A day on the lake with Larry Nixon: prespawn

BASS tournaments are major events held on huge bodies of water. Pro anglers spend days determining fish catching patterns before the actual competition, and the tournament itself may span the better part of a week.

 But did you ever wonder how a BASS pro would fish your home lake, that obscure body of water down the road where you and your buddies fish for bass? And suppose that same pro knew absolutely nothing about the lake until he arrived at the launch ramp — how would he go about locating and catching bass?

 That's the premise behind Bassmaster's "Day On The Lake With A Pro" series. Here, we put the biggest names in competitive bass fishing on a small mystery lake, then give each seven hours to unlock its secrets while we log everything they do to catch bass in timeline fashion.

 This month it's Larry Nixon's turn at bat. The legendary Bee Branch, Ark., pro is one of the sport's biggest money winners. His credentials include 22 Classic appearances, one Classic win, two BASS Angler-of-the-Year titles and four MegaBucks championships. Let's see what happened April 5, 2002, when we put Nixon on Lake S, an 800-acre reservoir somewhere in the mid-South. If you've ever been frustrated by difficult prespawn conditions, including cold fronts, murky water and howling north winds, you should pick up plenty of useful information here.

 \» 5:50 a.m. I meet Nixon at his motel, where he's loading gear into his Stratos 21 XL bass boat, which is covered with frost. It's the second day of a brutal cold front; the air temperature is an unseasonably chilly 36 degrees. The weather forecast calls for bluebird skies, winds out of the north and a high of 45 degrees. "Perfect prespawn fishing weather — perfectly lousy, that is!" Nixon laughs. He digs through his Suburban for an assortment of cold-weather clothing, commenting, "Glad I brought along my survival gear."

 » 6:06 a.m. We stop for breakfast at a nearby fast-food restaurant.

 » 6:25 a.m. I direct Nixon to the launch ramp at Lake S, a lowland reservoir spanning some 800 acres. Its primary features include an earthen dam lined with riprap, a meandering 30-foot river channel, many clay points, scattered laydown wood cover, several large flats and a number of shallow spawning pockets. There are some vacation homes with boat docks along one shoreline; here, erosion is inhibited by a concrete seawall. I ask Nixon how he plans on coping with the adverse frontal conditions: "Normally, by early April I would expect much milder weather and warming water; however, this region has been unseasonably cold, which should keep bass relating to prespawn staging areas rather than moving up shallow. I expect to find fish sticking close to deep water. They're ready to make a spawning move, but the cold nights are keeping their environment chilled. This often puts 'em in a suspending mode. If it warms up by noon, I may spend some time checking shallow pockets for fish that might have moved up."

 » 6:30 a.m. Nixon makes a final check of his equipment before launching. He uses Fenwick Techna AV rods and 6:1 Garcia T-3000 reels spooled with Trilene XT clear line, 10-pound for suspending jerkbaits, 14 for everything else: "I like to keep all my tackle the same," he comments. His Stratos is equipped with Lowrance LCR and GPS units and a Minn Kota Maxxum trolling motor.

 » 6:40 a.m. Nixon launches, cranks his Evinrude 225 HO outboard and notes the water temperature: 55 degrees.

 » 6:44 a.m. Nixon makes a short run down the lake's western shore, then cuts across to the eastern side, checking water color. "It's a little clearer here; that wind has the west side stirred up bad."

 » 6:45 a.m. He ties on a big Smithwick Suspending Rogue, clown pattern, and starts jerking a nearby point, working the lure moderately fast. "I'd slow down a lot more if the water was in the 40s," he explains.

 » 6:46 a.m. Nixon quickly switches to a 1/2-ounce Strike King Diamond Shad lipless crankbait, red craw color. "The point is a lot shallower than it looks; I'll work my way around it with this rattler until it starts getting deeper." Why will bass strike a fast moving lipless crank in cold water? "It makes lots of racket, and I think this excites them into hitting."

 » 6:48 a.m. Nixon, working uplake, burns the Diamond Shad around the concrete seawall in front of some houses. "Bass love these walls in prespawn; they follow 'em into shallow water, and there's always lots of baitfish on 'em."

  6:49 a.m. He pauses to hook up a vintage Eagle flasher at the bow. "This is a real old-timer, but it still works great. I'm more comfortable with a flasher because it has good bottom contact at all times. I've never really schooled myself that well on reading a graph."

 » 6:52 a.m. Encountering 15-foot water along the seawall, Nixon switches to the Rogue, jerking it more slowly. He casts the lure close to the structure, keeping it in the shade. "I don't intentionally target sunny places in prespawn until afternoon," he comments.

