By John Neporadny Jr.
Countless hours of trial and error on the water have made the touring pros experts on what to do and what not to do when pursuing bass.
BassResource surveyed some of the top tournament pros for their best advice on how to help novice or weekend anglers improve their fishing skills. The following lists are their top tips and the biggest mistakes they see beginning anglers make.
- Simplify. “I think we have a tendency to over-analyze, over-technique, over-color and over-size,” says Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Menendez. “As I have gotten older I have realized that less is more a lot of times. It doesn’t have to be that hard to catch a bass. If the wind is blowing hard put the wind to your back and cover as much water as you can with a reaction bait (spinnerbait or a crankbait). If it is a day that is slick and high, blue skies, slow down (with a shaky head, jig or Texas rig).”
- Stay in your comfort zone. “Don’t try to push something that you are not real comfortable with in a tournament,” says Jordan Lee. The Elite Series rookie suggests trying techniques and lures that are out of your comfort zone during practice or fun fishing but never during a tournament.
- Become versatile. “You need to be able to do it all,” says Texas pro Todd Faircloth. “If you are not real comfortable with a spinning rod, take a spinning rod and leave everything else at the house. Go to a lake, pond or stream that has a lot of fish and try to catch fish on it. That is where you gain confidence in a technique or a specific bait and that is going to help you. At some point you will be in a situation where that technique or bait is needed to be successful and if you have confidence in it that is a big deal in our sport.”
- Improve your casting. “The thing that most weekend bass fishermen can do to really improve their catch rate is to really practice their casting,” says B.A.S.S. superstar Kevin VanDam. “Being able to make an accurate cast with a soft presentation is just critical. If you are casting overhand and landing that bait next to that stump and it lands with a big splash you are scaring most of the fish that you could be catching. Being able to make a good accurate cast without any splash catches a ton of bass.”
- Spend time on the water. “You cannot get really good in this sport without time on the water,” says bass fishing legend Denny Brauer. “You have to experience all of the subtle changes in the fishery itself and how it relates to different weather changes such as what do the fish do when it rains or what they do when the lake is dropping or rising. All of that will make you a better fishermen more so than anything else you can do.”
- Limit expectations. “Bass fishing can be really good one day and not so good the second,” Oklahoma pro Jason Christie warns. “Even the pros have days when they really catch them and days when they don’t catch them so much. I see when beginners have those days that they don’t catch a lot they tend to get frustrated. Those are the days that you appreciate when you really catch them.”
- Be a sponge. Elite Series pro Marty Robinson suggests gathering all the information you can from magazines and videos. “There are so many avenues today to learn techniques on how to catch bass,” he says.
- Fish from the back deck. Ohio pro Bill Lowen suggests starting as a co-angler in tournaments. “I jumped in head first (as a boater) and it was a big learning curve for me,” he recalls. “I can remember coming into weigh-ins and having only one or two fish and swearing that everyone was cheating because they would have 10 or 12 pounds.”
Using the wrong hook. “A case in point is using an extra wide gap hook for flipping,” Menendez says. “That hook has to turn and then come forward to have any hope of catching a fish. A flipping hook should be a straight shank round bend hook. An extra wide gap hook is a better choice for fishing a soft plastic jerkbait or for any kind of hook set in which it is a side sweeping hook set instead of a snapping up motion. “
- Picking the perfect lure. “A lot of times beginning anglers think it is a certain bait or certain technique when a lot of times it is more about being around bass rather than having the great lure on,” Faircloth says. “A lot of times people think they can’t catch a bass unless they have a specific lure. It doesn’t matter how pretty your bait is if you are not around bass you are not going to catch them.”
- Getting caught up in the past. “Just because you caught bass on a spot last weekend or yesterday you think it is not going to change,” warns VanDam. “You have to be very aware of the conditions and surroundings and all of the variables because it changes by the hour out there on a lot of days. So forget about what happened then and fish in the moment and fish the current conditions.”
- Losing focus. “There is nothing wrong with looking around as long as you are looking for certain things such as when a fish blows up on the surface,” Brauer says. “Those types of things can help put more fish in the boat for you.” However the Texas pro advises you should remain aware of “what your lure is doing at all times” to catch more bass.
- Doing too much. Christie sees newcomers trying to learn too many techniques simultaneously. “Pick four or five baits that you have confidence in and establish those,” he says. “Once you feel confident in those learn the other baits one at a time.”
- Fretting over colors. “That should be the least of your worries,” Robinson says. “I would rather be fishing the right area with the wrong color than the wrong area with the right color.” He suggests keeping color choices simple with natural hues for clear water and bright or dark colors for dirty water.
