Bass fishing is taking over the world! Well, maybe not the whole world but a major percentage of the American angling demographic, due in part to the boom in televised coverage of major bass derbies and the spectacle they have become. Rocket fast boats with Vegas paint jobs, two tons of high tech tackle, and flamboyant anglers chasing ever-increasing purses have built the sport of bass fishing into a big time show and anglers are taking notice. You may be one of them.
Before those pro's made a living on The Tour, most began working their way up the bass fishing food chain in a common evolutionary process. It is the growth of a bass angler to go from ponds to lakes to giant impoundments in an endless search of more and bigger bass. In this, the second installment of a three part series, we will chronicle the slightly evolved Bassman.
In the first installment we looked at fishing ponds from the bank with simple tackle. Fishing to "cover" and generalities of lure selection and presentation got the bank angler fishing in the right direction. Part Two, this article, gets you off the bank and on the water in a Jon boat or similar vessel, which opens up a bunch of new possibilities. The final installment will look at the highly evolved bass-catching machine of an angler complete with tournament style rig, electronics, and associated tackle. For now, a small boat is just the ticket.
So you've been pond fishing for a while and your confidence is rising. Those evening walks around local ponds have rewarded you with many bass, if no giants. You're comfortable with basic fish location and spinning tackle, and your once small selection of lures has grown into a pile of stuff that is beginning to get heavy. A small boat is in your future. But what kind of boat? How big and with what power? And what new tackle and techniques will allow you to take full advantage of your freedom from the constraints of bank fishing? Read on, fellow Basser.
The right boat depends on a few things, starting with where you intend to deploy it. Is there an improved launch? Do the lake rules allow for gas motors, electric motors, or no motors at all? Will you fish alone or with a buddy? The answers to these types of questions will lead you to your craft.
The easiest way to get off the bank is in a float tube. They are a blast to fish in (once you get used to having your hiny in the water) and allow you to be sneaky indeed in small bodies of water. The newer versions are easier to maneuver and feature several flotation chambers for safety. They are permitted and can be launched almost anywhere there are bass. Almost.
Personal pontoons are a step up and are a good choice where no motors are allowed. They are powered by you and your oars, meaning limited mobility, but they still get you on the water. You sit higher and dryer than in a tube, and you can carry more gear. Some can even be made to utilize an electric motor.
Kayaks are all the rage these days and several manufacturers produce fishing specific models. Freedom Hawk kayaks for instance, have multiple rod holders, a built in anchor system, and most importantly, you can stand in them which is a huge advantage in any small craft. A kayak is faster and more maneuverable than inflatables, but more expensive as well.
A 12-foot Jon boat with electric trolling motor is a great choice for many anglers. It can be carried in a truck or on a trailer and thus can be launched nearly anywhere you can drive up to the water. There is room for a buddy or child, along with a bunch of tackle, and the whole package (boat, motor, battery) is relatively cheap and simple.
There are also cute little pond boats like the Coleman Crawdad made out of plastic that get the nod for being lighter (read easier to launch) than aluminum Jons, yet more mobile than pontoons or float tubes. The bottom line is that any vessel that gets you off shore where you can cast back to the bank while floating all your tackle will significantly increase your catch. If you can stand in it, all the better. Come to think of it, even not catching is more fun in a boat!
For conversation's sake, let's say you went to Sportsman's Warehouse and got a 12-foot Jon that you plan to haul in a pick-up. Now what? Well, for power, an electric trolling motor in the 30 – 36 pound thrust range is a good choice. Get a deep-cycle battery (bigger is better for anything other than short trips), life jackets, and a paddle – just in case. Make sure your vessel is equipped per state law too! While you are there, consider your tackle storage.
Soft-sided tackle bags filled with plastic divider boxes are good ways to transport and store your arsenal. They are versatile in that the boxes can be used separately, as in the case of the pockets on a float tube or a small backpack for the pond trips you have grown to love. As your lure selection expands, which will inevitably happen, you can mix and match boxes within the same bag to tailor your lures to a specific day on the water. Stuff the side pockets with extra line and your digital camera for those dripping hawg pics.
