Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Search, Find and Follow-up Bassin'

I guess that I'll categorize this as a combination of a fishing report, fishing story, and bass fishing tips type of blog post, all in one.  A few days ago, my buddy, Rodger, and I got an early morning start and ventured out in search of bass on a cloudy day with a high percent chance of rain.  The hourly weather outlook on my weather app indicated that we'd be mostly rain free until the early to mid afternoon.  Our original plan was to take my boat out on a local lake.  However, one of my trailer tires was flat, and the spare had dry rotted.  Rather than spend all morning of rain free weather fixing the boat trailer tire, we decided to maximize fishing time, hoof it, and fish from the bank.

We met at the lake around six thirty AM and decided to fish a cove next to the bridge that crossed the lake.  The shoreline consisted of a reeds over a shallow spot that dropped to deep water, and rip rap with a fair amount of blow downs that often held fish.  The water depth in the cove averaged about twenty feet deep in the middle, with much deeper water at the mouth of the cove, and a shallow flat in the far end of the cove.  I know this because I fish there with my boat often.

This particular cove had been very good to us this time of year.  I've had success tossing hard and soft jerk baits, as well as soft plastic worms and creature baits.  I've also had success casting faster moving baits, like crankbaits, chatterbaits, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits parallel to shore that pick off more aggressive bass and cover water quickly, especially during low light time periods of the day.

I carried two rods with me.  My baitcasting outfit was rigged with a chatterbait, and the other rod was rigged with a baby brush hog (a creature bait made by Zoom) that Texas rigged, using light weight and line on a medium action spinning outfit.  My plan was to alternate between the baby brush hog and a finesse plastic worm until I could figure out a decent pattern.

Rodger was the first to catch a bass.  I wasn't near him at the time.  According to him, it was a decent sized fish, about seventeen to eighteen inches long.  He used a small, four inch plastic worm, and tossed it to the tip of a log that dropped off into deep water, and let it sink.  After a few seconds of dead sticking the lure, the line started moving off in the opposite direction.  Rodger picked up the slack and set the hook, and landed a decent sized bass.
Rodger working a plastic worm around some blow downs.
Access to the cove from the road was easy, but tricky, especially since I'm ten years older than the last time that I'd accessed this spot.  I was pretty spry ten years ago, now climbing down rip rap is risky business for me.  Back in 2012, I was in a car accident that pretty much blew out my ankle.  Surgery may have fixed me up, but, the doctor recommended that I take the rehab route and make a few changes in my lifestyle.  I had to give up playing softball, at least, playing infield, because, I couldn't plant my right foot while going to my backhand from the left side of the field, to make that long throw to first base.  If I couldn't play like I used to, and I wasn't interested in playing other positions, then it just wasn't fun any longer to me.  Plus, the doc said that surgery may not have made a difference anyway.

Sorry that I digressed.  We worked the area thoroughly and decided that the action didn't warrant us to spend much time at the first spot, so it was time for a spot change.  I had plenty of good shoreline spots to try.  So, we left and tried another spot on the lake.

This area of the lake was much shallower, with a submerged rip rap sediment barrier that crossed the lake.  We walked an old road bed where the shoreline had numerous dead falls that provided plenty of cover for bass.  I started off with the first bite at this spot, as a fish aggressively inhaled my baby brush hog and swam off.  I was excited as I set the hook, only to find out that it wasn't the species that we were looking for.  It was a less than spectacular sized nine inch crappie!  I've never had a crappie inhale a baby brush hog before, much less a small one, so that was surprising.
Never would I imagine a medium sized crappie eating a baby brush hog.  He inhaled it!  Learn something every day, I guess.  
I moved up the lake in search of more bass and logs that hid them.  At the next spot within a spot, there were several submerged logs and trees.  This was another spot that I'd done well in the past.  I worked the baby brush hog thoroughly through all of the logs.  Birds were singing nearby.  I'm not sure what the species was, but, it sounded like it was singing the word, "chatterbait, chatterbait, chatterbait".  I took that as an omen, so, I switched up and tossed the chatterbait.  However, the bass weren't listening to the bird, at least at my spot.  Rodger, meanwhile, again, out of my camera range, texted me a selfie.  He'd just caught another nice bass on a chatterbait!  That bass was listening!  I mentioned the birds to Rodger, and he didn't notice them, so, the chatterbait idea was his all along.
Rodger's selfie sporting another decent sized bass that listened to the birds singing, "chatterbait, chatterbait, chatterbait"!
We moved further down the lake along the old road, and I picked up a Maryland "keeper" sized bass, a twelve to thirteen incher, on a chatterbait.  So, finally, a bass that I targeted with a chatterbait listened to the birds!
Finally, I found a bass that listened to the birds.
We worked our way down the lake to a cove that is heavily wooded with standing timber and blow downs.  I picked up a dinky sized bass that chased down my four inch finesse worm as I reeled it up to make another cast.  Hmmm, I figured that maybe these fish were more active than I gave them credit for.  So, I cast to the same spot, reeled the worm in quickly, and caught another twelve incher.  Maybe a pattern?  I tried it all over the area without another bite, so no, not the pattern.

In that same area, there was a log that reached out to what was left of the cove's creek channel.  I decided to work that log thoroughly, as it seemed very fishy to me.  On one cast, I put the worm right where a branch on the log created a Y, at the channel edge, and let it sink to the bottom.  I took off my sunglasses and cleaned them, then, put them back on, reeled up the slack, and there was a fish hanging on my plastic worm.  So, I set the hook and it turned out to be a decent sized sixteen inch bass.  That was all the action at that cove, so we decided to fish our way back to where we started.

On the way back, Rodger caught another nice eighteen inch bass that inhaled his plastic worm.  I made a bee line to the same log where I caught my first bass.  This time, I tossed my finesse worm off the tip of the log, same exact spot where my first bass hit.  Sure enough, another fish was there.  I felt the tap on the worm and watched the worm swim toward the thick cover, so, I set the hook.  It was a nice fish.  I could see it as it splashed at the surface.
Rodger with his third nice bass of the day, caught using a four inch plastic worm.
The only problem was that the fish took my line into the brush, and my line was over the top of a small branch, just by an inch or two.  As the fat female bass dangled half way out of the water, I tried giving it line so it could free itself from the cover, but, that didn't work.  Next, I tried shaking the rod tip to free the line or get the bass to flip itself off.  In doing so, I must have sawed a week spot in the line, because, it broke, and the fish, and my lure, were gone.  My guess was that fish may have been between eighteen and twenty inches, and my heart sank as that could have been my best chance at a decent fish all day.

The fish were just not on.  The bite was slow, typical for post spawn fish at this lake.  A few boats that we talked to had similar results.  The common theme was, "you shoulda been here last week"!  We fished our way back without another bite.  It was almost noon, and we decided to leave, get lunch, and try another body of water.

After a nice lunch, we hit our second body of water not far from a local country store that served up a mean cheeseburger sub that I found quite satisfying, while Rodger enjoyed a tuna sandwich.  I was worried about this spot, because, rain pounded our area the previous night, that it might have been muddy.  But, after a short drive, we arrived to find that the water was in really good shape.

The water had a tannic acid stain to it.  The spot was very weedy and had a bunch woody cover in the water, perfect for bass fishing.  It's not an easy spot to fish, and, I wasn't familiar with the best spots in this area, since I rarely fish it.  I decided to rely on my chatterbait to cover as much water as possible in an attempt to find active bass.

Early on, I had a light bite and missed the fish.  Rodger was fishing his finesse worm, so I urged him to toss to the spot where I had the hit, but, after a couple casts, the fish did not bite.  After that, I threw the chatterbait a few more times, hoping the fish would take it more aggressively, then moved on.  That might have been a mistake, that I didn't continue to try for that fish with my plastic worm. Instead, I moved on in search of more fish.

