Full Contact Fishing
By Nick Ruiz
Full contact fishing you ask? Could this be a new form of extreme fishing requiring pads and a crash helmet? In a word...no. However, for many it may be a style of fishing that is very unfamiliar, and in some cases may even seem asinine.
The basis of full contact fishing lies in the fact that instead of fishing in and around cover and structure, you fish on it. For all intents and purposes the cover becomes part of the overall presentation.
Immediately one might assume this falls under the category of "fishing fad", but the truth is, full contact fishing has been a secret of many top pros for years. The true beauty of this technique is nine out of ten times it is something the fish have never seen before. On pressured waters and in tournaments, this just may be the underlying secret to success.
An appealing point to this kind of fishing is that unlike many other "new" techniques available, no new equipment is needed. In fact, chances are that the average bass angler has all the tools needed to be a highly effective full contact angler. Jig and pig rigs, Colorado blade-style spinnerbaits, tube baits, a variety of Texas rigged critters, as well as some crankbaits can be used in this discipline.
Usually, experience and an anglers' attuned eye will determine what's the best bait to throw when full contact fishing. For purposes of demonstration and instruction I will list my favorites here, but this is one of the few styles of fishing where your imagination can come into play. One can envision what the lure might look like while passing in, around, and on cover. This essentially means the sky's the limit for bait selection.
I feel one of the most effective, yet ignored bait to throw in a case like this is the stand-up style crawfish or spider jig. These can be purchased either pre assembled or the bait and the jig head can be purchased separately. I prefer to opt for the latter and select individual components. For the actual soft plastic jig I have found great success with Berkley's three-inch "power" spider jig, in either black or pumpkinseed. For the stand-up head I have found that the "Football Head" from Bass Pro Shops has been more than effective. This is because number one, it has a near 90 degree rest point and number two, it has proven itself nearly snag proof if used correctly.
Rigging is very easy. Simply thread on the soft plastic as you would for any other type of fishing. Now you're ready for your first lesson in full contact fishing.
Remember that any type of cover that you know holds fish will do, but the secret is to find cover that holds fish and allows a good bait presentation. It is this reason that I like to fish large expanses of laydowns as well as dock structure.
Position the boat as close as you feel the fish will allow without spooking, and get the nose of the boat pointed directly at the structure you wish to fish (provided there is no back seat angler). Now, the cast can be made with either a pitching or flipping method, or if you happen to be very accurate with side-arm or back-hand type casts, these can be used as well. Once delivered, after some practice you should be able to virtually "steer" the lure through the cover. At this point, find a shallow trunk or branch, and try to "sit" the lure on it. If you have achieved this, you should have a spider jig sitting on a log or branch with some deeper water on either side.
Here's where the beauty of this type of fishing comes in...attempt to "walk" it off the branch and allow a free fall to the next piece of structure. Repeat this, as often as the cover will allow, attempting to "step-stone" your bait through the nasty stuff. Chances are most fish will hit it a second or two after it begins free falling. If fish are more aggressive, they may even come up to pluck it off the cover. This phenomenon only occurs when fish are truly aggressively feeding. Another wonderful advantage of this kind of fishing is, on the off chance no fish are caught, each and every cast is a lesson in lure control and will make a better presenter out of all of us.
The next lure I like to use when full contact fishing is the spinnerbait. I prefer a lighter spinnerbait with a larger Colorado style blade. This combination allows for a good, straight, slow free fall, very similar to slow rolling. The spinnerbait offers a little more control over the lure than the spider jig, but for all intents and purposes the presentation is the same.
One slight variation I like to add is a small twitch or jerk halfway through the baits' free fall to the next branch or log. I have found that a twitch or jerk is enough to get even the least aggressive bass to take a whack at the bait.
In cases where the cover proves to be ultra heavy, there is a slight modification that can be made to the spinnerbait to make it a little easier to free it from snags. By taking a page out of a trout anglers' book of tricks, flattening the barb on the spinnerbait hook will, in many cases, save you from having to break off or head into the cover to free a snagged bait and spooking fish off. One might say, "but won't that just about guarantee half the fish I catch will throw the hook?" Not so, as many of the angler vs. fish battles in this form of fishing last something in the neighborhood of ten to fifteen seconds. Usually if a fish isn't pulled free of the heavy stuff in that time, chances are he's not coming out and there's very little you can do about it.
One more point about the spinnerbait. If fish happen to be on the warpath, feeding on anything that moves, don't hesitate to speed this technique up to an almost "branch hopping" type retrieve. Also, be sure to keep the presentation going once the bait is out of the cover. Many fish have followed and struck baits that were well clear of the cover.
One more great bait for this style of fishing is the Git-Zit, or tube style bait. Under normal circumstances I consider these baits "dock hounds", because they are exactly that - my number one choice for probing in and around. With medium spinning tackle, a good working knowledge of the "skipping" cast, and a good eye for productive docks, an angler can really clean up with this technique.
In this case, the more support beams, pylons, and in water steps or ramps available, so much the better. Usually, these are the docks that hold fish and are a blast to fish with a tube bait as well. For this application, I prefer the tube bait because of the way they are constructed as well as a near infinite color and size selection. My favorite way to rig these baits for this application, is Texas style, with a 1/0 - 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook with either a very small bullet weight or an internal clip-type weight like the ones produced by Eagle Claw.
As previously mentioned, steps and ramps can be very productive for full contact fishing. With that in mind, when you see steps leading down into water, like those commonly found on swimming and free floating recreational docks, do not hesitate to let your bait "walk down the steps". While doing this, keep a sharp eye out for ambush strikes as the bait progresses to deeper and deeper steps. If you can see that the steps come to an end just under the water, s-l-o-w-l-y inch the lure off the last step into free fall. Many ambush strikes have come from fish that were positioned under the dock, waiting for prey to be silhouetted by the sunlight.
One more quick and easy way to probe docks for active fish is to fire a bait as far back into structure as possible. With a moderately slow but steady retrieve, swim the bait back to the boat, allowing it to contact everything in its path. This is a great way to probe structure for fish when preparing for a tournament or pre fishing for a guide customer as such it is a great deal faster than the other techniques mentioned above.
I feel it should be noted that while many of the techniques mentioned above require the use of docks as well as other man made structure, there is one thing all these pieces of structure have in common. They don't belong to us. And chances are they do belong to someone else. With that said, I beg you keep this in mind when fishing them. Use common sense and common courtesy. If a cast looks like it may hang up on someone's dock, or boat tie-up ropes, or may damage and deface their dock or other property in any way, please...as much as you think it may yield fish, don't make the cast. Especially if it looks like your bait may wind up stuck on the surface of the dock. I don't' think we want any lake front home owner in the hospital receiving a tetanus shot because they didn't notice the 2/0 worm hook that wound up in their foot, near the swim ladder. Lest we remember how unpopular bass fishermen are with lake front property owners. Between early morning tournament noise, excessively loud and fast boats, and blatant disrespect for lake front structure, we need to make it a point to maintain a degree of professional courtesy. I like to think this point goes without saying.
Now, with my impromptu public service announcement out of the way, I ask that as unorthodox as this type of presentation may sound. The next time you hit the water you at least give it a shot. It certainly is an extremely rewarding method as well as a very challenging and effective one, and certainly worth the extra effort.
See ya' on the water...