LOGS AND HAWGS
by Jim Porter
The log was big. For a hundred years, the giant oak tree had stood overlooking the Tennessee River, providing a home and supply of acorns for generations of squirrels. Now, it lay half in and half out of the water, most of its limbs rotted and broken away.
The white spinner bait flashed in the new morning light as it arced towards the shoreline, settling with barely a sound in the shallow, murky water. A quick lift of the rod tip and a few rapid turns of the reel handle brought the #5 blade to a position just under the surface, creating a gurgling wake just behind the retrieved lure. Skillfully, my wife, Dot, guided the imitation alongside the log, sliding it gently over a protruding limb and allowing it to flutter down for a moment. A flash from beneath the log and a sudden slackness in the line indicated the strike and she set the hook hard.
The bass immediately turned back towards the sanctuary of the cover, causing the monofilament line to sing and the stiff rod to throb dangerously. For a moment, it appeared that he might wrap in the submerged limbs. Then, he turned 180 degrees and came directly towards the boat, with Dot reeling madly at the slack line. Just before going under the boat, the fish came barreling to the surface, thrashing his body and rattling red, flaring gills at us. The little spinner bait flipped up into the air, spun around a few times and settled nicely on the floor of the boat. In momentary disappointment, Dot and I just looked at one another. Then, my partner laughed, retrieved her lure and readied another cast.
Of all the ways to fish for bass, I venture to say that casting to shallow water cover has to be the best. You can see the target, pick your casting area and, if the fish is there, the response is usually swift and violent. The anticipation and suspense associated with visible cover is so much more than that of deeper, unseen structure.
While a bass will take up an ambush position around most any cover feature available, they seem to show a definite preference for wood, especially logs. This probably stems from the fact that the smaller elements of the food chain adhere to the wood, which, in turn, draws the smaller fishes and other aquatic life. The bass, in turn, are drawn by the food supply and the fact that logs provide easy concealment and a sense of safety. Whatever the reason, bass definitely love logs and I, for one, am glad that they do.
The selection of logs with the most bassin' potential and the proper presentation of lures around them are important if we are to maximize our success. While fishing a log at first seems a simple task, there really is a 'technique' to it. For example, there are certain types of wood, which actually seem to repel fish. Further, as with any bassin' structure, the accurate interpretation of just where the bass is most likely to hold in and around the log is essential to that first-cast success. If we approach a log haphazardly, we likely may spook the fish before we entice him.
Pine tree logs appear to be unattractive to bass, unless the wood is exceptionally old. This may well be due to the heavy resins in the wood, which seep out during the decay process and mix with the water. This can be compared to another type of wood structure which is rarely very productive, that being creosote-soaked piling or timbers. Another that seems to produce few fish is cedar. On occasion, a single bass may be taken from these types of wood, but they are few.
The most consistently productive brush tops I have seen are orange and apple tree remains. Peach trees are also good. In fact, any tree or bush, which grows a fruit, berry or nut, seems to work well. The only explanation I can come up with for this is that the chemical composition of the tree and its sap must have some appealing 'odor' or 'taste'. At least, they are probably not as bitter as a tree, which contains a resin.
The size of the log (or group of logs) does not seem to be of particular importance. If it provides a reasonable amount of concealment and the food supply is available, bass will use it. There is one interesting factor that often allows us to anticipate a lunker's potential presence. Bass adhere to Nature's rule that the largest and strongest normally get the choicest territory. However, the catch is that the occupant must continually exercise his dominance over intruders. If the cover feature is small enough for the large bass to keep its bounds under observation, he will nearly always run the intruders away. Therefore, small cover features have an excellent potential for big bass and the angler should approach them accordingly. What this tells us is to thoroughly work the smaller cover, since it may only hold one fish and he may be hard to entice. However, that one fish may be well worth the effort.
Previously, we said that proper lure presentation is an important point. If done haphazardly, we stand more of a chance of running the bass off than we do of catching him. Except under recent cold front conditions, the following is the priority for lure placement:
Under cold front conditions, we normally expect to find the bass holding tight in thick cover and not inclined to chase a lure. At these times, the first cast should be directly into the thickest part of the cover and the retrieve should be slow and teasing. This is when the flipping technique comes into its own. Flipping heavy cover is the most effective method for taking dormant, cold front bass.
- Work the lure along the outer edges of the log, or log jam. Keep the lure as close to the cover as possible for the longest duration (i.e., retrieve parallel to the log and right up against it).
- Next, cast directly into the densest part of the cover possible.
- If these do not produce, work the remainder of the area carefully. There are nearly ALWAYS some bass around any good cover feature and, often, they must be goaded into striking. Fishing too fast is a fault of 99% of bass anglers, yours truly included.
A point to remember about logs is that 'the part you CANNOT see has as much potential as the part you CAN.' It is easy to fish the visible portion of a log, but keep in mind that part which may be further out and submerged from view. If the outer portion of the log happens to be lying over the lip of a drop-off, a crank plug can be devastating to the bass population. Always, always work the entire length of a log.
When fishing logs, the lure choices are made based on determined activity of the bass. If they have any degree of aggressiveness at all, a spinner bait is THE lure. It can be fished in and about the cover very thoroughly and is excellent at provoking the fish to strike. The 'prime directive' of spinner bait fishing is to fish it s-l-o-w-l-y. Any time it comes up and over an obstruction, be certain to let it flutter down for a count or two before continuing the retrieve. I have had the pleasure of sharing a boat with Chris Houston and that lady is a master with the blade. Watch her work a log or treetop with a spinner bait and you'll learn all you'll ever need to know.
A shallow crank plug runs a close second to the blade bait. Again, use it slowly and let it pick its way through the cover. Be especially alert with a crank plug, in that the strike may feel like the lure has simply bumped into another limb. If the end of the log goes out into deep water, be sure to run an appropriate depth crank plug down around the submerged portion. Work your way out until you no longer feel the lure contact the log. Then, check with your depth finder to see if it goes deeper or if the end of the log may have rotted or broken off and fallen to the bottom.
Logs and tree blow-downs were tailor-made for the plastic worm. Probably the biggest mistake most anglers make is not casting the worm right into the thickest part of the cover. The applicable rule of bassin' here is to get fish on the hook first and worry about what to do with her second. As the lure is pulled slowly over an obstruction, the sinker will clear it first and fall away from the worm. When this occurs, we lose contact with the lure and cannot feel the strike as well. In heavy cover, MOST STRIKES COME ON THE FALL OF THE WORM. The tournament Pros normally peg their slip sinkers with a toothpick to counter this.
During the colder months, a jig and pig is usually a bit better choice than the worm. Fish it in the same manner as the worm and be especially alert for the strike. A cold-water bass will ALWAYS hit a jig and pig on the drop and it will be an extremely light tap or bump. It is so light, in fact, that most of the time even the highly experienced angler will not perceive it. The trick here is to hold the lure on a tight line for a second or two before you move it again. If the fish has the lure, she will tug back at you very gently.
Just remember, bass love logs and you and I should be darn grateful.
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