I took a small hiatus from fishing once I went to college (I made a career of it obtaining my Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D.). I had not picked up a reel since about 1990. At that time, I was beginning to be more aware of spinnerbaits, and plastics were just starting to become big. In fact, the newer “weedless hooks” were just coming out, and I loved them because I was always losing lures; usually more than I caught fish most days. I got tired of replacing bass lures and not catching much. It also did not help that I was exclusively a shore bass fisherman and really learned everything myself. Complicating matters even more, I was a jack of all trades, fishing for walleye (really popular in the Great Lake States), perch, catfish, pike and bass. As kids we always watched the fishing shows with Roland Martin and Bill Dance and wished we could catch Largemouth bass; which appeared to be really abundant on these shows. Fast forward to 2011, I was asked if I would be interested in fishing a Bass Tourney with a friend that was pretty good (almost went pro). I said sure, but warned him, it had been a while and asked what all would I need. I needed a bait caster and started to do some research. Needless to say, it is a bit overwhelming and EXPENSIVE! I also scuba dive, which I thought THAT was an expensive sport, until I started Bass Fishing! In looking for a bait casting reel that was practical and not overly expensive I was also leery of buying something I would have to replace in a year or two. After all my online research, (I recommend other buyers reviews as can be seen on Bass Pro (BPS) or UltimateBass.com and Tackle Tour) I went with a Diawa Strikeforce. Upon looking back and knowing what I do now, this was not my best decision, but it worked out for me at the time. I practiced with the bait caster as I had never used one and that took a bit of patience! I would recommend uTube for videos on how to, but you really need to practice. What I quickly learned was to keep your thumb on the reel spool! If you don’t, it will backlash! Practice with cheap monofilament, so if you get a bad backlash and need to cut it out, you don’t feel bad about it. I practiced overhead casts and flipping. The next problem I had was during flipping if the lure hit a piece of structure I had the habit of taking my thumb off the spool and guess what! A Big Birds nest! Tournament success depends on lures in the water, not spending time working out birds nests). A quick way to get rid of them is to press your thumb down hard on the spool while turning the handle. Pull some line out and repeat if needed. It really works great 95% of the time. Keep in mind, that with a bait caster, the reel does all the work, so you don’t have to heave the lure like with closed faced reels. I have since went with a two handed cast, and that has really helped my casting in terms of distance, accuracy and fewer birds nests. I also learned that keeping the tip of my thumb on the spool and not the whole thump pad on the spool, reduced my back lashes.
I showed up for the tourney with my “rod.” Did I mention I usually rode my bike to go fishing or sometimes fished out of a canoe; I found it was easier to do so with a collapsible rod. From the look on my tournament partner’s face, I am guessing it is not “popular” for Bass Fishing. As you can guess, the tourney did not go well for us, but there were many factors besides my equipment and skills! My partner was nailing fish left and right (only 1 keeper) while I was getting bites, bumps, etc, but I couldn’t get them into the boat. The lake was flooded from spring rains; our trolling motor broke and it started raining. We threw in the towel and called it quits around 2 PM. Also, weirdly enough, the fish quit biting around 9 AM. Don’t get me wrong it was fun running 70+ MPH on the water in the Bass Boat (and losing 3 hats!) and getting some bites, it was still frustrating not landing a single bass. Also, expect to fish the “back of the boat” which is kind of like playing right field in baseball (I now have experience with both). Don’t get me wrong, you can only have 2 fisherman and SOMEONE has to fish the back, but you get seconds, so not much is always expected. Looking back, I should have used a different lure and technique than the guy on the front. Who knew Bass were as finicky eaters as my kids when I put perfectly good food in front of them, and they only want chicken nuggets! The biggest challenge in bass fishing is figuring out what their chicken nuggets are that day/hour!
In any event, I was “hooked” and started really researching EVERYTHING bass fishing. The UB forums have been the most helpful as have a number of Bass Technique books. So here is what I would quickly tell someone coming back or just starting bass fishing:
You can find some good reels for under $100, but be really careful going under $70, unless they are on sale. Reels can go over $300, so there is a wide range.
