Permanent docks that are supported by large posts that are usually found in shallow water provide more options for fish because of the size of the posts and the amount of shade that they produce.
Bass tend to hang around floating docks typically used along deeper banks and tend to suspend in the top 5 feet of water.
The walkway bridging the floating dock and shoreline often gets ignored by angles, yet it attracts bass when they are shallow especially during spawning season.
Pay attention to where you’re are catching fish around docks. If you catch a couple of fish near the back corner of the dock, chances are that’s where you will find bass holding on other areas of the dock.
Accuracy is critical to successful dock fishing. Also, bass will spook easily in clear water and lose their aggressive instincts if a lure make a lot of noise upon entry.
Cloudy skies hamper dock fishing because the fish roam away from the cover. However, a sunny windless day positions fish under the docks, where they are easier to target. In fact, bluebird skies and cold front days make for good dock fishing.
If the docks are getting a lot of pressure from other anglers, note how others are fishing them and do something different. For example, if they are sitting on the deep outside edge and casting to the side of the dock move to the shallow side and cast towards deep water. If everyone is throwing jigs and worms try pitching a crank bait or spinner bait.
Big fish will always take the best location on a dock. If you catch a big fish from a specific spot remember it. That dock may continue to produce quality fish throughout that season.
Learn the Three B’s of Bassing
Every Cast is a Lesson
As students of bass fishing, each day we spend on the water is also a day in the classroom. Every cast is a lesson, and as we know, there are many, many lessons in fishing. Even in a lifetime of fishing trips we cannot master them all.
One of the most basic fishing accomplishments is to learn the “Three B’s” – the bait, the bottom and the bass. That’s what I’d like to talk about in this week’s Inside Line in terms of presentation skills. You see, every single cast you make is a lesson in the Three B’s. On each cast, you either pass the test by catching a fish, or fail it by going hitless.
Now, it is no disgrace to go hitless on a cast. In baseball, the best ballplayers swing and strike out from time to time. No one gets a hit every time, but keep in mind, the potential is ALWAYS there for every bat swing or cast to be a hit, and practice, practice, practice is required to increase your “hit ratio” in baseball or in bass casting!
FIRST B: THE BAIT
Imagine you take a tackle box full of lures to fish in murky water on a dark night. As you try each bait in your box one-by-one, you can’t see the lure, and it does no good to try to watch the line or the rod tip. In fact, the only thing you’ve got is “feel” of the lure. In a certain sense, you are fishing like a blind man by Braille. As you resolve yourself to fishing by feel, you’ll soon notice that each lure model and weight has a distinct “feel” (its own signature let’s say) that is different from the feel of all the other lures as you reel them back in the darkness. You need to feel that special pull when it is working right – and feel when it is working wrong. This feel is what I’m talking about as our first B – “the bait”. This feel is the resistance each bait makes against the water when you are working it correctly so that the bait is properly attracting fish. The throb of a spinnerbait or wobbling of a long-billed crankbait is obvious. Less obvious but just as essential to know is the different feel when a 1/4-oz Texas-rigged craw is working properly – and how that feel should differ from a 3/8 oz. Texas craw. You need to learn this difference in feel. You need to feel how the same 4″ Senko works different on a 1/4 oz. jig or 1/4 oz. Mojo rig or 1/4 oz. Texas rig. It’s all in the feel. This feel is modified by the rod, reel and line you use, the line drag against the length of line under water, wind drag against length of line above water, and any current.
Now, go out on a crystal clear body of water under bright sunny skies. Cast every lure in your tackle box again. Now, you may be able to see the lure, watch the line and rod tip intently, but the signature feel of each bait is still the same whether clear or murky water, day or night. This is the first of the three B lessons we are studying today – the feel of the bait when it is working properly to attract bass.
SECOND B: THE BOTTOM
Bass are basically bottom bandits. Eighty percent or more of all the bass I have ever caught have been on the bottom. The other twenty percent have been in mid-water or near the surface, understanding wherever there is cover they’ll get all into it whether the cover is rising off bottom, in mid-water or emerging near the surface.
Just like each type of bait has its signature feel, each type of bottom also has a telltale feel you need to learn – bushes, stumps, boulders, sand, mud, gravel, ledges, drop-offs, different weed types, slopes, etc. You’ve got to know what each section of bottom feels like, how to keep your bait on or close to bottom, and how the bottom feel differs from the other two B’s – the bait and the bass.
There are three major mistakes to avoid when learning this second B lesson:
1) Not getting on or close to the bottom to begin with on the initial part of the cast, which requires you to strip slack line off so the bait falls at approximately the same rate as you hand-feed slack line off the spool until the bait comes to rest on the bottom. At that point, the line goes slack, and you can catch an awful lot of fish like that just letting the bait sit quietly where it has fallen.