Meanwhile, Rodger gave crappie fishing a go, and caught a decent crappie right off the bat.  I didn't bring any panfish gear, so I kept moving to cover water, walking down the bank, casting to any cover that may hold a bass.  And, there was a lot to cast to.  Places like this are often difficult to fish, because, the bass could literally be anywhere.  Still, with time, you can establish a pattern.

About a hundred yards up the lake, I had another fish dart out and nip my chartreuse chatterbait and miss it.  So, I switched tactics, reached for my other rod that was rigged with my finesse worm, and followed up with a cast to the spot where I had the bite.  A fish instantly inhaled my plastic worm, and I set the hook and landed a twelve inch bass.  I was on the board here, and my confidence grew.  Not only did this place look very bassy, there were willing bass here.
I just love when fish hammer chatterbaits.  This bass from a different fishing trip inhaled a white chatterbait with a white plastic worm trailer.
Not long after that, about another hundred yards up, I caught another twelve incher on the chatterbait.  No follow up needed on this fish, as it slammed the chatterbait.  I released it and moved on.  I had the bug now, more confidence, and felt like I was starting to dial in a pattern, finally.  A few casts later, and another bass fell to the follow up worm after it missed my chatterbait.

Rodger didn't have much luck crappie fishing, so, he switched back to bassin' and caught up with me.  I skipped a couple huge blow downs to give him a better chance at finding a bass.  Instead,  I decided to work a small tree branch that stuck out along the near shoreline, that had a weed mat sandwiched between it, and the bank.

I tossed my chatterbait out and worked it back across the tip of the log.  A big fish shot out and nailed the chatterbait, but, missed it.  I yelled out that it was a nice fish that I just missed.  Quickly, I reached for my follow up rod, and tossed my plastic worm to the spot...nothing.  No bite.  I tried several casts from different angles, and nothing.  I figured that the bass still had to be there, so, I persisted.

My next cast followed the same trajectory as the one where I had the bite.  Only, this time, I worked the worm very slowly through the spot, jigging very slightly, to make the worm dance, almost in place, without gaining much line.

Finally, I had a pick up, the line went tight and the fish started to swim off with my bait.  I set the hook and hooked the fish solidly.  As the fish rose to the surface, it shot half way out of the water, with big mouth agape as she shook her head in an effort to throw the hook.  I pleaded out loud for the fish to not spit the hook as I fought her.  Eventually, she tired enough that I was able to lift her out of the water.

After I unhooked her, I started to do my hand measurement as I admired the fish.  Rodger was right there, and pulled out a measuring tape.  I held the fish steady as he measured her at twenty inches.  During pre-spawn, a female bass like this could weigh four to five pounds, but, my guess was that she was now between three and a half to four pounds.  Still, a nice fish that saved my day, and redeemed me from my earlier heartbreak of a lost fish.
The key to catching this twenty inch bass was to follow up my chatterbait with a finesse worm that she couldn't resist.  It took me a few casts, but was eventually able to tempt her into biting.  That was my pattern for the day, search, find and follow up.  Sorry about the leaf in the pic.  Apparently, as I hoisted her out of the water, a leaf stuck to her side, and I didn't see it.
I worked my way up the lake but the water was very shallow and weedy there.  Not that fish couldn't be there, as it would be worth fishing when they are more active, but, they didn't seem to be in the shallows on this particular day.  Rodger stayed put and fished the sunken logs while I worked my way back to him.  It started to rain pretty heavily at that point, and we were both sore and tired.  Getting old sucks!

So, we called it quits and were thankful that for most of the day, the bad weather held off.  Most of all, it was great fishing together again with a good friend.  Next time, I hope to have my boat ready so we can sit and relax on something more comfortable than a rock or log once in a while!  Still, shore fishing brought back a bunch of memories, and proved that we can still find fish with or without a boat.

One thing that I do when shore fishing, is to secure the fishing rod that I'm not using to a clip that hangs off the back of my fishing vest.  Keeping my hands free allows me to make more casts and stay mobile.  I don't have to bend down a hundred times a day to pick up a fishing rod.  Wearing a fishing vest, stuffed with my tackled needed for the day, allows me to not have to carry a tackle box with me, for the same reason, to keep my hands free.
In this picture, other than me unhooking a bass, you can see my tip above in action, with the rod hanging by a clip attached to a strap behind the neck of my vest, so my fishing rod can hang behind me as I fish my other fishing rod.  If I need it quickly, all I have to do is unclip it, then clip on the one that I don't need.
Finally, the pic above provides my fishing tip, the fishing report is well detailed, as was the story, and the pattern for the day that resulted in most of my fish caught, was the search, find and follow up technique.  I used a search lure to find the fish (a chatterbait, in this instance), and when they bit and missed, as finicky fish often do, I followed up with a finesse plastic worm on light line to get them to bite and seal the deal.  As it turned out, the birds were correct, that a chatterbait played a vital role with my fishing luck for the day.  Fishing was tough, but, we made the most of it, and caught some pretty nice fish.

I hope you liked this report/story/tip/pattern blog post.  Please let me know in the comments if you enjoyed the post, and let me know of  your find and follow patterns that have worked for you.  Thanks for following.  Until the next post!!!!




Thursday, May 2, 2019

How About a Little Bait, Big Bass Story?

Here's another campfire type story that brings back fond bass fishing memories for me, one of a big bass caught while finesse fishing on a rather small lure.  Only this big bass wasn't caught by me, rather, it was caught by my fishing pal, Captain Steve Kelley.

It was early spring, near the end of March.  Cloudy skies, light winds, air temperatures in the upper fifties, and water temperatures in the low fifties were ideal conditions to catch pre-spawn big bass.  Water visibility was about two feet, which was really good for such a windy month.  We started out fishing with a moving incoming tide in our favor.

Recently, in previous trips, we'd done well casting lipless crankbaits, and we expected similar results on this trip.  Basically, the hot pattern at the time was to find emerging weedbeds, cast out a crankback, and as you reeled it in, tick the tops of the weeds with it.  Often, if you lighly snagged a weed during the retrieve and jerked the crankbait off it, you'd provoke a bass to strike.   Lipless crankbaits work great with this method. 

Click Here for more info on fishing lipless crankbaits and fishing this weed pattern.

We reached our first location of the day around mid morning, a cove at the mouth of a creek that had a fair amount of sunken wood and plenty of fallen timber along the bank.  The bottom consisted of pea gravel along the bank, and a muddy bottom out toward the middle of the cove.  Bass consistently spawn in this cove, so we felt that was a great reason to start there for the day.  This cove usually had a fair amount of weeds, so we thought that the crankbait pattern be the perfect method.

However, the fish had other plans for us, at least at this spot, at that particular time.  Steve finally hooked up on his first largemouth, an eighteen incher, after about a half hour cruising the cove on a crankbait.  I picked up a couple of punk fish, but the bite wasn't as fast and furious as it had been during previous trips.  For some reason, the weeds hadn't grown as they had in the past at this spot.

Sometimes, when things are slow in the cove, it often winds up being better fishing inside the creek.  We fished our way into the creek.  As we entered the creek, Steve commented that he often caught fish on plastic worms off one of the points.  At the tip of this point, there was a log that created a small current break during an incoming tide.  Steve picked up his rod, rigged with light weight, a light wire hook, and four inch green pumpkin ringworm, and pitched his worm perfectly into the eddy created by the log.  Almost immediately, he yelled, "Fish!  It's a good one!"

