Most who fish bass are doing so based off those very articles I mentioned, some tournament fish others recreationally fish for them and still others are fishing for meat. It is the Meat fishermen who have always sparked my curiosity as they are the ones who use what works to put the meat on the table be they a commercial fishermen doing it for pay for their family or a family man doing it to provide for their family, they are the ones who consistently know where to set their lines and what works throughout the year. Those are the ones I most try and figure out as they are the ones who must for necessity catch fish.
I paid attention to where they set their trot-lines and jug-lines and the depths they were setting them at. I paid attention to people in boats that were catch and keeping fish constantly more to say the ones who were the same people doing it all the time not just in a tournament setting or a weekend recreationalist. If you watch the lake around you certain boats and people become familiar and you know what they are doing and can make your own patterns off watching what they do. But it takes giving up fishing yourself to watch what they are doing in the end it will make you a better angler.
By watching those things I was able to piece together patterns that worked throughout the year and what I found was even in the coldest and worse condition by duplicating what I was seeing I could put fish in the boat when others were complaining that nothing would bite. I wanted to test my theories and what better way to do it then do it on days when there were in fact tournaments going on with people who were from very good anglers to the elite anglers. I did it by using tournament fishing rules as my guide on those days and then checking my weight versus their weights. I more times than not out-fished them in weight and numbers. I am not saying I am better than them but on Beaver Lake my local knowledge based off the meat fishermen I watched was a deciding edge.
I truly believe with the catch n release era many fishermen have forgotten the basics of bass fishing. If you walk in to a tackle store there are more baits and lures designed for bass then at a woman’s shoe store and you married guys know how dangerous that is for a man to say. But I believe most the lures are designed to catch anglers more than fish. Yes they catch fish but if you stop and look at each one and research it the bat was designed from a specific angler or part of our country and while they might be great there they may only be average where you are. What I look for is no more than 3 to 5 lures for each season. I mimic what I see the meat fishermen using most and then find out what the forage color is. That seems to be the truth and key in every lake I have fished.
I do not often fish specifically for Bass as the ones in Beaver Lake when I do target the Beaver Lake bass I am searching for the biggest ones possible and do so with a one bite a day mentality. That mentality has served me well as when I get the bite I have accomplished my goal and anything beyond that is gravy on the turkey. It is a pressure relief to settle me down and let me enjoy the rest of the time which allows me to relax and pay attention for fun not pressure. That bite doesn’t even have to be a landed fish or a big one, just a bite so I can settle down.
So what am I looking for? Well Beaver Lake has Six seasons when it comes to Bass and I should specify I am talking about Largemouth, Kentucky and Mean mouth when I’m discussing these bass, smallmouth to me were created by God to teach anglers what the meaning of powerful aggression is and though they can be caught fishing for the Green Bass they are something special and unto themselves, and disserve to be discussed by themselves.
The First season is Winter; I watched the meat anglers set their lines especially limb lines and jug-lines in very specific places I had to go to charts to find out why and my sonar in combination with a drop down temperature gauge. Interestingly these places were a little warmer than the surrounding lake and when verifying them on charts were springs or shallow creeks spilling in to the lake that emptied over flats that heated faster than main lake water. I quickly learned the Bass were in the channel of the creeks and as the day progressed would chase shad and other baitfish on the flat toward shore and feed quickly and ravenously for a few minutes before retreating to the channel.
In winter I have seen most meat fishermen using Night-crawlers and long lines jug or trot-line they seem to put them on unusually long lines, after watching for a while I understood what they were doing was actually allowing the bait to very slowly drift around especially on the jugs they were using the wind current to move them. To mimic that you need to use the same size bait in plastic and move it much slower than you think and do not forget to pause it and then pop it to imitate wave action.
Another popular bait they were using was crayfish but something I noticed when they used crayfish is they were getting their own ones from the lake where they were setting the lines. As soon as they were done setting lines they would dump the remaining crayfish out and go to the next spot and pull another trap and use those crayfish for that area. What this told me is they were looking for a specific color to use for a specific area even if it was just a mile away they wanted that specific color for that specific area.