 » 6:55 a.m. Nixon continues jerking the retainer wall. "In this cold, murky water, I'm trying to keep the lure down 7 to 8 feet and work it with moderately long pauses. This water is what I'd call marginal for jerkbaits, not like the clear lakes back home where they'll run a mile to hit it. I reckon I'll have to put it right in their faces if they're gonna bite it." He uses a factory-weighted Rogue with heavier split rings and slightly larger hooks "to give it a little more weight so it stays down."

 » 6:58 a.m. Nixon switches to the Diamond Shad and immediately tags his first bass of the day; it weighs 2 pounds even on digital scales. "That bank went from 15 to 7 feet in a hurry, and the fish was sitting right on the transition. This is my No. 1 spring lure for flat water."

 » 7:06 a.m. Nixon is still working the seawall, alternating between the Rogue and Diamond Shad, as the depth dictates.

 » 7:09 a.m. He idles across the mouth of a small cove to a short clay point. With the boat sitting in 10 feet of water, he jerks the clown Rogue.

 » 7:14 a.m. Nixon's rod buckles as a good bass sucks in the jerkbait. He plays it carefully and lip-lands the 4-1 largemouth. "All right!" he grins. "I never felt it hit; it was just there when I went to jerk."

 » 7:16 a.m. He turns around to work the sweet spot again. A cold northeast wind is blowing in on the point. He points to his flasher: "See? There's a narrow little ditch that runs right up to the bank; this is a classic migration route bass use to move shallower in prespawn. It's 11 feet deep where I caught the fish, 8 on either side." He fails to connect with another fish on the structure.

 » 7:22 a.m. Nixon motors a short distance downlake to a row of boat docks, again alternating between the Rogue and the Diamond Shad.

 » 7:25 a.m. The bank tapers to a large flat. He switches to a blue/chrome 3/4-ounce Diamond Shad, "something I can chunk a good distance in this wind."

 » 7:27 a.m. He jerks the Rogue in the 13-foot water surrounding a small hump adjacent to the flat. "This looks like an awesome place for a big bass; they'll spawn on high spots."

 » 7:36 a.m. Nixon tries a white ¾-ounce Strike King Premier Elite willowleaf spinnerbait around the hump. "Just went through a brushpile," he says under his breath.

 » 7:41 a.m. "Let's move," Nixon says as he stows the Minn Kota. He motors to a clay point near the dam.

 » 7:44 a.m. A bass bumps Nixon's Rogue as he jerks it in 14 feet of water, but fails to hook up. "Just nose-butted it."

 » 7:45 a.m. He hangs the Rogue in some brush and retrieves it.

 » 7:50 a.m. He burns the Diamond Shad at the entrance of a shallow pocket near the point. No takers.

 » 7:55 a.m. Nixon jerks the Rogue along the dam's riprap. The wind is blowing 15 mph.

 » 8 a.m. He cranks the Evinrude. "I don't like this riprap; it's too uniform in size. I do best in spring around irregular-sized rocks; I think crawfish hide in 'em more easily."

 » 8:05 a.m. Nixon zips straight across the lake and jerks the Rogue around a steep clay point. He's sitting in 22 feet of water, and waves are breaking against the bank. He quickly expresses second thoughts about his decision: "Sometimes prespawners will stay out of a cold wind."

 » 8:10 a.m. Nixon runs up the lake to another clay point on the west bank. The water temp here is 56 degrees. He jerks the Rogue in 12 feet of water.

 » 8:15 a.m. He follows the point around to a small flat, where he cranks the red Diamond Shad: "Sometimes they'll suspend right in the middle of these little flats in prespawn." Pointing to a ditch running off the bank at the back end of the pocket, Nixon says, "You can bet that continues out into the lake."

 » 8:20 a.m. Nixon hangs the Diamond Shad in a brushpile, retrieves the lure, then pitches a watermelon-colored 5/16-ounce Strike King jig with a matching Zoom Super Chunk trailer into the cover.

 » 8:22 a.m. Back to the red Diamond Shad, raking it across the flat: "They just haven't moved up yet."

 » 8:25 a.m. The flat transitions to another long clay point. Nixon digs through his jerkbait box for a blue/silver/orange Rogue and works the structure thoroughly.

 » 8:40 a.m. Nixon has fished the point all the way to the channel break twice without a hit. "Let's go back over to the other side where I caught those bass," he suggests.

 » 8:44 a.m. Nixon is back at the seawall, jerking the blue back Rogue. "The water is definitely clearer on this side," he notes.

 » 8:50 a.m. He spots a big log in the water at the end of a nearby clay point and slow rolls the white spinnerbait across it. "Should have been there," he laments as the lure ticks the log.

