You can’t catch trophy bass where they don’t exist. Furthermore, “trophy” is relative to the waters under discussion. For example, growing up in New Mexico but spending most summer vacations with Florida relatives exposed me to two entirely different worlds of largemouth fishing. In New Mexico, with its transplanted northern-strain bass, 5-pounders were absolute behemoths. In Florida, fishing with my cousins, such bass hardly elicited comment.
Of course, big-fish genetics amount to nothing in waters lacking regulations or a pervading mindset encouraging a catch-and-release ethic. And size is directly tied to age. In today’s more popular big bass waters, age comes only through letting them live to be caught again. This creates another obstacle in your trophy bass quest — the so-called educated fish. I’ve always found it amusing to attribute intellectual powers to creatures owning pea-sized brains. The bass caught many times won’t quit eating, but he might shun that otherworldly thing made of chartreuse and purple skirting and whirling propellers that punished him before.
I think another factor directly influencing the capture of trophy bass is they simply feed less often. When a bass reaches the top of the food chain — the 5-pound bass in those New Mexico waters I grew up on, and bass weighing double that in Florida — they subsist on larger prey. They’re no longer — generally, at least — surviving on small leopard frogs, baby crayfish and minnows, but swallowing 12-inch stocker trout, pan-sized sunfish, ducklings or adult bullfrogs. Big fish may fail to bite not because they’re necessarily habituated, but because they’re simply full.
Trophy bass require patience — and sometimes taking the path less traveled.
The generally-accepted approach to anything outdoor-related is to get away from the masses. And there’s a lot to this. It’s logical to go the the most popular spots since those spots became popular for a reason. It’s equally rational to assume that the best spots require some distance to get to. In actuality, though, that isn’t always the case.
Now I wouldn’t call this an etched-in-stone rule, but I’ve caught some of my biggest bass within sight of launch sites and marinas. I caught my biggest Texas bass ever, for instance, while waiting for a friend to park the truck and trailer, playing with a new lure to analyze its action. A monster bass came right off the end of the boat ramp and inhaled it. It’s a stunt I’ve repeated many times. Either no one ever bothers fishing so obvious a place, or all those fish released after organized tournaments (right off the side of the marina) fail to disperse, but there they are.
There’s also the fact no one likes poling through hundreds of yards of tangled weed and lily pads to fish occasional patches of water, or casting to places where snagging a lure every third cast is par. Nor do we like heading somewhere requiring a long walk through briars or smiting heat to reach. If it’s tough to reach and frustrating to fish, rest assured it hasn’t received the pressure of more enjoyable fishing spots. Hard-to-reach spots might be accessed only through sweat equity (like a Texas spring hole requiring a 5-mile bushwhack but regularly yielding 7- and 8-pound largemouth) or weedy/tangled waters fished with something less prone to snagging (like topwater). This isn’t necessarily an approach, but an outlook on what else is possible.