Going in to the 2012 fishing season, I knew I was going to be spending much more time on the water. Between guide trips, pre-fishing for tournaments and fun fishing, my schedule told me I would be on the water 4 to 5 days a week. That being said, the forecast for gas prices of $4.00 a gallon, was a huge concern for me.
On an average day of pre-fishing in my boat with a 250 HP outboard, I burn 10 to 20 gallons of gas – by far the biggest expense incurred for me in the sport of fishing. On tournament day or when guiding, it is hard to ignore the fact that time is money, and that the speed at which you get to a fishing spot will net you more time fishing in an 8 hour day. But I did feel that I needed an alternative for pre-fishing and fun fishing. I was determined to get a second boat that could take the edge off of my pre-fishing budget.
When I started shopping, my criterion was simple:
After shopping for a few weeks, I settled on a 16’ flat with a modified-V bow – it was equipped with a 40 hp 4 stroke motor. This combo with me, 4 batteries, a full livewell and 150 lbs of miscellaneous fishing gear, is a 30 mph boat. It is plenty fast to get me off the water fast during inclement weather, yet it is a gas miser!
It didn’t take me but a week to find out all of the benefits of having a second boat like this. It would be remiss to not touch on each of those benefits that I learned in my first year of running this boat:
I have touched on only a few of the benefits of a second boat. Your imagination is the only limitation. I have friends that run tournaments in older glass boats. To save hours on the big motor and stretch the life out of their glass boat, they only run that boat on tournament day. All of their pre-fishing and fun fishing is from a flat bottom. It is pretty hard to argue that logic as well!
Once you do the math on your fishing expenses and recognize the other benefits of running a second boat, the decision is pretty simple. If you fish more than a couple of times a month, the boat payment is less than your savings – and that is the financial benefit of a flat! It truly can take your game to another level!
Two of the keys to success when fishing for largemouth bass in any lake, are:
A. Determining what seasonal pattern you will be faced with.
B. The location of the highest percentage spots to fish during that seasonal
In the upper Midwest, on both natural lakes and reservoirs, the largemouth bass will begin their migration toward shallow water almost immediately after ice out. The purpose of this migration is twofold - feeding and eventually spawning. If you can locate the best shallow areas, you will be able to follow the fish throughout the spring, and into post-spawn.
My usual research routine starts in the off-season. I like to purchase no less than two different brands of lake maps for each body of water on my tournament schedule. You will find that the detail of maps vary from manufacturer to manufacturer depending on their mapping source, but most information is good information and I will take all I can get! Typically any tournament I have from ice out through the end of May, I can classify as pre-spawn.
I will carefully study these maps, paying particular attention to bays that have shallow flats (under 8’ of water) in the northern section of the lake. Ideally, bays with an expansive flat in the northwest portion of the lake will captivate my interest. These bays will see more sunlight and are at least somewhat protected from prevailing winds. I will highlight as many of these flats as possible on my maps, and will check most of them when pre-fishing.
Some of the characteristics that will make a flat special, include:
Defined point/points at the mouth of the bay.
Secondary points within the bay.
A creek channel.
Deep drop-offs or ledges outside the flat.
Submergent or emergent vegetation.
Stumps or brush-piles.
Rocks or riprap.
When actually on the lake, a surface temperature gauge is a must for determining not a particular temperature, but some of the warmest water you can find. Often you will find the main lake more than 5 degrees colder than a bay. When I start checking the bays I had highlighted on the maps during pre-work, I will start fishing in the warmest areas first and these will most often be dark bottom bays.
Nine times out of ten I will circle the flat within the bay to see the actual layout in comparison to the maps. Then I will zigzag through the flat with the trolling motor on high and throw a swim jig or a spinner-bait. I am doing two things in this process - trying to get bit, and scanning the water looking for baitfish, pan fish and bass.
If I start getting hits or catching fish on the flat, I will begin to refine the pattern. Is the activity I am experiencing coming off of stumps, brush piles, new weed growth or perhaps rocks? When I determine if there is some specific cover or structure on the flat that is producing fish, I slow down and work every similar spot on the flat thoroughly.
