Pros competing in the 48th Bassmaster Classic offered their top tips to help "weekend anglers" catch more bass.
By David Johnson
As the pros put together their gear the day before the 48th annual Bassmaster Classic this week at Lake Hartwell, S.C., some of the top pro B.A.S.S. anglers took some time to answer a question most amateur anglers ask themselves frequently:
What is the one tip you would give a "weekend angler" to catch more and bigger bass?
Here's what they said:
19-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, second-place finisher in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2011
"To catch more fish, use lighter line. It's just that for weekend anglers, it's much easier to present a bait well with just a little lighter line," Martens said.
"Heavy line can be challenging because it has more drag. Going to a little lighter line gives you a better feel for what's going on — for judging what your bait is doing, and for how to fish it."
Like many pros, Martens indicated that presentation can make the difference between a bass hitting a bait and a bass letting the bait go by, particularly if the fish has been pressured.
"You have to get them to bite before you can get them in the boat," he said.
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19-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, Winner of the 2003 Classic
"Oh, there are a bunch of things you could try, but to help regular guys catch bigger fish, I'd say fish deeper or thicker. Typically, the biggest fish in a lake will be in thicker cover than you think, or deeper than you think," Iaconelli said. "Most guys fish very conservatively, the way that is comfortable for them. Mostly that means they fish shallow water and at the edge of cover. In my 20 years of fishing, my experience has been that the biggest fish in the lake will be behind you when you do that. They're in deeper water."
Iaconelli notes there are times when shallow-water fishing is a good bet, such as in the spring, but suggested, "For the guys who are staying shallow, make that cast you wouldn't normally make and the cast other anglers wouldn't make. Cast into the thickest cover, not just on the edge of it. Skip as far back under docks as you can."
Then Iaconelli smiled and added, "If you see a shopping cart in the water, don't run by it. Fish it. I've caught bass off shopping carts. Make the cast you wouldn't normally make."
17-time Bassmaster Qualifier, Winner of the Classic in 2016
"In regard to catching big fish, with the pressure a lot of bass get in many lakes, a big factor is how much noise you make," Evers pointed out. "Older fish that have been under pressure have learned to associate noise with something being wrong. Think of how big bucks respond to hunting pressure. Older bass do something similar. So in shallow water I keep my trolling motor on a constant speed, I don't slam locker lids, and I try to present baits without making a big splash."
Evers also apparently has researched the noise factor for himself.
"If you go swimming under water around your boat, you can hear the sonar from 50 feet away. When you are in shallow water, usually you don't need it, so turn it off. Just in general be mindful of the disturbance you are making before the fish sees your bait."
27-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, Winner of the 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2011 Classics, and the leading all-time money winner in professional bass angling
"I'd tell the weekend angler to work on casting proficiency. Work on making the most accurate and softest presentation possible. I suggest anglers work on an underhand roll cast," VanDam said. "Surprise and shock are often what triggers bass to strike. They may not be feeding, but if a bait suddenly appears without warning, they'll instinctively hit it."
That soft presentation gives the bass no warning and no reason to be wary.
"The way to get better at it is to practice. And you can practice during the off season or on days when you can't go fishing," VanDam said. "Practice in your yard, your living room, off your porch. But try to replicate conditions. Just as a bow hunter should practice shooting from a stand, try to practice casting from an elevated position that's the same height as your boat."
16-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, and a 3rd-place finisher in 2010, Faircloth has finished the Classic in the top 12 eight times during his career
"My tip would be that as anglers, we all know our own strengths and weaknesses, but to be a well-rounded, versatile angler, you need to practice the approaches you are weak on until you develop confidence in them," Faircloth said. "When I started, my weakness was spinning gear and light-line fishing. So I took spinning rods out and fished with them."
He added that you can do this on your home lake, without worrying too much about whether that lake's habitat is perfect for that approach. The goal is to get comfortable with the presentations so when conditions are right for that approach you have some confidence in using that technique.
"Oh, and one other thing," he said. "When you do this, leave everything else at home. It's too tempting to use what you already know when it's in the boat, because all of us like to catch fish right now. But it's important that you develop a wider range of confidence. Push your limits."