Some things to consider: You will probably be “palming the reel” with your left hand (if right handed) with your pinky and ring finger on the rod blank and your pointer finger and/or thumb on the line to help maximize “feeling what is happening at the other end.” So you will probably want a low-profile reel, which are also usually lighter (unless you have Shaquille O’Neal hands). After that, there are three main gear ratios to pay attention to: 5:X (5:3 or 5:4) for slow, deep lure cranking power; 6:X (6:3 or 6:4, etc) are general all-purpose (Shimano Citica only falls into this category); then the 7:1 for speed. If you are only going to get one to start, get one in the 6:X gear ratio. My first reel, the Daiwa Strikeforce, is a 7:1, which has been fine, but not the best for all-purpose. There are a number of reels out there and different price points/quality. Shimano Curado and the Abu Garcia Revo are really popular and practical reels, but BPS Pro Qualifier, Academy H2O Mettle, Diawa, Quantum (except KVD), Plueger, Lews and Okuma, are also some good reels. This is not an exhaustive list, but meant as a good starting point. You will also want to look into Reel Magic for your reel and line. Also, dry your reels off to prevent rust!
Rods vary in several ways, the material used to make them, how stiff they are, how fast the tips are and then length. You will probably want to buy your reel first, then “match” it to a rod (think Harry Potter where the wand chooses the wizard!) for balance. I would recommend taking your reel (or borrow one from the store) to Bass Pro, Cabelas, Gander Mountain, Academy Sports, etc and physically put the reel on the rod and practice fishing to see how you like the setup/balance. Keep in mind, you could be out on the water/shore for hours, so you want it to be comfortable. You should also test the sensitivity by holding it in your casting hand and drag the tip across the carpet (if the store has any) and see what you can feel. You can also have someone rub their finger or thumb on the tip of the rod to help you determine sensitivity. You can test the action by carefully bending the tip on the floor to see the action. You can find some nice rods for under $100 (See BPS rods), but if you can bump your minimum to $150-160, it greatly increases your selection and finding a good quality rod. Expect to spend some time at the store finding the best rod.
Some things to consider: If you are fishing tourneys, you are limited to under 8 feet. The general rule of thumb is the longer the rod, the farther it casts. Even if you are short, and I am 5’8”, don’t be afraid to get the longer rod! I have not had any problems, and I have one that is 7’10”. If you have a bait cast reel, you will also want a casting/trigger rod. First is stiffness. A general all-purpose and most likely your first rod will be MH for Medium Heavy, around 6’6”-7’6” for length. For me, I tried to find a rod for around $100 and tried a number of them, but my Daiwa reel really felt good on the E21 Carrotstick, even when comparing to the Veritas, Mojo, etc. BPS has some really good rods (I.e. Carbonlite series) as well that people really like. I didn’t try them, but wished I had. When you ask around you will get a number of different opinions of rod choices; it is similar to picking out a vehicle. In fact, don’t be surprised if you do MORE research looking for a rod/reel than a car/truck! I feel I should point out that the E21’s have had some issues of breaking and poor customer service. If you research the rod, you will probably see the same thing, but I have really liked mine and know others that swear by them, even pro’s. Once you get a rod/reel set up, you will then start fishing and realize you want more, more, more. More rods, reels, line, lures, equipment, etc. It really becomes an illness, but for me, and countless others, fishing is my Prozac.
The MH rods are good for spinnerbaits, top water, worms, and smaller jigs. Medium/Moderate rods are generally good for crank baits and smaller spinnerbaits, top water, and jerk baits. For cranks, etc, some prefer glass rods or a blend with graphite for the extra give. Again, it is personal preference. Heavy rods are better for frogs, pitching/flipping and heavier jigs, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, Carolina rigs, etc. You might want a heavier rod to quickly move fish out of vegetation/structure, so a bass doesn’t tangle the line and snap it. A heavier rod is also better for heavier weighted lures, such as if you start moving up to ½ oz or greater lures, etc. Keep in mind, these are rules of thumbs and may differ according to rod brands, preferences, etc. There are tons of different rod makers, but some to start with might be BPS, Dobyns, Duckett, Kistler, St. Croix, Falcon, Gary Loomis, Shimano, Quantum, W&M Skeet Reese, and Abu Garcia. Finally, spend the money on a good quality rod as it will make all the difference. If you are going to save money, do it on the reel, not the rod!
Guides: You will want to find good Fuji/Pacific Bay guides, which are pretty standard on most quality rods, and may want to decide on Micro-guides. There is still some controversy over the advantages of micro-guides, but they are becoming more popular. People, including top-ranked bass fisherman, swear by them for their reported greater casting difference/accuracy, less weight and sensitivity.