If I cannot get the fish to bite, and the flat is void of any visible baitfish or game fish, I will not abandon the area. It is very possible that by late morning or early afternoon this flat could be loaded with fish due to warming water throughout the day. To quantify the productivity of an area you need to move deeper by working your way out of the bay, fishing the secondary points, creek channels, inside turns, ledges and drop-offs (indicated in the map where several contour lines get very close to each other or touch), and then finally the main lake points at the mouth of the bay. A largemouth bass will use all of these types of structure as “stopping points” on their path to and from the flat.
Baits that work well for me for these pre-spawn deeper presentations, are weighted suspending jerk baits, a Super K football jig with a twin tail grub, a 3/4 or 1 ounce Super K Plunking jig, Carolina rigs, shakey head worms, a drop-shot rigs, or spider-grubs.
Fishing in this manner allows me to find where the fish are in terms of their migration to the flat. When you begin catching fish, be sure to document, at least mentally, the time of day, weather condition and surface temperature because this may be replicated in similar areas of the lake.
The important part of spring and pre-spawn fishing is your adaptability. If you are catching fish and they turn off, it is time to adapt to the situation. If you are catching fish on the flat and the bite slows, think about your surroundings. Did cloud cover take the heat of the sun out of the equation? Did the wind pick up or shift and push cold main lake water into the flat? If that is the case, these fish are not necessarily negative, but may have moved closer to the deeper water or structure that they use on their migration highways within the bay.
Conversely, if you are catching fish in the deeper structure areas and they turn off, it is just as likely that the flat is warming enough that it has become inviting to the whole food chain, bass included, and you need to follow those fish shallower.
A lot is said about “fishing the moment”. Never is this phrase more obvious as in the springtime during the pre-spawn on our northern lakes. Your success hinges on your versatility in fishing techniques and your ability to think through the situations that may arise.
If you follow the premise outlined above, I am 100% confident you WILL find pre-spawn fish. If you learn to adapt to the movement and mood of these fish, you can catch them all day long!
On November 14th of this year, I will be 52 years old. That means that this is my 40th of hunting. In those 40 years I have shot more than my fair share of deer.
I love everything about hunting – always have. Over the years however, the excitement and anticipation of the hunt has changed for me. I used to be so excited that I would lose sleep the night before the hunt. I used to think that the best fragrances in the world were fall leaves, gun cleaning solvent and buck scent. I used to read magazines about deer hunting year round and I actually saved every one of those magazines for reference.
I still shoot my bow every day even in the off season. I shoot rifles and shotguns year round. I consider my self very proficient with any weapon that releases a projectile.
As the years went on and life became more hectic, I found myself less and less excited about the whole process of hunting and I miss the old me! I have never missed a deer season, but let’s just say I don’t really bounce out of bed at 4:30am any more – it seems more like work! That being said, I decided to refocus for the 2012 season, and try to find the fire that I so miss about hunting.
When it comes to deer hunting, I am a “caller” by trade. There is a 2 to 3 week window in which solid bucks will come to the horns. In my area of northwest Wisconsin, that window began on Tuesday, October 16th. That was exactly 4 days after I saw the last bachelor groups of bucks in my area. I have been in the woods on stand every morning and evening since then.
On the evening of Friday, October 19th, I had 2 bucks coming in. One was a respectable 8 pointer that had around a 17” spread but lacked mass and appeared to be only around 2 ½ years old. He came to the horns like he was on a string and was within 15 yards of the ground blind I was in. If he is not harvested, he will be a true trophy in a year or 2.
About 75 yards behind him was a 150” class buck that was coming in quickly, as was real ornery! He kept coming in strong and I needed about 8 more steps out of him before he would hit an opening in the pines. As fate would have it, a feed truck was approaching a stop sign a few hundred yards away, and the sound of the truck’s engine brake spooked the buck out of sight.
I decided to give the ground blind in the pines a rest for Saturday, and hunted the south end of the property, 800 yards from the pines. I rattled in 4 different bucks on Saturday, but none were shooters.
