JASPER, Ala. — Hank Cherry’s secret weapon is out. Even with the details spelled out in this article, he’s not the least bit worried.
You will not read about a breakthrough lure, but you will learn a new twist for using one of bass fishing’s most basic rigs. Best of all, it’s a technique that is rarely seen by bass and can produce amazing results right now.
The obscure twist is working for Cherry at the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #3 wrapping up tomorrow on Lewis Smith Lake. The North Carolina angler is currently in 2nd place in the tournament standings. He’s also in the running to earn an invitation to the Bassmaster Elite Series. And should he win, an automatic berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
And it’s all because of one simple lure.
The components of the rig are simple. A 4- to 6-inch soft plastic swimbait. Any brand will do. A straight shank No. 2 worm hook or a 1/8-ounce leadhead for casting in the wind. Tie the bait to 4- or 6-pound test line. No heavier.
Here’s the twist. The specialized technique is made for catching bass feeding on baitfish in clear water. Long casts are required to propel the lightweight rig into the strike zone. Thus the reason for the light line rigged on a spinning reel with a 7-foot rod.
Call it power fishing with a finesse rig.
Once the lure hits the surface the rod is held at the 10 o’clock position. The rig is retrieved fast enough to keep it visible, while running at a steady pace just below the surface.
The object is making the bait emulate the size and action of small baitfish under attack by hungry bass. It’s a custom-made presentation for the fall. That’s when bass aggressively feed in anticipation of their metabolism slowing down for the winter ahead.
The fun happens when the bass dart to the surface from nowhere and take the bait. It’s the same adrenalin rush you get with topwater but with a higher hookup ratio.
The cliché “necessity is the mother of invention” best describes the origin of the application for the lightweight rig. About a decade ago the bass fishing was lousy at best on Lake Norman. That’s where Cherry and his bass fishing cohorts were down to desperation tactics to catch bass on their home lake.
They cracked the code during the hottest part of summer in the most unlikely of places. The largemouth population was polarized around the hot water discharge at the McGuire Nuclear Station and elsewhere below the Marshall Steam Plant. Small baitfish flushed from the discharge provided a constant source of food for the largemouth.
The challenge was casting distance. Through trial and error success came with the combination of using light line on spinning tackle to propel the rig into the feeding frenzy.
Cherry and his cohorts have spent the last decade refining the technique.
“If there’s no chop at all and the fish are feeding on top then you can use a straight shank hook,” he said. “In the wind you can use a 1/8-ounce darter head.”
Making long casts is essential to success. The strike zone is the point where the bait hits up until the boat becomes visible to the bass.
“The fish will stop tracking the bait when it gets too close to the boat,” he added. “They can see it and will stop following it. That is why the long cast is a must.”
The setup for the technique revolves around the presence of baitfish. Surface feeding is a given. Otherwise, Cherry looks for schooling baitfish on his graph. When he finds them the next move is to back off and position the boat within a long cast of the strike zone.
“It’s a fun technique to use and it works,” he said. “The fish are aggressively feeding so you get a really hard strike.”
For Cherry, “fun” takes on a new meaning if the simple rig pays off with the biggest win of his tournament career.