Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bass Tournaments Not Always About All Things Big

I witnessed a perfect example of that statement this past Saturday at the season opener of our 2017 Dewey Mullins Memorial Bass Tourney Series. Anglers in only half of the participating boats managed to find any keeper fish to weigh. The day's fishing produced just 10 bass, with a combined total weight of 14.18 pounds. Winning bags were as follows: 1st place - three fish for 3.49 pounds, 2nd and 3rd places, tied two fish each at 3.34 pounds apiece.

Those numbers, in and of themselves, are pretty grim. But as I learned in my subsequent Internet research, even the best of the pros have their not-so-big days on the water, as well.

For instance, the 2005 Bassmaster Classic saw Michigan's Kevin VanDam bring a five-bass limit to the scales on day 3 weighing a scant 4 pounds 13 ounces, which established an all-time record low final weight. Nevertheless, it was enough to overtake day 2 leader Aaron Martens by a mere 6 ounces.

"So he had a bad day," you might say, but the truth of the matter is that the entire Classic field had a bad three days. VanDam's Classic-winning three-day total was 12 pounds 15 ounces, compared to Martens' 12 pounds 9 ounces.

Now let me take you back to the first-ever Bassmaster Classic, held in 1971 on Lake Mead, NV. Stan Sloan won that event, but did you know there was an angler who weighed the smallest 10-bass stringer in B.A.S.S. history during that same event?

That angler--Jimmy Holt--was a friend of Sloan's and a photographer for the Nashville Tennessean at the time. The first day, he was paired with Jack Wingate and was catching these little knothead bass (wish I could tell you something about these fish, but I can't find any info) on a one-eighth-ounce Doll Fly Jig. Jack told him he'd better quit throwing those little fish back because he might need that weight to win the tournament.

Holt subsequently started tossing those knotheads in the bottom of the boat, and at the end of the day, he took his shoestring and strung his 10 biggest (he failed to bring a regular stringer, so he improvised). He took them to the weigh-in, put them on the scales, and they weighed a pound and 13 ounces. In case you've forgotten or didn't know, there was no length limit and no livewells in the beginning of our sport.

And while digging around the Internet, I found a number of weekender circuits that occasionally experience what happened at West Neck this past Saturday. I even found a few clubs that routinely include a "smallest bass" payout among the other standard ones.

But, yeah, I understand why, more often than not, people focus on the big numbers, at the expense of those not-so-big numbers. I mean, it requires no imagination whatsoever to figure out why people would rather see, hear and/or talk about numbers like the following, which reflect the 10 biggest Classic weights to date:

     * 52-8, 1973, Rayo Breckenridge
     * 54-10, 1980, Bo Dowden
     * 54-12, 2013, Cliff Pace
     * 54-13, 2009, Skeet Reese
     * 55-10, 1999, Davy Hite
     * 56-2, 2006, Luke Clausen
     * 59-6, 1992, Robert Hamilton
     * 59-15, 1976, Rick Clunn
     * 69-10, 2011, Kevin VanDam
     * 75-9, 1984, Rick Clunn

As I indicated in my Saturday, March 18, blog post about our tournament results, if I had to name a "villain" in what happened that day, it would be the weather, most notably the dramatic drop in water temperatures from nine days earlier. A decrease of 12 degrees, in my mind, certainly would affect fish behavior, and I found some evidence to support that take during my online research for this piece. had this to say: "In general, smaller fish are far more affected by water and weather changes than large ones because they reside in areas where water temperatures change first and most dramatically--shallow water. Larger fish, living in deeper zones, will not be affected by water temperature and weather changes until such time as the change reaches their area. This can be longer than what it takes to do so in shallower water."

That same article concludes with this advice, "Using your electronics and maps to locate potential big-bass areas is not that hard. Look for structure lines that are possible trails and fish them. The next time you go to the lake, don't just hug the shore all day and fish straight to the bank. Line your casts parallel to the underwater structure, and your chances for success increase. Try fishing water that's a little deeper than you normally fish. Certainly, this doesn't mean you can't catch a big bass in a foot of water, but most of the larger bass...come from mid- to deeper water."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

