Following the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Wylie several years ago, some anglers asked me if I thought I could have done better than Takahiro Omori, the eventual winner. They asked that question since I consider Wylie to be my home lake and I tend to do very well there.
Omori only caught five keepers the last day, but it was enough to make him the winner. If I only caught five keepers during a day on Wylie, I wouldn’t consider it a good day. But that doesn’t matter. If five keepers are good enough to win, that’s as good as catching 100, especially when those five are quality fish.
What anglers overlook is that fishing under Bassmaster Classic conditions is a lot different than fishing as just another day on the water. When I’m out there fishing for fun, I don’t have the same pressure to perform nor are there as many distractions.
Furthermore, late-summer fishing, with hot water temperatures and depleted oxygen levels, makes for difficult conditions. When you put that many good fishermen on a body of water fishing for such high stakes, throw in dozens of spectator boats and the usual weekend boat traffic, fishing is going to be even tougher. Therefore, it’s going to require a higher level of mental toughness from the angler.
Mental toughness is so important in fishing, regardless of whether you’re fishing for fun or competing in a national championship. As you approach the upcoming season, assess some of the things you may have done wrong last year and consider what successful anglers to when the chips are down.
For example, Omori showed his toughness by staying sharp throughout the day. He caught three keepers in the last hour, and that’s what won it for him. Most anglers would have given up after such a slow start.
Non-tournament anglers who exhibit similar toughness will find a way to salvage a good day when things aren’t working well for them. Too many anglers arrive at the water with great expectations and when the fish aren’t cooperating or helping them meet those expectations, they lose confidence and their focus. Mentally tough anglers bear down, accept the situation and focus even more.
That’s why I recommend anglers lower their expectations before they get to the lake and be prepared to work hard for every bite. Indeed, you may get on the water and find the bass are extremely cooperative but chances are that won’t be the case.
If fishing is slow and you catch only a few good fish, stick with that pattern. Resist the temptation to run around trying new things or patterns that you may have read about the day before. On the other hand, if your game plan isn’t producing, focus on alternatives that fit the seasonal pattern. Sometimes all you need to do is tweak a pattern to make it more productive.
Mentally tough anglers also look for telltale signs that will clue them in to what might make the fish bite better. For example, if you’re fishing a lake with a power dam, watch for changes in the current or weather. If dam operators start pulling water, go back and fish your best stuff because the bass there might start biting. If the wind picks up, look for the windy banks where fish might be more aggressive. Watch for bird activity or areas where baitfish are actively working the surface.
When fishing gets tough, I bear down on shallow water. Fish that live in the shallows are more likely to strike and are easier to target, regardless of water temperatures. They cling to cover and are highly susceptible to flipping and pitching tactics. Many anglers think that when the water is hot, the fish move deep. Yet in lakes with poor oxygen, they actually move shallower.
Don’t overlook reactionary presentations either. A crankbait banging against a shallow log, a heavy jig falling abruptly into the fish’s lair or a spinnerbait crashing through a brush top is more likely to trigger a strike than a worm pulled slowly along the bottom.
Finally, maintain confidence that the fish will turn on. It’s rare that they’ll go the entire day without feeding, even though those feeding periods may be brief. Just make sure you’re fishing productive water and always put yourself in a position to capitalize when conditions improve.
If lures are to fishing as tools are to an automobile mechanic, then the spinnerbait could be the adjustable wrench in your toolbox. I say that because it’s one lure that fits so many different styles of fishing and water conditions.
It is probably the most versatile lure a bass angler can own. You can fish a 1/8-ounce spinnerbait for clear shallow water or go up to 2 ounces and fish along deep ledges. You can alter the way it looks, sounds and feels to the fish, as well as how it rides through the water, by simply changing blades.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw my first spinnerbait. I was about 17 years old when I met a man holding the biggest stringer of bass I’d ever laid eyes upon. He told me he caught them all on a spinnerbait and gave me some advice.
“The muddier the water, the bigger the fish,” he said. “And there isn’t a better lure for muddy water than the spinnerbait.”
I found that to be true in my professional career and later in my recreational fishing. The spinnerbait probably is the greatest tool in fishing for fooling muddy-water fish. But I’ve also learned that the spinnerbait can be equally effective in clear water.
The most important aspect for me is that a spinnerbait has two blades. Tandem blades ensure that you always have at least one blade turning, especially if you bang into cover, and keep the lure from falling to one side or getting snagged. Single blades will catch fish, but two seem to be more effective for me.
When fishing muddy water, I want a bait with Colorado blades because of the amount of vibration they emit. If the water is clear and has vegetation, I would choose one with tandem willow-leaf blades because they turn through the grass better than rounded blades and throw off less flash.
A good all-around blade combination is one with a Colorado and an Indiana blade. This combination won the Bassmaster Class and a Missouri Invitation for me back in my tournament days. It also is the key to the Hank Parker Classic spinnerbait that Mann’s makes and has sold so well over the years.
The Hank Parker Classic comes in a variety of weights, but the ¼-ounce is my favorite. The heavier bait can be fished quickly near the surface, slow rolled on the bottom or dropped abruptly in the shade of a stump or log to trigger reactionary strikes.
I throw three colors 99 percent of the time – chartreuse, chartreuse/white and white. I’ll fish skirts with blue or lime green in them the other 1 percent of the time.
I use chartreuse in muddy water or when the sky is cloudy, but white when it’s bright or the water is clear. The chartreuse/white skirt works well when you’ve got conditions somewhere in between.
I prefer light wire in the shaft of my spinnerbaits because it emits a lot of vibration, which I believe attracts more strikes. Admittedly, the light wire will get out of shape more frequently, so you have to tune it periodically. But when you’re catching more fish, it’s worth the nuisance.
The length of the wire between the head of the lure and the line tie is equally critical. I favor lures with a shorter distance between the two points because I’ve found it makes the bait more weedless.
Also, I want the top wire that supports the blades to extend over the middle of the hook. This makes the lure more weedless and erases any concerns of snagging that I may have when working the bait through heavy cover.
Finally, I want a trailer hook on my spinnerbait. It will not only catch more fish, but it acts like a keel and keeps the lure running true. A spinnerbait that wobbles or leans tends to snag more often.