There are a few basic things to consider when choosing to fish with crank bait: wobble, depth, and cover. Yes, trying to match color to bait fish, pan fish is important, but those are more advanced steps and will be covered in my next article.
Matching the wobble of your crankbaits to the water is one of the most important things you need to consider when fishing. When fishing dirty or stained water you need to think about a wide wobble bait like a series 4S square bill by strike king (2′-5′), series 4 wide wobble (5′-8′) or a Bomber Fat A (4′-10′). The more wobble, the more vibration, allowing the bass to track the lure. Another factor you can apply to increase your chances is to throw a crank bait with a rattle, giving more vibration and noise. When fishing clear water, a crankbait with a tighter wobble and no rattle seems to be a better choice. I prefer to throw the silent series cranks or a lipless crankbait without rattles. More natural looking colors also helps in clearer water situations.
To me, running depth is the second most important thing to consider when looking at crank bait. I know fishing from shore changes the approach to the depth that you’re fishing, because it’s all in the length, of the cast but it still can be a factor. When fishing from shore it’s good to look at the forest preserve posted maps that show water depth before you choose your baits. This give you a good idea of the water depths you might be getting into. Whether fishing from shore or off of a boat I still take the same approach when it comes to depth. I select a few baits that will hit every level of the water column that I believe I will be fishing. Run baits as little as 6″ below the surface to bumping the lure on cover lying on the lake bottom. This allows you to locate the column the fish are either suspended in or if they are holding close to bottom cover. Running the bait at all levels of the water column whether it’s stained or clear, will allow you to have the best chance of catching bigger and better fish.
Cover like stumps, thick grass and weeds was something I used to try and stay away from, fearing that I would get hung up or lose baits. After becoming more confident in both my casting accuracy and in the lures I was throwing, I have learned to be fearless when it comes to cover. Yes, you still can get hung up or lose lures, but the reward for a well executed cast into cover is well worth it. One thing I have learned about crankin’ cover is that your cranks are a lot more weedless then they look. Every time I fish cover, especially rocks and wood, I intentionally crash my crankbaits into them, pausing them right after I do. I have landed more bass crashing cover then I have just retrieving the bait back. When you pause the bait after crashing into it, it gives the bass an open opportunity to strike, thinking the bait is wounded or stunned. I hope these basic but very important tips for choosing the proper crank bait for the situation helps everyone catch more fish.
One of the most overlooked patterns by Bass Anglers in early summer is the “Mayfly Hatch” On lakes and rivers in the Mid South, such as Kentucky Lake, Guntersville, Lake Lanier and Nickajack Lake the peak of the hatches occur during the months of June and July.
Anglers that have not taken advantage of the hatch are missing out on some of the summer’s best action. How do you know when? Well, if you drive near a lake or stream in June or July and you need to wash the truck after doing so… the hatch has started. On the water, look for overhanging tree and boat houses to become covered with millions of tiny mayflies.
They seem to appear from out of the blue and literally every species of fish benefits from this annual buffet. Triggered by the warmer weather, rising surface temperatures around 72-75 degrees, the larva wiggle from the substrate and emerge, leaving a floating husk on the lake surface. The adult takes to the air for a short life span which last only a day or two. Once in flight the adults mate and eggs are dropped into the water where they may lay dormant until the following year.
Every species of fish will come to the table and partake of these abundant morsels that fall from the overhanging trees, brushes and docks. This is a dock and brush flippers dream…the mayflies bring smaller pan fish such as bluegill and crappie; right behind them will be bass following the food source!
Area trout fishermen have long taken advantage for this pattern with fly rods catching everything from trout to walleye. Meanwhile, few bass anglers have learned to take advantage of the summer seasonal patterns where currents wash flies or larva against banks or submerged sandbars, it is here where hefty largemouth or illusive smallmouth can be found.
Bass anglers should target areas such as steep banks with over hanging trees or docks… docks with a night light source can be extremely productive. Flipping and creature bait such as a D-bomb from Missile Baits or a 1⁄2 ounce Jig from Tightline Jigs is a fast way to load the boat with hefty bass. Crank Baits such as a Rapala DT-6 which dives 2-6 feet on deep channel bends use a Rapala DT 16 to get under the schools of smaller fish. Punisher and Assassinator Compact Spinner Bait can be extremely effective as well. Let’s not forget about the early morning top water bite. This is one of the most vicious hits know to anglers, navigate a 3/8 Assassinator Buzz Bait or Rapala Rap-N-Pop-R around over hanging trees or docks and hold on.
Anglers can eliminate unproductive areas by employing their electronics such as Humminbird Side Imaging and Down Imaging. Cruse by docks and overhanging trees scanning under them and watching for large concentrations of bream and crappie located on the outside edges of the structure.
In the weeks ahead look for some great action around boat houses and steep banks on the main lake shoreline offer the best bets for success. Early morning and late afternoon seem to see increased mayfly activity.