For Week Ending Sunday, March 26, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017..."For the first day of spring," said Ron, "the gauge was way too low, so I opted for Tecumseh. The water was a bit murky, but the temps and wind were nice." He was rewarded for his efforts with three bass (a 1-2, 1-8 and 2-14), as well as a couple of chain pickerel "slime darts" (the biggest 21 inches, with both easily unhooked--thankfully), and a nice 14.5-inch near-citation crappie that weighed in at 1-6. Ron noted that the crappie appeared to have teeth marks on him. As has been the case for most of his recent trips, all the fish today fell to the XTS Minnow. "Nice to be back on the water today," concluded Ron, referring to the fact he just returned from another ski trip.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017..."This low gauge is killing me," said Ron in his email report. Accordingly, it was back to Tecumseh this evening. He managed to catch one dink and a 22-inch chain pickerel. A friend and Ron also combined to catch eight decent crappie between them for the skillet. The crappie all ranged between 11 and 13 inches. With a slow bass bite, Ron indicated he suspects they are getting ready to spawn.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

What a B-I-I-I-G Difference a Year Makes

As I reported just a couple days ago, 21 tournament anglers in 14 boats put up these record-setting numbers on March 19, 2016: 59 bass for a grand-total weight of 143.29 pounds (2.43-lb. average per fish).

Now fast forward to today, March 18, 2017, when 18 anglers in 12 boats showed up to fish this year's season opener. It seemed reasonable to me to figure, at day's end, the final tally would be something at least comparable to last year's numbers. But, man, was I ever more than a little wrong! That mere half of the competition boats which managed to find any fish at all brought a grand total of 10 keeper bass to the scales for a total weight of 14.18 lbs (1.41-lb. average per fish).

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I even heard some of the contestants say they not only didn't catch a fish, but they furthermore didn't even get a strike all day. That's anything but consolation for a bunch of guys who sat through multiple periods of showers and drizzle throughout the whole day, which--at the very best--maybe reached a high of 50 degrees, and I seriously doubt that figure.

So what happened? My money is on the recent nosedive in temperatures locally. More than one angler today spoke of the fact the best water temps they could find were running only 46 to 48 degrees. That compares to a water temp of about 60 degrees I could find just nine days ago. Other factors may have been at play today, too, but whatever those might be, I'm here to tell you that the handful of anglers who claimed money envelopes at the end of the day more than earned their rewards, plus some.

Here are today's winners:

(From left) Skip Schaible and Mitch Portervint, 1st Place, three fish, 3.49 lbs. total weight, 1.50-lb. big bass

David Dozier, 2nd Place, two fish, 3.34 lbs. total weight, 2.50-lb bass (today's lunker)

Steve Bailey, 3rd Place, two fish, 3.34 lbs. total weight, 1.71-lb. big bass

Chris Fretard and Mike Miller (not pictured), Mystery Weight winners with one fish weighing 1.48 lbs., which was closest to the drawn weight of 5.85 lbs. (excluding place weights)

The only other competitors to weigh fish today were as follows:

     * Ronnie McLaughlin, one fish, 1.42 lbs. total weight
     * Jim Wilder, one fish, 1.11 lbs. total weight

Those not weighing in today included the following: Gary Coderre, Rusty Girard and Andrew Bornholdt, Eddie Sapp and Al NapierMike Speedy and Stephen Hardwick, Luke Cooper, and Zach Rhodes and Alec Wommack.

Congrats to all the winners and thanks to everyone who braved the wet, cold day to come out and help kick off our 2017 tourney season. For planning purposes, our next scheduled event is Saturday, April 1, from safe light to 3 p.m., or as posted later. I hope you can and will join us.

What's worse than being cold and wet and not catching any fish--or, for that matter, not even getting a bite? How about losing a brand new lure on the first cast--would that make the short list of possibilities?

I was talking to a friend today who told me his first cast with a brand new chatterbait also turned out to be his last cast with it. He couldn't figure out why he wasn't feeling any of that all-too-telltale vibration on the retrieve until he saw only the blade hanging from the end of his line when he got it back, thanks in no small part to shoddy workmanship at the factory.

That's about as demoralizing as some of the tales I've read about folks who lost big fish with Whopper Ploppers because of inferior split rings used in their production. Ain't no danger of that happening to me, 'cause I've "super" upgraded all my Plopper split rings. My only problem to date is finding a fish big enough to test the new split rings--and, NO!, I'm not talking about any of those toothy critters. I'm leaving all those for my kayaker buddies--Charlie and Ron.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

For Week Ending Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017...A mixture of strong winds and low water had kept Ron grounded until today. The wind and cold still was an issue today, but he managed to spend a few hours on the water this evening. His efforts resulted in a 21-inch chain pickerel, as well as a 2-10 and 3-6 bass. Both of the latter were very fat and healthy. Ron's one regret was the fact he caught no panfish. He caught everything by casting the XTS Minnow to shallow water with old lily sticks. He didn't get anything trolling around as usual. His hope is that it warms up next week.

Will It Be Another Record-Setting Season Opener?