After hearing that, I reeled in my lure and grabbed the net.  The current swept us further into the creek as Steve battled the fish on eight pound fluorocarbon line spooled on a medium light action spinning rod and reel combo.  As the fish neared the boat, I had the net in the water at the ready, but the fish saw the net, and took off for a run.  At this point, neither of us got a good look at her.

It peeled off a little line, and then Steve worked her back in.  After a few head shakes under the boat, Steve brought the fish out from under the boat and I eased the net underneath her.  This fish was a fat girl for sure.  After I netted her and took pictures, Steve placed her on the measuring board and she went twenty one and a half inches long.  We didn't have a scale, but I'd guess, based on her girth, that she weighed about six pounds, perhaps a little more.  At the time, this was Steve's personal best tidal river bass.  What a beast!
Steve's twenty and a half inch personal best tidal river largemouth bass inhaled a four inch finesse worm!
In recent blog posts, I posted stories about big bass caught on big lures, and that is such a true saying worth repeating.  But, this bass was caught on a finesse style worm, texas rigged fished with a light bullet sinker on light line.  It wasn't a new pattern for either of us, as this rig has caught lots of fish, for both of us.  And, I personally have caught several five pound or better fish on this rig.  It's productive.  During a tough bite, you can't beat it.  But, this fish was caught finessing on a day when the crankbait bite should have been king, and at the end of the day, it was. 
Pictured here are a few productive finesse soft plastic lures.  The second lure from the top, a four inch green pumpkin ringworm, fished with a light wire hook, and a light 1/16 ounce bullet sinker on eight pound line caught Steve's lunker fish.
After that fish, we moved to another spot with a good weedbed, where the fish really turned on to the lipless crankbait pattern.  I don't remember if he caught any more on a worm, but, it's tough to finesse fish when your boat partner is cranking in big fish and covering water.  In other words, when the crankbait bite is on, it's a tough choice to put that lure down.  Let's face it, lures like that cover a lot of water, and when they're hot, you can really rack up the numbers of good fish in a hurry.

We fished into the early afternoon and then he had to be off the water for a family function.  Steve finished with fifteen bass, all of the over three pounds, including his personal best fish.  I had a great day as well, finishing with sixteen bass, including nineteen incher and several in the seventeen to eighteen inch range, along with a couple fifteen inch fish.
I had a good day as well, as I caught good numbers of bass, including this nineteen incher.
What made this day memorable, other than fishing with a good friend, and other than the fact that we caught good numbers of nice sized bass in a short amount of time, was that I got to experience my fishing pal catch his personal best tidal river largemouth bass.  It was my honor to net and photograph this fish.  I can't wait to do the same when he catches his next personal best bass, if I'm lucky enough to be there when he does!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The "Make Fun of Me, Will Ya" Bass...

Continuing with my story telling, as we sit around our virtual campfire, let me tell you about a what might have been my first bass over five pounds out of my home lake.   It's a kind of an "I'll show you" story, sort of a tale of an underdog, overcoming the odds and achieving a goal.  But for me, it turned out to be a good memory that may have shaped my approach to bass fishing altogether.

This story took place in the late 1980's, way before anyone, that I knew of, heard of blogging or the internet.  In fact, I don't think that Al Gore had even invented the internet yet!  This particular lake was one that I learned to fish on, just a couple miles from where I grew up.  This lake never really got any serious bass fishing pressure.  Most of the anglers that fished there were focused on fishing for the stocked with trout, as I had also done for several years prior to this event.

Spring was in full force.  The spring peepers had been chirping for a few weeks, forsythia bushes were in full bloom for almost as long, and eastern redbud and cherry tree flowers filled the landscape splashes of pink and purple. Other trees and shrubbery sprouted new leaves that tinted the landscape with a hint of green.  Parking was limited, because just a week earlier, the Maryland DNR  stocked several thousand rainbow trout into the lake.   As we'd come to learn, all these signs meant that big bass cruised the shallows in search of a fishy meal.
Howard sports a nice spring time bass caught on the lake that I grew up fishing.
Certain popular access points were packed with anglers that fished for the stocked trout, most of them seated on buckets that contained their tackle, bait, supplies and perhaps, lunch.  Their rods were seated between the twigs of carefully selected fork sticks that they stuck in the bank in front of them, intensely focused on their rod tips for the slightest of nibble of finicky trout.  The hot baits at the time were round globs of Velveeta Cheese or Berkeley Powerbait molded to their hook, or the commonly used and equally effective bait, a juicy fat night crawler.

Other trout seeking anglers found room  and cast out Roostertail, Mepps, or Joe's Flies spinners in search of more aggressive trout.  That day, many of those using bait or lures already had stringers with a few trout dangling in the water as they sought their limit of five trout per person per day.

One of these access points was at the upper end of the lake, where a road bridge crossed the main feeder creek.  On both sides of the bridge, trout anglers stood or sat shoulder to shoulder in pursuit of their coveted limit of trout.

The upper end of this lake also was, as we discovered, a pretty good area to find bass.  It made sense.  There was shallow water near a deeper channel, with a nice gravel point that we suspected was a spawning area.  There was plenty of debris and cover on the bottom.  On the other side of the channel, there were stumps on the flat providing nice ambush points.  Also, the upper end of the lake happened to be the Northern end of the lake, where the lake received plenty of sunshine from the Southern sky, providing the warmest water in the lake that time of year.

The incoming creek sported a good population of minnows.  Stocked trout roamed in and out of the creek.  My buddies and I always wondered if the largest bass in the lake fed on these stocked trout as opportunities arose.  Or, perhaps they kept minnows on the move into locations where largemouth could wait in ambush.

My fishing pals that day, Howard and John, joined me at the lake after work on one warm cloudy afternoon in April.  Although the vast majority of anglers that frequented this lake targeted trout, there were, at times, guys like us that liked to target crappie or bass.

On the East side of the bridge, there was a swampy area that most of the fishermen avoided walking through.  After the swampy area, there was a long, shallow point that led to the creek channel about a cast away.  There, brush piles often held good populations of panfish and bass.  The creek channel ran through the bridge, along the Eastern shore, and then turned and followed the point out into main lake.  The use of hip boots or waders allowed us to traverse the swamp like area, and provided us with more room to fish or wade out off the point, away from the crowd.

Howard and John waded out off the point, and tossed Texas rigged plastic worms fished on light spinning gear to the brushpiles, where they hooked into a few keeper sized bass.  I decided to lob a bigger lure, a half ounce white tandem spinnerbait, along the creek channel, hoping for a lunker largemouth bass.  I changed out the outer blade in favor of a huge size 7 willowleaf blade.  This spinnerbait put out a lot of flash and vibration, and I felt that it surely would call in a big bass if there was one nearby.  If that didn't work, my plan was to switch off to fishing soft plastics. 

I thoroughly worked the side of the point along the channel to the right of the brush piles, and then cast parallel to shore to my right along the creek channel.  The oversized willowleaf blade moved a lot of water, perhaps a key to tickling a big mama bucketmouth's lateral line and allow her to hone in on the beefy bait.

The spinnerbait created a loud splash on each cast, prompting the trout guys to grumble that, perhaps, I was scaring their fish.  My lure never went near anyone's lines or where they were casting, but many of the trout guys, sitting on their buckets, rather than concentrating on their rod tips, joked out loud  and made fun of me tossing such a large bait.

Why were they mocking me?  I have no idea.  Perhaps they felt that the splash of my spinnerbait chased their precious trout away.  Maybe they just didn't know that there were nice bass in this lake and trout were the only game in town.  Maybe the sight of such a large lure seemed silly to them.  I have no idea, but, they were laughing it up pretty good.  I just ignored them and kept casting.  I had a good feeling about my lure choice.