- Chasing dock talk. Lowen recalls early in his career when he would try the patterns the local anglers would tell him was working when he arrived for a tournament. “I struggled with that and I just went back to doing the way I fish,” he says.
This is test
OK, you just saw Fat Head and me skipping a jig in the Salem Canal, a tributary of the Delaware River. It was the only way to catch them. Our day was cold and blustery. The fish were positioned back under the shoreline cover and aggressive doesn’t describe the bite. That’s called tough.
But, we had to make the best of it. Filming, fishing a tournament or fishing on your day off work is all the same when it comes to the weather. You deal with current conditions. Period.
We fished with Missile Jigs’ Mini Flip jigs. There’s a reason for that: It’s the best small skipping jig that’s available when the bite gets tough, and I don’t say that just because I’m a part of their team. It’s the bait I used to win the Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Delaware River.
There are at least four things that make it my go-to lure for the kind of fishing conditions you saw on Salem Canal Revenge.
The first is that it’s small and compact, much smaller and more compact than other jigs of the same weight. Even the largest size, 1/2 ounce, is relatively tiny. When you don’t want to show the bass a huge profile this one’s where it’s at.
That small profile is useful when the local forage is small. If the fish aren’t actively feeding, you don’t want to show them something different, something they haven’t seen over and over again. That’s an immediate turnoff.
The smaller size also gives the Mini Flip a faster rate of fall for its weight. That helps trigger a reaction bite when the fish are tight to cover. They have no time to figure anything out. They’re predators. They attack.
The last thing — not counting quality construction and an affordable price — that makes this jig so great is that the head design makes it skip easily and with super accuracy. You can put it back where the fish are, and where the other guys aren’t.
No lure can live up to its potential, however, unless you throw it on the right tackle. My choices for the Mini Flip are:
I start with a 7 foot, 2 inch medium-heavy Abu Garcia rod with a soft tip. (It’s one of my Signature Series rods.) The length is critical. I designed this rod specifically for skipping small jigs. I added 2 inches beyond the 7 foot mark because that’ll give you extra distance and accuracy without the rod becoming too long and too heavy.
My reel was an Abu Garcia MGX model, 7:1 gear ratio. I spooled it with Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, 17-pound-test. I selected that particular line because it’s heavy and has a fast sink rate. That helps the jig get down quickly where it needs to be. That’s a part of triggering a reaction bite.
I’ve mentioned each product I used not because it’s the only good stuff out there. It’s not. But it is what I use, and I only use products that help me catch fish and that I can rely on day after day under tough conditions.
My Italy trip was fantastic. It’s a really neat country. On one level it’s very different from the United States. Everywhere you go there are lots of old ruins and marble, some of them thousands of years old. I live near the historical city of Philadelphia. We have lots of old stuff that has great significance to our country, but there’s nothing that old.
On another level, however, it’s just like the United States. Of course, I’m referring to bass fishing. Fish Italy for a few days and you’ll realize that a bass is a bass regardless of where they live.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived, other than the huge number of fish-heads, was that they mostly fish finesse techniques. They’re super experts with light rods, thin line and small baits, and I’m not saying that to be polite. Those anglers can throw finesse baits with any pro I know.
But that’s not the way I fished when I was there. You’ll see that in the film. The guys over there wanted to go with power techniques. They wanted instruction on how it all works. I was more than happy to help them.
Most of the bass we caught were tricked by a Molix Lover. It’s kind of like a vibration jig, but not really. It’s more along the lines of a hybrid jig, crankbait and spinnerbait. The design is the thing. The plastic lip doesn’t angle down. It angles up and it’s fixed. That makes it incredibly weedless even in the thickest wood and even though it has an exposed rear hook.
If you watch the video carefully you see that I was fishing it in some pretty thick wood. Heck, we even managed to get one back under some bushes without any problems.
I’d say that about 75 percent of the time I used a full-size Devil Spear as a trailer. But here’s the thing: After I cut off about a quarter-inch from the nose I threaded it on the hook with the tail in a vertical position. Basically it looked like the tail of a real baitfish. That’s a trick I’ve been using for some time. Now seems like a good time to share it.
I fished my Lover with a spinning rod. It’s a medium action model from Abu Garcia that I helped design. My reel was an Abu Garcia Revo Rocket with a 7.0:1 gear ratio. I spooled it with 17-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100 percent Fluorocarbon line.
The guys over in Italy loved what we did. I think we (fish-heads like us) have made friends with some of them for life. Try some of what you see in your own fishing. I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did.