The Weekend Crowds - How To Compensate
By Jim Porter
One of the most frustrating sights for the weekend angler is to show up at his favorite bassin' hole at O'dark Thirty in the morning and find three club tournaments and a host of locals going out of the same ramp. If it happens to coincide with the Crappie spawn, he may also find an additional 24 Jon boats, six canoes and a light cruiser patiently waiting their turns to launch. This is not an uncommon situation and is enough to make some give up and head back to the 'barn'.
If your meager bassin' time is as precious to you as mine is to me, giving up is not an acceptable solution. We must find ways to compensate.
In researching this article, we posed the question of fishing tactics for weekends and crowded waters to four professional guides, gentlemen whose living depends on their ability to produce bass under all conditions. From their replies, we condensed five primary recommendations:
1. Avoid waters where major tournaments, or those with large participation, are taking place.
2. Concentrate your efforts on smaller, lesser-known bodies of water.
3. Plan to fish later in the day, such as noon until dark. The majority of anglers are up with the roosters and home in time for the 1 O'clock ball game. Those participating in a tournament may be out longer, but usually have weigh-in by mid-afternoon.
4. Fishermen on crowded waters and in tournaments are normally anxious and move about too fast. Consequently, they bypass, or miss, most of the bass. You can normally fish right behind them and make good catches by being slow, methodical and thorough. Running around in the boat keeps your lure dry and, remember -- 'dry lures catch darn few fish'.
5. If there are a lot of anglers on the water, apply your time on 'out of the way' locations, those not normally attractive to the other fishermen. Avoid readily visible features, such as points, blow-downs and surface grass beds. Instead, learn to locate submerged structure; for example, inundated island tops, creek channels, ditches and underwater grass beds.
The first recommendation is simple to apply, and a little prior planning can go a long way. All of us have friends, or know people, in bass clubs. A few rings on Ma Bell will tell us if, and where, tournaments are going to take place. Very often, they are announced in the sports section of the local newspaper. With a little effort, we can identify those potentially crowded locations and plan our outing accordingly.
Some of the better fishing to be found is in the smaller streams and lakes. That knowledge, in your specific locale, may be confined to a small group of 'locals'. Search out these folks and you may well find a bassin' bonanza. Normally, the larger bodies of water draw the most anglers and, consequently, gain the most notoriety. The lesser known locations usually have a much lower degree of fishing pressure and, in all likelihood, provide quality fishing.
The third recommendation by our guide advisors caught this author completely off guard. It was one of those 'Now why didn't I think of that?' items. When we sit down and contemplate the issue, the fact is that nearly every angler seems to find his way to the launch ramp about daylight. And, as we recall, 80 percent are off the water shortly after the noon hour. Confining our bassin' to the last half of the day is really a quite logical way to compensate for the 'early to arrive/early to leave' crowd. As an aside, we went back and consulted our fishing logbook on the most productive times to fish for bass. A three year record history reveals that 85 percent of our bass were caught AFTER 10 A.M. and 75 percent came AFTER 12 noon. The review also indicated that our few early fish came off shallow, visible structure, but the majority of each day's catch came from those hidden, submerged features. A very significant trend was also evident: submerged structure (creek channels, ledges and high spots surrounded by deep water) was normally not productive until the latter half of the day. This data may well make some anglers sleep in more often and become an 'afternoon basser '!
Without exception, the guides interviewed 'hit the nail on the head' with observation and recommendation number four. All of us have a tendency to run too much and fish too little, especially when the 'pressure' is on. I know that I'm guilty and, chances are, so are you. Any decent structure or cover feature will usually hold some bass. We may have to work them a bit too finally entice a strike, especially if they are in a semi-dormant state or not on an active feed. Fishing too fast is a recognized, but rarely corrected, fault. Our expert panel went on to say that they usually don't mind fishing 'used' water behind another boat because of this one angling flaw. In expounding upon this recommendation, it was a general consensus of the guides that working an area thoroughly and methodically involved applying a variety of lures in order to invoke a response. This did not necessarily mean changing colors, but really was a variation of lure type, which equates to speed and depth. Finding a lure which would trigger a strike was deemed essential, in that the bass will often completely ignore one while seemingly going 'bananas' over another. This was also described as 'versatility'.
Number five was a majority vote by the panel and, quite possibly, the most important. The majority of bass anglers fish by 'sight'. That is to say that, we blast down the lake until we spot a likely looking place and then say, "Let's fish there. It looks good."