If you’ve never witnessed a feeding frenzy beneath the spell of a mayfly hatch then grab a youngster and head out. It’s a great way to introduce someone to the sport while keeping even the veteran anglers amused as well. After all, catching fish stills brings out the kid in all of us and there’s no better way or time than during the summer season and mayfly madness.
Fishing, it’s a game of figuring it out. Much like predator stalking prey, it’s the chase and honing of skills that makes fishing an interesting sport. Here are some tips from the pros to help you step up your production on the water this summer.
Bernie Schultz Shares Secrets For The Grass
When it comes to bass fishing, all the greats know location is everything. In fact, it’s often the difference between a successful day on the water and going home empty handed.
Bernie Schultz, an eight-time Bassmaster Classic participant, honed his skills fishing the grass-heavy lakes in his home state of Florida. However, he’s a firm believer that the Sunshine State isn’t the only place where anglers can find monster fish lurking in the green stuff.
“If you’re looking for the perfect spot, it doesn’t get much better than finding a thick grass bed,” said Schultz. “You can typically find fish gathered in shallow pockets with easy access to sunlight where they’ll stage in or above the vegetation.”
Schultz recommends casting lipless crankbaits like the Rapala Rippin’ Rap or Clackin’ Rap into the grass and ripping them out to trigger reactive bites.
“The key with these lures is to make irregular contact with strands of grass and then rip the bait free,” Schultz explained. “When you snag a strand for just a moment, that slight pause, combined with the lure’s loud rattle are sure to grab fish’s attention.”
How Ike Finds Finicky Fish
Mike “Ike” Iaconelli, 2006 Bass Angler of the Year and 2003 Bassmaster Classic Champion, said this time of year can produce some trophy bass. But as anglers look to spend more time outdoors, the season can also bring the year’s most crowded waters.
According to Ike, anglers can set themselves apart from the crowd by targeting fish located on cover and structure that is not visible to the naked eye. It’s a pattern the man has made a living off of.
Using a depthfinder, Ike locates hard-to-find cover and subtle depth changes. He then ties on baits he can use to feel along the bottom, like quick-diving cranks from the Rapala DT Series.
“I also like to use more finesse presentations,” Ike said. “Sometimes baits with an in-your-face action don’t do the trick. If the fish just don’t seem to be interested, it’s time for a change. That’s when I switch to a silent, tight-crankin’ lure like the Rapala Shad Rap to offer up what looks like an easier meal for finicky fish.”
Ott DeFoe’s Go-to Shallow Pattern
For Ott DeFoe, 2011 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, a favorite pattern this time of year is running the shallows and throwing Terminator T-1 spinnerbaits. It’s the bait that helped him catch his biggest five-bass tournament limit to date–30 pounds, 15 ounces–on Texas’ Lake Falcon in 2013.
“This time of year fish are more than likely going to be moving into the shallows near some type of cover off of points, and there’s no better tool for targeting these areas than spinnerbaits,” said DeFoe. “I almost always have a T-1 tied on. The key is to make sure you fish them at the right pace.”
Coming out of the colder months, a fish’s metabolism will still be slow, which means a moderate pace is best for triggering strikes, explained DeFoe.
“If you’re working spinners, take your time and don’t burn them,” advised DeFoe. “Try slowly rolling the bait around trees and rocks, making light contact. Keep it moving steady and don’t linger in one area too long. I usually make one or two casts to a piece of cover then go on to the next one to cover more water.”
He recommends a 1/2-ounce Terminator T-1 Spinnerbait with a small silver Colorado blade to add a little extra thump to the bait. Choose a skirt in a color pattern that matches the local hatch and the hawgs won’t know what hit ’em.
The shad spawn can mean the best bass fishing of the spring if you hit the right spots at the right times. Although it’s a short period of time, shad spawn when the water temperatures hit upper sixties to low seventies and during the full moon. In the Southeast TN, GA and AL this usually means the full moon in April and May. Shad normally spawn right at daybreak. Once the sun gets on the water the shad spawn is usually over for the day; likewise if it remains cloudy it will last longer into the day.
For the most part in the southeast region, the first major wave of spawning bass have either finished or are close to finishing. For a lot of anglers this can signal the beginning of the post spawn blues, however for some anglers it is game time! Shortly after spawning the larger female bass start a migration to deeper water areas to start the recovery process. After a couple of days rest they are hungry. A favorite meal of bass is threadfin shad, especially when they are beginning the spawning ritual.
Threadfin shad can be found in most lakes across the southeast and are the staple diet of all bass from Largemouth in Lake Guntersville and Kentucky Lake to Smallmouth bass in clear, deep lakes such as Tim’s Ford and Lanier. This high protein food source makes them the perfect forage for hungry bass. Threadfin shad generally grow to a size of four to six inches and inhabit a wide range of water depths and temperatures.
Typically the shad are triggered to start their spawn when the water temperature ranges between 68-76 degrees. The shad will spawn in various habitats, depending upon the type of lake. These areas may consist but are not limited to shoreline grass or lily pads, rip rap, wood cover and even boat docks typically in shallow water (three to five feet) with deeper water close by. On lakes such as Lake Guntersville shad can also be found spawning on the main lake grass ledges around deeper water.