 » 8:51 a.m. The pro ties on a ½-ounce chrome/blue Diamond Shad, puts his trolling motor on high and burns the crankbait over a big flat. No takers.

 » 9 a.m. Following the point around to a clay bank, Nixon ties on a 1/2-ounce black-and-blue Strike King jig with a blue flake Zoom trailer. He casts it to the bank and alternately hops/swims it toward the boat. As the jig crawls over a submerged branch, the line moves and Nixon sets the hook. "Big fish," he grunts as he powers the lunker out of the tree. It dives under the boat; he works it within reach with the rod and wrestles it aboard. The fat female tips the scales at 6 pounds, 9 ounces. "Man, what a fish!" he exclaims. "It was staging right on the very tip of that laydown!"

 » 9:11 a.m. Nixon comes upon a shallow pocket with a logjam on one side; he casts the jig around the woodpile. No luck.

 » 9:15 a.m. He runs back to the point with the big protruding log, staying with the jig and drifting with the 20 mph wind.

 » 9:24 a.m. He works the jig along the bank where he caught the 6-9. "There's some nice wood cover along this bank, but there's definitely not a bass on every log," he notes.

 » 9:29 a.m. He tries the blue back Diamond Shad in a large, shallow pocket, without success.

 » 9:35 a.m. Back to the jig as Nixon continues down the eastern shoreline. He passes an elaborate duck blind and quips, "Looks more like a condominium than a blind."

 » 9:50 a.m. Nixon comes to a shallow clay point with some protruding brush tops; he fan-casts the jig around the structure. "I was hoping to feel some stumps out on the end, but it's slick as a baby's backside."

 » 9:55 a.m. The pro is now keying solely on deeper points and banks with a 45 degree slope, ignoring all but the entrances of shallow pockets. He's switching constantly between the jig and the jerkbait. "Every fish I've caught so far has been close to deep water," he notes.

 » 10 a.m. Nixon swims the jig past a spindly stickup. "You don't need a big log or stump in prespawn to hold a bass; they'll get next to a toothpick.

 They use wood as something they can relate to when staging, not as cover per se. The best staging wood is the deeper stuff I'm feeling with the jig, not the laydowns you can see in shallower water."

 » 10:04 a.m. Nixon sticks his fourth keeper on the jig; it weighs 1 pound, 7 ounces. "I just hopped it down that sloping bank, and he pecked it," he says. "The key pattern today is, target places where the boat's in 11 to 13 feet of water, and you can still reach the bank. All my fish have been on banks where 10- to 12-foot water contacts the shoreline."

 » 10:09 a.m. The wind is howling at least 25 mph out of the northwest. Nixon slows way down, crawling the jig along sloping banks. "It's hard to feel a jig in high wind," he admits.

 » 10:20 a.m. Nixon returns to the point with the protruding log for a third time. He pitches the jig at the cover, swims it down the log and lets it drop. His line jumps; he rears back and sets the hook on his fifth keeper, a chunky 6-1 largemouth. "I fished that log awhile back with a spinnerbait, but evidently she wanted a jig. I'll take two 6-pounders any day!"

 » 10:31 a.m. Nixon moves to the west side of the lake, noting, "Even though the water here's more stained, I want to try this jig pattern on some of these deeper banks."

 » 10:37 a.m. Larry works a clay point with the jig, keeping the boat in 13 feet of water.

 » 10:45 a.m. He reverses direction and works the point a little deeper. "There's a little ledge with some stumps out here around 12 feet," he notes, checking his flasher.

 » 11:01 a.m. "This side of the lake sucks," Nixon surmises as he stows the trolling motor. "If I don't get bit here pretty quick, we're goin' back across."

 » 11:03 a.m. Nixon jerkbaits a short point with 12 feet of water on the end and sides. Again, no luck.

 » 11:10 a.m. Lunch break. Nikon downs a ham-and-cheese sandwich, chips and a Diet Coke while relaxing in a quiet pocket. "Listen to that wind howl!" he laughs.

 » 11:22 a.m. Back to the seawall across the lake, where Nixon casts the jig around several boat docks.

 » 11:25 a.m. He cranks the blue back Diamond Shad parallel to the seawall, but can't find a taker.

 » 11:30 a.m. Switching to the jig, Nixon works slowly uplake along the retaining wall.

 » 11:33 a.m. He tries a few casts with the blue back Rogue as the wind sends breakers against the seawall. "The water's gettin' so roiled up here, they may have a hard time seeing a suspending bait."

