Countless hours of trial and error on the water have made the touring pros experts on what to do and what not to do when pursuing bass.
BassResource surveyed some of the top tournament pros for their best advice on how to help novice or weekend anglers improve their fishing skills. The following lists are their top tips and the biggest mistakes they see beginning anglers make.
- Simplify. “I think we tend to over-analyze, over-technique, over-color, and over-size,” says Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Menendez. “As I have gotten older, I have realized that less is more a lot of times. It doesn’t have to be that hard to catch a bass. If the wind blows hard, put the wind to your back and cover as much water as possible with a reaction bait (spinnerbait or a crankbait). If it is a day that is slick and high, blue skies, slow down (with a shaky head, jig, or Texas rig).”
- Stay in your comfort zone. “Don’t try to push something that you are not real comfortable with in a tournament,” says Jordan Lee. The Elite Series rookie suggests trying techniques and lures out of your comfort zone during practice or fun fishing but never during a tournament.
- Become versatile. “You need to be able to do it all,” Texas pro Todd Faircloth says. “If you are not real comfortable with a spinning rod, take a spinning rod and leave everything else at the house. Go to a lake, pond, or stream that has a lot of fish and try to catch fish on it. That is where you gain confidence in a technique or a specific bait that will help you. At some point, you will be in a situation where that technique or bait is needed to be successful, and if you have confidence in it, that is a big deal in our sport.”
- Improve your casting. “The thing most weekend bass fishermen can do to improve their catch rate is to practice their casting,” says B.A.S.S. superstar Kevin VanDam. “Making an accurate cast with a soft presentation is critical. If you are casting overhand and landing that bait next to that stump, and it lands with a big splash, you are scaring most of the fish you could be catching. Making a good accurate cast without any splash catches a ton of bass.”
- Spend time on the water. “You cannot get good in this sport without time on the water,” says bass fishing legend Denny Brauer. “You have to experience the subtle changes in the fishery itself and how it relates to different weather changes such as what the fish do when it rains or when the lake is dropping or rising. All of that will make you a better fisherman than anything else you can do.”
- Limit expectations. “Bass fishing can be good one day and not so good the second,” Oklahoma pro Jason Christie warns. “Even the pros have days when they catch them and days when they don’t catch them so much. When beginners have those days, they don’t catch a lot and tend to get frustrated. Those are the days that you appreciate when you catch them.”
- Be a sponge. Elite Series pro Marty Robinson suggests gathering all the information from magazines and videos. “There are so many avenues today to learn techniques for catching bass,” he says.
- Fish from the back deck. Ohio pro Bill Lowen suggests starting as a co-angler in tournaments. “I jumped in head first (as a boater), and it was a big learning curve for me,” he recalls. “I remember coming into weigh-ins, having only one or two fish, and swearing that everyone was cheating because they would have 10 or 12 pounds.”
- Using the wrong hook. “A case in point is using an extra wide gap hook for flipping,” Menendez says. “That hook has to turn and then come forward to have any hope of catching a fish. A flipping hook should be a straight shank round bend hook. An extra wide gap hook is a better choice for fishing a soft plastic jerkbait or for any hook set in which it is a side sweeping hook set instead of a snapping up motion. “
- Picking the perfect lure. “A lot of times beginning anglers think it is a certain bait or certain technique when a lot of times it is more about being around bass rather than having the great lure on,” Faircloth says. “People often think they can’t catch a bass unless they have a specific lure. It doesn’t matter how pretty your bait is, if you are not around bass, you will not catch them.”
- Getting caught up in the past. “Just because you caught bass on a spot last weekend or yesterday, you think it is not going to change,” warns VanDam. “You must be very aware of the conditions, surroundings, and variables because it changes by the hour out there on many days. So forget about what happened then and fish in the moment and fish the current conditions.”
- Losing focus. “There is nothing wrong with looking around as long as you are looking for certain things, such as when a fish blows up on the surface,” Brauer says. “Those things can help put more fish in the boat for you.” However, the Texas pro advises you should remain aware of “what your lure is doing at all times” to catch more bass.
- Doing too much. Christie sees newcomers trying to learn too many techniques simultaneously. “Pick four or five baits you have confidence in and establish those,” he says. “Once you feel confident in those, learn the other baits one at a time.”
- Fretting over colors. “That should be the least of your worries,” Robinson says. “I would rather be fishing the right area with the wrong color than the wrong area with the right color.” He suggests keeping color choices simple with natural hues for clear water and bright or dark colors for dirty water.
- Chasing dock talk. Lowen recalls early in his career when he would try the patterns the local anglers would tell him were working when he arrived for a tournament. “I struggled with that, and I just went back to doing the way I fish,” he says.