Watch for dark clouds of shad traveling the grass lines or rippling of the water right where the water meets the edge of the hard surfaces, such as wood or rocky banks. The school of shad runs down the bank or channel grass and the females lay eggs that stick to the grass and other hard surfaces. The males are running with them and releasing sperm that fertilizes the eggs. I’ve noticed shad jumping completely out of the water onto the bank when they spawn on lakes like Tim’s Ford.
One of the best ways to catch bass during the shad spawn is using a spinnerbait such as a 3/8 to 3/4 ounce Assassinator “Clacker” Spinnerbaits. It has a unique stacked blade configuration, in which the blades actually bang together and garners one of the most violent strikes I’ve experienced. The next best choice is the light wire Punisher Spinnerbait. Silver willowleaf #4 or #5 blades with a white skirt imitate the shad. Another great way to catch bass during this time is top water baits like Assassinator Buzzbaits. It has a head/hook that is set below the water
thanks to its 45 degree bend just in front of the head. In addition, a Rapala X-Rap Poppers and walking baits such as Sammy’s are great options. A buzz bait worked slowly will often excite the bass who lurk in shallow cover. If you are fishing close to deep water try Rapala X-Rap Popper. This hard bait will entice from greater depths simply because you can work it slower. I tend to use a top water lure when fishing just prior to the crack of dawn and again as the spinnerbait bite slows after sun up.
Get your boat close and parallel the bank. Try to position your boat behind the shad and keep your movement to a minimum, so not to spook them. See which way they are moving and cast with or across the flow of traffic. Cast your spinnerbait right on the rocks or against the sea wall in areas void of grass. When fishing around grass, allow the spinner bait to “Tick” the grass, then jerk it free and hold on. Here is a tip when fishing grass ledges. As your lures clears the grass drop to rod tip, stop your retrieve for a few seconds, then pop the tip once or twice. Many times
bass will congregate near the edge of the grass waiting for unsuspecting prey. If you suspect this, use a stick bait similar to a wacky rigged Yamamoto Senko, you won’t be disappointed with the results. You can’t cast too shallow! Some bass will be amazingly shallow, looking for shad almost out of the water. Start your retrieve as soon as your bait hits the water and be ready to set the hook immediately. Bass will often hit as soon as the bait hits the water when using either a top water lure or spinnerbait.
My preferred equipment set up when using a spinnerbait or popper is a 6’9” to 7’0” Medium Heavy Duckett Micro or Ghost Rod, LEW’s 6.4:1 reel spooled with 15-17 pound test Vicious Ultimate Co-Poly line. With this set up your rod has just the right tip action to properly work the lure and still enough backbone to keep the beast hooked up. With Buzzbaits, I’ll arm my clients with a 7’0” Heavy Duckett Micro or Ghost Rod. LEW’s 6.4:1 or 7:1 reel spooled with 50 pound test Vicious Braid because we are normally throwing it in or around heavy cover and your going to need to extra power to drag them out!
Even small-water fisherman need a game plan to get a bite.
Imagine a lake where there’s very little fishing pressure and the bass grow big and largely unmolested. An angler doesn’t need specialized gear or even a boat on this lake, and he can fish it thoroughly within an hour or two.
Actually, it doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up such a scenario. It already exists throughout North Carolina in the form of farm ponds and privately owned reservoirs of various sizes.
Farm ponds across the State have spawned several generations of bass enthusiasts who gained their early fishing education walking the shorelines of these small lakes. Such bodies of water have always been ideal places to introduce youngsters to fishing. But farm ponds are not just child’s play, we’re talking serious bass action here.
There are farm ponds in every corner of the state that provide good fishing,” says Bill Dance, longtime host of TNN’s Bill Dance Outdoors and the designer of several bass ponds in his native Tennessee. “As a youngster, I got my first taste of bass fishing in a pond, and I still enjoy fishing farm ponds whenever I can.”
“There’s a lot to like about fishing farm ponds,” adds Kenyon Hill, a professional bass fisherman who grew up fishing numerous state soil conservation lakes in Oklahoma. “The best thing about it is that, by their very nature, farm ponds eliminate the hardest part of fishing in general: locating the bass. The fish are right there, not somewhere two miles or so down the lake, which is usually the case when you’re fishing a big reservoir.
“And farm ponds are notorious for giving up big bass. As a rule they don’t get much fishing pressure, so the fish grow big and aggressive.”
Such lakes are particularly productive in the spring and fall, but many remain prolific throughout the year. Even ponds in southern latitudes that contain clear water can be good winter fisheries for anglers who use small lures and light line.
As a rule of thumb, the bigger the farm pond, the more productive it is likely to be, because it typically contains a greater variety of bass habitats. Most ponds are fished on foot, but
the larger lakes are better exploited by a small electric powered boat such as the Twin Troller by Freedom Electric Marine.
