By Bill Wilcox
This is my favorite time of the year to compete in tournaments. Bass will relate to off-shore structure now. Anglers must remember that most winning tournament weights are likely to come from these areas, rather than in the shallows.
Of course there are always exceptions in every event, but normal water conditions will have most bass relating to some kind of structure not cruising the shallows as they would in April or May. To find these offshore holding areas for larger bass takes a big investment. It takes time and looking. You must have the best map that you can find of the lake. This will help you get some idea of potential honey holes.
If you are familiar with the lake where your tournament will be, start close to some structure that has good spawning areas nearby. I have found that if you can find a good hump, tank dam, point, or brush in the area that the potential exists for concentrations of fish. Big fish are also likely to be in the area.
Finding these hot spots has never been easy for me. Very seldom have I just looked at a map and decided a certain spot looked right, went to it, and caught a bunch of good-sized bass. What I usually find is that fish are holding in just one certain area or little spot on the structure.
A good example of this happened to me in a Honey Hole tournament on Richland-Chambers. In practice I was studying the map and noticed some contour lines that formed an underwater point. What I mean by this is everyone knows what a point above the water looks like and that they are good places to fish. Try studying a map. Do not pay attention to the regular shoreline contours, but move out to the 10-foot lines. Now, imagine these are shorelines and look for points and other structure that way. Doing this will give you a better picture of what you're fishing and what to look for.
On this very underwater point at Richland-Chambers, on my first cast with a Carolina rig, I landed a solid six-pounder. The next five casts produced pickups that I didn't set the hook on. There were no boats in sight, except one with occupants fishing the bank with spinnerbaits. So, I moved around the point, shallower and deeper, just to look it over better. It was amazing how many bites I was getting. No matter where I moved, bass were there. I finally cut the point of my hook off because two of the bites wouldn't let go and hooked themselves. Both were over five pounds each.
These fish were actively feeding, but of course it was practice day. I don't know why they won't do this for us on tournament day. At any rate, the boat that had been at the shoreline was slowly working its way out to where I was. To keep the occupants from getting on these fish, I moved toward them. When we got close enough to each other and began talking, I found out they weren't entered in the same event. They were fishing a club event. Even while we were talking bass were hammering my Carolina rig. One about five pounds came to the surface and jumped to spit out my French fry.
This was at about 10:30 a.m. and I worked out a deal with the people in the other boat. They would anchor on the spot to keep other boats off of it and I would share some of the fish with them. When I came back the lady had caught her biggest bass ever in a tournament and they had put a couple of fish in the livewell. They had quit fishing and were just waiting for me to return so they could go elsewhere to finish out their limit.
The next day my partner and I anchored near the point at the earliest legal time allowed. We didn't want to take a chance of anyone else being on that spot. We even launched at a ramp farther away from the weigh-in site because it was closer to the area.
We started fishing at 6:00 a.m., but by 8:00 a.m. we were still waiting for the first bite. Sound familiar? Things changed by 8:30 that morning. My partner, Bruce Rasco, had landed seven fish. The best five of these weighed over 99 pounds.
We both stood on the back deck, throwing the same bait to the same I tree, but all I was getting was net practice. I switched from the 10-inch Power Worm to a 6-inch lizard and on the first cast lost one that I couldn't turn. The second cast brought a 7.70 into the boat. During the next half an hour we culled every fish my partner had caught. Every fish came from that one tree. We caught over 30 pounds that day and landed over 25 keepers.
What this shows is that there will always be a certain sweet spot. If bass are active, anyone can weigh that big bag of fish. It takes looking closer and being persistent to find that spot.
Since that tournament I can almost always catch a bass or two from that same tree. The trouble is that now you have to take a number to even get on the same point with it. Back to the drawing board, but I'm confident I can locate another tree that has similar qualities of structure, cover, and location. I just hope it, too, holds over 30 pounds of fish. One thing is certain. You can't do it if you don't try.
Good luck at weigh-in.
Bill Wilcox is sponsored by Ranger Boats, Yamaha Outboards, MCMC, BG Products, Pro Rule, Johnson Fiberglass, Brown's Automotive, Continental Batteries, Kistler Rods, Swamp Hog Lures, Strike King Lures, and Fun-n-Sun Sports Center.