No practice days. No limits. It is intense, dramatic and highlights the fierce competition in professional bass fishing when pros try to outwit and outlast their competition.
It is Major League Fishing and it showcases the world’s top bass anglers as they take on the challenge of finding big fish on new water.
In the MLF, the pros have to be masters at reading the water because each event location is a surprise. It is a lot like what happens when we hook up the boat and take a weekend run to a new lake.
Here is a look at how three professionals decode new water and how you can find big fish fast.
IN THE MOMENT
Ish Monroe, an MLF pro from Hughson, Calif., says “I fish the moment,” which might be translated as he does not come to the water with preconceived notions. Instead, he is looking at the water with fresh eyes, looking for clues.
“Most people miss out when they don’t approach the water with an open mind,” Monroe said.
Dean Rojas, who grew up in San Diego and now makes his home in Lake Havasu, Ariz., pointed out that western reservoirs are characterized by lots of rock and clear water. Rocky points, rip rap, cliffs and beaches illustrate where bass are likely to be in early summer, coming out of spawn.
Monroe looks at the color of the water to tie on a first bait.
“In clear water, I use more natural colors,” he said. “In dirty water, dark colors like black and blue or bright colors like chartreuse work better.”
Largemouth bass tend to stage in and around cover to ambush schools of baitfish.
Smallmouth bass are more likely to hunt in open water.
Shade is most important, Monroe said, as well as thick cover. But the third component is access to deep water.
“In shade and heavy cover, bass just sit in it and wait for the bait to come to them.”
Carry a Thermometer
- 47 degrees and above, feeding picks up
- 60-65 degrees, largemouth move into shallow bays to spawn
- 70-90 degrees, optimum temperature
- 45 degrees and above, feeding picks up
- At 55 degrees, smallmouth move onto the flats to spawn
- 65-75 degrees optimum temperature
DEEP WATER ACCESS
“In early summer, largemouth are moving away from the bays and out to the points; healing up and feeding again. People try to over-think it,” Rojas said. “Sometimes they get too worried about what lure to use when what they should do is fish the lure they are comfortable with at first. The most important thing is to find fish fast. Sometimes they should just throw a crankbait and get that first fish. Then they can switch it up and put on aspinnerbait or a plastic.”
One of the best tools for the traveling bass angler is Google Earth. A quick virtual tour of one of my favorite bass lakes revealed a point of rocks not far from the launch. Up and down the bank on each side the shore is smooth, but in this spot the rocks tumble down into the water from the size of a football up to the size of a VW Beetle. The satellite captured the reservoir in late summer with the water at a low stage. When I “flew” the lake with Google Earth, I remembered all the fish I’ve caught in that spot. Here the water averages 4 to 6 feet deep, breaking away to about 80 feet deep at full pool.
This particular reservoir was finished in 1961, flooding small ranches, roads and creeks. Those roads and foundations are all still there, but they are not evident except at extreme low water. A better way to see the structure is with Navionics.
The same water, examined with a Navionics chart, reveals the road bed, old houses, submerged bridges. Imagine largemouth bass bedding on the old road and schooled up under a hidden bridge.
Three days before a trip, I like to check Weather Underground for the 10-day forecast. This site tracks cloud cover, temperature, precipitation, wind, wind direction and the barometer.
Out on the water, use a thermometer to interpret where bass are in relation to the spawn and peak feeding.If the water temperature is in the low 60s, expect largemouth bass to be in shallow bays. If the mercury reads close to 70, largemouth are probably beyond the spawn, healing up and beginning to feed in earnest. Check the barometer.
It is hard to quantify how the barometric pressure affects bass fishing, but it does. When the barometric pressure is high, fish tend to be slow and sluggish. In general, I like to hit the water when the pressure has been stable, around 30.00 for three days, ahead of a low-pressure front. Fishing tends to be best when the pressure is dropping, is low or slowly rising. When the pressure is higher, expect fish to pull back into cover or suspend in deeper water. In these cases, downsize the bait and try for pinpoint casting into heavy cover. Or use a slow spybaiting presentation in deeper water.
