How do you start bass fishing a new lake or river? Or, it’s got tough, and you need to make a change to start catching bass again. What change do you make? I have had the opportunity to speak with many bass anglers in the professional side of our beloved sport. Picking their brain on a variety of topics. One question, I generally ask them when doing and interview about a tournament win, is how did you find the bass. You’ll hear many say, use the seasonal patterns, consider bait fish type, and a host of other things. Aaron Martins once told me that the first thing he takes into consideration is how deep is the lake. Saying, “the deeper the lake, the deeper I can catch them.” However, something that all the professionals say, “When it comes down to needing to put a fish in the boat, fish your strength.”
Fishing your strengths, what your good at or what you like to do, keeps your confidence high. Fishing baits that you are confident in will help ensure you are fishing them properly. If you like fishing clear water with a drop shot off the ends of points in deep water, it doesn’t make much sense for you to head to the far reaches of the creeks to fish shallow cover. Vice versa, if you are confident in bull dozing a square bill crank bait around shallow stumps, working a shakey head through brush tops in 30 feet of water is probably not the best idea for you.
Many professionals in the sport of Bass Fishing have strengths and use them across the country. Take Denny Brauer, everyone knows he is a fantastic (probably the best) jig fisherman in the sport. If there is a jig bite going on, Denny Brauer excels and will be a contender for the tournament win. However, if there is a crank bait bite going, Denny will adapt his jig fishing and still get a solid finish. He may have to swim his jig instead of crawl it along the bottom. Denny Brauer is so confident in jigs that he will use one an any lake he fishes and will catch bass with it.
Fishing your strength means, baits your confident in, at locations that your confident in fishing. Many factors come into play, or “don’t” if you will, when fishing what you know. If you are used to fishing shallow cover, you already have confidence in your line, hooks, knots, rod, and reel. These things are no longer factors, and you don’t even think about them because you’ve already proved them to yourself. In fishing a style, you’re not confident in, these become factors that further take away your confidence. Not being confident in your equipment will hinder your ability to work baits properly.
Locations, whether you are a deep-water angler or a shallow water angler that likes visible targets, you can drive down a lake and see things that look good to you. Fishing locations that you are confident hold bass is a huge boost to your ability to work baits properly. For example, working a bank line with dotted cover. You’ll find that, you end up working the barren areas fairly quickly, but once you come to a piece of cover you slow down and work it thoroughly, and probably get a bite. Instead of covering all the dead water in-between, why not fish the cover only. This brings me to my next point, use your gut. If your gut tells you to fish a spot, do it. If your gut tells you to move, do it.
Our experience puts ideas in our heads of where the fish should be, use that experience to find the bass. If after you’ve hit your gut feeling spots, and didn’t produce then start looking for where they might be. Always trust your gut first. So many anglers get off track because they have “heard” about a pattern, place, or style of fishing that’s putting big numbers of fish in the boat. More often than not these rumors are just that rumors, and usually started from one guy catching just a bass or two, but now it’s the only thing that’s working. Take in the season, weather, lake conditions, and all the known factors, then let your experience or gut tell you where you should start. Randall Tharp told me, “Don’t trust others, trust your instincts. You can’t win on someone else’s fish.” I find this to be exceptionally true. So many anglers will waste hours of fishing time on a location simply because they heard it was a good spot. There are not many secrets in the world of bass fishing anymore. If you “heard” about it, more than likely many others have too.
Any body of water has its local favorite baits and colors. Baits in a certain color combination that are effective for the local bass anglers. While I don’t want to say that it’s not a good idea to try these baits, especially if it’s something you already have confidence in, try to stick to your personal confidence baits and match them to the known conditions (water clarity, water temperature, seasonal patterns). It has been my experience that when fishing a lake with thread fin shad in it, the same baits that work on my home lakes with the same shad, work in other lakes. I have jerk baits, crank baits, top-water baits, and rattle traps that represent thread fin shad. These are my confidence baits, and I will use them on any lake with very good results.
I have seen crawdad patterns vary quite a bit across the United States. It’s always good to see if you can find a couple to look at; turn over a few rocks at the ramp. Brown, green pumpkin, and watermelon are great crawfish colors nationwide. During the early spring, red can be a great crank bait or rattle trap color in most of the southern states. These are my confidence colors; I like to keep it simple when it comes to color. This way I can try a couple different jigs and quickly determine if the jig bite is available, because if not, I have many other confidence presentations I can try.
What if you’re on a lake that doesn’t offer your strength? I consider myself to be very good at punching matted vegetation. I’ll look for it and fight to find a pattern in it every time I’m on the water. However, what if I’m on a lake that doesn’t offer matted vegetation. Obviously I won’t be able to find a punching pattern. Punching is generally shallow-water fishing, for the most part, you’ll find I like punching water less than 10 feet deep. In breaking down my strength, shallow water punching, we have to take the punching part out, that leaves shallow water. I understand how fish react in shallow water. Even when punching vegetation, you find the best spots by imagining the vegetation isn’t there and using the structure under it to find concentrations of bass. Depressions, ditches, creek channel swings, all still hold the most fish even when covered in vegetation. If vegetation is not available, I’ll look for timber, boat docks, brush piles, or any type of cover I can find. Taking what I know about shallow water bass and applying it to a new cover situation, I can still put bass in the boat.
Building new strengths is what makes us better anglers. However, trying to learn something new in a tournament, will rarely pay off. When there is a time crunch, either because of tournament hours or because you only have one or two hours to fish, is not the best time to try and learn a new technique. The best time to learn a new technique is when you have time, to hit the water, with the goal of learning. This allows you to experiment with it and really get evolved with all aspects of a new technique. Learning a new strength is best done when that new technique is going to be a productive pattern. Example would be that in the spring when bass are on beds or in shallow cover is not the time to learn how to spoon drop offs out on creek channel ledges. Research the technique to find out what the known conditions are that creates the best situation to use the technique and then get out and practice.
When you are in a ‘Must Catch a Bass’ situation, fish confidence baits, in confidence colors, in confident locations, and you will put that fish in the boat.