 » 11:42 a.m. Nixon casts the Rogue near the end of a dock, reels it down, pauses, and a big fish grabs it. The bass strips drag as he expertly plays it on a long line. "You just can't horse a jerkbait bass; it may be foul hooked," he says under his breath as the fish surges for deep water. Eventually he lip-lands the bass, a fat 6-8 female. "This is too much!" he grins.

 » 11:50 a.m. Nixon makes another drift down the seawall, alternating between the Rogue and the jig.

 » 12:09 p.m. He motors to the little point where he caught the 4-1 earlier, and jerks the structure.

 » 12:15 p.m. Nixon hangs the Rogue in a stump, retrieves it, then heads up the lake. "I'm gonna hit a couple of the deep points I fished earlier; now that the sun's overhead, maybe some fish have moved up on 'em."

 » 12:18 p.m. The pro jerks the Rogue on a long, shallow point and notices the bait isn't working properly. He touches the lure's diving lip, and it breaks off in his fingers. "Dang, busted the lip in that stump back there!" he complains. "I hate it when I break a big fish lure!" He locates a duplicate in his jerkbait box and comments, "That sort of thing could really psych you out in a tournament if you let it."

 » 12:27 p.m. Nixon motors back to the seawall and jerks the replacement Rogue.

 » 12:32 p.m. A fish eats the jerkbait on a clay point; it turns out to be a channel catfish. "Dinner is served!" Nixon laughs as he gingerly unhooks the fish.

 » 12:35 p.m. He has reached the steep bank where he caught the 6-9. He tries the jerkbait, with no success.

 » 12:41 p.m. He makes a quick run uplake to a brushy point and tries the jig. "Just too shallow. They'll hit a floatin' worm here in a couple weeks."

 » 12:44 p.m. He jerks the Rogue in the center of a narrow pocket.

 » 12:45 p.m. Nixon spots a metal pipe sticking out of the water and casts the jig to it. "Brushpile," he says. "I felt a fish run into my line as the jig dropped."

 » 12:55 p.m. Still jiggin' the pocket, Nixon catches a nonkeeper off a submerged log.

 » 1 p.m. With little time remaining, Nixon motors back to the seawall. He tries the ¾-ounce spinnerbait around several boat docks. "Most fishermen never throw a spinnerbait this heavy; it's a killer lure for suspending fish."

 » 1:05 p.m. He tries the jig along the wall, without success.

 » 1:18 p.m. Back to the point with the protruding log. Nixon fan-casts the Rogue around the structure, patiently jerking the lure.

 » 1:28 p.m. He tries the jig on the point, but can't draw a strike.

 » 1:35 p.m. He drifts down the sloping bank where be caught the

 6-9 and works the Rogue over the sunken log that held the lunker. Again, no takers.

 » 1:40 p.m. Back to the launch ramp. Nixon's five biggest keepers weigh an impressive 25 pounds, 3 ounces, making his the heaviest five bass limit caught so far in this series.

 The day in perspective

 Any time you're fishing in late March/early April, weather conditions play a huge factor in determining a pattern," Nixon told Bassmaster. "The last three nights have been extremely cold; the air temp today never reached 45. The bass on this lake are still relating to deep water, especially places where deep water contacts the shoreline or the sides of points. It's real important under prespawn conditions to find spots where bass can move in and out of the shoreline without swimming a long distance. Every good bass I caught was on a deep water transition. I caught only one fish, a nonkeeper, when my boat was in less than 10 feet of water."

 Most anglers fish way too shallow in prespawn, Nixon noted. "This is not the time to pound the bank, unless deep water happens to swing in close to shore. Many bass will be suspending, not relating to much of anything. Others will be staging on deeper cover — I caught two 6-pounders at the very tips of logs. You've got to fish patiently now. This is prime time for big bass — I only caught six bass all day, but three of them were over 6 pounds, another over 4! A fish every one or two hours is a good average in prespawn.

 "Choose your lures wisely: every big fish I caught came on either a jig or a jerkbait, which is consistent with my experience during prespawn tournaments on most lakes nationwide."

 When and where Larry Nixon caught his five biggest

 2 pounds; red craw Strike King Diamond Shad ½ ounce; bank transition; 6:58 a.m.

 4 pounds, 1 ounce; clown Smithwick Suspending Rogue; clay point with ditch; 7:14 a.m.

 6 pounds, 9 ounces; black/blue Strike King jig ½ ounce w/blue flake Zoom trailer; log on sloping bank; 9 a.m.

6 pounds, 1 ounce; same lure as No. 3; log on clay point; 10:20 a.m.

 6 pounds, 8 ounces; blue/chrome/orange Smithwick Suspending Rogue; boat dock; 11:42 a.m.

 Total Weight: 25 pounds, 3 ounces






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