late? The specific spot you're fishing might be terrific ... in three hours or three months. Where should you be right now?
"Eliminating water doesn't guarantee success," Long admits, "but it keeps you in areas with the most potential, and that will dramatically increase your chances of catching the biggest bass of your life."
Next —Part 8: Timing