2) If no takers, begin a retrieve on and/or close to the bottom. The second mistake to avoid here is to keep tabs of what kind of bottom “feel” you are getting when you catch bass. In general, open bottom is a low percentage of hits whereas when you feel irregular stuff on the bottom, prepare to stop the retrieve, shake the bait, bounce it off a few things down there – and get hit! Now, it’s important to know if you are getting hit just as you come into stuff, smack in the middle of the stuff, or as you are coming out of the stuff, plus what is the stuff. Is it wood, weeds, rock rubble, brush piles, etc? You need to know all this, so you can pinpoint a pattern to repeat on your subsequent casts.
3) The third common mistake is not continuing to freespool and feed line as required to keep occasional contact with the bottom during the duration of the retrieve. As you either drift, troll, drag or retrieve your bait, you’ll be going over gullies, cracks, drop-offs, up and over big rocks, domes or ledges on the bottom. When that happens, if you do not freespool line, your bait will be up in the stratosphere like the Goodyear blimp flying far over the heads of the bass down on the bottom below. As you go over a crack, gully or other bottom depression (which is what the bass lay in), or fall off the side of a ledge or rock, you must be instantly prepared to drop the bait down however far on a slack line to where the fish are in the gullies, cracks, or on the drop off the top of a rock. When the line bellies slack again, it usually means there’s a fish on you or you’ve re-touched bottom in the crack, gully or rock edge which is just where you want it! Hits come on the fall as the bait settles down, or as it lies there.
Bottom line, if your bait is not on or close to the bottom, you are not effectively fishing for eighty percent of the bass you’ll encounter in your lifetime.
THIRD B: THE BASS
Well, this third B could have been called “The Bite” but that is not exactly right. Many times you never feel the bite. What you feel instead is “The Bass” after it bites when it is holding onto the end of your line, just sitting there, moving away, or whatever. So much has been written about “bite detection” but it’s often “bass detection” in actuality.
With soft baits such as those made by Gary Yamamoto, once you realize a bass is holding it, the bass is usually not going to let go of the bait (unless you pull it away). So, it is not 100% necessary that you feel the classic “bite” but you do need to detect the bass holding onto the bait – and you need to learn the feel of the bass holding on as being different from the feel of the bait and the feel of the bottom.
You also need to determine when the bait is inside the mouth of the bass. When you swing and miss on the hookset, it is usually because you pulled the bait away from the bass too soon before the bait was fully inside its mouth. So, it is not a situation with soft baits where you need to set the hook as soon as possible. With soft plastics, the skill is to determine how long you have to WAIT until the bass has the bait sufficiently in its mouth before you set the hook. The last thing most bass want to do is let go of their prize. Don’t pull it away from them too soon! In these days of catch and release, there’s a desire not to hook bass too deeply either. I will routinely ratchet down one size if I am hooking them too deeply, or ratchet up one size if I am missing a few on the hook set.
Article Written By: James Buchanan
Its early spring and I have just arrived at a lake that I’ve never fished before. I’m there to begin pre-fishing for an upcoming bass tournament. I have two days to pre-fish and I have to put together a quality fish catching pattern fast. Ideally I want to put together two or three different patterns in my two days of practice.
I’ve rigged 10 rods and as I prepare my boat to go out on the lake I remove from my rod locker two old trusty flipping sticks, one rigged with a half ounce BOOYAH Black and Blue Jig and the other with a YUM Vibra King Tube. I also pull out rods that I’ve rigged with a FAT FREE SHAD Junior and a FAT FREE SHAD Fingerling both in the Citrus Shad Color. I yank out a 4th rod that I’ve tied on a 3/8-ounce Silver Scale White BOOYAH Counter Strike Spinner Bait with a Willow Leaf/Colorado Blade Combination. I’ve spooled all my reels with Silver Thread AN-40 Fishing Line. I use 10-pound test on my crank baits, 25-pound test on my flipping sticks, and 17-pound test on my spinner bait rod. That should be enough tools to get me started.
Before I take you out on the lake, I need to take you back to the friendly confines of my in-house office. This is where I actually began my pre-fishing. Two weeks ago I obtained a quality lake map. I also searched several WEB Sites on my computer looking for lake reports, weather conditions, and what the lake offers for cover. I wanted to know the history of the lake in order to determine what the catch rates were for bass. I searched for past tournament results for the time of year I would be on the lake. I also located information on the average lake levels, water clarity, structural features, and average area temperatures. These were just a few key things I knew that would help me when I arrived at the lake. Last but not least, I spent several critical hours going over my lake map marking key locations where I would begin my search. I have a GPS installed on my boat and its one of the wisest investments I’ve ever made. I couldn’t do without it. When I purchase lake maps I try to obtain the ones that have GPS locations listed. After studying my map and locating several points, creeks, and coves just off the main lake, I spent more time entering the locations into my GPS.
As I pulled away from the launch ramp I checked to ensure that my rods were secured on the front deck of the boat, my life jacket was on and zipped up, and that my emergency engine shut-off device was connected to my life vest.
