A magical series of fallen trees lying in 5 feet of water along the shoreline in pockets located near Lake Wylie's Catawba River channel provided Takahiro Omori with his biggest career moment to date — victory in the 2004 Bassmaster Classic.
A lone pecan tree stretching from 4 to 15 feet of water on the bank of a Red River oxbow surrendered an estimated 40 bass and a winning weight of nearly 36 pounds to O.T. Fears in a Bassmaster Central Open in fall 2000.
In December 2005, Mike McClelland's entire catch of 46 pounds, 9 ounces came from four textbook trees protruding from the bank on the Alabama River where the channel swings close to the shoreline. Those laydowns produced enough bass to give him the Bassmaster Open Championship title and a trip to the Classic.
Isolated laydowns scattered through a hydrilla field in the Louisiana Delta produced some important bass for Kevin VanDam en route to his Classic victory in 2001.
Get the picture? Laydowns are a universal form of bass cover that can harbor fish throughout the year and be the basis for some of the most dependable bass-catching patterns out there. Here, 10 top Bassmaster pros provide suggestions for fully exploiting the bounty of laydowns.
To watch Kevin VanDam dissect a fallen tree with jig in hand is to see a skillful surgeon at work.
The three-time BASS Angler of the Year makes his initial pitches to the heart of the tree, probing each individual junction formed by a major branch. His boat is positioned perfectly to enable him to methodically work each intersection of limbs along the trunk during the retrieve. If that effort goes unrewarded, the Michigan pro begins to drop the jig along the outer portions of the shallow, submerged tree."The most important thing to consider when fishing laydowns is to perfectly position your boat before making your very first cast," he says. "Proper positioning keeps your lure down the trunk of the laydown through the entire cast, from the very first cast. Remember, you only have one opportunity to catch a bass totally by surprise."
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Preston Clark reminds us that a laydown doesn't have to be on the bank to be productive.A laydown that's not attached to shore can be a bonanza situation," the Florida angler explains. "This cover is a little off the wall and doesn't get much pressure. A lot of people will rush by and not fish it. It's usually in a little bit deeper water, which can be good, especially in the summertime."I'll throw a Texas rigged Zoom Finesse worm in there on a 3/16-ounce sinker. It has a straight tail that goes through the branches easily. I fish it for five minutes or so, covering as much of the tree as I can. Then I'll pick up a crankbait and run it through seven or eight times. If they are there and not feeding, sometimes a crankbait like a Norman Little N will cause a reaction strike."
Veteran Texas pro Gary Klein emphasizes that the key to making the best possible initial pitch or cast to a fallen tree requires an understanding of the seasonal positioning of bass relating to wood."It depends on the time of year and conditions," he notes. "In the fall, I normally like to fish the deeper ends of the laydowns; and in the spring, the fish obviously use the shallow ends."One thing that hurts a lot of anglers is that they approach a laydown expecting to catch only one fish. A lot of times laydowns have multiple fish in or around them. If an angler's smart, he can catch multiple fish out of one target before he moves on."
Ask 10 professional fishermen how they approach a laydown, and you will likely get five votes for immediately fishing the interior and five votes for working from the outside.Case in point No. 1: "My approach to fishing laydowns is a little different than most people," Michael Iaconelli says. "A lot of people say go for the heart of the laydown first, meaning the nastiest, ugliest place. I don't do that."My strategy on laydowns is called maximizing the laydown, which means I fish the edges first and then I go into the heart. So, I like to think about my cast and I visualize the easiest cast first. I go to the outside edges — and the front — and then I'll go deep into the heart. So I get maximum coverage of that tree."
Case in point No. 2: "I like to start at what I call the meat of the laydown — the main fork of the tree," says Scott Rook, an Elite Series pro from Arkansas. "I think if you flip to the outside edge of the tree, you might draw that fish out from the tree. Then you flip where he was, and he's not there anymore. So, the fork of the tree is where I target first."
Few types of bass cover are better suited for triggering one of the most instinctive reactions from resident bass than laydowns. Bass seem to be incapable of resisting a lure that deflects erratically off objects.This is a situation where expert cranker Paul Elias ties on a square-billed crankbait. These divers typically feature an inviting wobble and usually deflect off wood without getting snagged."My favorite bait is a square-bill-type, shallow running crankbait," the Mississippi pro and former Classic champion emphasizes. "They're coming back into their own. After a dead period, everybody's starting to throw them again. To me, it's the best bait available for running down a log or laydown."
John Crews, an up-and-coming young Elite Series pro from Virginia, is a big fan of using reaction baits to draw strikes from bass relating to laydowns."I think that reaction baits are the most effective tool for catching fish on laydowns," he says. "My top baits for fishing laydowns are a crankbait and a heavy jig bounced against limbs."The jig is something that I just started using. My No. 1 bait is a crankbait because they are so fast and you can work the length of a tree very quickly. When retrieving lengthwise, I like to use crankbaits because they will bang against the entire length of the log. If you don't have that angle, I think a jig is almost more effective. I like to throw over the limb and then yo-yo it and bang it up against the limb. That will make them come to it. It's almost like fishing a mat, but the fish seem to come to it better."
Like many anglers, Greg Hackney starts casting before he gets to the tree in hopes of picking off any bass suspended under or off the outside edges of branches.Then I begin to really dissect it," the Louisiana pro explains. "You have two types of laydowns: the older type that doesn't really have limbs on it and the newer trees that haven't been in the water very long.
"With the older laydowns, you'll be fishing mainly the trunk of the tree. A newer tree in the water will have some smaller branches, maybe even some leaves still on it. When facing a new tree, I'm going to fish every 6 inches of it. You really have to pick it apart to be sure that the bass sees your bait. If I've patterned the fish and I know that they're holding on these types of trees, then I'm going to spend a lot more time than I would if I just pulled up to check the area."
When advancing on a fallen tree that stretches into the water, Ish Monroe's first approach is rather heavy-handed. The Elite Series winner from California gears up for battle with 20-pound-test Maxima monofilament and a stout 7 1/2-foot Daiwa flipping stick, a combination well-suited for flipping.Using a bulky but compact creature bait, Monroe begins with the portion of the trunk that is out of the water and methodically works his way down the tree until he has covered every portion of it.
"I actually get a lot of bites —a lot of bigger bites — from flipping the (submerged) part because there's actually more cover under there than just the part that you see in the water," Monroe states. "Lately, I've been experimenting with finesse-style baits down there — like throwing a drop shot rig to the end of the top of the laydown. I've been using a Flirt Worm with that, and it's been a good bait for me."
"My best tip for fishing laydowns — and I definitely proved it on the Alabama River — is to be persistent," Arkansas pro Mike McClelland says.Using a 7/16-ounce jig, he made 25 to 30 casts to each tree and concentrated on making contact with every single limb possible."I've seen days where you can fish a laydown all day long with a jig and never get a bite," the Elite Series pro continues. "Then you pick up a crankbait, run it through and catch them. So, bait choice is an important consideration."Interestingly, his most productive tree during the Open Championship contained a floating mat created by uprooted vegetation and other debris that had drifted into its limbs. McClelland never got a bite by dropping the jig through the mat, but scored throughout the tournament on its outside edge.