Boats and Bass
Boat traffic and bass? With largemouths, the combination can he gold, but concerning smallmouths, it's a different story altogether
By John Murray
For a lot of bass anglers, boat traffic is a bane to fishing. But it doesn't need to be. In fact, boat traffic can sometimes have a positive effect on the fishing. That's right, I said 'positive" and "sometimes." Other times, especially with smallmouths, it can kill the bite. To illustrate this phenomenon, consider my experiences at a recent tournament on Lake Havasu.
It seems Lake Havasu has turned into one of the most popular lakes for any type of watersport there is - from fishing, to jet skiing, to big - boat poker runs. And really, what I found at this tournament was the tale of two very different bass reactions.
I grew up fishing Lake Havasu largemouths, and believe me, having boat traffic can be the entire key to catching fish there. That's why my philosophy on Havasu for years has been: I don't really care about what I've caught before 10:00 or 11:00, because between 11:30 and 1:00, I'll catch most of my good fish. Why? Boat traffic. In areas that are usually calm, once they've been churned up by recreational boating, the largemouths start to bite. So on Havasu, I welcome boat traffic.
For the tournament, I absolutely should have focused on this phenomenon, but I got sidetracked. Going into the Havasu prefish, I tried to get on the smallmouths instead. I fished mid-week for smallmouths in the main body of the take, and found phenomenal smallmouth fishing, especially on main-lake points. In fact, it was some of the best fishing I've ever, ever had on Havasu. There seemed to be smallmouths on every point and in every nook. If I threw a reaction bait - like a Rico, spinnerbait or jerkbait - I had a nice smallmouth come out. I was pretty jazzed, and realized I'd never known the extent of this smallmouth population.
The first day of the tournament was a beautifully calm, typical, quiet morning and I headed for some largemouth water, but didn't catch anything. At about 10:30, after striking out on the largemouths, I thought I really ought to go get those smallmouths, figuring they'd be biting. I took off down the lake and fished different areas, and along one 100-yard stretch of bank where'd I'd caught 10 or 15 smallmouths during practice, it was the same story. No fish.
Turns out, that same day, Havasu was hosting the world championship jet-ski finals, and at the same time, there were two poker runs happening, with the biggest boats I had ever seen.
Looking back, I'm almost sure it was the boat traffic that shut down the smallmouths. People were just camped out on the points with big boats, and the smallmouths had really shut down like I'd never seen happen. I did manage to catch a couple largemouths at end of the day, but overall, I struggled and had a miserable day. I never caught a smallmouth the whole day, and was pretty much out of the running.
On the second day, I wised up and went back to fishing largemouths. In areas that were getting churned up by the tremendous boat traffic, sure enough, the largemouths were active. It was fascinating, because I faced a situation where one species of black bass reacted differently to the same conditions. I should have known, though, because one of the biggest rules in tournament fishing is to never pattern smallmouths. They move and react much too quickly, but I fell into the trap of thinking that I could come around and pattern them. I was fishing the smallmouths mid-week, though - entirely different conditions than the busy weekend.
Traffic Turn On
To me, traffic creates nothing more than a great wavepool, where the wave action really muddies up the banks. If you don't have a windy day already, and the boat traffic starts up around 10:30 or 11:00 and really tears up the banks, you can experience a great improvement in largemouth fishing. Maybe food items become dislodged, or the bass prefer hunting under murkier conditions, I can't say for sure. But as an example, there were days I used to fish swimming beaches just to catch largemouths, with people swimming there while I was fishing. It was the murkiest water I could find, and the largemouths loved it.
Smallmouths, though, are such gifted sightfeeders. Those that thrive in clear water, I think when the water gets churned up, they simply decide not to eat. I do find that windy days are generally good for smallmouths, but I just think the boat traffic and human presence pushes them down. To go from catching 10 to 20 smallmouths, to not catching a single one, was really an eye-opener and sure taught me to chase largemouths, not smallies, when the boats start up.
Reprinted with permission from Bass West Magazine