Lunker Lessons: Smith Mountain Lake

James Niggemeyer's big bass at Smith Mountain Lake is a study in perseverance, self-confidence and top-shelf tournament strategy.

 "I saw her the second day (Friday) about noon. She was on the bed, but not really committed to it like I would have liked her to be," says the Van, Texas, Elite pro. "I worked on her for about an hour and a half, with no results.

 "It was a strange deal. The male with her was not very attentive. He'd swim off and disappear and she was moving around a lot. I didn't think she was ready. I had other fish in the livewell — enough to make the Top 50 cut on Friday night so I figured my time would be better spent on other bass that afternoon. But I knew she was big; I didn't forget about her.

 The next morning — Saturday — I went back to her. There was a new male on the nest, and she was firmly committed to her bed. I caught the male real quick, and after about another hour and a half, I finally got her to bite on a 6-inch Strike King Rage Tail Lizard flopped around in the middle of her bed."

 Niggemeyer cautions other anglers, however, to be careful when investing so much time in one fish. That strategy only works under special circumstances. He was in an Elite Series tournament and knew he had enough weight to make the Top 50 cut. But he also knew he didn't have enough weight to make the Top 12 on Sunday.

 "What I did might not work under another scenario. Suppose I only needed a small fish to make the Top 12. I might have fished for the male but not invested the extra time on the female. There was no guarantee I could make her bite. It was a gamble worth taking, but only under those circumstances.

 "You have to think about all the ramifications of your decision before you do something like that. Fishing a tournament is about more than catching big bass. It's about managing your time efficiently to get where you think you need to be. And frankly, you have to have some experience with bed fish to do what I did.

 "I knew on Friday she wasn't ready. On Saturday, however, things were different. I had nothing in my livewell, needed the weight, and she looked ready. Under those circumstances what I did made sense, but only under those circumstances."

 Tackle: A 7-foot St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass rod (heavy action), with an Ardent XS1000 reel (6.3:1 gear ratio) and 25-pound-test monofilament line. He rigged his lizard Texas style with a 1/4-ounce tungsten weight and a 4/0 hook.