(Editor's note: Mike Long is making lures! Check them out here.)
So far, we've covered (1) the right water, (2) the right attitude, (3) personal care, (4) baits and accessories and (5) equipment. Let's move on to time on the water and playing the percentages while keeping in mind that these segments are not ranked in any way. They are each absolutely essential to your success and to reaching your goal of catching the biggest bass of your life.
If you poll the best bass anglers in the world and ask them to tell you the biggest difference between them and an average angler, it's a pretty sure bet that time on the water would be the number one response. After all, if you're not out there —a lot —it's tough to get better, tough to learn and very, very tough to catch fish of any size.
For the most part, Mike Long agrees. As the world's foremost trophy bass angler, he considers time on the water to be "the foundation of what it takes to catch fish —big or small." And while there may be no real substitute for time on the water, there is a shortcut or two.
"If you do your homework and really sweat the details before you go fishing, you can make the most of your time on the water," he says. "You don't have to be out there 300 days a year to be a good angler. It helps, but you can dramatically improve your chances just by doing your homework."
By "homework," Long means 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 much more successful angler.
"Before I even schedule a trip to a body of water, I want to carefully study a topographic map of it," Long says. "The satellite images you can get from Google Earth are helpful, too. By studying them I can get a good idea of the lay of the lake. I want to know where the points are, the humps, the flats, the spawning areas, the areas with good deep water access. Once I've identified the bass' options, I can start to focus on the key areas for that time of year and plan my fishing day based on the seasonal patterns."
Those seasonal patterns are the most important factor of where he fishes. If it's in the spring, are the bass pre-spawn, spawning or post-spawn? Have they transitioned into their summertime areas? Is the weather cooling as fall takes over? Time of year dictates a lot in the bass' world. And Long wants to be fishing where they're live while they're there.
Let's say you've got nine hours to fish this week. Do you pack it all into one day or spread it out over three or four days?
"If you can manage it," Long opines, "multiple days are generally better. Over the course of a full day, you can almost become 'one' with the body of water, but it's also easy to get tired, to miss things and to get sloppy with your awareness and presentation. That's the danger and challenge of long days.
"By breaking up your periods on the water and spending the same time of day out there for several days in a row, you might see some transitions or trends that you'd never catch in one long day. You can dial into the key times and locations more easily. You'll have time to think and reflect between outings, and you won't get so tired."
Still, when he can spend multiple full days on the water, Long doesn't often pass them up. He says it usually takes him about three full days to get completely dialed in. The first day is typically spent experimenting and exploring. He'll expand on what he's learned on the second day. By day three, he expects to have things pretty well figured out.
Long's tens of thousands of hours spent chasing trophy bass have taught him that a high percentage are caught under low-light conditions —early and late in the day or when it's cloudy, especially on waters that are ultra clear. "Big bass have big eyes, and they use that low light to their advantage in targeting prey," he says. "I've often found them moving with the shade as the sun changes angle throughout the day."
Once Long has zeroed in on the seasonal pattern and identified the bass' best options on a particular body of water, he rotates through them with the baits he has the most confidence in.
"I want to be in a high percentage area throwing a high percentage bait. That gives me confidence, and with confidence comes patience," he says. "If you look up 'patience' in the dictionary, it should have a picture of a trophy bass angler next to it. Without patience, we wouldn't be very successful. You need to have confidence in what you're doing and stick with it. Running and gunning isn't usually very effective for big bass."
Long often compares the decisions a trophy bass angler makes to those of a high stakes poker player.
"The factors that you're dealing with are a lot like the cards in a deck. The ace is the forage the bass are feeding on. The king is the seasonal pattern. The queen is the bait you're throwing, and the jack is your presentation."
And the joker?
"The joker is the guy sitting on the spot you want to fish!"
Next — Part 7: Eliminating water.