The best bass fishermen know they can learn from those first few fish catches and quickly determine how to eliminate bad water and focus on spots holding other bass. In other words, they know how to establish a pattern.
Two such anglers are Brad Wiegmann of Springdale, Arkansas, and Todd Huckabee of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Both men work as multi-species fishing guides (including bass fishing), jobs that require them to pattern fish year-round. Guides can’t put clients on fish unless they establish workable patterns daily.
Wiegmann and Huckabee also are highly successful tournament anglers, another facet of their bassing portfolios that requires in-depth knowledge of establishing fishing patterns.
I interviewed both these experienced anglers and asked them to share their tips for establishing patterns when tournament fishing, with a special focus on the prespawn period. Here’s what they had to say.
Question: Can you describe the way you begin establishing a pattern on the body of water you’re fishing?
Wiegmann: In early prespawn conditions, I start by finding coves that are protected from cold north winds and have direct sunlight to increase the water temperature. One easy way is to purchase a good lake map, mark these areas and then prefish them before the tournament. Anglers should pay close attention to water temperature in every cove they fish because warmer-water areas tend to have more actively feeding bass this season. Write that information in a notebook or on the map and you can use it again when selecting tournament locations to fish.
It’s also a good idea to check for signs of crawfish or shad in the mouths of bass caught while prefishing. Knowing what forage base bass are targeting helps you select the best lures.
Huckabee: When fishing a new lake, the most important thing to start with is the season. If you know what the fish are doing in relation to the season then you can determine where you should start. If it’s early spring, for example, you should start in the back of spawning pockets. If the fish are not there, then work your way out. Understanding the spawning habits of bass is the main thing to learn. After the bass spawn, you need to know baitfish spawning areas. This is where bass go next.
Question: How often are you successful at establishing a pattern?
Wiegmann: This depends to a large extent on what type of lake I’m fishing. Some lakes are good pattern lakes. On these, it’s usually easy to determine the best pattern and catch a limit of bass. Other lakes are more difficult. I call these “junk fishing” lakes. By junk fishing, I mean, instead of using two or three poles during the tournament, I’ll use seven or eight poles and keep at least that many different lures ready to tie on. On these lakes, I change lures many times while trying to determine the best fishing pattern.
Huckabee: Time of year often determines how difficult it is to establish a winning tournament pattern. I’m usually most successful patterning bass during summer and winter. During these seasons, I’ll determine a good fishing pattern close to 90 percent of the time. Fall is the hardest season, with only about a 50-percent success rate. Spring is a little easier, but still tougher than summer and winter, with about 60 percent success.
Question: Establishing a successful bass pattern is all about variables, and there are a lot of variables. In your opinion, what are numbers 1, 2 and 3?
Wiegmann: Number 1 is weather. Cold fronts or inclement weather can change patterns quickly, particularly during prespawn. Number 2 is water temperature. This determines where bass will be. Number 3 is water clarity, which is important to consider when deciding the depth you will fish.
Huckabee: Number 1 is the season. If it’s still winter and it’s cold, you shouldn’t be flipping in buckbrush. If it’s spring and fish are spawning, you shouldn’t be deep cranking. You need a starting point and that’s it. The season tells you what range to start in and then you pick apart the smaller details.
Number 2 is wind. Wind positions fish on structure the same way current does. For example, wind may push warm water onto points during prespawn, thus making points good places to fish. Knowing how wind affects bass location is very important.
Number 3 is sunlight penetration, which relates to water clarity. For example, if you’re fishing a muddy lake on a cloudy day, bass react to those conditions in particular ways you can determine while prefishing. If the sun pops out during those same prefishing days, you’ll find bass reacting differently. When the tournament begins, then you’ll know where to start fishing based on whether the sun is shining or not. The amount of sunlight penetrating the water not only determines if bass are actively biting, but where fish will be.
Question: What other knowledge is needed to establish winning tournament patterns?
Wiegmann: One important thing is knowing what lures to use initially. I like to have on a jig-and-pig like the Booyah Pro Bug with a Yum Crawl Papi trailer, a crankbait like the Cotton Cordell Wiggle O and a jerkbait like the XCalibur Twitch Bait. These are good search lures that allow quick coverage of lots of water to find schools of bass.
In addition, anglers should know seasonal patterns of bass and locations on the lake where bass are most likely to be each season.
Huckabee: An angler needs to know how much weight it takes to win on the lake being fished. If you pattern 2-pound fish and catch them all day, you have accomplished something, but not if it takes a 4-pound average to win.
Anglers also should understand how to pattern fish during various weather conditions. A cold front can ruin a pattern any time. During prefishing, it’s best to examine the entire lake and see as much as you can. That way, if you find fish in the back of spawning pockets a few days before the tournament and then a cold front comes through and the fish move to laydowns in cove mouths, you know instantly which coves have the same types of laydowns, for example. Then you can establish a new pattern for that day.
Question: If you’ve determined a good pattern previously on a certain lake, does this speed the process of determining the right pattern to use on a new fishing day?
Wiegmann: Absolutely. The more time bass anglers spend on the water, the faster they will recognize a pattern and catch bass.
Huckabee: Yes, this helps as much as anything. It allows you to have a starting point. It’s like tracking wild game, where you start by finding an animal’s tracks. When you find tracks, you can follow them to the game. If you find no tracks, you’re hunting blind. In bass fishing, patterns are the tracks that lead you to your quarry.