How To Be In The Top 10
By Jim Ratley
"Ninety percent of the bass that are caught are caught by ten percent of the anglers" - Dean Stroman. Unfortunately, there is much truth in Dean's quote. If 10 percent of the anglers do in fact catch 90 percent of all of the bass that are caught, what do they know that the other 90 percent don't know and how would an angler move from the 90 percent group to the 10 percent group?
Although the move to the group catching all of the fish requires some work, it is a much shorter trip than most anglers would guess.
We need to first realize that most of our overt actions are guided by force of habit. After performing the same tasks day in and day out, they become second nature and don't receive much thought after they are learned. We normally drive the same route to and from work each day and don't think much about the directions. Many anglers fish the same way they drive to work. They do not think much about the "directions."
In order to move into the 10 percent group that we often hear about, it is necessary to examine the techniques that we use during our fishing trip and see if there are habits that we need to change.
The following few tips are designed to help you accomplish the two primary objectives of bass fishing, first locate the fish, second catch the fish when you have located them.
Understanding Largemouth Bass
Although largemouth bass can be elusive and at times difficult for even the most knowledgeable angler to catch, they do follow patterns based on the existing conditions. The educated angler has a good idea, before they arrive at the lake, the types of conditions they can expect to encounter and most can even tell you how aggressive the bass will be.
There are a limited number of conditions that affect their behavior, and it is important that you are familiar with the most common of those conditions.
A change in existing weather patterns is no doubt the most common condition that the angler has to deal with. First, you usually have four different seasons of weather changes to deal with and each one of them will cause bass to relocate to a different water level or area to seek the most comfortable water temperature available. Although 20 percent of the bass stay shallow throughout the entire year, winter weather usually cools the water and drives the bass to deeper water. After the first freeze of the year, bass instinctively know that cold weather is on its way and usually move to the breaklines in water deeper than 15-foot. Since all lakes have different depths, there are no standard definitions of "deep water." Although in most southern lakes, water deeper than 20 feet can be considered deep water.
As the water temperature approaches 55 degrees, bass know that the warm-up signals that spring is arriving. They will move to staging areas to prepare for the spawn. A staging area is usually a breakline with cover in the eight to 15-foot area. As the water temperature approaches 65 degrees, the females move to the nest and begin the spawn.
After the spawn, the bass will usually move back to the breaklines in the 10- to 15-foot area. During the nighttime and early mornings they will often move to shallow waters to feed and then return to the mid-depth areas when the sun and boat traffic drive them deeper. During this time of the year, the topwater bite is excellent early in the morning in the shallow-water areas.
As the summer heat intensifies, the bass are driven back to deeper water. Although they might be in the same areas where they spent the winter months, they tend to be more cover oriented.
Another condition that the angler must deal with is the type and size of baitfish that is available for the bass to feed on. This can affect the size, type, and color of lure that is used to tempt the bass to strike. It is always a good rule to "match the hatch."
Color selection of effective lures should be made based on the time of the year and the existing weather conditions. Springtime lure colors should be red, oranges and chartreuse to match the baitfishes that are themselves spawning. Shad colors and silver are usually good colors throughout the year.
It is also important to realize that wind, clouds and available sunlight can affect the light which the bass find necessary to distinguish colors. Black and blue colors are excellent nighttime and low light lures, because the bass can better see the silhouette of the lure. Another worthy quote from Dean Stroman is "bright days, bright colors - dark days, dark colors."
Although there are numerous other conditions that will affect largemouth bass such as heavy boat traffic, cold fronts, turnover, turbid water, etc, the above information should be sufficient to give you some idea of where to begin your search. Although information on other conditions can be obtained from a variety of different sources, Honey Hole Magazine has published a variety of articles on dealing with adverse conditions.
Understanding your equipment is another essential trait that the 10 percent always possesses.
The majority of anglers seldom ever spend time studying a topographical map of the lake they are going to fish. Many anglers fail to realize the importance of understanding breaklines and cover. A detailed topographical map can be the most useful piece of equipment available when trying to locate a productive place to catch fish.
A breakline can be defined as a change in the underwater structure. A breakline can be a submerged roadbed, grass-line, fence-line or merely a shape increase or decrease in the bottom such as that caused by a creek bed.
