The result is flooded cover, one of those inevitable wild cards every tournament fisherman must face. No change is more dramatic than when a reservoir floods its banks and seeps into forests, fields and the yards of lakeside homes. If the water stabilizes above full pool for several days, bass will move up past the inundated shoreline and into terrestrial habitat that's normally home to squirrels and rabbits.
The biggest problem is the overwhelming excess of cover. When bass scatter into flooded woodlands, for example, they can set up next to any stump, tree, log, windfall or bush in a virtual maze of similar cover. It is grossly inefficient to fish every potential bass lair you encounter.
How do you improve your odds? That's what Elite Series angler Brian Snowden of Reeds Spring, Mo., was asking himself when he fished a large, open tournament at Truman Reservoir in June 2001. Torrential rains before the tournament had raised Truman 20 feet above normal pool, and the muddy water reached far back into trees that normally stand on dry land.
During practice days, Snowden forged into the flooded woodlands with a flippin' rod and tried to piece together a place or pattern that would hold up when the tournament started. He soon realized this was futile. While most of his competitors continued fishing in the trees, Snowden left and searched for isolated cover.
"Isolated cover eliminates needle-in-a-haystack fishing," Snowden says. "It limits the places where a bass can be." A stump, laydown or log set 100 yards or more from a similar object is one of Snowden's most productive forms of isolated cover. Any bass nearby is likely to sidle up to the wood because there's nothing else in the area that's as inviting.
At Truman, Snowden found what he was looking for on shallow, sloping banks covered with flooded field grass. Single, isolated logs had drifted into the grass at wide intervals. The best logs were held on one end by the emergent edge of the grass. The bass were holding beneath the other end of the log where it extended over submerged grass in water 1 to 3 feet deep. "I had five or six banks like that spread over 15 miles of the lake," Snowden says. "They all had flooded grass on a gradual slope with maybe a dozen logs on them."
Snowden's main presentation was pitching a 1/4-ounce black and blue jig dressed with a matching Riverside Big Claw. Since the Big Claw is no longer made, he now opts for Booyah's Boo Jig and Yum's Big Claw, or a Texas rigged 4 1/2-inch Yum Craw Papi with a 1/4-ounce bullet sinker. The bass would hold under the log and above the flooded grass beneath it. If Snowden let the jig sink into the grass, the bass wouldn't go for it. To trigger bites, he swam the jig parallel to the log just above the grass.
Snowden's secondary bait was a white and chartreuse 3/8-ounce Booyah spinnerbait with a nickel Colorado blade in front of a gold willowleaf blade. "I caught a few bass by running the spinnerbait along points of grass where there wasn't any wood," the Missouri pro says.
Though Snowden's pattern was solid, it was hardly easy. On the first day of the two-day event, he had five bites and landed four bass. The second day was even slower, and Snowden landed only three bass. The upside was that the Elite Series angler was catching quality fish — the eight bass he brought to the scales totaled 28 pounds. Most of the field concentrated on the flooded forests, and they didn't do nearly as well. Snowden ran away with the win.
When pitching and swimming jigs, Snowden relies on a 7-foot medium-heavy St. Croix Legend Elite rod and an Ardent XS baitcasting reel filled with 20-pound SilverThread Fluorocarbon line. A 6-6, medium-heavy rod with 17-pound Super SilverThread monofilament handles his spinnerbait chores.
Since it was June when Snowden won the tournament on Truman Lake, the bass had already spawned. Their main focus was feeding, and the bass found plenty of forage in the flooded cover.
When Snowden is faced with high water during the prespawn phase, he targets steep banks near deep water on the main lake and in the lower sections of creek arms. Steep banks work to his advantage in two ways. One is that prespawn bass often stage on steep banks before moving into shallow spawning areas.
By fishing steep banks, such as creek channel banks, Snowden concentrates on areas where prespawn bass usually hold during normal pool levels. The bass are likely to be in the same places when the lake floods because they can easily adjust by rising higher on the bank. The second advantage is that steep banks prevent bass from moving so deep into cover that they are safe from your lures.
For example, on a gradually sloping bank covered with bushes and trees, the bass can move so far back into the shallows that you can't weave your boat through the maze and get within casting range of them. And even when you can reach the bass, you're back to looking for a needle in a haystack. When water rises on a steep bank, it can't get far behind the outer edges of the bushes, trees, or whatever other cover it floods.
Any bass that moves into the cover has no choice but to stay where Snowden can easily flip or pitch a jig to them. He sometimes enjoys easy pickings with this pattern while other anglers struggle to get bites. The Missouri pro also keys on steep banks when bass move into shallow, flooded spawning areas. In this situation, he concentrates on the backs of steep pockets and fishes cover such as buckbrush. Here again, steep banks prevent the bass from moving far back where Snowden can't reach them. "Just before and after the bass spawn, they roam around the edges of the bushes," Snowden says. "I've had great luck casting a gold 5-inch, floating Smithwick Rogue parallel to the edges of the bushes.
I like the Rogue better than a soft stickbait, because I lose fewer bass with it." Snowden lets the Rogue sit for 15 seconds or so. Then he works it beneath the surface with two or three twitches and lets it float back to the top for another long pause. He repeats this action until he feels the Rogue is out of the strike zone. Many strikes happen as the lure sits motionless on the surface.
This tactic works best in clear to stained water, but it's a poor choice for muddy water. When the bass begin spawning in the backs of steep creeks, they get so tight to the flooded cover that Snowden can't effectively cast a Rogue to them. This is when he switches to flippin' and pitchin' jigs and Texas rigged soft plastic baits so he can penetrate the cover.
Flooded aquatic grass w
The bass continue to relate to the vegetation, especially after the water clears. Patches of the grass are often visible as dark spots beneath the surface. "If there's patchy grass in the back of a creek, I fancast a topwater bait from the edges of the bushes out over the grass in the middle of the creek," Snowden says.
Two baits pull bass out of the grass for the Elite angler, the gold Rogue he casts to the edges of the bushes, and the Pearl Melon color XCalibur Jimmy. He retrieves the Jimmy with a steady, medium-fast, dog-walking retrieve. "If they won't react to the Jimmy, I can usually slow down with the Rogue and tease them into biting," Snowden says.
When Snowden can't find bass by fishing flooded cover, he sometimes gets back in touch with them by targeting rocky banks that are too hard for much terrestrial growth to take root. This could be riprap, chunk rock banks, gravel bottoms, and bluffs. Even when the water is high, these places have little or no cover in which the bass can disperse.
"You can catch bass on a lot of different baits when you're fishing flooded, rocky cover," Snowden says. "My preference is crankbaits. I like the Bomber 4A, which runs 3 to 6 feet deep, and the Bomber Fat A 5F, which runs 6 to 8 feet deep." In stained to muddy water, Snowden opts for firetiger and other chartreuse patterns. He goes with shad and crawfish patterns in clear water. "I keep my boat moving close to the bank over 6 to 10 feet of water," Snowden says. "I make 45-degree angle casts on sloping banks and parallel casts on real steep banks."