After several casts worked parallel to shore along the creek channel, a fish finally annihilated my spinnerbait.  After I set the hook, my rod doubled over, and she shot straight up out of the water and fell back with a tremendous splash.  My immediate thought was one of elation and surprise that I hooked this big bass, followed by the thought, "That outta scare the trout away!"

I fought her for a bit, and, as she tired, I was able to wade out and lip her.  I hoisted her out of the water, and showed off her massive mouth and bulging gut to my fishing pals.  This fish was at least twenty inches long, perhaps slightly longer, and may have been my first five pound or larger bass out of my home lake.  I didn't carry a tape or scale back then, or a camera, for that matter.  Heck, I was just out there for fun.
I used a white half ounce tandem spinnerbait with an oversized willowleaf blade to catch the bass mentioned in the story that was similar in size to this fat one.
As you may suspect, the laughing and mocking ceased.  At first, it was so quiet that you wouldn't know anyone was there.  The trout guys observed, jaws agape, wondering what they had witnessed.  My friends started giving me props, and it felt good.  I felt vindicated.  I was extremely thrilled by the experience, so much so, that my hands shook.  The trout guys really gasped when I released her back into the lake and watched her swim off.

After that, wouldn't you know, that some of them scrambled through their tackle boxes in search of spinnerbaits!  That was pretty funny.  As it turns out, I had the last laugh that afternoon!  But, the overall lesson for me was to confirm that, what I read about in my fishing magazines, that big lures catch big springtime bass, a lesson that I'd remember time and again throughout my angling years.


Friday, April 26, 2019

Steve's New Boat, a Maiden Voyage Big Bass Story

When I first considered writing about my big bass stories, I pretty much had a few of my bigger bass in mind.  As I pondered my plans for blogging these stories in the future, it occurred to me that I need to include my fishing buddies big fish stories as well (for those trips that we shared).  After all, it's our fishing world, not just mine.  So, from now on, I'll tell their tales as I saw them, with pictures, if I have them.  Not only can I share our experiences with you, but my fishing buds and I can look back and enjoy these memories.  This particular story tells of two memorable bass caught on the same trip.

March 19th, 2012 marked a new day in the history of Captain Steve Kelley and his fishing career, the maiden voyage of his brand new Mako boat.  His boat is similar to a bass boat, with a front deck and a strong trolling motor, but has a center console.  It has a 200 horsepower outboard and is pretty fast for a bay style boat.  He likes to fish saltwater as well as the tidal waters of our state.
Steve's boat is a perfect match for what he loves to do, fish the tidal rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. 
After launching his new rig, on our way out from the ramp, we debated whether to fish the main stem of the river, or fish a nearby tidal creek.  Just a couple days earlier, I fished with another buddy of mine in the creek and did well, so I convinced Steve to give that spot a shot, and then try the main river later.

A chrome/blue back Rat-L-Trap was my lure of choice to start with.  In my opinion, this lure somewhat resembles a blueback herring or other flashy shad like baitfish.  The chrome coloration, tight but heavy vibration, and lots of flash on the retrieve are irresistible to hungry springtime bass.  I felt it was a good choice for a sunny day.  Actually, I did well on that lure a couple days prior, therefore, I had confidence in it, more importantly, it was already tied on, and I was too lazy to tie on anything else.  Meanwhile, Steve had a Yo Zuri version of a lipless crankbait tied on in the same basic color scheme.

The tide was low, water visibility was about 2 feet or so.  Water temps were in the upper fifties.  It was a beautiful, seventy degree, sunny day with just a small amount of wind.

Our plan was to cast lipless crankbaits and focus on the vast emerging weed beds.  The wind is our ally when fishing like this because if you position your boat correctly, you can use the wind to your advantage, drift, and cover quite a bit of water, saving juice on the trolling motor.

We started along a deeper channel where it met a large weed bed that was at least four or five acres in size.  As I rearranged the weeds with my crankbait, Steve hooked up on his very first cast, and landed his biggest tidal river largemouth as of that date, a stout twenty one inch hawg that I’d say weighed about six pounds, although we didn’t have a scale.  How's that for a start on the maiden voyage of your boat?

He worked the lure back, and made sure to just tick the top of the weeds with the lure. When the lure hung up slightly on the weeds, Steve ripped it off the weeds and the bass hammered his crankbait.  Most of our bass that day bit when we jerked the lures off of the weeds.  The trick was to not snag the weeds so much that you had a glob of weeds on the end.  Rather, your lure had to barely touch the weeds and maybe grab one with a treble hook, and then you had to rip it off with a sharp jerk of the rod.  The bites mostly happened when you ripped the lure off of the weeds.
My friend Steve with his personal best (at the time) tidal river largemouth bass, caught on his maiden voyage of his new boat, on the first cast of the day.
Just a few casts later, Steve tied into and landed a fat eighteen and a half inch chunk of a bass, using the same technique.  Of course, we were pretty pumped to find that the bass were still attacking crankbaits.

Meanwhile, as Steve boated nine pounds of fish in just a few casts, I politely used my retrieving technique to clear a path through the weeds so he could work his lure more effectively.  I had trouble with not snagging too many weeds.  In other words, Steve was catching the protein, and I was collecting the salad.  

He proceeded to catch another nice seventeen inch bass a few casts later.  Not long after that, I was on the board hooking into a less than massive twelve inch skinny male largemouth.  Hey, it was a dink, but, at least the skunk was broken.

Then, the tide stopped moving, and although we both had a few more hits, the water was lower and it was difficult to work that pattern.  The tide was so low that the weed tops were nearly up to the surface.  We tried different lures and worked the weedy surface and the channel edges without any luck.  We knew that if we stayed in the creek, it would have eventually produced, but Steve was itching to play with his boat and run it a bit, so out of the creek and off to main stem of the river we went.

We stopped at the mouth of another creek to see if the weeds had emerged yet.  If we found weeds, were were likely to find willing bass.  This spot had always been good to us, but on this day, the weeds weren't there yet.  Fishing was slow, but Steve managed to catch a white perch on his crankbait, but no bass bites.

Steve changed tactics and worked the woody shoreline with a Texas rigged plastic worm.  He caught a couple chunky largemouth and a couple yellow perch with that rig.  I continued to work the crankbait, but it didn't happen for me at that spot.  

After a while, I decided to try something different, and do a bit of finessing.  I pulled out my trusty spinning rod rigged with a 1/8 oz. jighead, a Mann’s Sting Ray grub dabbed in Smelly Jelly (that actually smells pretty good), and proceeded to snag on my first cast with it.  I tried to straighten the hook with my strong braided line, but must have had a nick in it and broke it off…I could have waited for Steve to move the boat as he was willing to do so, but got impatient.  So I tied on another jig and proceeded to catch a yellow perch and a couple fifteen inch fat largemouth.

As we moved toward the creek mouth, we noticed that the tide was coming in, so I switched back to my Rat-L-Trap, and hooked up with a nice chunky bass that would have been about three pounds.  Would have been?  Yes, would have been.  I lost it while trying to yoke it in the boat,  Bassmaster style!  Dumb…fishing was tough, and I should have thought to be more careful to make every bite count.  I had a couple more hits and misses, but at least the activity picked up.  

We decided it was time for a spot change and to find some different weed beds.  We pulled up to a spot that my friend, Mark, and I found a couple days earlier that held fish.  I finally hooked up and landed a decent bass that crushed my Rat-L-Trap, that was just shy of nineteen inches. 
I finally hooked into a decent bass after having a tough morning.
I caught a couple more smaller keeper sized bass over the next half hour.  After that, we moved to check out another large weed bed.  I started to get some consistent action, and landed some more fat bass that were scattered among the weeds, but really had to work for them.  