The fact that you no longer have to carry your tackle as you walk around combined with the fact that you are fishing to the bank, rather than from it, make it very advantageous to employ more than one fishing rod on your outings. Don't worry, that medium power spinning rod and reel you bought for pond fishing will still be a staple in your presentations. Its just that having a couple of rods ready will allow you to instantly change presentations, and have the specific rod and reel for a given scenario at your fingertips. How many times have you thought about changing lures but didn't because you didn't want to re-tie? In a boat, the other rig can be handy without being intrusive, ready for instant use. After all, fishing rods are like golf clubs; each has its own place in the game and you wouldn't score nearly as well playing a round with just one club.
A great second rod for Colorado bassing would be a 6' 6", medium power St. Croix Avid baitcasting rod topped with a baitcasting reel spooled with 12-pound Trilene Sensation. The step from spinning tackle to baitcasting tackle instantly makes you look like a pro, but in many cases cast like a chump – at least at first. While baitcasting tackle is more accurate, controllable, and powerful in the hands of an expert, it can be a troublesome tangled mess for a newbie. Here are some tips that will aid the transition.
First, read the directions that come with your new reel. While this may sound silly, the truth is that a modern baitcasting reel requires some initial set-up to fine-tune its abilities. A spinning reel utilizes a bail to wrap the line around a stationary spool. This inevitably leads to line twist in the same way that coiling your garden hose requires you twisting it, but there is no spinning spool to backlash. A baitcaster does not twist the line, but if the spool spins even a fraction faster than line is paying out during a cast, you end up with a bird's nest. Today's baitcasters feature both high and low speed spool brakes that serve to keep the spool from spinning faster than the line is going out during a cast.
The high speed brake helps at the beginning of the cast, when the lure is moving the fastest. It is usually located on the side of the reel opposite the handle and can be internally or externally adjusted depending on the model. Set the adjustment tight per manufacturer specs while learning and free it up as you develop a feel for it. Many anglers will reach a point where they no longer adjust the high speed brake at all, instead settling on comfortable position.
The low speed brake controls the spool as the lure is touching down in the lake. The adjustment knob is externally located on the side of the reel with the handle. The brake is changed for the weight of the lure you are throwing and takes only a second to adjust. Generally, tighten the knob until the lure falls slowly to the floor and stops, without any "overrun" of the spool, when the thumb bar is depressed.
Want some insurance against ridiculous backlashes? Pull about one quarter of the line capacity (or as far as you could possibly cast) off your new baitcasting reel, lay a small piece of painter's tape directly on the remaining line, and reel the line back in on top of the tape. Now, if your brakes and thumb control let you down, the tape will only allow a minor overrun which can be easily removed. Many pros still use this trick, just in case…
The use of baitcasting tackle is a major step in the evolutionary process. It is more accurate for fishing around cover, particularly with heavy lures like big jigs or spinnerbaits. It also handles heavy monofilament, say 14 – 20 pound test, better than spinning tackle. Baitcasters are faster to fish and require only one hand to operate. Lastly, they can be easily "pitched" underhand allowing very precise and subtle presentations at closer ranges. This is a huge asset in a small boat.
Three rods seem to be a good choice for small boat fishing. A solid third choice would be a medium-heavy power, fast action spinning rod in the 6'6" to 7' range, and spooled with 20# Fireline Tracer Braid. This rod can do almost anything, literally, making it a great tool. It will cast a very long way, is great for skipping a lure under overhanging cover, and has plenty of power to deal with whatever cover or fish you may encounter. It might be touch on the heavy side for very small bass, but you're movin' on up as you evolve, right?
So now you're off the bank and armed with a few rods. What lures will allow you to take advantage of the new mobility? A look at how you'll fish will help here.
Fishing from the boat usually means that your baits work from shallow to deep. This opens new possibilities, as does the ability to work parallel to the bank. Any bait that dives on the retrieve can be very snaggy from the bank, but perfect from the boat. Lipped or lipless crankbaits are the first that come to mind and both are excellent bass tools. For Colorado, look into small to medium sized crankbaits. Pick your colors the same way we discussed in Evolution One; natural in clear water or bright light, brighter and bolder in stained water or dark days. These will generally be best on the baitcaster, but either spinning rod could handle them in a pinch.
