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HOW TO FIND TROPHY BASS

by Jim Porter

'Trophy' bass come in three sizes-big, bigger and 'holy mackerel, Kingfish'!! But, the actual weights associated with the bass defined as 'trophies' depend on the section of the country you may be fishing and the particular species of bass being sought. A 5-6 pound largemouth is worth 'bragging rights' in the more northern states, while Florida and Georgia residents don't bat an eye unless the old sow is over 12.

Suffice to say, what constitutes a trophy bass is relative to the locale. However, no matter what part of the country the angler may be in or body of water he happens to be on, the larger bass (i.e., the local trophies) all have some remarkably similar habits.

If you want to pick apples, you must find an apple tree. Correct? And, if the angler wants to catch trophy bass, he must first locate a 'trophy bass tree' (i.e., the most probable area that may hold them). In other words, the angler who desires to catch trophy bass must learn to
locate and fish those very specific locations where the larger bass are most likely to be.

T
here are three very specific characteristics regarding trophy bass and their habitual locations:
  • FIRST, there is a direct correlation between where a bass may be found and deep water. The natural instinct of fish, when confronted by danger, is to immediately run for the safety of the depths. While all bass tend to remain near the deep-water access, the larger bass seem to make it a 'cardinal rule'. This particular habit is very noticeable, but may not be apparent until attention is called to it. From the time we first started our participation into the sport of bass angling, we were all told the fish-holding value of the drop-off. 'Ledges and drops' were probably the very first structure definitions thrust upon us and, now, we understand why. If we consider a 'drop-off' to be any major and immediate change in depth and the area above the drop to be a 'ledge', we are able to describe some characteristics of each which trophy bass seem to prefer. If there is no cover on the ledge, it must be at least ten feet below the surface to hold a trophy. If brush or medium cover is present, this depth may decrease to six feet. If the cover is exceptionally dense, such as grass or a thick brush top, the depth may be reduced to three or four feet. Muddy or stained water conditions will often result in bass being more shallow than usual; clear water, conversely, means deeper. The actual drop-off should be very steep and must be adjacent to the deepest water in the area. (The definition of 'deep water' is that which is at least 25 feet, if available; otherwise, the deepest available.) While a sheer drop is acceptable, those that produce best have some associated slope. The bottom composition must be rock, hard sand and/or gravel. Mud and muck are no-nos.
  • The SECOND characteristic regarding the potential location of a trophy bass has to do with the 'pecking order' among the species. As with most wildlife, the largest and strongest usually occupy the choicest locations feeding locations, with the bass being no exception. However, the 'owner' of the prime real estate is required to constantly watch over and protect his holdings from trespassers and intruders. In order to do this effectively, the location must be definable by certain visible bounds and small enough for the one big bass to effectively patrol and guard. In general, this means a small, compact cover or structure feature. In certain reservoirs, we have found that single, isolated stumps or rock-piles fulfill these requirements. On Arkansas's Milwood Lake, it was noted that single brush-tops, if not close to any other feature, would habitually hold the bigger bass, while large cover areas held only smaller fish. Anglers who regularly fish Lake Guntersville, Alabama, realize that small, compact milfoil beds and isolated stumps along the main channel edge are the prime spots for big bass, while the larger grass beds hold more fish, but of lesser-size. On Lake Caspe, a magnificent, under-fished impoundment in northeastern Spain, we readily noted this territorial phenomenon. Our Spanish guide told us that eight-pound, and above, bass were easily taken in large numbers. But, he said, they were only found around certain standing timber items. What he meant was that we had to locate single, very isolated trees standing in at least 18 feet of water. The trick to catching the bass from these single features was to take the largest top-water plugs and make as much noise as possible. The guide stated that we should make it sound as though another bass was feeding on the surface near the tree, so that the 'owner' of the tree would come to chase the intruder away. The system worked extremely well and, by fishing both the larger and smaller areas during the trip, we were able to prove that the larger bass did, in fact, hold on the single, easily guarded features. The other very noticeable aspect was that each tree, which produced a big bass, produced only that single fish. Conversely, if a tree gave up anything less than six pounds, we might catch a number of fish, ranging from that size down to a couple of pounds.
  • The THIRD and final part of this puzzle is that large bass, particularly what we usually categorize as trophies, tend to be 'loners'. We have had the opportunity to locate schools of five and six pound bass and, on a few occasions, small schools of seven and eight pounders. But, bass above those weights are usually found singly. Only twice in 35 years of bass angling have I, personally, experienced what might have been schools of 10-plus pound bass, and those only produced two and three fish, respectively.

There is an old saying that says, "Use big lures for big fish." This is very obviously a 'truism' of bass fishing. While a small lure will catch more bass, the large lure will produce those fish of more quality. There appears to be a logical reason for this, too.

In order to catch his food, a bass must expend a certain amount of energy in its pursuit. If we picture the bass's brain as a small computer, we can see that he must compute the relative
'value' of the target food source against the effort required to capture it. If the 'return on investment' computes as a negative value, chances are good that the bass will choose to ignore the food. (You and I might chase a good T-bone steak across town, but a pickle doesn't cause too much excitement.)

Plastic worms appear to be the best all-around lure, in that even a slow, old fish can catch one. Live bait, such as shiners, always appear injured when on a hook, so they seem easy to catch, too.

So, if you truly desire to catch a trophy bass, you must
concentrate your fishing only on trophies. With a lot of self-discipline, strictly adhere to the following guidance:
  1. Locate small, isolated cover and structure features directly adjacent to sharp drop-offs that go into the deepest water available.
  2. If small bass are present, move on.
  3. Use large lures exclusively and plastic worms predominately.



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