It is important to approach a farm pond as you would a large lake, regardless of whether you are hoofing it along the shoreline, puttering around in a small boat, wading or tubing. Farm-pond bass are no different than bass in a huge lake. With that in mind, farm-pond veterans look at ponds as miniature reservoirs and target similar spots that normally hold bass in big waters. That is generally a simple matter, since the layout of the bass’s environment is usually visible from the shoreline. What you can’t see, you probably can judge fairly accurately.
“The first step when fishing a pond is to learn the configuration of the pond and locate the structure and cover,” Dance advises. “Check out the shoreline for visible cover like lily pads or brush that might hold fish. If you’re fishing from a boat and have a depth finder, graph the bottom to look for bottom-contour features, especially any shoreline structure that extends out into the pond. If you’re just going to be walking the bank of a pond you’ve got permission to fish, ask the owner for in-formation such as where a ditch, channel, depression or point might be located in the pond.”
Structure and cover hot spots in a farm pond might include: A point that extends out into the lake (giving resident bass the option of both shal-low and deeper water nearby).
A shallow pocket where bass can dart in and trap baitfish. Any small creek, branch or ditch that enters the pond.
A culvert that delivers water or creates current.
Any type of wooden cover-stump, log, treetop or boat dock. Shoreline vegetation.
Trees that cast their shadows on the water.
Establishing the prevailing depth of the bass is a key to scoring consistently in farm ponds. Although Dance often catches fish off mid-depth structure and deeper spots, Texas biologist and farm-
pond expert Bob Lusk believes that most farm-pond largemouths live in shallow water (eight feet or less) throughout the year.
Once potential bass hangouts have been pinpointed, it is critical to take the proper approach, especially when fishing afoot.
“When you walk the bank, it’s very important to be as quiet as possible and fish each area thoroughly,” Dance suggests. “As you move from one spot to another, it’s best to circle out 30 to 40 feet away from the shoreline if you can. By circling out, it’s less likely you’ll spook fish along or close to the bank.”
Hill emphasizes simplicity, particularly in regard to lure selection. Although he has his favorite baits, he recommends “matching the hatch,” which involves selecting lures that resemble the size and color of the dominant bass forage in the pond (probably shore minnows or bluegills).
Florida farm-pond addict Sam Aversa is a proponent of utilizing big baits in small lakes where he knows big bass live. Among his favorite lures are a Heddon Zara Spook topwater lure and a Texas-rigged, 10-inch plastic worm. Regardless of the bait he selects, Dance uses a series of fan-casts when he’s pond fishing either from the bank or a boat.
“Start with a cast as close to the target as you can,”advises Dance. “Then, on your next cast, place your lure out just a shade farther. If your first cast was at the 9 o’clock position, for example, make your next cast the shoreline.”
Farm ponds are everywhere you look. You probably pass several on your way home from work. Most of these pond see very little fishing pressure and can hold some big fish. Always ask permission from the land owner before fishing in a pri-vate pond. Most will let you fish if you present yourself appropriately and promise to respect their property.
Many state records have been broken by fish taken in farm ponds so don’t over look these jewels. Who knows, you might find yourself in the record books.
In just a few weeks, fishing for mountain trout in western North Carolina will start to wind down for many anglers. But just as the interest in trout fishing slows, smallmouth bass activity picks up. For many anglers, summer is prime smallmouth season, especially for fly fishermen. Their aggressive, hard-fighting tactics make them quite popular. And, for many anglers, there are few things more satisfying than an aggressive smallie attacking a big floating fly on the surface of the river.
There are plenty of places to fish for smallies. Top choices are rivers like the Yadkin, New, Toe, French Broad, Nolichucky etc. Also, there are also lots of smaller streams that have a good population of smallies. The state’s biologists have done a lot of work to survey and identify many of these smaller bodies of water.
Many of our rivers and small waterways are easily waded. In the summer, most are comfortable enough for wet wading in shorts, and wading boots for traction and foot protection. In some cases, a little research and map study is necessary to identify parts of our rivers that are accessible and suitable for the wading angler. Studying a DeLorme Atlas, and keyboarding with the state’s new interactive map at ncwildlife.org, will identify some options. Combine that with a little reconnaissance from the road, and you can identify some spots for fishing afoot.
For many folks, smallmouth fishing allows them to combine two of their favorite activities…fishing and floating. A personal watercraft like an inflatable pontoon boat, kayak or canoe will open up new territory to the angler and provide access to spots that wading anglers cannot access. It also allows them to quickly paddle or row through unproductive stretches of stream or river.
On many of our waterways, canoe and tube rental companies are willing to shuttle fishermen who have their own boats. This is a convenient option and eliminates the need for multiple vehicles and time lost to shuttling them between put-in and take-out points. There may also be private individuals willing to drive shuttle vehicles for a small fee.
