Want to catch more quality largemouth and smallmouth bass from our lakes and rivers? Here's how four Old Dominion experts do it. (May 2007)
Guide Teddy Carr of Spotsylvania County unhooks a post-spawn largemouth from the James River.
Photo by Bruce Ingram
One of the nicest aspects of my being an outdoor writer since 1983 is the good fortune to have gone fishing across Virginia with some of the state's best largemouth and smallmouth fishermen. Some of these sportsmen have been guides, some just excellent fishermen. Here are tips from some of these individuals.
ROGER JONES: LAKE AND TIDAL RIVER LARGEMOUTH WISDOM
For pre-spawn largemouths on such lakes as Buggs Island and Gaston, Roger Jones relies on a trio of lures but only on a few types of locations for each of the impoundments.
"On Buggs, pre-spawn bass will be either on secondary points or stumpfields, and on Gaston, the fish will typically be on the emerging grass, that is hydrilla," the Richmond guide said. "The reason is that on both lakes, the shad will be moving shallow toward those places, and the bass will be moving with them.
"My favorite lure for this situation is a Bandit 200 Series crankbait in Tennessee Shad or Splutter Back. Now, as for the best retrieve, that is the $6 million question. I experiment by working a crankbait from moderate to slow, but often the fish want the slow retrieve. These bass are preparing to spawn and they usually don't seem to want fast-moving baits. So, I often catch my most fish with a slow, erratic retrieve which imitates a shad that is injured and that the school has left behind."
Jones' second choice is a 1/4-ounce spinnerbait with a chartreuse and white skirt. The bait also features tandem No. 5 and 2 Colorado blades and a twin tail grub as a trailer. The veteran guide retrieves this lure at a moderate to fast pace, seeking a reaction strike. He also feels that this lure and retrieve is a nice change of pace to the crankbait option.
The guide's third choice, and he emphasizes that it is a "distant third, last resort," is a 4- or 6-inch Texas-rigged plastic worm. Obviously, Roger retrieves this bogus crawler with the standard lift and pause and relegates the lure's use to cold front conditions. On tidal rivers, Jones relies on the same trio of artificials, but he visits different locations.
"On the James and Chick, I concentrate on the edges of creek channels, feeder streams and the mouths of creeks," he said. "I also look for emerging lily pads. And any kind of wood cover is good: laydowns, boat docks, collapsed piers, duck blinds, cypress tree knees, debris, you name it.
"The pre-spawn period is a great time to catch a big bass from these waters. On Buggs and Gaston, I would classify a big largemouth as any over 6 pounds. On the tidal rivers, I would consider any bass 4 to 5 pounds as a big one. Right now, Buggs Island is producing the biggest bass of the four."
For guided trips with Roger Jones, contact him at (800) 597-1708, HookLineAndSinkerGuides.com.
GUIDE JOHN TIPTON: TROPHY-SIZED RIVER SMALLMOUTHS
John Tipton, who guides on the New River, is a big fan of oversized baits for overgrown smallmouths.
"I have been using very large bucktail spinners and large, deep-diving suspending jerkbaits, as well as the large tubes with worm inserts," Tipton said. "The large in-line spinnerbait came to be used by accident." Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist Joe Williams told me he had an experience with the largest smallie he had ever seen while fishing for muskies.
"I've tried this spinner and have been surprised it works so well. This in-line spinner is approximately 8 to 10 inches long and has two sets of very large treble hooks. I cut one of the hooks from each treble as to make it as weedless as possible. The hook removed should be the one on the bottom set of each treble."
The second bait Tipton relies on is another muskie-related lure -- a 7- to 9-inch suspending jerkbait that dives from 8 to 10 feet. In most cases, the guide adds lead tape to force the lure to suspend deeper. John tries to slowly work the jerkbait along the bottom, making the bogus minnow dig into the substrate in a stop-and-start action.
A third choice is a weighed 4 1/2-inch tube with a 7 1/2-inch worm inserted inside the tube on a 6/0 hook. Rounding out the arsenal of jumbo lures is a 1/2-ounce black/brown jig with an 8- to 10-inch worm trailer. Not surprisingly, Tipton deploys heavy-duty equipment to toss these lures -- a heavy-action flipping stick with an Abu Garcia 6500 reel and 30-pound Power Pro line. He offers this advice on location for spring river smallmouths.
"I target the deeper, slower pools with bait presentations that are easy for smallmouths to catch," he said. "I also fish the normal areas that generally hold smallies: the backwater pools, cuts, ledges, boulders, gravel bars, wood, push water, literally the deepest water available.