That's one of two--actually, make that three--pressing questions on my mind at the moment. The other two are as follows: Will there be enough water to launch the tournament in the wee hours Saturday, March 18? And last but not necessarily least: When am I going to get over this @#$%!!! "dog rot" I've been battling all week long? By the way, did I mention that I hate a cold?

Getting back to the original question in the title of this post, though, here are the numbers 21 anglers in 14 boats put up on March 19 last year. They weighed a total of 59 bass for a grand-total of 143.29 pounds. The previous record was 140.18 lbs., set back on Aug. 23, 2014, by 25 anglers in 16 boats. The most significant fact about last year's new record is the fact the competitors did it with 16 fewer fish than they caught in 2014. That's right: It took 75 bass to amass that 140.18-lb. mark.

Here are the winning bags from last year:

     *1st Place - 20.39 lbs., caught by Mark London and John Goodman. Mark also weighed the lunker at 7.14 lbs.
     * 2nd Place - 15.66 lbs., caught by Rob Peppers. His big fish weighed 4.06 lbs.
     * 3rd Place - 12.91 lbs., caught by Gary Coderre and Lenny Hall. Their kicker weighed 3.14 lbs.

It's anyone's guess how this year's contest will turn out, but it appears we will have about the same number of anglers as last year. There's also a big question mark about whether we will have enough water to launch. An even bigger question mark, however, hangs over my head as to when this "dog rot" will release its hold on me. I truly hate having to sit out a season opener but don't reckon I have much choice this time.

Oh well, here's wishing everyone Tight Lines! Hope they all catch a big 'un for me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Some People Lose That Lovin' Feelin'...

I just wish I could lose that naggin' feelin'. This past Wednesday, for example, I posted an article titled "Little Things Mean a Lot," which detailed a couple of tools (Rapid Line Guide and Rapid Line Clip) available to help anglers manage their fishing line. As I was putting that item together, something kept nagging at me, but it wasn't until this past weekend, as I was digging around in some old tackle in the garage, that I discovered why I had that nagging feeling.

My only hope is that I can remember this incident for the next time my wife goads me about "always hanging onto so much junk that you know you'll never use again." Anyway, here's what I discovered while rummaging around in the garage.

My first find was right out in clear view. All I had to do was open my eyes a little bit and look around. There in front of me was one of those tiny red and white slip bobbers. It still was attached to an old 5-and-a-half-foot rod with a pistol grip (OK, so I do hang onto some relics too long) that has been laying in a rack along the wall of my garage for a very long time.

In any event, that slip bobber was my "ancient" answer to the Rapid Line Clip I wrote about in that aforementioned blog post. When I used those little bobbers on all my rods back in the day, fellow bass clubbers used to rib me something fierce. They always facetiously accused me of "conveniently" using them on all my rod tips so I could fish live bait during tournaments.

The other item from my past that I ran across in the garage this weekend was a crochet hook. It served only one purpose for me: to pick out backlashes in my braided line (and it worked pretty well, as I recall).

However, I suggest to you that it also could be used in exactly the same manner as the Rapid Line Guide is intended to be used: to prevent line from retracting back through all the rod guides in the event that you accidentally happen to drop it during a respooling operation.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I also should point out that Bass Pro Shops advertises what they call a Baitcast Pic that is designed specifically to help fishermen get rid of frustrating backlashes. This two-piece tool can be unscrewed and screwed back into the handle for safety, and it easily fits into tackleboxes and bags.

I have one of these tools and have been known to use it, especially on some really tough backlashes, but I'm not too fond of it. My experience has been that the sharp point often nicks some of the braid and immensely weakens its holding strength. I've even lost a few fish as a result of nicks I didn't realize I had until it was too late. But, then, who knows? Maybe I'm just a bit more of a klutz than most folks. I do know that, on more than one occasion, I've been likened unto "a bull in a china shop."

Please let me make one thing clear here. I'm not advising anyone to run out and buy any of those Rapid Line Guides and Rapid Line Clips. Neither am I urging you to rush out and buy a handful of tiny bobbers, a couple of crochet hooks, and/or one of those BPS Baitcast Pics. Instead, I'm just providing some different options, leaving the ultimate decision up to each of you to decide for yourself what is right or wrong.