Steve decided to fish the bank and work the wood with a green pumpkin plastic worm.  On his first cast, he landed a fat seventeen inch bass, followed by a yellow perch.  A few casts later, he hooked into a fish that catapulted out of the water on the hook set.  This fish almost performed a back flip.  I yelled out, “snakehead”!  Sure enough, Steve landed his first snakehead ever.
Steve hooked into an extremely acrobatic northern snakehead.  Man, did that fish ever fight!
I’m not sure if it was the next cast or not, but he hooked into another one shortly after, not quite as big.  We wondered if they were pairing up to spawn, and, perhaps he caught the mated pair.  
Steve's second snakehead of the day.  What a thrill these are to catch!
I also really wanted to catch a snakehead.  At that point in time in my life, I hadn't caught one.  I tried to fish a plastic worm and caught a couple yellow perch.  But, really wanted to catch a snakehead.  I had a bite and the fish bit me off, so unless chain pickerel are in there, my guess is that may have been a snakehead.  I guess it just wasn't meant to be on that day.  I was still snakehead challenged by the end of the day.

By then, it was late afternoon, and we wanted to get back and finish where we started the day.  We knew that the fish were there.  So, we went back to the spot where Steve caught his big bass, and worked it thoroughly.  The tide was up, so it was much easier to work our crankbaits over the tops of the weeds.  We had a couple hits, but no fish landed, then decided to let the wind drift us toward the Northern shoreline.  

We noticed a bass, definitely a bass, in shallow water, doing some sort of evasive maneuver, leaping out of the water several times like baitfish fleeing a big bass.  It didn’t look like it was feeding.  Rather, it appeared as if it was leaping for its life.  We thought it might have been chased by a snakehead, gar, or perhaps a large blue catfish.  I'd never seen a bass behave like that before.

Both Steve and I managed to catch a few more fat bass on the trap while probing a different weedy area, a place that we vowed to keep in mind for next time.  We drifted to a point that dropped into deep water and after a few casts, I hooked into another big bass.  I landed it, and noticed that the beast was barely hooked by the back treble of my crankbait!  She measured twenty one and a half inches long, my biggest bass in the past few years.  Man, she was fat and heavy.
This bass was twenty one and a half inches long.  Although it wasn't my personal best, she was my biggest bass caught in quite a few years.
To sum things up, Steve started out with the hot hand, and landed his personal best tidal river bass.  He also landed his first two snakeheads, ever.  Despite my tough start, I also caught my biggest bass in several years.  We each had a blast.  We caught several big bass as well as decent numbers of fish, and a mixed bag of species as well.  Not bad for the maiden voyage of his boat!  What an epic day it was!





Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Another Big Bass Fishing Story

Last week, I posted a couple stories of a couple of my biggest bass caught in my local area.  I hope you all enjoyed them.  I have more stories to share, and will post more over the next few posts.  Later, I will mix in some other funny or adventurous stories that I have experienced over the years.  The way that I will try and tell these stories is as if we are sharing our experiences over a campfire.  I plan on posting more adventures and less tutorials in the future.  I won't stop posting tips and stuff, rather, I just plan on posting more fun experiences that I've had in the outdoors.  Please let me know in the comments if you like these types of posts.

Five Five Pounders and a Lunker
It's funny, but I keep mentioning stories shared with my fishing buddy, Howard.  The last two stories, he was there, and this next one, he's in it too.  Why?  I don't know, maybe he's good luck for me, but we've caught a ton of big bass together over the years.  This story happened between my boat owning years, where all we did is wade or bank fish.  We found some of these spots while fishing out of our boats, and then found ways to reach them from shore.  Some spots required tough hikes or wades to get to them effectively, but it was worth it.

We arrived at the parking lot of a public park, and hiked along a boardwalk style nature trail as far as we could go.  Then, we hopped off the boardwalk and into the water to wade the rest of the way.  We fished our way forward until we reached our destination, an old wharf along the tidal river.  We'd done well over the years at this spot while boat fishing, and figured it would be worth the wade.

It was about this time of year, a beautiful warm spring day.  Just about every tree was flowering and the woods was greening up fast.  It was time for big female bass to make their ways to the spawning areas.  The tide was falling, and that usually means that fish are active.

Both Howard and I were lobbing large, double willowleaf, tandem spinnerbaits.  Our color of choice in the spring was chartreuse with chartreuse blades.  This was a hot bait for us over the years at this location.  A local fishing guide once told me a saying, "If it ain't chartreuse, it ain't no use!"  That was a great lesson, and it applies to almost any water in my state.

About ten casts into the day, Howard hooked up and yelled, "Fish on!"  After a brief battle, he landed the fat largemouth bass that measured twenty inches.  The bass, at that time, hadn't spawned yet, so this female was fat with eggs.  I estimated her to be about five pounds or so.

On the very next cast, Howard again yells out, "Another one"!  I'm a bit perplexed, because he cast exactly to the spot where I placed my previous cast, where I ran my spinnerbait along and parallel to a log, and did not hook up.  Usually, that is a money cast.  He showed me how it was done, and landed the fat female bucketmouth.  He measured her at twenty one inches, another probably five pounder, and we weren't even anywhere near our hot spot!

We both waded and cast our way for the next quarter mile without a bite, and reached the point of our destination, and area with much flooded timber, and tougher wading, that stretched for about three hundred yards, culminating at a very old, abandoned, flooded wharf.  This particular spot also has four small points sandwiching three coves.  The depths varied with the tides, but low tide ranged from two to five feet deep, with flooded logs and debris just about everywhere, with pea gravel banks, perfect for bass searching for good spawning locations.

When we reached the first point, Howard hooked up again.  "Fish on!"  I still hadn't had a bite.  Again, he landed another very nice bass, and it measured nineteen inches.  Two casts later, Howard had another fat bass hammer his spinnerbait.  This one measured twenty inches.  Man, did he have the hot hand!  Meanwhile, I wondered if my wife had put a curse on my spinnerbait, or perhaps poison!

As we waded around that cove, I hear, "Holy hand grenades, I'm into another one!"  Howard landed that fish, and it measured, you guessed it, twenty inches!  This fish was the fattest one of the day and had to weigh a good six pounds.

I still hadn't had a bite, and I'm wondering what in the world I did to have the good Lord punish me this way.  Don't get me wrong, I was very happy for him.  Any time your fishing buddy is catching fish, big fish, one after another, you have to feel good for him.  Seeing that still gives you hope that the next bite will be on your lure.  Still, I felt it would be nice if I could just get that first bite.

We worked our way around all of the coves, and, although the total numbers weren't that high, Howard still landed a bag limit of five big bass that would have made the Bassmaster Classic guys envious.  Of course, all of these bass were released.  Meanwhile, I forgot what a bite felt like.  I was just going through casting practice.
Howard shown here with an eighteen inch fat tidal largemouth bass.  He caught five nineteen to twenty one inch bass on our trip that day!  Unfortunately, neither of us brought a camera.
At that point, the old reliable chartreuse spinnerbait wasn't working for me, so I switched to a tandem white spinnerbait with gold blades.  The larger blade was a huge size 7 willow leaf that really provided a ton of flash, but had much water resistance on the retrieve.  I added an all white ringworm as a trailer to give the bait a larger profile.  I figured that I had to try something different.  Howard's pattern worked for Howard, but not for me.

On our way back, I stopped at a point that was a huge gravel bar.  It was now almost low tide.  I heaved a cast as far as I could, not aiming for any cover or anything.  I'd made some great casts throughout the day along flooded timber without a so much as a sniff, so why not try something different?  The channel edge wasn't far away in the direction of that cast, and the bottom was littered with debris and sunken logs that you couldn't see.

