Many years ago I was just getting into the bass tournament scene here in the south. I was repeatedly catching 12-14 pound stringers and generally just out of the prize money. One day I had the opportunity to question one of the guys that was continually in the top five. Straight forward I asked him how to catch bigger bass on this given lake. He replied, “You’re consistently catching 2-3 pound fish; you’re close.” He never did reveal how he caught fish, but this little bit of information inspired me to change what I was doing. Did it mean, change baits, change locations, or simply change depth in the same locations? After several more events, I found that it was a little bit of everything. I had become so comfortable catching a limit of fish that I didn’t ever push myself to catch bigger fish. I guess I just hoped one day that the other guys would have a bad day and let me win with my 12 pounds.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results!!”, unknown author.
There is a saying out there among bass fisherman, “90 percent of the fish are in 10 percent of the lake at any given time.” Using this philosophy I started presenting my bass different options. Everything from baits that would fall slower or faster, to various reaction baits, to fishing the same areas a little deeper. What I found was that there were quality fish in the areas I was fishing, but I was having trouble getting to them. If you break that 10 percent of water down further, the biggest bass will be in the best locations. Either because of a small brush pile, wind current, natural bait fish movements, or a variety of other things. A simple explanation would be a long, tapering point that drops off into a creek channel. A location like this is likely to hold bass throughout the year except for when they are spawning. Fan casting the point with a variety of baits will produce strikes as bass are scattered along it. The largest bass will be on the one larger bolder, stump, or slight bend in the drop off. Finding these slight differences in a piece of structure narrows that 10 percent down even more. Now you could say that 90 percent of the biggest bass in a given body of water are in 2-3 percent of the lake.
With high definition fish finders, GPS, and the ability to look to the side of your boat, many of the key areas holding larger bass are becoming easier to find. The one thing that we as anglers cannot find with any special equipment other than a rod and reel is bait fish movements. Sure you can see a creek channel and you know they move up and down the edge of it, but do you know which side of the creek they use most, can you tell when they swap from side to side as they move up the lake. Bait fish movement is a key factor in where the big bass gets to rest waiting for the next victim to swim by. I have watched bait fish swim through areas of my home lake and ball after ball of bait fish would move in and out of a brush line in the same place. This is very puzzling to me. More than likely the best answer as to why, is current, whether it is wind or water current. Current moves the plankton, which they feed on. Staying in the strongest current presents the best feeding opportunity. Most believe bait fish move aimlessly around a lake, to some degree this could be true. However if, it were true, one wrong turn and the whole school dies from starvation, temperature fluctuations, or lack of oxygenated water. I’m thinking there has to be some sort of reason why a ball of shad zigs instead of zags. The more I watch shad, the more I see them in the same locations time and time again. Without some sort of tracking device I have no way of knowing if it’s the same school; however reason and common sense suggest it’s not. So just like a bass will use travel routes, I believe shad also have travel routes or things along a route that determine their travel.
Now all that said, a big bass has been around a while; he is dialed into all things nature and he definitely knows the productive feeding areas. Being king of the hill (point or drop off), he will push his weight around and pick the best spot to dine. The first key is finding these spots; the second key is presenting a bait to them that they will eat.
In my adventures of learning to fish southern waters, it was very difficult for me to use large baits. Being a “Left Coast” angler we used a lot of mini soft plastics (this was before the days of swimbaits), small jigs and jerkbaits. So when someone suggests throwing a 12 inch worm, I’m thinking that southern bass are mean if they eat snake on a regular basis. While some bass probably do eat snakes on a regular basis, it’s the concept of “big” that draws the larger strikes. We’ve heard it many times; a bass will weigh the energy spent versus the energy gained when determining if a prey is worthy of eating. However as a Left Coast angler we always said, “An Elephant will eat a Peanut.” You can see where it was difficult for me at first to fish larger baits.
Once I started finding the key spots on larger structure that had bait fish movement, I could use larger baits and catch bigger bass. One thing that I was not accustomed too was getting fewer strikes over all. I could fish a flat with a spinnerbait and catch 5 bass or I could methodically work a large jig through the brush pile in the ditch that cut through that flat trying to get that one bigger bite. In the beginning, this was difficult to do. I would watch angler after angler working that flat and catching two pound fish over and over. When you don’t have a limit yet, it’s hard to watch. Another hard thing to learn was that I was only going to get one or two bites per key location. A bigger bass tends to hang out alone. This is not to say that you can’t come across a school of larger fish migrating that same ditch I talked about. In general, you’ll need to have several of these key areas that you can milk-run through the day.
Take some time and really inspect your favorite areas, I bet you’ll learn that there are key spots that will generally hold the biggest bass the majority of the time.
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