Check out http://www.bassfishin.com/blog/fishing-line-guide/ for a complete guide to line. Here is a quick summary. It appears that fluorocarbon is the best all-around line for better sensitivity and transparency over monofilament. Braid is typically used for greater strength, especially for punching/flipping/pitching into heavy cover like grass, lily pads, tree structure, etc and you need to pull fish from getting your line tangled.
Spinnerbaits are great because they cover a lot of water to help find fish and there is no wrong way to fish it. They have a lead head with a skirt and hook with a wire attached to a spoon/blade. Popular colors include white, silver, chartreuse, black, black/blue, etc. It also might be a good idea to hang either a worm or creature off the hook or a trailer hook to increase your hit rate. The type of blade differs for each person, although most like the willow leaf shape as it creates a lot of noise and flash, but the Colorado is another popular one as it displaces more water and has more vibration. Then there are some that want two or three blades on their spinnerbaits to create a schooling fish presentation. This is important as predator fish hitting schools increase their hit rate. You just need to figure out what the fish want, which can change hourly (kind of like what makes your significant other happy!).
Crank baits are also great because they too cover a lot of water and can be fished a number of ways, fast, slow, slow with pauses, etc. They resemble a bait fish, you purchase them based on the depth you are trying to fish and then the color you want. White, silver, or chartreuse are popular colors, anything that resembles the bait fish/forage in your area. It helps to know what the clarity of the waters you will fish and their depths, but keep in mind that if you decide to tournament fish, you could find yourself out in the middle of a lake trying to reach fish in 15’ or more of water. With crank baits, they work best by bouncing them off structure, whether it be trees, rocks, the bottom, etc to cause noise. You might also prefer cranks with rattles inside that increase the noise factor to help fish locate the lure.
Plastics are also great because you can fish them a number of different ways/configurations. You can do the popular Texas, Carolina Rig, or Shaky Head and fish them off the bottom, bouncing along. You can also use worms of different lengths and just retrieve them at different speeds. Other favorites among anglers are creature baits, which are popular for flipping/punching through or near structures such as downed trees, stumps, grass, lily pads, etc. You just plow or punch the lure through the vegetation, let it hit bottom and hope it a couple times, retrieve and repeat. Again, you can vary the technique with a slower drop, let it sit on the bottom, shake it a couple of times then bring it up, etc. However, keep in mind that most hits will happen on the drop, as it is a reaction type strike, just biting movement. So you need to be ready to set the hook as soon as the lure hits the water a few inches as the strike can happen at any time at that point.
Jigs are also a favorite and this technique, combined with plastics, produce the most tournament wins. A jig, whether football, rounded, etc is a weedless technique of a weighted head, skirt and guarded hook that you attach a plastic creature or pork rind to the hook to imitate a crawfish, etc. You slowly drag/bounce the lure off the ground toward you as if you are enticing a cat with a toy mouse on a string. You should feel each little object on the ground, like rocks, trees, etc, and in coming in contact with the bottom, it also produces a sound for the bass to locate. Try to envision as though you are a crayfish or crawdad moving along the structure. You might even “jump” it a few times like a crayfish does when it folds its tail and scoots along the bottom, especially if it is afraid of something. This action can provoke the predator response, which is the reason you are told not to run from a dog or a bear! Bass love crayfish, so keep that in mind. This lure is also a favorite to punch through vegetation or tree structures. Here, you are looking for a reaction strike, so be thinking big! This means you will use a heavy weighted jig (e.g. ½ oz or larger); you may want to add two skirts, plus a big creature bait for a trailer (i.e. YUM Wooly Hawg Tail or Craw or Strike King Hawg). You are looking for large water displacement, which creates noise in the water and should spark the predator strike on the fall. Some good brands are Perfect Strike’s Alpha Jig, Gamakatsu, Chompers, Strike King and Booyah. There are also swim jigs, which as the name suggests, you swim along, not dragging across the bottom. Again, you can swim them fast, slow, jerk along, etc to get a strike.
Frogs are another favorite because of the explosive action they create. These are typically top water baits that you can jerk toward you or “walk the dog,” where the frog twitches left to right, left to right, etc toward you. You might present the lure as a frog moving across lily pads, structure to structure, etc. You also might want the frog just sitting in the water for a few seconds before moving. Frogs in water often sit in the water, scanning the environment for predators before deciding to move. These lures can get expensive($9+ each), some popular brands are Spro, Live Target, Ish Phat for hollow body frogs or Strike King Rage Tail for plastic. Mouse lures are similar in presentation.