A 'truism' of bass fishing is that 'what attracts and hold fish is what lies BENEATH the surface, not what we can see above'. What is visible draws the 'crowd'. We must learn how to identify and locate those features, which are not apparent to everyone else, and which have significant potential for holding bass.
There are three primary structure features, which lend themselves to this approach-underwater grass beds, submerged island tops or roadbeds bordered by deep water, and old inundated creek channels. Understanding, first, how to locate these areas and, then, how to make the proper lure presentations upon them, will virtually insure success.
The first step involves the study of a good topographical map of the intended fishing waters. This will enable you to select the general areas of concentration for your search. Once on the water, the application of a depth flasher, or graph unit, allows the potential structure feature to be pinpointed with a high degree of accuracy. Chances are very good that many of these unseen features have never had an artificial lure cast upon them. We all know one or two bass anglers, who are consistently successful, yet we never seem to run across them during the fishing day. The reason is almost certainly because they were fishing those little-known, hard-to-find structure features, out and away from the 'maddening crowd'.
High spots, surrounded by deep water, are areas to find clusters of school bass, with an occasional big fish near the drop line. These are the 'Mecca's' of bass fishing, yet extremely few anglers apply themselves to finding such locations. If the structure is not too close to the surface, where we might spook the fish, it should be crisscrossed several times, at idle speed and from different directions, to determine the overall shape of the feature and the location of the drop-offs. On one of the passes, a marker buoy should be dropped to provide a reference point. Lure selections, for these type locations, would be a lipped crank plug and a plastic worm, in that order. After positioning the boat out over the deep water, the casts should be made all the way across the location, if possible. The intent is to bring the lure from deep water, up onto the high spot, and off into the depths again. If bass are not immediately encountered, never eliminate the spot without making the lure presentation from a number of different directions. For some unknown reason, the direction of the retrieve can, very often, make all the difference. The crank plug is used first because it will normally excite the fish and take the more active ones very rapidly. The worm is then applied to take the remaining bass, which are either not very active or are holding deeper down the sides of the drop-off.
Submerged creek channels are havens for lunker bass, particularly if there is residual cover and the edges have sharp drop-offs. They can also be excellent locations for huge schools of bass. The most productive feature of a submerged channel will be the outside edge of a very tight bend or turn. This edge will normally be steep, will have some residual brush or stumps, and will probably be undercut a bit by the previous current flow. The location where two of these creeks join can be a real bonanza and should be jealously guarded, to be spoken of only on dark nights of the full moon (i.e., don't tell nobody nuthin'!!). Lure selection depends on the depth involved. If you can reach down to the edge of the channel drop-off with a crank plug, by all means go that route. It will be the most rapid way to harvest your limit. However, the more productive of these locations will normally be 15 to 22 feet deep, and that means it's 'worm time'.
Submerged drainage ditches often exist in large flats, or areas of shallow water. While these can be compared to John Powell's favorite 'tractor rut' for depth, they often hold bass year round. What most anglers overlook is that these large flats, prior to flooding, had some sort of drainage out to the main water area that eventually formed the lake. That ditch, or gully, nearly always exists and can be a super holding area for bass, if one simply takes the time to find it. These features do not normally show up on a topo map, but an old aerial photo will give them away every time. Even in the heat of summer, bass will hold in these locations, because any water fluctuation, even caused by the wind, will create a slight current flow through the drainage channel.
Underwater grass beds will not be found on a topo map, but are easily identifiable with the flasher or graph once you are in the right areas. The first, and probably most productive, lure for these locations is a lipped crank plug that will run just on, or above, the top of the weed growth. This is a sure method, in that bass in weeds are normally in an ambush posture and ready to attack the first available food which happens by. A spinnerbait, fished slowly across the top of the grass, would be the second choice, again because of the ambush factor. In the spring or late fall, the spinner bait might well be the first choice. The third lure selection is the reliable plastic worm. If the growth is thick, the worm should be lightly weighted and fished rather rapidly (for a worm) to preclude constant hanging in the grass. If the grass is found to be in separate clumps, the worm may well move from our third to first choice lure. There is nothing deadlier for bass than a plastic worm fished on the bottom in, and around, grass beds with intermittent growth.
Competing with the weekend crowd, therefore, may not be nearly as difficult as it first seemed. The advice of our panel of professionals provides an insight as to how they compensate in order to make a living. The proper application of their recommendations should greatly assist us in overcoming the congestion and competition so prevalent on today's lakes and rivers.
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