I reeled immediately as the lure hit the water.  About four cranks of line back, my lure just stopped cold, and then yanked back.  I set the hook as if it was going to be the last fish of my life, and hooked it solidly.  I felt a few head shakes, and then she came to the surface.  She rolled on the water with a tail splash.  Howard turned around after the splash and watched me fight the fish.

This fish turned and bulldogged, not letting me gain any line for about fifteen seconds.  It was the biggest bass, if it was a bass, that I'd hooked so far all year.  I wondered if it was a big catfish that sometimes fool bass anglers like me into thinking that we've caught the mother of all bass.  Either way, this was a good fish.

The water had some color to it, a slight brownish stain, with about two feet of visibility.  Until she reached the shallows close to me, I still didn't know that type of fish that I was dealing with.  Then, her head popped up, and this huge bucket of a mouth shook at me, tossing water droplets on my face and sunglasses.  I waded out and grabbed her huge lower jaw, and hoisted her out of the water.

I pulled out my measuring tape and Howard measured her for me, and she was twenty four inches long.  This was the first big largemouth bass that I was able to measure.  In previous years, I didn't worry about carrying a measuring tape, but, for some reason, it was important to know these things, especially since I started keeping fishing logs.  We did not have a scale.  And, neither of us had a camera.  This was prior to the waterproof digital camera years, and my budget at the time did not include an expensive, waterproof camera.  I released the fish as both Howard and I admired her.
I've caught a bunch of fish like this in our tidal river, but the fish described in this story was another class of fish.  The fish pictured was twenty two inches, while the one caught years ago was a whopping twenty four inches long!  What a fish that was, but it was my only bite of the day!
We both worked the entire way back to our parking area without a single bite the rest of the day.  When it was over, Howard had the thrill of catching five big bass, all weighing at least five pounds.  That's a heck of a day for anyone.  At that point, my only bass caught might have been the biggest largemouth of my life at that point in time.  It was the only bite that I had that day, and what a bite it was!  It's funny how one bite, and one fish, can make your day, or perhaps wind up being your personal best!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Remembering Some of My Biggest Bass

Last night, I was reflecting on some of the biggest bass that I've caught in my home state over the years, and thought that maybe it would be a good time to share some of these stories with you.  Since some of the stories may be long winded, so I'll do this over the course of several blog posts.  Some of the stories might not have been my biggest fish, but, they were big fish, and the stories are worth telling.  I hope that you enjoy them and, even better, learn something that may help you catch your personal best bass.

Unfortunately, some of these stories happened prior to the digital age, and I have no idea what I did with the pictures that I had, so you'll have to take it on good faith that the stories are true.  Yeah, I know what they say about fishing stories.  I do have witnesses though!!!   So, if I don't have a pic to share of that actual fish, I'll post a substitute picture of a nice fish, or pics related to how I caught the big one.

One day, if I'm lucky enough to find any of those prints, I'll make a copy of them and share them with you.  I had a major septic flood in my basement in 2012, and lost a bunch of stuff, so it's possible that many of the pics are gone forever.  I also have rolls of film that I've never developed, so maybe there are some pics on those rolls.  Some of you may ask, what is "film"?  Ha ha.  Some of these big bass were caught prior to the invention of affordable waterproof or digital cameras.  What can I say, I'm an old fart!

How do I...???
One hot summer evening, I was bank fishing with my buddy, Howard, his girlfriend at the time, and his black Labrador, Max, along a body of water next to a local river, and decided to drop down to fish the river.  The bank was steep and it was a struggle to climb down there.  

The river was deep, and the water was, what some of my friends today call, "big fish green".  "Big fish green" means that there is a slight amount of color in the water, enough sediment to make fish feel comfortable to be active, yet not too much that they can't see your lures, leaving the river with a greenish tint.  

There was a huge log that ran parallel to the river bank right in front of me.  In fact, I had to fish over this log, and, it sat at about waist high to me, so it wasn't easy.  There wasn't a lot of room to stand along the bank there, and just barely enough room to effectively cast.  Just a bit upriver from me, about twenty feet or so, was a rock ledge that stuck out from the river bank about twenty five yards and created a nice eddy where I figured that fish would lay in ambush of their prey.

Just a few days prior, I purchased my first baitcasting outfit.  I'm not really sure, but it may have been my first time fishing with it.  Back them, stores pretty much only sold affordable baitcasting reels that cranked on the left side, and being right handed, and growing up fishing with spinning tackle, I was used to cranking with my right hand.  So, I had to learn to switch hands after each cast, and learn to crank with my left hand.  Learning to cast and not backlash was difficult enough back then, prior to the invention of fancy magnets in reels that prevent the spool from spinning too fast, but, switching hands too?  Still, I started to get the hang of it.

I remember that I had a large chartreuse buzzbait tied on, a perfect choice for targeting big, aggressive largemouth bass in the slower waters during the hot summer, but not really a lure meant for tempting smallmouth bass the fast river water.  Also, most people generally pursued river smallies with smaller morsel sized baits over the bigger lures commonly used to chase largemouth bass.  But, being lazy, I didn't want to tie on a new lure.  And, I only intended to toss a couple casts.  Honestly, I didn't really think that I'd catch anything on it in the river, but, what the heck?

My buddy, Howard, and his girlfriend, happened to walk by and watch me cast from the path above me.  I think that Howard, already a baitcasting veteran, enjoyed watching me struggle to learn the ropes.  It must have been somewhat amusing and entertaining throughout the day, watching me learn the hard way, as I cursed while I picked out the many birds nests.  I forced myself to learn the hard way by leaving my spinning rigs at home.  So, even if I wanted to toss smaller smallmouth sized lures, I wouldn't for fear of getting more backlashes.

On the first cast, I lobbed the buzzbait upstream and across, and retrieved it past the tip of the rocks and through the eddy.  Just as the lure reached the bank right in front of me and the tree, the water erupted.  Water went everywhere, on my sunglasses, on my face, and on my shirt as the fish thrashed about in front of me.  It suprised the heck out of me!

I don't have any pictorial examples of big buzzbait smallmouth, but, this picture shows that big smallmouth will hit big baits, and big baits don't get much bigger than this musky sized bucktail.
Of course, I was extremely surprised and excited, and nearly forgot what I was supposed to do.  In situations like that, sometimes people say the silliest things.  I fought this fish as it went ballistic on me just over the stupid log, I yelled out a couple expletives that are too vulgar for this blog, followed by "How do I fight this thing?"  Howard, his girlfriend, and probably the dog too, were laughing hysterically at me.   I really did get confused, not used to reeling with my left hand, and fighting a fish with the rod in my right hand.
These days, I routinely toss small 1/8 oz. buzzbaits while targeting smallmouth bass like this decent fish.  The truth is that you definitely will get better summer time numbers of fish on these smaller buzzbaits.  But, big baits catch big fish, as the story told explains.  
To this day, Howard teases me about that fish.  Eventually, I figured it out, got the fish in, and hoisted it over the log.  It wasn't the biggest smallmouth bass that I've ever caught, but it was a nice one for our area, and was my biggest to date at that time.  I didn't have a tape measure or scale with me, but I'd guess that fish was a fat twenty inch smallie.  And, it was the first fish that I ever caught using a baitcasting outfit! 

The hanging down to my ankles fish...
It was a hot, muggy, dog day of a summer evening as Howard and I met each other in the parking lot after work.  Typically, back then, we'd scurry to our fishing spot after work and get as much time as possible in to fish.  But, on these hot, steamy nights, there was no hurry.  We arrived at our spot about an hour before dark so that we could fish the magic hour, and then fish well into the dark.  Usually, our timing was about right, and we'd catch fish right away.  During the dog days of a hot summer, the best bite is often at night as bass are mostly inactive during the heat of the day.