Sunday, October 21st, I got to the pines at 3:30 pm. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few large, fresh scrapes, and a very fresh rub on a pine that was 6” in diameter and was deeply grooved (see the first picture below). The rub was around 20 yards from my ground blind. Tonight the wind was out of the southeast at 15mph, with gusts to 25 mph – with that in mind, I started my second rattling sequence rather aggressively to overcome the wind noise.
At 4:40pm I caught movement to the right – it was a mid 160” buck coming in head down and coming in quickly. He appeared to be heading to an open area of the pines near the fresh rub. I put the rangefinder on that rub, and it read 18 yards. With the buck 30 yards out and still coming quickly, I held on the opening by the rub. Just before he hit the opening, I grunted and he came to a stop. Just as I released the arrow from the Mathews Z7 Extreme, a strong gust of wind blew the window flap up! The arrow went through 2 layers of the flap (see the second picture below) and skipped helplessly off the ground, 5 yards short of its intended target!
The buck ran around 100 yards to a thicket, and look back wondering what happened.
For around 15 minutes I was fuming. When I gathered my senses, I realized I had the fire back! This is why I hunt. It is for close encounters – some are successful and some are not. Fate was on the side of this monarch tonight. He wasn’t spooked out of the county so you never know! Anticipation is 99% of the hunt for me.
The next few days I will give the pines a rest. Later this week if I still have my buck tag, I will be back in that ground blind, looking at that special view (see the 3rd picture below). This time I will bring a few pins to hold the flaps in place if it is windy. Pain is a great teacher!!
Thank you God for giving me the opportunity to hunt!!
After fishing the
Late in the tournament day Saturday, we were fortunate enough to learn what presentation the smallmouth wanted, and since the Angler’s Choice was also on the Minocqua/Tomahawk chain, we knew that some subtle equipment adjustments needed to be made.
The rod choices would be the same – let me review those here:
Since the fish were suspended, I decided to add one rod/reel to the mix – that rod was the G.Loomis NRX 853C JWR – This is a 7’1” Extra-Fast action Medium-Heavy power casting rod that I chose as a jigging spoon rod. Often times a fish will hit a jigging spoon on the fall, right after you quickly sweep the bait. This rod is ultra light weight, so you can feel the slightest tap of the bait, but it has all the power in the world to wrestle a fish out of the deepest water. This rod was rigged with a Shimano Curado 200 E7. You need a reel that will cast a country mile when using a jigging spoon – it also must have a superior drag system and a fast retrieve to pick up slack in the line quickly. This reel far exceeds all of my expectations and needs!
The last equipment adjustment I made for this tournament, was fishing line. The technique that I used on Saturday was a
Well, Sunday morning the tournament took off on time – outside air temperature was in the mid 40 degree range and the barometric pressure was steady. I really wanted to see if we could find some fish in the very extreme depths early, that we could pop a 5 fish limit pretty quick.
The first spot we went to was a rock shelf in 72’ of water. I checked the spot with the Humminbird 1198 on the side image screen and it looked like it was loaded with fish. I then switched the screen to down-imaging next to the map/chart screen and drove over the top of the waypoint. There were 2 good schools of ciscoes in 28’ to 40’ of water, and a large school of smallies between 60’ and 72’ of water. (see the picture below - the coordinates have been blacked out to protect the innocent) We fished the long leader
We spent the remaining 5 hours of the tournament jumping from spot to spot and caught probably another 20 keepers, but never did catch any kicker fish to help our weight.
At the scales, our 5 fish limit was 10.41 lbs, which was good enough for 2nd place and a nice check. The winning bag was 10.81 lbs, and 3rd place was 9.06 lbs. There was a total of 3, 5 fish limits caught. I feel fortunate that we caught one of those limits!
I would say 80% of our fish came on the
I do need to bring up fish care at this point. When fishing in water deeper than 30’, fish need to be fizzed. Fizzing is the practice of inserting a hypodermic needle through the fish's swim bladder to release air. The swim bladder is a gas-filled sac in a bass that is used to regulate buoyancy in the fish. This practice can be completed through the mouth or through the skin of the fish. Please research this process before fishing deep water.