GO-TO LURES FOR PROSPECTING NEW WATER
For Rojas, his go-to bait is the SPRO Bronzeye Frog which comes in three sizes and dozens of color/patternoptions. The Bronzeye 65 is a good choice to start. Designed to be cast long distances into heavy cover or over open water, its profile allows this bait to mimic not only a frog but also a baitfish when painted in purples, blues, blacks and other colors.
“Get it out in an opening instead of making the fish have to blow up in the milfoil and grass,” Rojas said. “Then make it look as frantic as possible. Make it push as much water on top of the mat as possible.”
One of Monroe’s favorite baits for hunting big bass is the Phat Mat Daddy Frog. For a walking bait, he favors the River2Sea Rover.
When prospecting along shoreside weed mats, he ties on the Missile Baits D Bomb Creature Bait, (crawfish-style) fished on a punch rig.
A punch rig is specifically designed to slide through vegetation. Bass often hide in surface weeds, which can grow a thick mat of vegetation at the surface. “Punching” refers to the action of plunging a lure through the mat to get it in front of bass hiding below.
Look for grass mats or weed mats with open water beneath it. This could be broken-off tule reeds, patches of lily pads or dead weeds of any variety – anything that provides protection above and freedom of movement below. Anglers walking the shore can often do better than fishermen in boats.
Flip or pitch into vegetation. The fast-sinking action causes reaction strikes. If the rig sinks and hits the bottom without a strike, try again close by. Use a heavier rod for punching because fish hooked in these close quarters can come with five pounds of weeds.
David Swendseid is a lure designer for Duo Realis and a former Oregon smallmouth bass state record holder who specializes in refining professional bass fishing techniques. His current go-to lure is a hard-bodied, twin-propped bait called the Duo Realis Spin Bait 80 G-Fix. It weighs 3/8 ounce for long casting and a slow retrieve.
“A bait for fish that are in neutral modes, when it is stopped in the water, it slowly shimmers down,” Swendseid said, adding that anglers should use it with fluorocarbon line in stable conditions when fish suspend, fishing it in a straight line, in an even, slow retrieve.
“Sometimes you fish it so slow you almost get frustrated with it,” Swendseid said.
Swendseid recommends anglers think of underwater structure in terms of the edge, but not just hard lines like points, cliffs and humps. Weed lines under the water should be thought of in terms of soft structure.
“Baitfish will transition in and out of a weed bed, but when they are being chased by bass, the weed edge is more like a wall,” Swendseid said.
“I think the bass look at our boats like we would look at spacecraft from outer space,” Rojas said.It’s impossible to be as quiet as fish on the water but we can minimize the sound transmission. Get no closer to the shoreline than a long cast.
“Stay off the trolling motor in tight quarters,” Rojas said. “Don’t slam deck lockers. Don’t jump from deck to deck.”
Take a look at the boat prior to a trip: if the floor has exposed metal, lay down a strip of indoor/outdoorcarpet to deaden sound.
Sometimes the best way is to stalk the bank.
One afternoon we fished a new lake on a big ranch in cattle country. No one had fished it in a few years, or so they told us at the ranch house. We stopped on a high spot and looked down on the water. I spotted a weed patch close to the dam. I tied on a Warpath’s Olive Whammy Craw on a short, heavy leader. I cast and stripped hard, but the bass didn’t want to eat it that way. One charged in, missed, and streaked away.
On the other side of the weed patch, I pitched the big olive streamer five feet away from the rock I was standing on. A fish appeared, swung a semi-circle, opened a wide bucket mouth, expelled water out through its gills and the fly vanished inside. I set the hook like it was stuck in a log.
Stung, in disbelief, the fish tried to get back into the weeds then it streaked out to open water and danced on its tail.
I don’t know how much it weighed, I was more concerned with getting it back in the water, but it was the biggest largemouth I’ve caught on a fly.
Gary Lewis is the author/publisher of Fishing Central Oregon, Fishing Mount Hood Country and other titles. Contact Lewis at garylewisoutdoors.com