In the Big bass Zone (BBZ), one of the most common questions goes something like this: "If I needed to know just one thing about big baits, what should it be?"
To us, that's an easy one. You need to know when not to use them.
However, the difference between a BBZ mindset and traditional fish-finding methods is that big baits are never completely ruled out – they're only set aside for the moment.
By using a top-middle-bottom approach, spot-on-spot strategies and the one-cast concept, you're not eliminating anything, but rather refining the productive depth range, the specific type of structure or cover and the precise presentation. You're just doing it really, really fast.
Historically, eliminating water is the method by which a fisherman reduces his alternatives. It's a laborious, step-by-step process and one that eats up the clock. Yes, it can be effective, but it's not the BBZ way.
Remember, even a day of recreational fishing is a timed event, and the faster you can make your decisions, the better. This is why BBZ tactics are geared for something we call the "power search."
For those who resist the BBZ philosophy, a power search may seem too haphazard. After all, they will insist, how can you effectively break down water that quickly?
First, you have to think. (Sorry, but it's required in the BBZ.) Second, you have to apply some very basic techniques in locating key areas (spot-on-spot) and recognizing productive depth ranges (top-middle-bottom). Then, it simply becomes a matter of identifying those tactics most suited to the conditions.
In other words, the object of a power search is not to eliminate water, but rather narrow the choices of where and what to throw.
Without question, big water is the bugaboo for most bass fishermen. Not only is the surface acreage intimidating, it places greater demands on your decision-making. Where to start? When to run? How far to run? Make a bad choice or a string of bad ones and the most valuable commodity of all – time – is gone.
Size matters in a power search so the first order of business is mentally breaking down the impoundment into digestible regions. Upper, lower, middle. North, south, central. The method doesn't matter as long as you have a handle on how you broke it down. Each region or segment needs to be just large enough to effectively explore in a full day of fishing.
Then it becomes a matter of choosing a region and analyzing it just as you would a small lake. In BBZ terms, this means you'll machine-gun the key areas.
This is the classic, spot-on-spot approach, except that on larger, unfamiliar waters, the first half of the day will be probably be spent machine-gunning areas within areas. If the structure and cover is relatively complex, the first 4 hours of fishing may only produce larger chunks of real estate that show promise. That's okay as long as they're not too big.
As you become more adept at power searching, you'll spend less and less time on any one area during the exploration process. The one-cast concept will become your mantra, because it's the very epitome of speed and performance. Make the right cast at the right angle and move on.
Once you've machine-gunned multiple high-percentage zones and built a milk run, start over. If you've followed the BBZ method, each area has been assigned a point value, and current conditions – plus or minus factors – are now being added to the mix. (Remember, plus or minus factors such as wind or water conditions can and will change over the course of a day. What may be a plus in the morning could be a minus by afternoon.)
This is how epic moments and big fish happen.
Go back to your key areas – starting with the highest point values – and keep machine-gunning. Never take your mind off full auto. The greatest danger is falling in love with an area and camping out.
Granted, if you find an awesome bite in a specific area, by all means, take advantage of it. After all, this is the prime directive of power searching: Take what you can get from what you've got.
By sweeping through high-percentage spots with precision – and speed - you'll refine your search with every pass. Moreover, you greatly increase the probability of being on the right spot at the right time. This is how epic moments and big fish happen.
Perhaps the most insidious aspect of fishing big water is the tendency to assume that things are better somewhere else. If you have absolutely nothing going on, then running to a new area doesn't present much of a downside. But, be forewarned: If you run far enough on big water, conditions can be remarkably different and will require something you're probably running short of – time.
Be cautious about running to a new area to create a bite. But if you've identified something in one region and feel it can be duplicated elsewhere, this is the BBZ mindset.
If you're not running away from your fish, but merely expanding your water, no problem. The danger here should be obvious, especially to a tournament angler: You can't let someone else succeed on your water.
Done correctly, power searching quells these fears quickly. You've not only determined the presence or absence of a big-bait bite, but done your due diligence in seeing if other options exist. You know what you've got. Now go get it.