Frogs sang and chirped loudly.  They'd jump from our footsteps and into the water as we walked along the path along the bank.  Bugs were everywhere, and mosquitos constantly buzzed us as they searched for a chink in our bug spray armor.  To me, all these things meant is that it was buzzer time.  

Using baitcasting outfits were so productive for me throughout the years, whether they were specialized rigs for flipping, pitching or just plain chunkin' and windin'.  I found them to be very effective for using larger lures, the spinnerbaits and buzzbaits, for example, that produced so many big bass for me.  These lures are perfect for fishing around sunken timber, weeds, lily pads and logs.  

We bank fished most often at one of our favorite bodies of water.  Baitcasting rods teamed with heavier line not only allowed us to toss larger lures, but also improved our chances of retrieving lures that we snagged in the timber.  After all, if your not snagging now and then, you're not fishing in the right places.  But, we were young and lived on a tight budget, so, every lure that we could get back was a bonus.
As Howard shows you, summer night fishing with buzzbaits can be the ticket for big largemouth bass.
Both Howard and I worked our way down the bank, and picked up some nice fish here and there.  On this particular night, the fish were bigger on average than what we normally caught.  Howard already caught a pair of twenty inch largemouth that probably weighed about four pounds at their summer weight.  I had a pretty good evening as well, landing a few eighteen inch fish and several fifteen inchers.  Howard and I eventually drifted away from each other, out of sight in the dark, as we each tried to figure out where the next big bass lurked.  I lagged behind as he moved on, because I knew that I was at a really good spot.  

I had a good feeling about this one particular spot, so I worked it thoroughly.  There were several blowdowns, and I wanted to make sure that I covered every angle fishing them.  I just knew that there had to be a lunker there.  This spot was about forty yards long, so I worked each tree from many angles to optimize my chances that a big fish would find my lure.  I picked up a couple smaller fish, and it was late, about midnight, so I figured that I'd work my way back toward Howard, meet up with him, and we'd head home.  After all, we had to work the next day.
Oh, how I love fishing buzzers at night during the dog days of summer!
On the way back over that same forty yard stretch, I fished the one spot that I hadn't really covered, where there weren't any trees, but, rather, had tons of frogs.  That spot was simply casting parallel to the bank.  On my second cast, I worked the lure all the way to me, covering as much water as I could.  I couldn't see anything except for where the weeds and water met, because it was so dark.  I couldn't even see my lure from the end of the cast to but to only about ten feet away.  But, I could hear the buzzbait, making a squeaky sounding plopping sound as it chugged along.  I worked the lure as slow as possible, just fast enough to keep the lure at the surface.

As I fished with the rod tip low to the water, and about four feet of line left from the tip of my rod, the water exploded just feet away.  Honestly, it scared the poop out of me!  I literally jumped when it hit.  I could tell immediately that this was a special fish.  On my baitcasting rigs, I set the drag pretty tight so as to get the maximum hook set, and typically, I'd horse the fish in.  There was no horsing this one in.  It took line, even with my drag set as to not allow that to happen.  Finally, I got it near shore, and I climbed down the bank and grabbed the behemoth by the lower jaw.
In the evening and at night during the dog days of summer, large buzzbaits, like this one, call in the hawgs.
As of that day, it was my biggest largemouth that I'd ever caught, for sure, and prior to that fish, I had caught dozens of five pound fish in my life.  This fish was bigger...unforgettable.  I was about two hundred yards away from Howard, and I wanted to show him this fish.  If this fish was so much bigger than most of the big fish that we catch there, that it was worth walking two hundred yards away to show my friend, and stop fishing, then you know it had to be a special fish! And that's what I did.  I walked down the path along the bank directly to him, carrying the fish at my side by the lower jaw.

When I reached Howard, he couldn't believe what he saw.  He said that, as I walked toward him, that he could see me holding the fish at my side, and the tail of the fish reached my ankle.  I'm 5'11" tall, as a reference for you, so it was a long bass.  He marveled at the fish as he proceeded to fit both of his fists into its massive mouth.  That amazed me!  The belly bulged on this fish, similar to the way my belly does now.  I was still shaking from the experience.  Neither of us had a camera, so, after a couple minutes of admiring the fish, I released it.
This was the buzzbait that I used to catch that huge fish, and many others since then.  I made this in-line buzzer by taking parts from other buzzbaits, bending my own wire shafts using a wire bending tool, and assembling the three components together with split rings.  This bait has caught me so many big fish.  The whole thing is about eight inches long.
Howard estimated that this bass would have been about twenty four inches long and weighed about seven pounds, give or take an inch or a few ounces.  It was truly one of the biggest largemouth bass that I've ever caught.  It would be a few years before I was able to equal that fish, but those are different stories for future blog posts.

OK, so that's all for today.  I'll post a few more on my next post.  Until then, I wish your all good fishing!


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Spring is Here: Time to Break Out the Lipless Crankbaits

Ah, spring is here in the D.C. area.  The cherry blossoms are about to bloom, the forcythias are in bloom, the buds on our trees are about to pop, the robins returned, blue birds are flirting with each other, fish of all species are on the feed, and my lipless crankbaits are screaming out to me.  Not too many fishing patterns get my blood pumping more than when big fish munch on lipless crankbaits.
Not only can you catch good numbers of fish on lipless crankbaits, but big ones too.  This one fell for a Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap in the Chrome Blue Back color.
In our tidal rivers, blueback herring run into the skinny waters while largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and striped bass wait in ambush.  Upriver, our smallmouth bass are on the feed.  And, in local lakes and ponds, golden shiners swarm in the shallows, with predatory bass and pickerel ready to attack them for a tasty meal.
My friend Brad with a nice tidal largemouth bass that fell for a lipless crankbait.
One of the best types of lure to offer these predatory fish are lipless crankbaits.  I don't know if it's the vibration, rattling sound, or flash that drive these fish nuts enough to attack, or if it appeals to their extreme urge to feed prior to a rigorous spawn.  I've heard arguments about both.  But, seriously, when they're attacking these crankbaits, it doesn't matter why, just that they're hitting.
Largemouth bass love lipless crankbaits, or hate them, depending on your view of why they attack them so violently.
It's true, that I've seen fish come from a long way to hit these lures.  Stripers are notorious for chasing down baitfish at high speeds.  Largemouth bass are known to have extremely quick ambush attack speeds, but can also chase down a quickly retrieved lipless crank.  Why?  Like I said, who cares?  Just that they do it, but honestly, it could be a combination of reasons.

Lipless crankbaits provide plenty of vibration that can be detected by an extremely sensitive organ in fish called the lateral line.  When predatory fish sense these vibrations, the vibrations could provoke them into striking whatever is making them.  Also, this extra sensitive organ allows fish to hone in on these lures from long distances away.  The rattles in these lures could appeal to a feeding response, or just tick them off.  At any rate, most of these lures have a loud rattling sound, teamed with their tight vibration, designed to trigger strikes.  And, they most certainly do that well.
Gotta love what I call "trappin'" bass.  Mark fooled this nice bass on a lipless crankbait.
Whether you're fishing various colors or metallic finishes, most of these lures provide a measure of flash that could trigger strikes.  I love the metallic finishes when skies are bright or if I'm fishing clearer water.  Bright colors, like chartreuse, are great for fishing dingy water or dark days.  In fact, dark colors also work well in those conditions.  The action of the crankbait is key though, as the tight vibrating wiggle provides a flash that mimics their prey.  This feature could also trigger reaction strikes or appeal to their feeding urges.