Swimbaits are becoming popular AND expensive ($12-50 each)! These are jointed/multi-part imitation fish that you swim toward you in a number of different speeds, jerks, etc, depending on what the fish want. They tend to be more shallow in depth and might resemble a wounded fish.
The Alabama rig is another popular method, but also very controversial. They have a spinnerbait lead head with 5 wires protruding from the body, to which you attach hooks and soft plastic fish type lures. This lure is winning tournaments and, as a result, becoming very popular. However, a number of states have either banned the lure or established a limit on the number of hooks for one lure (i.e. Max of 3 hooks). Research suggests that bass are hitting the bottom three the most, so you could replace the top two wires with a willow blade for maximum flash.
There are a number of different companies ( e.g. BPS, Berkley, Booyah, Chompers, Culprit, El Grande, Gary Yamamoto, Gamakatsu, Gene Larew, Go2Baits, Karu, KVD, Normans, Perfect Strike, Slider, Spro, Strike King, S.W.A.G., YUM, and Zoom) that produce lures and you have to find what works in your area. Same goes for colors. Current popular colors are black/blue/purple, watermelon, green pumpkin, and white, but that can all change next season or next hour! Keep in mind water clarity conditions and whether it is sunny or cloudy out as well when choosing your color. Alternatively, most pros agree that color is not all that important, however, it seems to be most important for the person’s confidence, which cannot be discounted. Scents are also popular, such as Spike-it Dip-N-Glo (don’t forget the neutralizer for when you spill it on your (or your buddy’s) boat carpet or clothes). The thing to remember is to keep an open mind and don’t get discouraged if the fish aren’t biting. You must be willing to try different presentations, lures, techniques, colors, and lure sizes to be successful. The pro’s catch fish in tournaments regardless if there is a cold front coming in or there, in rain, high water, low water, etc because they keep an open mind and are not afraid to use multiple methods to catch the fish. The fish are there; it is your responsibility to make them want your lure!
Shore fishing can be frustrating, and you really have to do your homework to avoid high traffic fishing spots. I use Google Maps often and do some hiking to find hard to get to spots that may produce. But the reality is you will want a boat to increase your chances. Plus, if you are like me, I always feel like I am on vacation when I am on a boat. But also keep in mind the added expenses of owning a boat. There are a few sayings to demonstrate this: “The two happiest moments for a boat owner are when they buy and sell their boat” and “BOAT: Bill On Another Thousand.” But there are a number of boat types to consider: Kayaks/canoes, aluminum, jon/duck, pontoon, deck, fish/ski and bass boats. They all have their purpose and water condition requirements. They can range in price from a few hundred to the cost of an expensive car! If your significant other already has not divorced you, this expense could put them over the edge, so do your homework, get everyone’s approval and spend wisely! Also, keep in mind the towing capacity of your tow vehicle and don’t go over it! The towing capacities are NOT a suggestion, but a maximum requirement! Finally, thousands die each year while boating, so always wear your life jacket and remember “Safety First.”
I still don’t have a boat, but I am looking. With two young kids and my love of scuba diving, I will probably go with a Fish/Ski or a Deck boat. My head is still spinning with all the bass fishing knowledge I have tried to cram in my head these past 8 months. I am on the Ultimate Bass website almost daily learning new things/seeking opinions, reading books (Charlie Sliders is a good book, as is KVD’s new book) and reading opinions on gear from different websites like BPS. As for gear, I have spent close to $700 for rods/reels, not counting the amount of lures I have obtained, which probably easily adds another $300. I am currently set up with 3 rods, a 7’6” M Duckett Micro Magic Cranking rod with a Shimano Citica (a reel I picked up used for $50), a 7’ MH E21 Carrotstick Wild with the Diawa Strikeforce reel, and finally a 7’10” XH Duckett Micro Magic rod with a 7:1 Quantum Accurist PT reel. I will have 17 lb fluorocarbon on the first two and braid on the last. I feel these 3 rods/reels greatly maximize all the possible bass fishing techniques to make me successful in landing a hawg. By the way, if anyone wants a collapsible fishing rod, I have one to give away!
Brian (TNDiver) Hock