One of the best ways to fish and explore for smallies is to launch a canoe or kayak and paddle upstream. This can be surprisingly easy on many slow moving stretches of waterway. In some cases, hug the bank where the current is slowest…or ferry back and forth from one large eddy to another. When you get to faster current or a small drop or ledge, hop out of the boat and wade and tow the craft upstream. An unloaded canoe or kayak offers hardly any resistance. You can tie the tow rope to your waist and wade and fish your way through faster water.
Wading and fishing upstream will allow you to thoroughly prospect promising water. When it’s time to turn around, climb back aboard your craft and work your way back downstream. It’s a productive system that’s feasible on many rivers and streams. It also allows you to fish a specified amount of time, or fish at your own leisurely pace.
Almost any lightweight tackle and a selection bass lures work well for smallies. The fly fisherman will probably be best served with a 6-8 wt. fly rod and a selection of top-water bugs like poppers and sliders, and sinking flies like minnow and crayfish imitations. Some of your larger smallies can put up quite a fight, and the heavier outfits are nice. Most importantly, however, 7 or 8 weight outfits makes fly casting easier with bigger, more wind-resistant flies. Often bigger flies will eliminate the annoyance of smaller sunfish and redeyes…and result in bigger bass.
Whichever route you choose can prove successful for smallie fishing during the summer. Even though it may be hot and dry, don’t let summer temperatures and low water keep you off the water. Those can be some of the best times on the river as well as a good way to beat the heat.
Hands down my favorite time of the year to catch fish is during the spawn. Some of my biggest numbers and sizes have come my way during this time. The spawn is the time where fish make their nests or “beds” as most anglers refer, to lay eggs. Typically you can locate these beds quite easily. This is what anglers call, “sight fishing.” With the exception of the warmer waters located near power plant discharge or intakes, the spawn begins on the northern side of the lake. The spawn will run down the whole course of the lake ending at the southern-most portion last. On some lakes you can chase the spawn well into late May and in rare cases, early June. Spawning fish are mostly found in the very backs of coves in the shallowest of water having quick access to deeper water. Bass like to make their beds on hard bottomed surfaces. These beds can range in size from a few inches to a few feet in diameter. Most beds look like white or cloudy circles scattered out over an area. A bed can be simple and consist only of a few exposed shells or twigs. Sometimes the only thing that will identify itself as a bed is a fish laying close by or darting off as you approach. Bass like to place their beds close to cover like dock posts, rocks, stumps, etc. for protection and to hide in case a predator comes by to disturb their nest. Although the fish are not in a feeding mode you can still get them to bite.
In the morning sun I prefer an amber lens in my polarized sunglasses to help brighten the low light and enable me to spot not only the beds, but roaming fish as well. In the late afternoon I’ll switch to a gray lens that filters out light as the sun gets higher in the sky. Polarized lenses are essential to sight fishing.
A stealthy approach to a bedding bass is essential to the catch. As I am trolling in the back of a cut I am looking pretty far ahead so that when I spot a bed, I take my foot off the trolling motor or bump it in reverse and simply slow drift in. If you approach too quickly not only will you spook the fish off of her nest, but you can blow mud and debris into your field of vision and it can take hours to clear up. Don’t forget though, for every spawning area with fish on beds, there are plenty you can’t see as well as pre and post spawn fish roaming the area. As I am searching, I usually throw a weightless senko, pesky perch, or a wacky rigged worm to key in on strikes from those roaming. This is where the “numbers” I spoke of earlier are produced. Once you have found a few beds and see fish nearby it is important to understand the fishes’ behavior to know whether it is catchable. If you approach slowly and the fish scoots away out of sight it is probably what we call skittish and will be a challenge to catch. However, if it slowly moves away from its nest and quickly returns, game on. Here is where the fun begins!
I prefer to use bait color that I can see clearly. My go-to colors are white, bubble gum, and merthiolate. If I don’t get a reaction from these colors in a reasonable amount of time however, I’ll switch to a “harder for me to see” color like watermelon or green pumpkin. The more you can keep an eye on your bait the better. A lot of times the fish will hover over your bait and if you can’t see it clearly you may be tempted or fooled into thinking the fish has picked it up and set the hook only to snag or foul hook the fish. This is not a fair fishing tactic nor is it healthy for the fish. Also, the fish may flare its gills and blow the bait out of its bed. This is awesome to witness but it’s crucial to be able to see that fish moved the bait so you can reel in and place it back in the nest where it needs to be.
I typically use a 7 foot spinning rod with 8-10lb fluorocarbon. I either use no weight or a 1/16th split shot to add a little weight. Tubes tend to entice or aggravate the fish better than a bait with no reaction or buoyancy. You can even rig a tube with a light shaky head hook to make it stand on end to allow the tentacles to flow openly. You cast well past the bedding bass and slowly pull your lure into the nest. If luck is with you, the fish will strike right away. Though in 20+ years of fishing, this has only happened for me a handful of times, for which I am grateful because my thrill is in the visual duel between me and the fish. As I bring my lure into the nest, quite often the fish will make a large circle around its bed, slowly, slowly, re-approaching, inching forward, nosing down to sniff the bait. With a twitch of my wrist, almost a shiver, I make my bait quiver ever so slightly producing just enough movement to get a reaction and BAM…we have a strike!!!