The final tactic I watched was them cast netting baitfish in shallow water and then letting them drift out with the current of creeks. Simple as that seems they still would adjust the lines to specific depths. It took a little time to figure out they were set to be barely below surface to actually on surface depending on wind conditions and they picked them up much faster than you would think. As soon as the baits got out over deep water they picked them up and put them back out. Usually I would see two guys this time of year a boatman and a shore man. The boatman’s duty was pick up the line get it to the shore man who would walk the bait back up the creek and throw it out.
This habit on the creek made me become a sit and wait angler by that I mean put the trolling motor in the mud or drive a push pole in it and tie-off. I learned by watching them that when they made this type of attack you only had two to 5 minutes of aggressive feeding but could also catch one or two fish fast and having several rods tied up with surface baits enabled you to make the most of it. When the bite was over just pull out the coffee and wait for it to repeat itself sometimes it could be a few minutes other times it might be an hour of waiting. But on a active day it was possible to land a limit that could go from 12 to 18 pounds! But it took being able to fight off all my urges to move around and try and find other fish. The one thing that kept me from doing it was the average size during these bites was 3lbs with kicker fish to 6lbs common enough to make me want to stay.
On the spring fed fish they interestingly would sit on the spring or the edge of the warmer water I verified this with an aqua-vu. The fish in it were not aggressively biting however, but what they would do is make little feeding adventures away from the spring to catch shad or crayfish. But never far from the spring maybe 10 to 15 feet. These fish were very susceptible to a jerk bait worked on the fringes of the spring or a jig within that 15 foot circle of the spring. The aqua-vu helped me immensely in choosing the color of jig to use as I use it to find a crayfish and imitate its color. The jerk bait was always the same color simple white works very well.
So now I have my bait selection based off the Meat fishermen and an understanding of what I was seeing also. So what baits do I use in winter?
1. Pig n Jig to imitate crayfish and knowing they are moving slowly a 1/16th to 1/4oz head I used bacon to get a crawfish up for color, now I get to use aqua-vu to see.
2. Night Crawler in 6 to 8 inch to get its color I will cruise the bank and see what color they are.
3. Square bill bandit baits or flicker shad in white or avocado or Keitech swim baits small surface baits.
4. Spoons for deep fish
5. Finally I still enjoy trolling on occasion for the real big bite and to that I use Flicker shad, Rapala SR-9’s or reef-runners. But something that will run deep and I do use downriggers if I have to.
Yes that is10 baits more than 5 but it isn’t really as it is only 5 styles for application specific uses.
The first 4 baits are tournament legal the fifth is if you are not trolling. If you are not in a tournament you can use a live crawler inflated with air on a Carolina-rig, cast net your own shad or crayfish. I am not writing this for just tournament style anglers but for everyone to be able to catch fish.
The next season is pre-spawn; this time of year it seems Bass just get stupid as they are moving out of their winter depth and springs to shallow areas to feed in preparation with one notable exception the creek fish remain in or near the same spots and continue the same style of attack but are joined by many more fish and the attacks are more frequent. The other fish tend to stack up on humps and points and wind is the key. I always set up on the down-wind side and throw baits past the bar and then bring it back over the bar to simulate bait fish being swept over the bar. Jerk baits and swim baits excel at that with a jig for the ones sitting deeper.
Mud lines are a key area here and the right one takes people time to figure out. First you are looking for a wind caused mud line. These form on points and bars and can be easily spotted. Just because you see one does not mean it will be productive and I have seen many people stumped by why they don’t catch fish off one and hear of people catching many fish off them.
So here is the mud line secret. You want to first pull up to it and look at it carefully, if you can look at it from an angle on the clear sides and it looks like a light cloud where there is clear water under it then you have found the right mud line. This means the line is cloudy on top clear below and thus it’s like a cloud in the sky giving the predators someplace to hide in the shad but not enough crud in the line to sink down and make it hard to breathe. If you are from California think of it as SMOG vs Clouds! Cloudy days are nice and comfortable and fun to be in where SMOG is polluted air and makes it hard to breath and you just don’t want to do anything let alone eat.
So you found that mud line how to fish it? That is determined by current and by sunlight. You want to be able to cast your bait up current and bring it in the mud line. You also want the sun on the down current side. If the mud line is running offshore West to East and the current is coming from the south to the north and the sun is casting a shadow to the south you want to be on the north. All the factors have to be in line to be a productive point. I am not saying they all won’t produce but if you have all the factors lines up it will be more productive.
The other pattern and the one that produces the biggest bass is still in deep water. Shad balls! This is actually the time of year I do fish for bass as it is when a limit can hit 25 to 30lbs that’s right 5lb average. I start by locating a ball and then set my sonar so it barely registers them that way any large marks near them I know will be larger fish most likely bass. Using a jerk bait, deep diver or spoon I work the outside edges of the balls to pick off the big bass. Do not expect to catch a lot of fish doing this but a limit is well within reason. Also be ready to move around a lot to find the same situation of Bass on balls, look specifically for 3 or 4 marks and if you get 1 waste no more than 20 minutes trying to get another before you move. This is another technique that requires the angle to be patient but more than anything it requires an angler to know how to use his electronics.
Far too many anglers buy electronics and do not know how to use them or take advantage of their full capabilities I really suggest anyone wanting to catch fish that has good electronics to spend several days learning how to use them to maximize his or her ability to catch fish. Just a few percentage points of contrast and brightness open up an entire new world of opportunity.
Another key secret is trolling figure Eights is in open water, You are targeting shad balls and trying to pick off the big fish eating them. It isn’t hard mark several balls and then figure eight around them and hold on to your rod not only will big bass be on them but big stripers.
The 5 baits I have for Prespawn are;
1. Flicker Shad, Bandit 300 series casting or trolling
2. Keitech swing impact
3. Surface poppers and zara spooks
4. Jerk Baits
5. Pig n jig
I love the limited selection needed in pre-spawn they are stupid and don’t take much just being in the right location more than anything.
Next we move on to the Spawning Season; really what more can be wrote about bed fishing and this is a time of year they are most vulnerable. On Beaver Lake look for pea-gravel flats, shallows with buck brush and flat boulders. There are so many baits to catch them and so much written about catching them, really how hard is it to pull up on a pair guarding a nest throw a bait in there so they pick it up to move it off their bed. This is not a time I enjoy fishing for bass for many reasons and just won’t talk about it here either they really need to be left to breeding. I know that might not be popular with tournament anglers but we close seasons on so many other species for breeding we really should knock off tournaments during that time as well. Again just my opinion so let’s leave it at that.
Post Spawn time; Now here is a fun time when bass are hungry from guarding the nest and much like pre-spawn they pull off to the same areas and can be caught with the same techniques, though on Beaver Lake Buck-brush is my favorite place to look. Nothing like a little carnivorous mom eating her own baby action.
I do enjoy tossing a small plastic bait in the brush that is floating to somewhat buoyant and twitching it a few times for an aggressive hit but these are not the big sows for them go back out to finding the shad balls and same style as pre-spawn but look a little shallower and be ready for aggressive top-water bites.
When I say small I am talking baits that are no more than 2 to 4 inches and the longer baits need to have a slender appearance as I am trying to mimic fry. People laugh when they see me tossing crappie jig in shallow water and pulling in big bass but it is a tactic I learned years ago that is productive from California to Florida and Texas to Michigan this time of year. It also doesn’t hurt crappie are up shallow eating the fry either and who doesn’t like crappie in an oil bath after a day on the lake.
Surface bites this time of year are fantastic and having those baits ready is a must as sometimes those babies decide they want to see what this big deep stuff is not knowing that every big fish in the lake wants to see what they taste like. Because of this it forces me to keep the boat in a position that enables me to fish shallow and deep and the same time. On beaver I have found keeping the boat between 12 to 15 feet of water is perfect for this. I can still put a small bait in brush on shore or turn fast and throw a bait to deeper water for surface fish.
It is a time of year you never know exactly what spot will produce on the lake but you do know they will be both deep and shallow so it gives you a lot of possibilities if you are in the right position with the boat.
Lure selection for this time
1. Crappie Jigs
2. Small plastic swim baits
3. Flicker shad in size #5 and 6
4. Bandit 300 series
5. Surface baits Pop-r and Zara Spooks
Yes everything is designed smaller and more around shallow water, not saying you won’t find a deep bite or a jig or worm bite but the ones I listed don’t fail me for putting numbers and size in the boat.
Then comes the Summer Bite; I like to think of this as the commuter bass days, they seem to move a lot with the sun and warming of shallows and boat traffic. Hey we all like seeing girls in Bikinis but bass are not people and they do not like boats blasting around them. In the early mornings I look for them shallow early and as the Bikini hatch comes on I search the bass out in deeper channels and timber where the bikini boats won’t go.
This time of year I start out with top-water baits, come on who doesn’t like catching a fish any fish on a surface bait? But as the day goes on I look to pole timber and using the aqua-vu I look down to see where they are sitting. The vast majority of time they are in pole timber but sitting in cedar tree root bases. This is when I love throwing a pig-n-jig down to the bottom and pop it in to the stumps pausing after each hit watching my line for a subtle movement that tells me I got one of them to come out of hiding from the noise the Bikini hatch causes.
When they go deep it’s a jig bite or worm bite for me! Though a deep diving crank will work I do not like spending time with a lure retriever trying to get hung up baits back. My strategy is simple in deep water, use my sonar and find stumps and drop the bait to it then back off with the trolling motor just enough so I can pop the stump hard like a crayfish going backwards and hitting it. This takes practice and yes it is a precision approach as you are dropping the bait to the stump then backing off to do the hit the reward though is a hungry bass and coving a lot of productive cover fast.
1. Pig n Jig
2. Crawler Texas rigged
3. Surface bait
4. Trolled flicker shad on edges of structure
5. Deep diving cranks ( not for me but some like to do it )
Finally the fall pattern; The word here is SHAD, you need to think like a shad and become a shad! Be afraid be afraid of everything because this is when the Stripers are looking to destroy you and the birds are telling everyone on the lake where you are. This is when Monster bass can be found and for me it is when I have swim baits tied on and Pencil Poppers. Find the shad and hang on because you will make a connection with some of the biggest species the lake has to offer. Targeting bass is a run and gun from bait school to bait school. Sometimes it will be Bass sometimes Stripers and yet Walleye and White Bass play in the mix. Everything is on the move and everything is eating.
Though you can certainly hit the ambush points the bigger bass seam to defy logic and become roamers in search of food. I know they follow the stripers and stay just below them letting the stripers attack the bait and then the bass pick-off the injure baitfish falling below the striper pods. This is the time of year I love to throw the Alabama Rig. This is the time of year I really love as you never know what will be on the line but certainly it is when you can load up on very large fish.
Baits for this time of year
1. Surface baits 4 to 6 inch poppers and zara spooks
2. Big swim baits ( bucktails and gizzard shad imitations )
3. Alabama Rig
4. Flicker shad and Thin-fins
5. Fly-fishing large streamers
Shad Shad Shad I cannot say it enough! Target the Shad and areas where the Shad are present! It can be frustrating to see so much bait on the sonar and nothing biting and the trick is work the area and stay on it. People get anxious and think the fish are not there or they are not biting or too much food and they are not going to bite. This is true and untrue! True they might be full but they are full because they ate and they will eventually eat again. Most likely they will feed just before dark, knowing this I don’t even mind working it gives me something to do during the day because I know I will be off by 3 or 4 and that gives me a couple hours to fish after work in the most predictable bites of the year for some of the best action of the year!
All these things I have learned watching the meat fishermen for as the seasons progressed the location of where they were fishing put me to those spots and then it was a matter of learning what to do to get the Green Fish to bite. No magazine and no book or video tape could have ever replaced the information I garnered by watching people who were fishing to put meat on their table. And even more to the point it taught me that just a very few lures is what I needed to accomplish this instead of the million that are on the market. Simple is always better and it forces you to become an expert in its use and when to use it and when not to.
It teaches you the seasonal patterns on a specific lake and even specific spots. Then it is up to you to decipher the mountain of information you have. Think about that information for a minute, you have what you have seen from meat fishermen and what you have learned from your own trips. You need to then put it all on the table and make the Positives and Negative list for baits, after you get that done you will find that off the millions of baits on the market there will be maybe 15 to 20 baits on your local lake.
Your wife will thank you for limiting your shoe errr bait selection and cost lol. After the bait selection is don’t you need to figure out the tactic/ depth zone! This is actually very easy to do, and gives you a picture of where you need to be for the conditions. Finally you need to put those two things together so you have a picture of what baits to have on you for the season and bang tackle box is smaller and you have the most important thing in fishing, Confidence and that is what separates the good anglers from the great ones. Great anglers I have met all have confidence that what they are doing will work and most importantly they know WHY it will work not just because of the spot but because they know why they are using the bait.
The best anglers I have ever known all could tell you why the bait works! It might be that the forage bait in this spot is a pumpkin colored 3’inch crayfish that likes to be around stumps with some small rocks around and the bass will be keyed in on that bait here because of a spring that keeps the water .5 degrees higher than the rest of the water and they want it to be a hop and pause retrieve parallel to the shore or structure. They know WHY and that builds not only confidence but patients to stick with a pattern.
So the big question; if I only had 5 baits to use for bass on beaver lake what would they be? First and foremost I am a multispecies angler and because of that I want baits I have confidence in to catch not only bass but other species. In other words versatile baits that mimic the primary forage of the lake is what I want to mimic. I also want it in a wide selection of colors and sizes and need it to be readily available for replacement if I lose it.
So here they are in no specific order.
#1. Berkley flicker shad size’s #5 to #9
#2 Bandit 300 series crank baits
#3 Keitech swim baits
#4 Spoons 1/16th to ½ oz
#5 Surfaces baits Pencil Poppers, Pop r’s, and Zara Spooks.
You may wonder where the worms and jigs are on that list. Truth is I can make the keitech baits do the same thing! I can a jig it or use it as a worm and it gives me the versatility to fish multi-species in multiple ways, If I am jigging a stump field and have fish bust top-water behind me I can quickly reel it in and throw it at the surface feed and use it as a swim-bait. All those baits have a degree of versatility to them and that is what gives me confidence! I know they can be used in multiple situations to catch a large variety of fish. Doesn’t hurt they keep your tackle box lighter or well less cluttered with so many baits.
Finally and I must add it, Live bait fishing, something I see on Beaver is more bobbers and corks than at a public swimming pool. THINK no weight and simply let the bait do the work for you. Whether you are using a bait fish or a crayfish learning to use lighter lines and throwing the bait out and let it naturally work for you can be very productive for all the species and can teach you a lot about the bass you are fishing for. Then go back to using artificial if you like but learn to use bait as well it will teach you to be a better artificial fisherman.
Many of us started fishing with our father, uncles and grandfathers and all we had was an old closed face bait-caster with a hook and bobber with a work or minnow on the line, but we caught fish and were happy. We then progressed to watching way to much TV and had to be like our hero’s on TV and had to use artificials and be ‘sporting’ and all that went with it. But we will always remember the days with a old kiddy pole and our little minnow ( sometimes even naming the bait ) or a worm and the pull of the line when the biggest fish in the lake a gigantic 3inch bluegill bit our line. You remember those days? I bet you are smiling remembering the day on the pond right now with family and your little magic pole and your giant fish. So why not take the time from “Sorting’’ and get back to smiling with a little throw back to what started it all for most of us a basic little minnow named Fred or a worm named Pete.
If you take anything from this take this; get back to basics, long before the million bait days we are in it was simple baits by simple men that had a deep understanding of the lake they were on and why what they used worked.