Lipped crankbaits will dive according to their bill, with longer bills generally meaning more depth, and shorter or square bills running shallower. A square billed crankbait cast accurately around wood cover is a classic bass pattern. The more pieces of cover you actually hit with the lure, the more bass you'll catch. If it snags, no problem; boat on over and get it back!
Lipless crankbaits, like a Rat-L-Trap, are great on windy days. They sink by weight alone and are full of rattles. They cast like bullets and are perfect for combing large flats or tapering points.
A larger selection of jigs would be key as well. Football shaped jigs in the ¼ to ¾ ounce range work great around rocky cover or rip-rap banks. Tip them with anything crayfish-like. A classic skirted jig with a trailer (known as a "jig-n-pig" because old school bassers tipped them with pork chunks) is probably the best big bass bait in history. When a bass pro is looking to upgrade his limit, a skirted jig is very often the tool of choice. Hop it, drag it, or allow it to drop in around any kind of cover you'd expect bigger than average bass to be in. This is the place to really blast ‘em on the hookset because skirted jigs have stiff fiber weed gaurds. Natural colors are usually best.
Swimbaits can be another big bass bait. Soft plastic versions, like a Hollow Belly Swimbait, are the most versatile. They can be rigged Texas style or on a heavy jighead. Four or five inch models are perfect on a good feeding condition which you've come to recognize during your bank fishing outings.
Another key tool is your sunglasses. Since we're only at Evolution Two, electronics are not in our repertoire yet. High quality polarized glasses are your "fish finder". Use them to spot cover along a shoreline, off shore weedlines, bass nesting areas, baitfish just under the surface, drop offs, boulders - in short they are invaluable so don't skimp here. Costa Del Mar makes a green mirrored lens that increases contrast but still filters glare like a grey lens. If you're forced to choose between another box of lures or great glasses, the glasses will catch you more fish in more places for sure.
Being in boat allows you better access to "structure" fishing. Structure is, in a nutshell, the bottom of the lake. Points, humps, drop offs, flats, and channels are all structure. Stumps, brush piles, rocks or stick ups are all "cover" as noted in Evo One. Fishing good cover located on good structure is the goal. Since you have no SONAR, pinpointing structure can be tough. This is where good glasses and time on a given pond is key. A good piece of structure, like a long point tapering out into deep water, will hold bass most of the year.
Some key things about fishing off the bank. One is that you now have limitless casting angles. You'll find that certain angles will work on certain days and are part of the "pattern" we're striving to build. Another key point is accuracy of your casts. All things being equal, a very accurate caster will always catch more bass than an average caster. Along the same lines, learning how to pitch your lure underhand to close range targets allows for extreme accuracy and very soft presentations (read: more bites). Your new baitcaster really shines here.
Just like on the bank, being sneaky in your approach to a piece of cover is paramount. Bass will not bite if they are spooked by your boat so judicious use of the trolling motor on low speeds is very important. Not bumping into cover is critical too. For that matter, being quiet with tackle in the boat (like not banging on the hull) or not making a lot of pressure waves by rocking the boat on calm days will help.
Upgrading your bass experience with a small boat and some new tackle will lead to more bass…and more questions. As we noted earlier, just being off the bank adds excitement and access to fish others may not reach. Even if you never progress to Evolution Three, the small boat is a blast. You don't have to lug your tackle, you can change lures on a whim by picking up the next rod, and you can retrieve snagged lures. Small boat bassin' is probably the most popular and even big time pros usually have a Jon boat in the garage somewhere – just for the fun of it!
About the author: Known as Fishful Thinker, Chad LaChance is a professional fishing guide, author, and instructor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. He is the host of "Fishful Thinker TV" on Altitude Sports Channel and guest host and weekly contributor on FM102.3 and FM 105.5 "ESPN Outdoors". Chad is a seminar speaker at various consumer shows including the International Sportsmenís Expo, a columnist for Sportsman's News, and a field editor for FishExplorer.com. Equally at home with fly or conventional tackle, he has been featured in the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Fishing & Hunting News, Western Outdoor News, The Coloradoan and others. Fishful Thinker is proud to be sponsored by Sportsmanís Warehouse, Toyota Trucks, Pedersen Toyota, St. Croix Rod, Evinrude, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Camp Chef, Ranger, Lowrance, Bullhide 4x4, Fuel Off-Road, Costa, and Crowley Marine. Contact Chad