That’s my ideal scenario, the one I dream about, the one that gets my heart pounding, the one I wait all season for, the one that is better than a bogo (buy one get one, guys)at the shoe store! For those harder to catch fish you can add a little more color to your bait, like a tip of chartreuse dye can make all the difference in the world. For the hardest of reactions, I often place part of a denture cleaner tablet in to the belly of the tube to create a fizz that sends the fish over the edge. This is usually my last resort to catch that uncatchable bass.
For me, when bass fishing, it is always catch and release. Especially during this time of year, since these bass are protecting their nests and left without protection the eggs are gone to waste. Sight fishing is beautiful and exciting. It is an ideal time to take kids, not only for the numbers of fish that can be caught during the spawn but for the ability to see the catch from start to finish is an extraordinary experience.
For many years, I was in the ranks of most other anglers that thought that the best time to fish was in the early morning or early evening. The bass experts (and there are many) told us that bass only feed twice a day, during those advertised times. This fact was of course true in terms of nature’s clock which is the clock used by all fish. What was being overlooked however was that bass, like all other fish will also eat at any time that a tempting meal is passed in front of them.
I have found that one huge advantage of keeping a detailed fishing log is my ability to create an interesting argument about life long fishing myths and this is a big one. I recently examined some of my catch data over a period of five years from 2005 through 2010. Using only data from days that I fished complete days so as not to bias the results, I plotted the catches made from more than 2681 different fish of several species. Much of this data was from trips that I had made to locations other then my home waters, trips to Canada and other US lakes and rivers. The results shown left (left image) may shock you but the middle of the day produced better catches than the morning or evening. Obviously my fishing technique was different when the sun was high in the sky, but the results present an interesting argument for not taking a lunch break.
Many of my friends on Lake Norman asked if these results also apply to that reservoir and if there is any difference in the results for different species of fish. I examined my data for Lake Norman, using the same criteria and got the results shown right (right image).
For all of the popular species, the results were the same, the best catch rates were between 10 am and 5 pm. Since my argument about the best times to fish was now getting interesting, I decided to go back and evaluate the data and compare it to the popular Solunar Tables that are published in nearly every outdoor magazine. Using thousands of catches as my data base I could only correlate with the recommended best time published by that source 22% of the time. In other words, I only had good results at the predicted times 22% of the time. Wow, I thought if I flip a coin and call the results I will be right 50% of the time if I flip enough times. That doesn’t place much confidence on the position of the moon relative to the earth when it comes to fish behavior.
I decided to do some more digging to better understand the sources of this solunar material. I have always believed that the tides, which are controlled by the moons position, do indeed affect fish behavior in the oceans. But in fresh water, I am a doubter. My research dug up some interesting facts. The earliest material written on this subject shows that very early work with the moons position involved the use of clams and other shellfish. These shellfish were observed in a tank of saltwater. Their movements and behavior were recorded and compared to the position of the moon. It was concluded that the shellfish opened their shells in a pattern that could be correlated with the moons position relative to the earth. This was the original work that eventually led to creation of the Solunar Tables. There were never any tests run with fish that I could find.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to convince any anglers not to fish in the early morning or early evening, because you will get results at those times. What I am suggesting is that you not abandon the midday hours. Instead of taking a two hour lunch break, pack your lunch and fish right through the midday hours. I believe that you will find this practice helps improve your overall catch rate for all species of fish. Based on my findings, you might not want to schedule your fishing vacation based on the published tables, especially if you are fishing in freshwater.
Originally published in the Charlotte Edition of The Angler Magazine.
During Northeast Florida’s winter fishing season bait shop sales for live crappie baits often exceed sales for live bass minnows. In fact many of Northeast Florida freshwater lakes will experience more fishing activity for crappie rather than Florida’s number one freshwater game fish, the “Bigmouth” bass. During a past winter fishing trip to the Harris Chain of Lakes I motored from Big Lake Harris into the “Dead River” and counted over fifty crappie fishing boats anchored up and fishing the deep edges of a mix of lily pads and hydrila.
The cooler water temperatures of Florida’s winter fishing season promotes a huge largemouth bass and black crappie migration from shallow water to nearby deep water structures. Without saying the best crappie and bass fishing action comes during the cooler months of winter where both species tend to bunch up along deep edges of aquatic weeds, ledges, boat docks and submerged brush.
A good knowledge of fish finders is a huge aid in hooking up with some of Northeast Florida’s best winter crappie and bass fishing action. Here fishermen often prefer a combo GPS/Sonar unit where the screen shows both navigation and structure. Once a productive winter fishing location is located, the location can be logged into the unit and revisited easily during future fishing trips. More importantly when you locate a school of black crappie, you will be able to record such information as water temperature, water depth, water clarity and type of structure that the crappie are holding too. Finding similar situations in the same body of water is a great aid in catching crappie when your present crappie fishing waters produce little action.
