It’s been a great start to the Elite season. I always enjoy going to Deep South fisheries in the springtime when the bass are shallow because it really fishes to my strengths. I feel very thankful to have come out of the first two tournaments with good finishes and a great start in the Angler of the Year race. It’s always good to start the season with some momentum.
For those two tournaments I relied heavily on the bait I’m known for, the 6-inch Yum Dinger. Anytime I go to the Deep South in the spring, my go-to color is junebug. There may be some local colors that are working better at the time on any particular body of water, but junebug is one of those colors that you know always works in Southern waters.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so successful down South early in the season. I’m confident that the color I’m using catches fish. Because of my confidence in junebug, I can put my head down and fish with a positive attitude instead of spending time weeding through different colors to find out what they’ll bite. My job becomes more about finding the fish than testing bait colors, and that’s how I attacked those first two tournaments.
For the Seminole tournament, I Texas rigged the Dinger with a 1/16-ounce weight, but at the St. Johns I went to a 1/8-ounce weight, and here’s why. At Seminole, the areas I was casting to were very open. The fish were spawning out on the very edge of the grass and near stumps that were just barely off the bank, whereas at the St. Johns they were spawning in holes farther inside the weeds and lily pads.
With St. Johns fish, I needed the bait to get down into those holes quicker and more directly, so the heavier weight helped me maximize each cast. I needed the bait to drop straight down into those holes.
Day One on the St. Johns I was sight fishing alongside most of the other competitors, but I never sight-fished again during the tournament. That popular weed flat was where I won this event in 2012, and there were a bunch of big fish in there. The problem was that literally half of the field went to that same place. There were literally 50-some-odd boats in one 25-acre weed flat. The fish got picked over pretty thoroughly and weren’t replenishing. There just weren’t enough of them to withstand the pressure.
My plan for Day Two was to go to an area where I’d gotten some bites and get a limit, then go over and sight fish to cull up. This plan B was so much better than I thought, and I ended up staying there the rest of the tournament. Another nice thing about it was that I had a 300-yard stretch of weeds all to myself.
When I’m looking for spawning fish, I tend to put the trolling motor on high and blaze through the area. A lot of times the easiest way to see a fish is to see it move, and what better way to see it move than to spook it off the bed? Every now and then you’ll find one so locked on that it won’t spook off, and that’s a good thing, but just because a fish spooks doesn’t mean it’s not catchable.
When I spook one, I go 20 yards past the bed and spin the boat around, then watch the bed from a distance. I use what I call the 10-minute rule — if a big fish doesn’t come back to the bed in 10 minutes, I’m not going to waste my time on it.
That’s one of the biggest factors in successful bed fishing; learning how to read the fish and determine if you’re wasting time by fishing for that bass. You’re limited to an 8-hour day and time management is everything, so sizing up that fish and determining how much time you want to spend on it is a big deal.
When the fish are spawning, I’m a “big line” guy, even if I’m at Amistad or someplace with 20-foot visibility. I use 30 and sometimes 50-pound braid with a 4-foot leader of 20- to 25-lb test fluorocarbon. My premise is that when a catchable fish is on a bed, it’s not line-shy.
When I’m bed fishing I’m looking for big fish, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so I want the strongest connection possible between me and the fish.
My big-fish of the St. Johns tournament was an 8.3-pounder (see the GoPro video at Bassmaster.com) I caught blind casting on the final day. When you’re sight-fishing you can see that the fish are spawning in the holes in the grass, and when you get into dirty water you’re just finding good looking holes in the grass and putting the bait in there. Leave it in there longer than you think you should and shake it around. Some of the holes have fish in them and some of them don’t. I’m sure I fished some holes that had fish in them and didn’t get a bite, but sometimes you put it in the right one and an 8-pounder grabs it.
I’m really looking forward to Table Rock — I’ve got enough time to get home and do my laundry, and change out my tackle, which will be a substantial overhaul. In Florida I use a heavy dose of soft plastics, but at Table Rock I’m going to have to have a big selection of a variety of lures, from jerkbaits to crankbaits, jigs and spinnerbaits.