Run & Gun vs. Stay & Play
Personal style and environmental circumstances are determining factors in a pro angler's decision on where and how to fish.
By John Neporadny, Jr.
Professional bass anglers on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour must determine the answer to this question every time they compete. It would be an easy answer for them if one option worked better than the other, but throughout the years both bass-fishing strategies have made the pros winners.
Sometimes the pros switch from one strategy to the other depending on various factors, but for the most part they rely on the option best suited for their style of fishing. Three touring pros who count on either the run-and-gun or stay-and-play strategies of competitive fishing are Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., winner of the 2001 Forrest Wood Open on Lake St. Clair; Craig Powers of Rockwood, Tenn., 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour champ on the Red River; and Rick Lillegard of Atkinson, N.H., a 1999 Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship qualifier. They offer the following tips on when and why to cover a lot of water or camp on a few spots.
"I prefer area fishing. Running and gunning is fine, and I pattern fish that way when I have to on certain types of lakes," says Nixon, who claims he does better when he can concentrate on one or two areas.
The Arkansas pro determines during practice which strategy he will employ during the tournament. "I hunt for areas where I can spend some time, and if I find fish there, that is definitely where I am going to spend my tournament," he says. "If I can get areas where I can spend two or three hours really picking the area apart and changing lures with the flow, I do better than trying to run and gun with the younger guys."
Various factors influence Nixon's decision on whether to run and gun or saturate an area. If wind makes fishing difficult in his favorite areas, he might abandon his game plan and try to catch scattered fish by covering a lot of water. In muddy-water conditions, Nixon slows down and thoroughly works over specific targets in an area, but in deep, clear lakes he patterns certain types of structure and runs from one spot to another throughout the day.
Bass numbers in a body of water also affect Nixon's strategy. "If I know a body of water has a lot of bass, area fishing is much better," he says. The fish tend to scatter in waters with a scant bass population, so running and gunning produces better in this situation.
Availability of cover is another key factor in Nixon's choice of game plans. "On any lake that has vegetation, you are more apt to find areas with schools of big fish or numbers of fish where you can concentrate on areas better," he advises. "If there is scattered cover it makes it really difficult so you just have to go fish as much of it as you can in a given day."
Concentrating on a couple of areas was the key to Nixon's success in his FLW Tour victory at the Forrest Wood Open on Lake St. Clair. "I really had the fish locked up in two or three areas," Nixon says. "It was different patterns, but it was basically the same water depth of 2 ½ to 3 feet deep." Earlier in the week, Nixon caught smallmouth on tube baits along the bottom, but when the fishing pressure decreased and the wind calmed down in the final round, he worked the same areas with topwater lures and soft plastic jerkbaits to catch his winning stringer.
Area Milk Runs
Rick Lillegard also prefers fishing areas rather than running patterns throughout a fishery. "I just have more confidence knowing the fish are there and have more confidence in being able to change within that one area and still be able to locate the fish," he says. "I try not to camp in one, though, and throw all of my eggs into one spot. I like to have three, four or up to five areas depending on what the situations are on the lakes or if multiple species are there."
The lakes in his region cause Lillegard to key on more than one area to catch different species of bass. "Largemouth are notorious for going shallow in the afternoon on the clear-water natural lakes," he says. "So in the morning, I might try one area when the smallmouth are more active on topwater and then in the heat of the day, if I've got my limit, I can try to get that kicker largemouth by fishing docks or somewhere that might put the fish in an ambush position."
The New Hampshire angler keys on overlooked spots in small areas, such as submerged rock piles or a downed tree in the middle of a weed bed that might hold two or three bass. "Then I can make a milk run and hit those spots at two or three different times of the day and catch fish each time I go there," he says.
While working a spot, Lillegard tries three or four different lures to determine the mood of the fish. He opts for spinnerbaits and crankbaits to trigger reaction strikes from aggressive bass or he picks jigs and tubes for lethargic bass. Soft plastic and floating jerkbaits are other lures Lillegard selects for saturating an area.