I would like to thank the following sponsors:
On September 16th, 2011 I headed 2 1/2 hours northeast to Minocqua, WIsconsin, to fish 2 tournaments - an Open hosted by the Northern Lakes Bassmasters on Saturday the 17th, followed by and Angler's Choice Series tournament on Sunday the 18th. Both of these tournaments were to be held on the Minocqua/Tomahawk chain of lakes. My tournament partner for both Saturday and Sunday would be George Diller of Altoona, WI.
I was hoping that the deep fish I found on my Labor Day scouting excursion would still be in the general vicinity of the waypoints that I marked, but a lot can happen to a body of water in 12 days. During that scouting trip the fish were catchable, but the bites were so light that I knew I was not connecting with every fish that picked up a bait. When you have 60' plus of line out, by the time the bite transmits up the line and through the rod, the odds of the fish dropping the bait before you get a hook in them, is very good. I knew going in to these 2 tournaments that I would need to use the most sensitive rods in my arsenal. Earlier this spring the Skeeter Boat Center became a G. Loomis/Shimano dealer, and I had purchased several rods that would fit my needs perfectly!
My choices were as follows:
On Saturday morning the air temperature was in the mid 40 degree range and the water surface temperature was in the upper 60 degree range. This condition created a low fog that delayed take off for a little while. When we arrived at our first spot, the waypoint that held fish 12 days earlier was barren. Feeling that the fish may have moved up to the closest hump we sidescanned the area a with our Humminbird 1198 and and marked a school of smallmouth within 400' of our original waypoint. I marked a waypoint on the school and drove over them with the 2D screen to determine the size of the school. These fish were suspended at the 46' to 55' ranges in 64' of water and were positioned directly below 2 schools of baitfish (Ciscoes) See the first picture below.
Within the first 5 minutes of fishing this school, we caught 3 small keepers with the drop-shot rigs on the NRX rods. The tournament limit was 6 fish per 2 man team so we were half way there. Almost as quickly as the fish started biting, the whole school turned off. We tried multiple presentations and techniques, but we could not produce another fish.
The next several hours we went from waypoint to waypoint and despite marking fish, all of the schools we fished were in a negative feeding mood.
Finally, at 2 pm we found a hump in 32' of water that had a school of cooperative fish suspended at 27' to 30 ' (see the second picture below). I positioned the boat directly over the school and we tried the drop-shot technique for 15 minutes to no avail. I dropped a marker buoy approximately 10' to the side of the school and backed the boat off of the fish so we could drag Carolina rigged baits threw the fish.
When fishing deep with a Carolina rig, it is very important to make as long of casts as possible as to have a horizontal presentation and keep the bait in the strike zone longer. My choice of reels for long casts, is the Shimano Curado (see the 3rd picture below to view the Shimano Curado on a G. Loomis NRX). The Curado is a light but powerful baitcasting reel with an adjustable brake system that will let you cast a country mile without getting a backlash. Once you have a fish on, the Curado drag system is the best in the business!
The first cast through the school yielded a keeper smallmouth but the fish immediately shut down. I pulled back on top of the fish to see if they were gone. The school was still there, but had risen another 2' in the water column. I backed the boat out again and in an attempt to get the bait to ride higher in the water column. I tied on a 12 lb. test 50" monofilament leader to the Carolina rig with a floating bait. Since monofilament line floats, this setup would let the bait move right through the school at eye level.
The next 2 casts in a row yielded consecutive keepers - we now had a limit but we had to be back at the landing in 7 minutes for weigh-in so we had to leave.
We loaded the boat, and I actually considered just throwing our fish back because our 6 fish limit was small. I started watching people weigh in one or 2 fish per team and had only seen 2 limits so we knew fishing was tough for everyone. We brought our fish to the scales and they weighed 10.07 lbs. which was good enough for 4th place - that was a big surprise for us. We actually had enough weight to collect a check AND we learned a little something to carry in to Sunday's tournament (I will cover that in part 3 of this blog).
I would like to thank the following sponsors: