Good bass anglers never quit learning. I’ve been fishing for more than 30 years, yet I learn something new every year that keeps me fascinated with the sport.
My tournament career is a good example. I learned bass fishing in Carolina lakes where shallow water is the key to catching fish. I got pretty good at it because I like to fish shallow, off-color water and throw a spinnerbait.
But when the pro tour took me other places, such as Lake Powell in Arizona or Lake Mead in Nevada, I found out there isn’t much dirty water in those lakes, and you don’t catch bass shallow very often.
In fact, my pro career taught me that a lot of lakes are different from those in Carolina. I had to adapt to succeed.
Regardless of the differences in lakes, however, I found one common denominator when trying to locate bass – find the food, find the cover and you’ll find the bass. That holds true in Mexico, Canada and the 44 states where I have caught bass.
I’d always thought largemouth bass prefer to be shallow, but it’s the food source – not the water depth – that drives them. Except when they are spawning, food and cover take precedence over all other factors – even in cold water.
I found that out while fishing Lake Murray in South Carolina last February. It’s a lake I know quite well. Prior to my trip, everyone said the bass were eating crankbaits. So I rigged up my favorite cranks and headed for the middle section of the lake. It was prespawn, and the fish should have been staging along breaks of the spawning areas. That’s where I usually catch them.
However, I fished hard and only caught a few small ones. I wasn’t seeing any bait and couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I went for a boat ride looking for birds. When you’re looking for bait, look for the birds. Whether its blue heron, sea gulls or kingfishers, those critters know where to find the bait.
While idling around, I saw nine blue herons working the bank in the back of a very shallow cove. There were no tapered banks or breaklines, just a big, flat shallow cover – not the kind of structure you typically find fish on that time of year.
Furthermore, the air temperature was 37 degrees, and the water temperature was 47 degrees, making it too cold for bait or bass to be shallow. I almost didn’t fish it but decided to give it a try.
Man, was I wrong. The cove was loaded with bait and aggressive bass. I caught several on a spinnerbait, and when the action slowed, I switched to a swimming jig, cruising it just above the silted bottom. They ate that, too.
For the next month, I continued to catch fish shallow even though conditions supposedly weren’t right for the fish to be that shallow. That proved to me once again the importance of food and why we have to keep an open mind about where we find fish. Build patterns around forage and then it becomes a matter of refining patterns to catch the bass that are there.
And what about cover? Well. It’s very important, but secondary. If you can find cover around the food source, the fish are more aggressive and easier to catch. Without cover, you have to slow down and resort to finesse tactics.
Therefore, if you find bait halfway back in a cove where the wind isn’t blowing, start looking for more coves with the same ingredients. And if you find several, fish the ones with the most cover. There’s a good chance those bass will be easier to catch.
So the next time you’re fishing, pay more attention to where there is abundant forage and less time worrying about where the bass should be – even when the seasonal pattern dictates otherwise.