The recent BassMaster Elite Series event on Lake Amistad only proved that most of the professional fraternity is a long ways off from understanding the true power of big baits. While it could have been the coming-out party for big-bass methods, Amistad may have actually stalled the progress.
Going into this tournament, it was obvious that Amistad would offer the full spectrum of spring bass fishing. With fish in every phase of the spawning cycle – pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn – there were a number of options.
For those who found shallow bed-fish and used big baits to prevail, we applaud them. But to view this as anything other than bed-fishing is a mistake. Sight-fish are sight-fish. The tools may change, but the basic strategy and mechanics remain the same.
Sight-fishermen who can bypass smaller bass on beds and target the larger ones with big baits will succeed. Swimbaits or big tubes can function as bed-fishing lures or, at other times, simply serve as stimulants so conventional lures can produce the actual strike. However it plays out, the pitfall is confusing a bed-fishing scenario with a true big-bait scenario.
In spawning areas, you shouldn’t expect a dependable big-bait pattern. Yes, you can pluck off a decent fish or limit now and then, but don’t expect anything consistent. In most cases, you’ll waste a lot of time running the bank in spawning zones, especially when you’re going up against other anglers who are eyeballing bass and selecting those individuals worthy of their time and attention.
If bed-fish are accessible in a tournament situation, why not take advantage of them? If swimbaits or big tubes are the required tools, the lesson seems rather obvious: Use them, but don’t confuse them with being anything other than bed-fishing tools.
Do you see where we’re going? The BBZ mindset places big baits in the very same toolbox as all other lures. They have applications in many situations and they can be adapted to a wide range of applications.
The danger, however, is becoming rigid in their use. This is precisely where “rules of thumb” are spawned.
If you hear anyone pontificate how big baits are to be used in specific, prescribed circumstances, you have just heard a lie. The only message here is how one angler caught fish and subsequently decided that this was the deal.
What this fisherman is missing is the opportunity to catch multiple fish from a single area. Amistad was a perfect case in point.
Unless you had the winning bed-fish bite, you needed other options. For some, those came from areas just outside of the shallows where sharp breaks from 18 to 30 feet held pre- and post-spawn bass capable of being taken on swimbaits and big tubes.
The key here is to break down the spawning cove and identify the significant structure elements, i.e. points, ridges, humps, flats and creek channels. Then, the next step is recognizing how those structures “funnel” bass into or out of the bedding areas. These are the zones and “funnel attacks” where dependable patterns are born.
If you’re familiar with the BBZ, then you know we place great emphasis on understanding the water column – the top, middle, bottom of that water column – and finding the most productive commitment zones.
For those having trouble with the concept, water clarity can provide some answers. A lake doesn’t have to offer the clarity of an Amistad, rather just enough to show a color change where significant changes in depth occur.
Whether the color change identifies the broad expanse of a major breakline or merely a pocket of depth on a flat, bass use this clarity change as a cover element. In particular, larger fish employ these subtle boundaries year-round and especially in the spring, when the move to shallow water sometimes offers less in terms of familiar cover.
Every springtime bass angler has experienced the wonder of watching big females appear or disappear along these color changes, moving effortlessly back and forth with the flick of their tails.
While the object is to draw strikes from targeted casts along the color changes, follows will tell the tale. A following fish is a catchable fish.
Unfortunately, some anglers don’t have the confidence in their swimbait or tube techniques to do anything else other than rely on big baits to locate fish.
Remember, a follow can mean one of two things: (1) The fish isn’t ready yet, or (2) The fish is ready, but you didn’t create the illusion necessary to produce a strike.
If the bass isn’t ready, then you may have to return later and use other baits to generate hits – but not always. The only way to be sure is making a careful, targeted cast using a swimbait or tube and selling the illusion with directional changes near structure and cover. If you’ve done just that much, you have at least eliminated big baits (for the moment) and can shift to other lures with greater confidence.
As with every other lure type, the overriding key to big-bait success comes in knowing when not to throw them. It takes experience, confidence and dedication to a methodical approach. And it takes never ever pigeonholing any lure to specific situations.
The downside to this thinking is perhaps more detrimental in big-bait pursuits because most anglers don’t throw them enough anyway. They look for those magical moments when the lights are on and everyone is home.
Those who make big baits work consistently always have them at the ready – both physically and mentally. Instead of simply waiting for windows of opportunity, they are looking for ways to create them.