Bass will usually use these breaklines as pathways when changing locations. When suspended, they will usually suspend over a breakline.
Cover is anything that the bass can use to relate to. The most common cover is usually a submerged stump or tree, but it can also be grass, docks, bridge pilings, etc. Bass, by their very nature, prey on their food. In other words, they hide in the cover and ambush the baitfish. Bass look for cover that is located on, or very near, the breaklines.
A depth finder is another piece of equipment that is often under-utilized and misunderstood. Anglers commonly use the depth finder to determine the depth of water in which they are fishing. With proper training, the angler can determine the firmness of the bottom, structure and cover that are likely to hold bass. Most can determine if the fish they are watching on the depth finder are likely to be bass or some other type of fish.
Bottom firmness can be determined by the width of the grey or black portion of the depth finder picture that represents the bottom. Most brands show the bottom as a gray line. However, a few models depict it as a black line.
Shad are usually shown as large "balls" that are not attached to the bottom of the lake. The balls are usually gray in the middle with a dark ring around the ball. It is not unusual to see more than one ball at a time on the depth finder.
It is important to realize that since bass are structure and cover oriented, the fish that you observed on the depth finder that are not related to or hiding in cover or structure are in all likelihood not bass.
Since the bass' eyesight will allow them to see in all directions except down, when the depth finder shows "balls" of shad with fish arches located directly beneath them, they are probably feeding bass.
Successful anglers always take care of their gear. While it is not necessary to spend a large amount of money to purchase a quality rod and reel that will function as needed, it is necessary to perform routine maintenance.
Reels should be wiped down after each trip and should receive a complete cleaning at least once a year.
Rods should be inspected regularly for broken guides and signs of wear that could indicate that it is time for repair or replacement. Also, if you leave your rods leaning against a wall for an extended period of time, chances are you will end up with a rod that has a nice bow in it on your first trip to the lake after a long winter.
It is not unusual for professional anglers to replace the line on their reels weekly. Many sport anglers fail to realize the importance of quality line and will often fish the entire year without replacing the line.
Without the proper line, the odds of a bass striking a lure are greatly reduced. Depending on the water conditions, bass usually have excellent vision underwater. If the bass can see the line, chances are they are not going to strike the lure.
A good rule to follow is that if the angler can see the line underwater, the bass can also see the line. The safest line color to use is green or clear. Since braided line is denser, it is always easier for the fish to see. If you are fishing with braided line, there are green markers available that allow you to color the line.
A few helpful tips that will enable you to pick the best line for the conditions are:
- Use the lightest line possible for the conditions.
- Match the line color to the water conditions. At nighttime or during low light conditions, the line color or diameter is not as crucial. In high visibility conditions, the wrong line can result in a day without a strike
- Make sure the reel is full of line. In order for the reel to operate as designed, it is necessary for the spool to be full. It is possible to cast farther and control and retrieve the lure at the correct speed with a full spool.
- Change your line regularly. It is also advisable to purchase your line at a sporting goods store that sells enough line so that the line is rotated on a regular basis. It is not uncommon to purchase line that is already weak from age.
Perhaps the most common trait that the 10 percent of the anglers who are pretty busy catching fish have is that they plan their trip beforehand. It is helpful to know where you are going before you get there.
The chances of a successful fishing trip are much greater if, before leaving for the lake, you are familiar with what weather pattern you can expect (even if it is bad, you can adjust your techniques), and know the types of lures that offer the best opportunity for strikes, and identify specific locations that you feel will produce bass. It is important to realize that just because a location does not produce bass, it might not be a bad location. It is possible that the location is specifically a morning or afternoon spot. Try the location throughout the day.
Although there are many more tips that would be helpful, these are some of the most basic as well as most ignored tips. As was mentioned previously, it takes patience to change old habits. Before your next trip, take a little time and plan your trip before leaving for the lake. It is the first step to a great trip.
I have received numerous calls and emails from interested readers who have questions or comments about my articles. It has been a real pleasure to hear from you and I look forward to hearing from anyone with a comment or question.
You can reach me at 877- 301-8999.