During a 1998 Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas, Lillegard used his milk run strategy to finish 20th. Keying on the Buck Bay area, Lillegard spent each day running to three or four secondary points. Lillegard rotated lures on each point, trying a red Cotton Cordell Rattlin' Spot along the inside weed lines of the point and flipping a Riverside Lures Vibra King Tube in the flooded buck bushes.
Fishing pressure forces Lillegard to stay in one spot sometimes, especially on lakes with well-known areas that attract lots of anglers. "I just kind of concentrate on what I am doing and try not to worry about them and get in their way," says Lillegard, who tries to find an area productive enough to prevent him from overlapping with the crowds. "You've got to determine then if you can win or make money in the tournament off of just one spot."
Running and Gunning
Craig Powers won the 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Louisiana's Red River by keying on an area, but most of the time the Tennessee pro prefers running and gunning. "It just fits my style better," he says. "If I'm fishing shallow water and not getting bit, I know they are biting somewhere else." He believes covering a lot of water is also conducive to the types of lures he prefers to throw (jigs, shallow-running crankbaits and topwater lures).
The seasons play a key role in Powers' strategy options. He prefers covering a lot of water throughout the spawning cycle in the spring and switches to fishing specific areas in the summer. "Pre-spawn fish are just moving up and down to feed and trying to get ready to move in on the beds," says Powers, who in this situation moves every 20 minutes if a spot fails to produce.
Hopping around also produces for Powers during the spawn. "If you are staying in one spot, then you better be fishing for a 5-pounder or bigger fish or it's a waste of time," he warns.
The touring pro rates the post-spawn as the best time for running and gunning. "The fish have come off the nest so the more areas you can hit, the better chance you've got to get bit because those fish are moving to the first available structure," he suggests.
When the fish migrate to their deep summertime haunts, Powers keys on the areas because he knows these spots hold schools of bass. "If you find one fish, you've found the school," he says.
In the fall, Powers employs a run-and-gun strategy of following migrating baitfish. "If you find the baitfish, then I promise you the bass are there somewhere," he says. His run-and-gun tactics differ some this time of year, though. Rather than making 10 casts along a spot and then leaving, Powers pulls into the back of a pocket or creek and saturates the entire area with multiple presentations. He throws Bomber Square A crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwater lures before moving to the back of another spot.
The run-and-gun strategy also works best for Powers in certain water and weather conditions. When early spring rains flood the banks and create miles of new bass hideouts, Powers resorts to flipping so he can cover a lot of territory quickly. On windy and rainy days during the pre-spawn, Powers takes advantage of the situation by tying on a large spinnerbait and hitting as many wind-blown points as he can throughout the day.
While Nixon prefers spending his day in one or two areas, he has been successful employing the opposite strategy. "The thing that separates running and gunning from area fishing is the body of water more than anything else," he notes. "Sometimes fish just aren't schooled up real well and you might get a pattern where you are catching one or two off of rocks. Then you have to find more rocks and catch another."
Nixon relied on such a rock pattern during a 1999 Wal-Mart FLW Tour event at Lake Murray. The competitors faced adverse conditions as the weather was cold and the water temperature ranged in the upper 40s to low 50s, but Nixon still managed to catch pre-spawn bass on Carolina-rigged finesse worms. "I figured out the fish were within 50 to 100 yards of some kind of a point, so I really keyed in on certain types of points with rocks," says Nixon, whose point-running strategy paid off in a third-place finish.
Running and gunning also gives an advantage to anglers needing a kicker fish. "A lot of times big fish are loners and they tend to select a precise type of cover," Nixon says. "So a guy who moves around a lot and hunts that precise cover is going to catch bigger fish a lot of times."
Run a pattern or fish an area? Since both strategies work in tournaments, personal preference and various circumstances determine whether the pros stay or go.
Content provided by Bass Fishing Magazine, the official publication of FLW Outdoors
Copyright John Neporadny, Jr. All Rights Reserved