A deadly fishing tactic for both locating schooling black crappie and catching them too, is employing a slow drift along a deep water edge while monitoring your fish finder This can be accomplished if the wind is blowing perfectly parallel to the deep water weed line allowing your crappie skiff to drift slowly along the weed edge. If the wind is dead calm, a bow or transom mounted electric trolling motor will navigate your fishing boat slowly over prime deep water crappie structure.
Without saying Missouri minnows are by far the #1 crappie bait. However casting a Missouri minnows are barbed from the bottom and right through the top of the mouth with a #4-#6 wire hook. The wire hook allows the minnow to swim lively along the deep edge. Pinch a tiny split shot a foot above the hook onto to 8-10 pound monofilament fishing line so that the live minnow swims deep. Other prime black crappie baits include worms and crickets.
Crappie artificial lures include beetle spins, small plastic tail jigs and rooster tails in the 1/32 to 1/16 ounce size. However some of the largest black crappie caught are
often taken by bass fishermen casting small minnow type plugs liken the black and silver Rapala.
Once a crappie or two has been caught, be ready to anchor your fishing boat close to a hopeful school of Northeast Florida black crappie. Once anchored attach a small torpedo float on to your terminal fishing line which is adjusted so that the minnow swims just off from the bottom and close to the deep weed line.
Florida winter largemouth bass can be located using almost the very same fishing tactic that is used for locating schooling crappie. Here largemouth bass will also migrate from their spring, summer and fall shallow water habitat to the edges of deep water structures. If there are submerged deep water weed beds located just offshore of shallow water weed beds, this type of deep water weed bed can be a huge magnet for winter bass.
During a past winter bass fishing trip to Florida’s Rodman Reservoir, we used our Lowrance GPS/Sonar unit to locate a deep water weed bed that produced winter largemouth bass to 12-pounds. During cloudy periods of the day, the deep water bass would move out of the 20-foot drop and re-locate over a 5-6 foot flat. While during sunny periods of the day the bass would re-visit the deep weed bed.
Our lures of choice were large live shiners free lined from our anchored bass boat into the deep weed bed without a float and barbed to 20-pound bass tackle using a 5/0 weedless kahle hook. The kahle hook was barbed just behind the anal fin which promoted the shiner to swim deep. During cloudy portions of the day we would drift over the nearby weedy flat while barbing our live shiners from the bottom of the mouth right through the top of the mouth.
Our lure of choice was a #11 silver and black Rapala which we made long casts with 10-15 pound spin tackle to floating stumps and logs that harbored large weed beds close by.
Finally simply every Northeast Florida Lake and river that harbors largemouth bass will more than likely have a nice stock of black crappie as well. Both popular freshwater game fish find their winter Holmes where deep water and a shallow water structure make for both a comfort zone and ambush point for winter bass and crappie. Look for the best winter bass and crappie fishing to come during long periods of stable weather and a few days before a full moon. The current daily bag limit for black crappie is 25-per day. The current bag limit for largemouth bass is 5-per day measuring at least 14-inches with one bass measuring over 22-inches. For more information, visit www.myfwc.com.
As the seasons for catching bass come & go there is none I enjoy more than early springtime. This time of year produces catches of the years’ largest females as their weight is naturally increased by Mother Nature. The large egg laying females begin their annual migration to the shallows following the smaller young males upon the changing moon phases. The thinner, smaller and aggressive males move into the shallows first finding the best places for the females to lay their eggs. As the frontal conditions are constantly changing this time of year, a short warming trend combined with a Full-moon or New-moon phase will send these larger roe filled females quickly to the shallows from their staging locations. They will search out the younger males who have already prepared a bed by fanning a roundish area of lake bottom until it is free & clear of sediment or debris. These bed areas are usually about 36” in diameter of clean sand bottom which can be spotted from several yards away. These females will arrive to the bedding areas, seek out a bed that suits them, lay their several thousand eggs & then return to the staging areas all within a few days. The younger and more aggressive males are left in the bedding areas to protect the beds from the natural predators such as the bluegill, shiners & even other bass who will eat their own fry ( young hatched eggs). As the eggs quickly hatch the males protect these small schools of fry until there are large enough to move off to grow up on their own.
As this early springtime bite may last several months depending on the lake’s location the aggressive bites you get from these bass will be some of the years’ best. In the cleaner shallow water of usually four feet in depth or less sight fishing for these aggressive males & large females is not only exciting but can be equally frustrating as well! The aggressive young males will protect the prepared beds with their life. As you spot these bedding areas either by seeing the beds or by fan casting areas with fast moving search baits, the males will pick-up a bait by the tail, remove it from its bed & spit the bait out of its mouth as you watch without feeling a bite. A male may remove the same bait multiple times off his bed before he gets mad enough to eat your bait and you are able to hook him. Other days either prior to or just following the moon phases as these bass are in the deeper water staging locations close to the bedding areas At this time they will bite just about anything more aggressively than any other time of year as they feed heavily getting ready for the chore of spawning. In between the moon phases search baits like large 4” to 5” swim baits, plastic frog baits, top water poppers & chugger baits will get massive strikes as these fish will compete with one another trying to get a meal before another bass can. As you see these aggressive fish pushing a wake as they zoom-in on a slow rolled swim-bait, a plastic frog or popper it is very hard not to set the hook before they crush your presentation. At no other time during the year will the fish fight harder or be happier to eat most any bait you present.