A Picture-Perfect Example of "Going Nowhere in a Hurry"

My friend Skip happened to be at West Neck Marina around 3 p.m. yesterday and captured this photo of a boat that just had departed from the dock in front of the West Neck Marina Store. Everything from this vantage point looks normal, but I'm willing to bet that wasn't the case aboard the boat pictured in the distance. You see, the craft had run aground, thanks in no small part to the current low-water conditions. According to Skip, a bass boat had hooked to the stranded boat and tried to pull it free, with no luck. I don't know the outcome of this predicament. If the skipper has to wait for more water to return to the creek, it may be a few days before he can get underway again, based on the winds forecast I've been looking at today.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

No Matter How You Spin It, a Spinnerbait in Spring Is Hard to Beat

When I first heard those two reports this past Thursday about some guys catching a lot of fish with spinnerbaits, I had flashbacks to the year when I didn't fish anything but spinnerbaits from start to finish. I carried "tons" of those baits--in every blade style and size, varying colors, different weights, etc.--all season long, and, yes, I caught lots of fish with them.

I still carry a few spinnerbaits in my tackle bag but only rarely throw one these days. More than anything else, I have to admit that I've lost confidence in them--a problem that, as revealed in my Internet research, is common among a number of anglers.

According to bass pro and fishing guide Larry Wilcox, though, "The spinnerbait is (or should be), without question, the primary weapon in your arsenal, whether you are competing in a tournament or pleasure fishing. If you don't hone your skills with this bait, you will be left behind at weigh-in," he says. "A spinnerbait can be fished from top to bottom, in clear or muddy water, in thick brush, or on a slick bank. There is no other lure as versatile as the spinnerbait, especially for anyone fishing a tournament."

Wilcox notes that you don't need to spend 200-plus days a year on the water to become proficient with a spinnerbait. However, it's his first choice for finding fish on practice days for tournaments. And for the record, he doesn't "stick" the fish on practice days. He instead cuts off the hook or collapses it against itself.

"The fish will be far easier to catch when you return on tournament day if you don't hook them the day before," he explains. "Bass are generally shallow this time of year, and you can either see or feel most strikes."

So, what can you do to a spinnerbait to add a little more weight to your bag of fish at the tournament scales? Here are some suggestions from Wilcox:

     * Use a trailer hook
     * Add a rattle or two (especially helpful in muddy water)
     * Use outrageous colors or color combinations (especially helpful when there's a lot of fishing pressure)
     * Try waking a big-bladed spinnerbait, especially in deep water (works best in clear water with temps in the 60s).

Another pro who relies heavily on a spinnerbait, especially around the prespawn, spawn and post-spawn periods, is Elite Series angler Keith Combs.

"Prespawn is easily my favorite time to throw a spinnerbait," he allows. "The big females suspend up in the water column to sun themselves in cold water. They're not ready to spawn yet, and I generally catch them best around standing timber or over other cover in stained water."

It's Combs' contention that many anglers miss a lot of fish--and heavy ones, at that--by staying with crankbaits and bottom-bouncing baits like jigs when the fish are up in the water column. The spinnerbaits he throws at this time are usually 3/4-oz. models, with a willowleaf-Colorado blade combination, and he slow rolls them. When the bass move to the beds, he shifts mostly to 1/4-oz. models with small blades. These baits, in his words, "give him an advantage over flipping and pitching because he can target a lot of cover on a single cast and find active fish without even having to see them."

At the same time, Combs admits that the spawn still is very situational for spinnerbaits. "I like those dark, cloudy days with some wind when they are bedding for using a spinnerbait," he explains. "It's a lot more effective when you can't sight fish or flip well because of wind."

In the post-spawn, Combs opts for 1/2-oz. spinnerbaits with big blades. He purposely tries to get the fry around bushes and wood cover to scatter, so he can draw the attention of mama.

Combs really beefs up his tackle for spinnerbait fishing around the spring spawn. He likes 25-pound Seaguar Abraz-X when fishing wood cover in the prespawn, then afterward drops down to 20-pound Seaguar Tatsu. He also goes for a stouter rod, namely a Power Tackle PG144, during the prespawn because of the fish being much bigger then. All the rest of the time he uses a medium-heavy Power Tackle PG143, with a 7.3:1 gear-ratio reel.

Although he acknowledges switching to a vibrating or swim jig at times, Combs always comes back to the spinnerbait because he has developed a lot of confidence in it as a springtime big-fish bait.

The months of February, March and April definitely provide the best chance to catch a personal best or citation bass locally. The water then usually is stained, with temps in March running between 40 and 50 degrees, and bass usually are feeding heavily on emerging crawfish, shad and bluegill. Strong winds are the norm this time of year, and big females are increasingly aggressive, as they prepare for the spawn. Those are all ingredients that call for one thing: spinnerbaits.

There are many little tricks that will make this bait the most productive lure you can use this time of year. The variations are limited only by your imagination. The only question you have to ask yourself is this: How big do I want to or dare to dream?