If you don’t know the fable of the tortoise and the hare, I’ll make a long story short: There’s this wise-guy rabbit who constantly pokes fun at this turtle for moving so slowly. The turtle, fed up with the nonstop needling, challenges the rabbit to a race. The bunny rockets off the starting line, leaving the turtle in his wake. The cocky rabbit figures, “I’m so far ahead, I’ve got time for a nap before I finish the race.” But the rabbit oversleeps and awakens to find the turtle has already crossed the finish line. The moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the race.
Bill Lowen has gone by the nickname “Turtle” since he was a kid. “It started out as a reverse nickname, like you might call a tall guy ‘Shorty,’” he recalled. “I was always the first to show up for a game or whatever, so my buddies started calling me Turtle.” The nickname has stuck with Lowen to this day, but for different reasons. “My wife says it’s because I stick my neck out [to help friends]. Guys on the B.A.S.S. tour call me Turtle because when they’re making a zillion casts an hour, I’m usually fishing r-e-a-l slow.” As “Turtle” Lowen proved during his cold, drizzly December outing on Lake M, slow and steady does indeed win the race for big winter bass.
6:37 a.m. Lowen and I arrive at Lake M’s deserted launch area. It’s 39 degrees and misting rain. We don foul-weather gear and Lowen pulls an arsenal of Castaway rods paired with Lew’s reels from his boat’s storage locker. What mode does he expect bass will be in today? “I expect they’ll be on a classic winter pattern, near points and pockets with a deep-water access. The water will be cold and the bass may be lethargic, but winter is a great time to catch a lunker bass, so I’ll stick with presentations that I’m confident will catch big fish.” Lowen suddenly realizes he’s left both his sunglasses and his belt in his motel room. “It’s so gloomy today, I may not miss the sunglasses; I’m more worried about keeping my pants up.”
7 HOURS LEFT
7 a.m. We launch Lowen’s boat. He checks the water temp: 47 degrees. “This lake has some tannic color, but it’s clear enough for jerkbaits. Bass often suspend in winter, and they’ll hit a jerkbait when it’s suspending dead still in the water column. I’ll also throw a flat-sided crankbait; these have a much tighter wobble than fat-bodied crankbaits. And I’ve got jigs and tubes tied on for probing brushpiles.”
7:06 a.m. Lowen begins his day by idling around Lake M’s lower end, looking for channel swings, submerged rockpiles and isolated cover on main-lake points with his electronics.
7:18 a.m. Lowen runs uplake and stops abruptly when his lower unit hits a shallow stump. “Wow, this point runs halfway across the lake! I like to fish stumps, but that’s a rough way to locate them.”
7:31 a.m. His outboard apparently unscathed, Lowen continues idling and looking. “Normally bass will move to the last section of deep channel uplake in winter, but I’m not seeing any significant depth change up here at all. It’s just flat, shallow sand banks.”
7:42 a.m. Lowen has stopped in front of a shallow cove. He makes his first casts of the day with a chartreuse/brown back PH Custom Lures Skinny P flat-sided balsa crankbait. “This bait runs about 6 feet deep. Flat-sided crankbaits don’t deflect the same way squarebills do; you have to ‘feel’ them across the bottom with a very slow retrieve. Most guys fish them way too fast.” The lure is running off-kilter; Lowen adjusts it by gently tuning the line tie. “If it’s running to the right, bend the line tie very slightly to the right, and vice versa. Just the slightest tweak will usually fix it.”
7:51 a.m. Lowen cranks a series of shallow secondary points.
7:58 a.m. Lowen idles to a longer point and resumes cranking. “This lake has been drawn down to winter pool. There’s a ton of brush and stumps left high and dry.”
6 HOURS LEFT
8:04 a.m. Lowen moves to a main-lake point to try a Smithwick Rogue jerkbait, custom painted blue with a chartreuse and orange belly. A bass bumps the lure but doesn’t hook up.
8:06 a.m. Lowen is trying alternate retrieves with the jerkbait. “Figuring out what it takes to get a sluggish, suspending bass to strike takes some experimentation.
Sometimes they want hard jerks and short pauses; other times they want lighter jerks and longer pauses.”
8:13 a.m. Lowen switches to an Ima Flit 120 jerkbait in the same custom color. “The Flit gets down a little deeper than the Rogue.”
8:19 a.m. Lowen catches his first bass of the day, a nonkeeper, on the Flit. “He hit halfway back to the boat.”
8:25 a.m. Lowen moves around the point into a cove but quickly runs out of fishable depth. “There’s no water at all back here since the drawdown.”
8:28 a.m. Lowen hangs the jerkbait in a submerged limb, retrieves it and reties. “I’m only using 10-pound line, and since jerkbaits are lunker lures, even the slightest nick could cost me a big fish. In a tournament, the few seconds it takes to retie could make a big difference in your paycheck.”