As you search your local lakes looking for the best bedding locations look for areas most protected from the “Northeastern” blows. Look for areas with hard and sandy bottom with the cleanest water you can find in the shallows of 4’ or less. Find areas with scattered vegetation like Kissimmee grass, cattails, hard reeds or buggy whips, thin lily pads both large and small with deeper water & heavier vegetation close by. The areas on the lakes most protected or on the north-side will warm-up the fastest as the winds will push the cooler water towards the southern lake areas. Having a good pair of polarized sunglasses is a must. As you spot existing beds in the shallows or smaller male bass moving about in these areas, you can bet the larger females are close by. On days either prior to or just after a new or full moon, fish the thicker cover adjacent to the beds you see or close to these spawning areas. The larger females will be just waiting for Mother Natures’ time clock to move them into the bedding areas where the males are awaiting their arrival. During these periods of time between the moon phases the larger females will also feed but are typically found in the thicker or denser vegetation. Flipping or pitching heavy slow moving baits in the holes & pockets in these areas will produce some of the years hardest & rod jarring bites. The egg bearing females are heaviest of the year at this time. A normal female 8lb bass may be as much as 2 to 3 lbs. heavier at this time due to feeding aggressively and the weight of the eggs they are carrying.
To help protect these egg carriers, please take great care when handling these females after catching one. Make sure to remove the hook quickly and return the fish to the water; try to only keep the fish out of the water as long as you can hold your own breath. Upon reviving the fish get your camera &, measuring tape ready, position the boat for a good photo and only then take a few good photos, measure the fish and return it to finish its spawning cycle & fight another day. At no time of year are these large females more vulnerable to death due to miss handling of these fish!! Please help make the practice of catch-photo-release the norm for these large females and past on what you learn to others. Tight lines and good luck!!!
By Capt. Mike Shellen
The cooler temperatures of fall trigger many different changes in Lake Okeechobee. After reaching into the high to mid-eighties during the summer, the water temperatures have fallen into the high to mid-seventies. The cooler water triggers longer feeding periods in general. The large trophy size female bass that make themselves scarce during the summer months suddenly appear on the outside grass lines stalking the massive schools of baitfish that have hatched out during the summer. Along with the big females, all the bass in the Lake are in a feeding frenzy as they eat to prepare for the long spawning season
There are numerous patterns that will work for catching fall bass. It’s a great time to catch bass on a top-water bait. With the many styles, colors and sizes of top-water plugs, it is difficult to pinpoint what really works best. My experience has been that the bait an angler cast and works with the most confidence, is the most successful for that angler. One of my favorite lures are Pop-R’s which have a cupped face that throws water and imitates a fleeing shad. A Bang-o-Lure is a very old bait but still performs quite well. It has props that throw a shower of water as you retrieve it. Then too is a Zara Spook Jr. that features a walking type action that drives fish crazy at given times. There are literally hundreds of different baits available and they all will catch bass in the right situation. Knowing what color and action to use in certain situations is a skill that is acquired by tying a bait on and making enough casts that you become proficient with it.
Spinner baits, soft plastics and lipless crank baits all have their place in the boat and will all draw strikes in the right time frame. Being able to read the cover and having the imagination to use the right bait with the correct presentation is a skill that is learned from putting in long hours on the water. Fishing with a more accomplished angler is a great way to learn new skills and perhaps widen your understanding of reading the cover you are fishing. The best anglers in the world are those that are able to adapt to any situation and still catch fish.
As fall progresses the bass will form into large schools and move about the Lake following either the baitfish or responding to the moon phases. Okeechobee is blessed that our bass do not all spawn at the same time, waves of bass will move in feed up and them spawn from mid-October through the end of April. What this means is that at any one time we have bass that are in pre-spawn mode, bass that are actively spawning at this time, and then there are bass that have already spawned and are ravenous from the rigors of spawning. The long spawning “season” is the thing that separates Lake Okeechobee from all other bass fisheries in the USA . I started a log of my fishing experiences over 30 years ago and it tells me that nearly every year that I have fished Okeechobee the single largest bass of the year is caught between November 1st and the first week of January. This fall has already started out with a bang with 4 fish over 9 pounds in early October.
In addition to world class bass fishing, the town of Okeechobee offers great amenities for the anglers and their families. Great accommodations, fish camps, down-home cooking and friendly folks are all waiting for you. Come see for yourself what Lake Okeechobee is all about. For more information about The Lake Okeechobee area visit www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/okeechobee.
Capt. Mike Shellen
Shellen Guide Service
Phone: (863) 357-0892