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by Jim Porter

The cool, crisp weather of Florida's Winter and early Spring means one thing to the Sunshine State's bass anglers--`Hey, guys. It's trophy time!!!'

If you are truly serious about wanting to catch that bass of a lifetime', now is the time and live shiners are the bait. Without a doubt, the shiner is the deadliest morsels with which to tempt your trophy into the livewell. You CAN catch your big bass. It is really not difficult during the cooler Florida months. However, nothing is so easy that it doesn't take a bit of knowledge and effort, with the former being the key ingredient. Latching onto (and particularly holding onto) a big sow bass with one of those overgrown minnows requires a set of different approaches that the artificial lure angler must recognize: different rods, different lines, different locations, and different presentation methods.

Lack of `attitude adjustment' is usually one of the primary reasons new shiner anglers fail in their trophy bass quest. Dunking shiners is NOT a`run-and-gun' style of fishing, such as the plastic worm angler sampling as many weedbeds as he can in the shortest period. With live bait, we attempt to select the proper location, position ourselves in the most advantageous manner, and fish in an unhurried and methodical manner. Patience can be a virtue.

The ideal location for using shiners for trophy bass has three very distinct characteristics. First, as with any predictably good big bass location, it should be as near to deep water (or the deepest in the immediate vicinity) aspossible. Second, we must look for the heaviest, healthiest cover available. Big bass love thick cover, but the vegetation must also be alive and producing oxygen. This is required in order to attract the smaller life-forms of the food chain and, therefore, the larger creatures upon which the big bass may feed. And, finally, the location should ideally have a clean, hard bottom. Sand, clay, gravel and shells are ideal. In general, bass of all sizes avoid mucky or muddy bottom areas.

The first equipment difference the shiner angler must note is the requirement for an adequate holding tank for the bait. Shiners are extremely fragile and have a very low tolerance to heat and low oxygen.If you have an exceptionally good, deep livewell (such as found in most tournament-type bass boats), it will normally maintain shiners adequately under constant aeration. A large portable ice chest, in the 80-100 quart size, will also work well, with the additional installation of an aerator pump. One of the best shiner tanks I have seen was a large plastic garbage can rigged with a large agitator-type aeration system.

An adequate shiner rod is roughly equivalent to a `flipping stick'. It is 6 1/2- 7 feet in length, rated as heavy action, and has a generously-long handle (for leverage effect). Sensitivity is of no particular significance, so expensive graphite is not necessary. Just be sure it is strong!! The reel is also of minor significance. In shiner fishing, it simply holds the line and provides a base to wind the line back onto. The reel should, preferably, be a level-wind, with a free-spool feature. A `clicker' feature while in the free-spool mode is nice-to-have, in the event of a slow swim-off while you are dozing in the warm afternoon sun. Line is a key item in shiner fishing, in that it is our one and only link to the trophy bass. As we have selected and maintained our line, so will go our fishing successes or failures. A mistake most newcomers make is not using a heavy enough line. Believe it or not, the most recommended line weight advocated by the professional guides we spoke with was 40 (yes, that's four-zero) pound test. So, forget the artificial lure fishing factors of limpness and castability. Concentrate on strength and toughness!

The new braids out there today are ideal. Don’t use a leader and do tie a heavy knot, such as the Palomar. Braids have a very useful property for some applications - they float. This can be good when fishing in heavily timbered locations where the line may sink and become tangled/hung just from trying to retrieve the bait to the boat. But, as it lays on top of the water, the wind will effect it easily and cause it to move downwind quickly. That’s usually O.K., so position your boat directly upwind from the target are if you use braid. If you are free-lining the shiner (no weight/bobbers) and letting him swim freely up under the cover, the floating braid will always give you an indication of where your bait is. Hook styles and size are dictated by the size of the shiner and type cover being fished. In most cases, a 4/0 is the best choice. If the shiners are less than 6-inches in length, scale down to 3/0 to reduce bait mortality. Since we normally fish shiners in and around very heavy vegetation, a weedless hook style is usually selected. And, finally, the hook must be sharp and as strong as possible. If you can bend it using a pair of pliers, it is not strong enough!

Equipment rigging is a matter of choice among shiner angling disciples. The basic set-up is generally made up as follows:

Thread a plastic bead and then a fairly large balsa wood, cork or plastic foam bobber on the line. Then add a plastic bead below the bobber. Each must slide freely up and down the line. Next, tie the line directly to the hook, using the strongest knot you know. NO swivels and NO snaps! The lower bead, as you now note, is to keep the bobber from hanging on the knot or eye of the hook when casting it out. Finally, determine the depth at which you will fish the shiner (or the desired distance from the shiner to the bobber) and tie a 2-inch piece of a thick rubber band around the line and above the upper bead at that point. This will provide a `stopper' for the sliding bobber and allow you to control the depth. But, it also makes the rig easy to cast by placing all the mass (bobber, shiner, hook) at the very end of the line. Some anglers use a small balloon in lieu of the bobber, claiming the more pliable balloon slides through and over the vegetation better. This is applicable ONLY to areas where there are reeds or other thick obstructions above the waterline. The balloon body will give and allow the shine to pull the rig through the grass just fine. However, a balloon is not ANY advantage when fishing more open areas and takes up too much time. It also places weights (mass) at two different locations on the line (balloon and shiner) and makes casting a more difficult, rig-tumbling effort. The balloon, when used, is inflated to approximately the size of baseball and a knot is tied in the end. Then, the remaining end is tied to the line (using the end of the balloon stem) at the depth or distance desired. In this configuration, the need for the plastic beads is obviously eliminated.

Presentation methods in shiner fishing must concentrate on getting the shiner in the correct location, while not ripping him off the hook or killing him. Shiners are darn expensive (unless you catch your own--another story for another day) so we must remember not to really `cast' them out. It must be more of a gentle, smooth `toss'. One thing to know about shiner fishing for big bass is that you can place the boat very close to the fishing location. The boat, when quietly positioned, coveys no threat to a big bass. (A 15-pound anchor heaved haphazardly into his hiding spot is, however, quite another story, so use common sense.) Always use two anchors so that the boat position will not alter and cause lines to cross or get under motors. Giant bass always strike best when something is screwed up. Normally, the shiner should be `tossed' as close to the cover as possible. In most cases, he will immediately dive and swim UNDER the surface mat. That is where the bass are and, if one is there, you and the shiner will both know it immediately. If there is no quick strike, let the shiner swim in and about the cover for a reasonable distance. If you have chosen your location with care, a bass will probably show up within a short time.

`Presentation depth' of a shiner can be manipulated be adding weights (split shots 8-10 inches above the bait) to the line, or simply by the way the shiner is hooked. In most instances, the shiner is best presented, stays on the hook and lives longer if hooked 1/2-inch behind and 1/2-inch below the back fin. He will usually go deep hooked in this manner, but can easily come shallow if need be. If you want the shiner to stay very shallow, hook him through both lips, hook point up. If you want him to swim as deep as possible, hook him inthelower portion of his body, just behind the anal fin.

Want to catch a trophy bass? Go shiner fishin'. You won't be sorry!


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