"For the in-line spinner, my approach is a little different. I fish this lure much slower than normal, just fast enough to spin the blade. Most cases, I am lifting the rod tip and when I lower the tip, I take up the slack line. This technique makes the bait rise and fall very slowly and helps maintain contact with the structure I am fishing."
Interestingly, Tipton utilizes these tactics if the weather turns sour or when the spawn concludes.
"The months of March, May (after spawn) and October can be the highlighted months of the year for catching giant smallies," he explained. "A cold spring can hold the smallies near their wintering holes for an extended period of time. The New River is noted for its deep pools with backwater ledges. Again, I suggest targeting the deeper, slower pools with baits that are easy for these big bass to catch.
"As the days get warmer and more sun warms the water in June, look for chunk rock and cobblestone bars. Ideally, these basketball-sized boulders will be in shallower water near the wintering holes. This type of water warms quicker, holds the heat longer, and thus will attract the forage foods. Smallies will leave the deeper holes to hunt in warmer water. Then the fish will return to the deeper pools if the water cools because of a cold front."
For guide trips with John Tipton, contact him at (540) 674-4930, or NewRiverFishing.com, fishing1 @ntelos.net.
HECTOR PARJUS: THE RIVER SMALLIE CRANKBAIT MASTER
Many expert bass anglers specialize in certain lures. For Hector Parjus of Lynchburg, his pet lure for warm-weather river smallmouths is a crankbait. The most fascinating aspect of how Hector uses crankbaits is that he relies on a different brand or model for every warm-season situation/ structure/cover (warm season being defined as from early spring through late fall). While other anglers change lure types based on the season, water clarity or water temperature, Parjus merely changes crankbaits. Here are four of his favorite game plans.
€¢ The "speed up and quiet down" game plan. For clear water, Parjus relies on a Cordell Big O. This lure excels, he said, at being able to be retrieved quickly and at moving in a realistic fashion.
€¢ The "slow down and make racket" game plan. For muddy water, Parjus opts for wide, wobbling crankbaits, such as the flat-sided models with rattles inside.
€¢ A spooky fish game plan. Tone down the color; go from bright or chrome to natural crayfish/baby bass colors, such as those of the Cordell Big O. Also, try a wood lure, such as the class Bagley balsa baits. Don't use lures with rattles.
€¢ The "when nothing seems to be working" game plan. Experiment, Hector urges. By far, his favorite crankbait is the Cordell Big O series. But he also will employ the Bandit 100 series (in shad, chrome and firetiger), and the Bagley Kill'R B series. Don't become wedded to a lure if the bite is slow.
Last, many crankbaits come with less than stellar hooks. Parjus often replaces the factory hooks with Gamakatsu trebles. Be careful not to deploy such a large substitute that the lure's action is negatively affected. Hector pairs his crankbaits with a 6 1/2-foot medium-action rod and a 5:1 Team Daiwa reel and Power Pro 4/15 line.
DUANE RICHARDS: TWO-WAY-BASSING TIPS
Virginia features a number of lakes that host both largemouths and smallmouths, among them Moomaw, Philpott, Claytor and Smith Mountain. Duane Richards regularly plies the waters of Smith Mountain and offers these tips for fishing in water with both types of black bass. I asked the Roanoke resident if anglers can chase after both black bass at the same time.
"To some degree yes, to some degree no," he replied. "For example, on Smith Mountain Lake, many of the smallmouths will locate in the dam area. Fishermen can still catch them in other places, such as the upper Roanoke River side and in the creek arms, but most of the time when I want smallmouths, I head for the lower lake.
"Of course, fishermen can also catch largemouths in these areas. But whereas largemouths live all over the lake, people will generally be only able to consistently find smallmouths in those areas. I also find that smallmouths have a tendency to school later in the spring and summer, and they often school in deeper water. The same can't be said for largemouths."
Richards added that throughout the year, largemouths are typically much easier to find -- and entice -- than brown bass. If anglers check out enough points, coves, creek channels and secondary points, they often will locate bucketmouths. Regarding patterns, Richards possesses three favorites.
"My favorite pattern is to follow a creek channel," he exulted. "Find a creek channel and it will lead you to bass every time. In the spring, creek channels that lead to secondary points are gold. In the summer, I look for creek channels that lead to main-lake points."
Richards' preferred method to implement the creek channel pattern is with a Carolina rig paired with a tungsten weight, two glass beads, swivel, 2 to 3 feet of fluorocarbon leader, and 12/50 Power Pro line. For lures, Duane opts for Chompers twin-tailed skirted or plain grubs, Yamamoto crayfish and Senkos, Case Magic Stiks, and Zoom flukes. Note that the bass Richards is targeting may be in water as deep as 25 to 30 feet.