For anglers, these baits are attractive because you can fish them so many ways.  You can just toss them out and crank them in.  You can cast them out and jig them back, or fish directly below the boat in deep water and vertical jig.  You can cast them out, let them sink, count them down, and fish them at any depth you desire.  Or you can fish them slowly across the tops of weed beds and rip them off the weeds (more on that later).  How much more versatile of a lure is there than that?
There are many ways to fish these crankbaits.   This pre-spawn Great Lakes smallmouth bass slammed a deep, slowly cranked lipless crankbait.
One huge advantage to fishing this type of lure is that they cover a lot of water quickly.  They're great search lures, especially when fishing new lakes.  They're perfectly designed for finding for schooling predatory fish, or perhaps fish ambushing baitfish on a windy point.  When the fish are on, you can catch good numbers of them on these lures for this reason, and not only that, potentially big fish.  They're big fish baits!
You cover water with lipless crankbaits to find chunky largemouth bass like this.
So, for those out there who don't know what a lipless crankbait is, they're basically a type of plug that is about a half inch or less in width, laterally compressed (almost flat), that sink on the fall, and don't have a lip like other crankbaits do.  Most of them have some sort of rattling system inside them.  The line tie is at the top of the "head" of the lure.  All of these features make them unique.

There are many brands out there, most of them produce well.  We all have our favorites.  I fish several different brands, because each one has a slightly different presentation, but they all have similar traits mentioned above.  I like the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, Rapala Rattlin' Rap, Strike King Red Eyed Shad, and Yo-Zuri Rattl'n Vibe.  Each has their place in my box.  I carry four different sizes, depending on what I'm fishing for, being 1 oz., 3/4 oz., 1/2 oz. and 1/4 oz.  There are other brands that probably work just as well, but it's up to you to find your favorites.

If I had to say that I have a favorite or "go to" version, the first one that I tie on, one that catches just about any predatory fish, it's a 1/2 ounce Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap.  I love the Chrome Blue Back color when fishing our tidal waters, as I feel it resembles the blue back herring.  Maybe it does, or maybe it doesn't, but that thought gives me confidence that this will work, and it usually does.
Shad and blueback herring run up river to spawn in the spring.  Lipless crankbaits are great imitators of these baitfish.  I like the Chrome Blue Back Rat-L-Trap for this purpose.  Nice largemouth, like this one, stripers and other predatory fish feast on them, and will do the same on your lipless crankbait.
For lakes and ponds, I love the Gold Black Back color this time of year.  I think that they resemble golden shiners, and in tannic acid stained waters, maybe resemble shad as well.  That said, there are other colors that could be effective in other situations or water conditions.  The colors mentioned above work best for me if there is about two feet or more visibility.  Truthfully, I think that color is the least important feature, except perhaps the metallic finishes, because they provide a lot of flash, as do baitfish.
This chunky largemouth fell for a Gold Black Back 1/2 ounce Rat-L-Trap.  There are plenty of golden shiners in our lakes, so if your lakes have a good population of them, try the gold "trap".
Chain pickerel love the golden shiner imitation as well.
So, how do you fish them?  Like I said above, there are many ways to fish lipless cranks.  But, in spring time, which is the focus of this article, I'll mention my favorite pattern for largemouth.  During spring, some weeds are beginning to grow, while others have already been growing and are now filling in, and these weeds attract baitfish.  Equally important, is that weeds provide ambush cover and break up the silhouette of predatory fish on the bottom.  Most predatory fish, like bass, are dark on the top, and light underneath.  So, when they sit on the bottom in wait, they blend in with the weeds very well.  When cover like this attracts both predators and prey, it's a fishing hot spot.

In this situation, I try to fish just over the top of the weeds and let the treble hooks tick the tops of the weeds.  When the lure gets to the edge of the weed bed, I let it drop and flutter down, then rip it up and crank it back.  Often, when bass fishing, ripping a lure like this off the bottom will trigger strikes.  Also, lures that flutter down over weed bed edges could provoke a predatory fish hiding below.  As the crank flutters down, the fish think it is an easy meal, and attack it on the fall.
Steve will tell you that fishing over the top of weed beds with lipless crankbaits will catch big bass, and here's the proof!
When fishing over top of the weeds, your lure will hang up on weeds occasionally.  Don't just reel your lure in and clean it off.  When that happens, as long as it isn't a thick mat, rip the lure from the weeds with the rod tip and continue fishing the lure.  As with ripping a lure off the bottom, ripping one off weeds may also provoke vicious strikes from largemouth.  Again, the flash, vibration, and darting action of the lure when ripped off the weed is key, I believe, to provoking bass into striking.  This is the pattern, really.

How do I keep a sinking lure above the weeds?  I keep my rod tip up when reeling, and if the weeds are a foot under the surface, keep it higher.  This also allows you to reel in the lure a little slower, and I feel, making the lure more attractive to bass.  If you do this while keeping your rod tip down, you will have to fish the lure much faster to keep the lure up enough, or you will bury your lure in the weeds, leading to frustration and less productive casts.

I prefer using a long, fast action baitcasting bass rig for this, with braided line.  I used to use fluorocarbon line, and that worked well too.  The low stretch lines and long, fast action rods enable you to keep the lure above the weeds, and to rip the lure off of the weeds and clear it, while also provoking fish to strike.  My pitching rod and reel work great for this technique.
This largemouth, and countless others like this, were caught on the weed pattern described above.
Striped bass, or stripers or rockfish, as they call them in my neck of the woods, love lipless cranks too.  You can fish them any number of ways, but if I had to say one thing about them for stripers is that they like them fast, and they like erratic.  So, crank it in, let it stop, rip it, then crank as fast as you can, then rinse, repeat.  Stripers can out swim your lure no matter how fast you reel, if they want it.  That said, if they're deep, you have to let it sink down there so they can see it first.  That's the beauty of these lures, really, their versatility, and that they simply catch fish.
My buddy Bob with a nice striper that he caught on a 1 ounce Rat-L-Trap.

Carson (left) and his Dad, Bob, with a nice chainside caught on a lipless crankbait.  This time, the fish fell for a 1/4 oz. Rat-L-Trap in the Chrome Blue Back color.
The lure shape resembles a shad remarkably well.  When you think about it, they could resemble just about any form of baitfish as long as the predators don't have much time to examine the lure.  Perhaps that is why these lures are so effective?
Shad, like this one, are abundant in our rivers, and in some of our lakes and ponds.  Lipless crankbaits are great lures that mimic these baitfish.   Lipless crankbaits match them in size, shape, flash, and even action.
I fish the larger sizes for larger predators, like stripers, pike, and even musky.  I prefer the half once size for bass, but there are times when the 1/4 ounce size is necessary.  The 1/4 ounce size will also catch perch, crappie, trout and other panfish.

The coolest thing about lipless crankbaits is that they can catch just about any predatory fish out there.  I caught my biggest king salmon on a black Cotton Cordell Hot Spot, and another huge one on a chartreuse Rat-L-Trap.  I've caught northern pike, walleye, lake trout, steelhead, large brown trout, and even catfish on them.  These lures work well on many saltwater species as well, especially bluefish and sea trout.  Talk about a versatile lure, eh?
Oh yeah, a warning, as with any treble hooked lure, when unhooking fish, be careful.  I reached to unhook a chain pickerel, and the slimy fish slid down and the hooks both lodged into my hand, still attached to the fish while it thrashed about.  Talk about painful!  Luckily, this time, I was able to grab the fish while my buddy got the hooks out of it.  The hook that went into the middle of my palm popped right out, but the hook mark on the left took some handy plier work.  Fortunately, it came out quickly.  After all, I'm not a surgeon, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn a few times!
So, when the early signs of spring reach your area, if you haven't already, give lipless crankbaits a try.  By the way, they work well all year.  However, they're my "go to" lure during spring and early fall.  So get out there and give them a try!  If this helps you catch a big fish, please leave me a comment and tell me the story!