As I stated earlier, the season is early spring, the water temperature is in the low sixties, and based on the previous 5-day weather report it has been clear and mild with highs in the upper seventies. Taking under consideration the current weather conditions, water temperature, and the time of the year, I expect to find the bass in a strong pre-spawn pattern.
As I idle out of the no wake zone, I begin what I call getting in tune with nature. I watch the squirrels running around in the trees; hear the birds singing, I observe a large group of cows off in the distance with their head bowed to the ground as they feed on the young shoots of green grass. A short run up the lake takes me to my first pre-chosen fishing location in the mouth of a small cove. The cove is located on the northwest side of the lake. I chose to start on this side of the lake because it is protected from the north wind and with the days getting longer it receives the most sunshine and should be a few degrees warmer than the east bank. As I lower the trolling motor, I notice sea gulls diving and feeding on a school of baitfish. This is where my getting in tune with nature tells me a lot. You can almost bet if other wildlife is active, so are the bass.
I turn on my depth finder and place it in manual and set the intensity level. I’ll have to constantly adjust the intensity level as I maneuver my boat into different depths of water. I’ll do this to ensure I get a clear picture of the thermal cline, bottom hardness and baitfish. Using my trolling motor sparingly I guide the boat across a point while watching my depth finder. On the depth finder I immediately notice large balls of baitfish on the southern most point that forms the mouth of the cove. The balls of baitfish are large and almost cover the screen of my depth finder. They are located 8 to 9 feet deep. Without fishing I ease the boat over to the northern most point in the mouth of the cove. I see more baitfish on the depth finder but they appear to be somewhat scattered in small blotches. Then I notice a few small arcs indicating larger fish below the baitfish. I ease my boat away from the point and pick up the cranking rod. The rod is 7 feet 6 inch long and made of fiberglass. I prefer using a fiberglass rod when deep cranking. It’s very flexible and I tend to loose less fish because the hooks rarely pull out of a fish’s mouth. I make several casts with the Fat Free Shad Junior bringing the bait across the point working it from the top of the point into deeper water, no takers; I move to the opposite side of the point and do the same thing, still no takers. I move my boat all the way out on the end of the point and start casting parallel to the north side of the point. Just as I feel the bait loose contact with the bottom I stop it. A few more quick turns of the reel handle and I feel a slight hesitation in the baits movement through the water and then a tug. I set the hook and after a short battle I lift a small keeper fish into the boat. The fish looks almost white in color indicating that it had just come out of deeper water. She was full of eggs. The presence of eggs in the fish tells me that the fish are indeed in a pre-spawn pattern.
The fish didn’t put up much of a fight because of the cooler water temperature. I release her and start up my big engine and idle into the cove. The water depth in the middle of the cove is between 14 and15 feet. I navigate my boat closer to the north bank as I watch my in dash flasher in search of structural breaks and cover. I find what appears to be a series of stumps, rocks, or logs in about 8 feet of water. I mark them on my GPS and move on until I’ve surveyed the entire cove using my depth finder. In the process I’ve marked 9 different pieces of visible and underwater cover. I pick up the flipping stick rigged with the BOOYAH Half Ounce Jig. I fish 5 of the locations and catch 2 more quality fish in about 25 minutes. Not wanting to over fish the area I decide to leave.
So far I’ve learned that the fish are holding in 8-10 feet of water and I’ve caught them on a jig and crank bait patterns. Now I need to expand and test my patterns on several like locations in the lake to see if I’m correct.
I visited 7 other locations where I located and caught fish on the same two patterns. For the rest of the day I spend my time idling around looking for similar locations marking them on my GPS.
On day two of my pre-fishing, I visited 4 of the locations I marked in my GPS the day before. I tried a Spinner Bait and Carolina Rig in all 4 locations with no success. I again fished through the same 4 locations using the Fat Free Shad and Booyah Jig. I catch 2 quality fish on the jig and 1 small keeper on the crank bait. As I refined my two patterns it was evident that my strongest pattern was the jig when it came to catching larger fish.
At about noon on the second day of pre-fishing, I put my boat on the trailer and headed for the hotel. I had what appeared to be a solid game plan and was committed to what I knew had worked. I also knew that I had to be open minded enough to understand that you can’t predict what that old wile bass will do, therefore I had to remain flexible in case the fish relocated or refused to bite my jig or crank bait. There was a strong possibility of this because with the warming trend they could move up shallow to spawn at any give moment. If they did move up, there were several large flats near where I was catching fish and this would be where I would go if I lost touch with them during the tournament. My hope was that they would not move and I could duplicate what I had done the two previous days.
If the weather conditions, water level, and clarity remained constant I felt confident that I could at least scratch out a limit of fish. But you never know what will happen on tournament day. I’ll be competing against some great anglers and I’m certain that they will be on top of their game. I fully expect it to take 17 to 20 pounds to come out on top.
The tournament begins tomorrow and I feel great about the homework I’ve done. In my next article; I’ll take you on the water to fish the actual tournament. Until then, “KEEP CATCHIN’UM AND LETTIN’UM GO.”
JAMES E. BUCHANAN