Pattern number two involves downed trees.
"Most guys like to work downed trees with spinnerbaits because they don't get hung up," he explained. "The problem is that bass which locate around trees see spinnerbaits all day long. So, I like to cast a lure that is not even made anymore, a Rebel Deep Crank R, to a laydown.
"Now, I don't just like to hit one area of a tree and leave. I approach that tree from every direction and make repeated casts to every limb, trying to run the bait against those limbs."
Richards' third pattern is to employ a 5/16- to 3/4-ounce jig and a crayfish trailer. He works the same places as he does with a Carolina rig, meaning that he is using this bait in water as deep as 30 feet. This requires, he emphasizes, non-stretch line such as Power Pro 12/50. The Power Pro also offers excellent feel. Finally, this pattern is at its best after the spawn and during the summer months.
These patterns can produce both largemouths and smallmouths on lakes that hold both, although largemouths will make up the major part of the catch. If anglers want to concentrate on smallmouths, Richards suggests that they employ a 7-inch lizard on a Carolina rig and work the ends of secondary rock points.
Sometime in May or June after the spawn, both largemouths and smallies will be holding more on main-lake channel points and could be anywhere along these locales. Richards suggests starting in deep water (30 or so feet) and then progressively going shallower. It is always easier and more efficient, he said, to start deep and move shallow than the reverse.
TEDDY CARR: TARGETING MAY LARGEMOUTHS
Teddy Carr is one of the best lake largemouth guides I have ever fished with. His home waters are Lake Anna and the Tidal Potomac and Rappahannock. For pre-spawn lake angling, he concentrates on these locales.
"I hit roadbeds, main-lake points, main-lake islands, and channel banks," Carr said. "For example, on Anna, the roadbed at the mouth of Levy Creek and the old Route 208 roadbed are classics. The channel bank at the mouth of Sturgeon Creek, main-lake points around the splits, and the main-lake Jetts Island are also good examples.
"For cover, points, like those around the splits on Anna, are great sources of bass habitat. For the most part, Anna's main-lake cover is submerged in the form of boulders, smaller chunk rock and stumps. For structure, check out deep secondary points, channel banks, and channel breaks adjacent to shallow flats."
The guide's favorite pre-spawn lures include the Xt-3 X-Caliber jerkbait (a 3 1/8-inch suspending jerkbait) or the Xs-4 (the 4 1/2-inch model); the best colors are pearl shad or ghost. Also, he tosses a Carolina-rigged YUM Wooly Hawgtail in green pumpkin or watermelon.
Interestingly, at least on Anna, if the winter has been mild, many of the bass remain in creeks and coves during the pre-spawn. Then, continued the guide, creeks and coves that possess water willow will draw bass; add rockpiles and a spot is prime. Stumpfields and clay banks are also worth checking out. Of all th
ese scenarios, which is Carr's favorite pre-spawn pattern?
"Fishing channel breaks in the back third of mid-lake creeks and coves," he said. "I like to position a boat so I'm able to cast up on a flat that has submerged stumps on it and work the aforementioned lures so as to cover a large part of the flat plus the channel drop. On Anna, good areas are Sturgeon Creek and coves in the area of the splits. This pattern is responsible for the majority of bass I have taken that surpass the 8-pound mark."
For post-spawn lake largemouths, Carr offers these bullet point tactics.
€¢ Structure: stump flats, deep secondary points with docks nearby, submerged humps and main lake points at the mouths of tributaries.
€¢ Cover: beaver huts, docks, submerged rockpiles and manmade sunken brushpiles.
€¢ Lures: 4-inch YUM Dingers rigged weightless, Rebel Pop-Rs, Booyah spinnerbaits, Carolina-rigged YUM Wooly Hawgtails, and deep-diving crankbaits like the Bomber Fat-free shad crankbaits.
"The first week or so after they spawn, the bigger female bass are very lethargic," Carr said. "They feed slowly and are rather picky during the first stage of the post-spawn. Once the bass get a little rest, they start to feel the hunger pains and need to eat as the water warms and raises their metabolism.
"The second phase of the post-spawn is the eating stage and is usually associated with the bass going on the move toward the main lake. My favorite part of the post-spawn is just before summer patterns kick in and bass school up on main-lake points at the mouths of creeks and coves."
For guided trips, contact Teddy Carr at (540) 854-4271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find more about Virginia fishing and hunting at: VirginiaGameandFish.com