Northern fisheries like the Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair and other massive bodies of water can intimidate inexperienced anglers. The allure of tangling with big smallmouth draws bass fisherman from all over the country, but the threat of ocean-like waves and foul fall weather turns just as many away.
We caught up with Bassmaster Opens pro Trait Zaldain while her husband Chris competed on St. Clair to pick her brain on a few tips she’d have for someone making their first trip to big water. Trait does a ton of work each year introducing young anglers to bass fishing, and she pushes to make the entire sport more inclusive.
It could be argued that Trait stays as busy off the water as her husband, The Zaldaingerous one, does on the water during Bassmaster Elite events. Between coordinating with sponsors, working on their burgeoning YouTube channel, helping Chris prep for the tournament and sneaking in opportunities to prepare for her own Bassmaster Open events, it’s amazing she has time think. Trait graciously offered up five pieces of equipment she packs to help tame big-water fisheries.
“Big water doesn’t have to be intimidating,” Zaldain reasoned. “As long as your equipment is in a good place and you’ve done your due diligence in preparation, you will be just fine. Respect big water, and it’ll respect you.”
1. Reliable boat and motor
It may sound obvious, but a trustworthy boat and a reliable outboard is Trait’s first key to enjoying a trip up north. Having the utmost confidence in her Yamaha-powered Skeeter allows Trait to focus on fishing as opposed to worrying about safety.
“Make sure you go through your boat tightening any screws and bolts or fastening anything that needs some TLC,” Zaldain explained. “Have your outboard serviced before your trip if need be. Go over everything with a fine-tooth comb. Not only will this keep you safer on the water, but it’ll give you the peace of mind knowing you’ve taken the necessary steps.”
2. A quality rain suit
The second piece of gear Trait packs is a quality rainsuit like a Carhartt Storm Defender Jacket and Bibs. While a rainsuit is handy for pop-up storms or rain showers, it’s just as important to wear while driving from spot to spot, as you will undoubtedly get splashed with water from wave spray. Even on sunny days Trait is sure to pack her rainsuit.
3. A butt seat
While it typically gets left in the back of her truck, Trait says a butt seat for the front deck of her Skeeter is worth its weight in gold when the wind starts blowing up north. Staring at your electronics is oftentimes a necessary part of big-water fishing. Having a seat to lean on while your attention is fixated on your graphs is extremely helpful while riding the waves throughout the day.
“Butt seats may not have a reputation of being cool in the bass fishing world, but they are super helpful when waves get rolling,” Zaldain said. “They help you stay focused and keep you safer. Look at any Elite Series angler’s boat on days with heavy wind forecasted, and I guarantee you’ll see a butt seat.”
4. Foam PFD vs. inflatable PFD
Another precaution Trait takes when fishing on a massive body of water is swapping her inflatable personal floatation device (PFD) for a reliable Mustang foam life jacket. There are horror stories of the CO2 cartridges inside inflatable PFDs malfunctioning, and good old-fashioned foam PFDs take that concern out of the equation. When fishing somewhere you might not be able to see land from, it’s best to not take any chances.
5. A spinning rod and a drop shot
A spinning combo rigged with a drop shot and a 10,000 Fish Yoto Worm is the final item Trait doesn’t leave home without when heading to big water. As we’ve seen in countless Bassmaster tournaments over the years, a drop-shot rig is as effective of a presentation for northern smallmouth as anything available. Trait’s learned to love this technique and believes it’s a good addition to any anglers’ repertoire.
Trait’s tips are helpful whether you are considering your first trip to big water or you needed a refresher before making your yearly visit to one of these colossal, famed fisheries. Take her advice and this list into account when planning your next vacation to the land of giant smallmouth and jumbo waves.