In some senses, he’s the Yoda of springtime’s shallow-water fishing game, something that his longtime career accomplishments prove.
Put another way, former Bassmaster Elite Series competitor and current Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour angler Shaw Grigsby, Jr. is a sight-fishing master…and then some.
While the Gainesville, Fla., resident is pretty good with cranking, finesse and topwater techniques, he’s often used sight-fishing tactics for success on springtime’s shallow, bedding bass to build a Bass Fishing Hall of Fame career.
Since beginning his tournament career in the mid-1980s, he’s relied heavily on sight fishing when the time is right to win nine titles, to qualify for 16 Bassmaster Classics and four FLW Tour Forrest Wood Cup Championships along with putting more than $2.25 million into the bank.
How does Grigsby fish for spring’s bedded bass, often the biggest of the year? For starters, he watches the water temperature as it noses up towards 60 degrees.
On the calendar, that often works out to late February into early May across Texas, Alabama, Florida and other southern tier states. A little further north in the central states, expect the largemouth spawn to typically take place in April and May. And up north, the last few days of April into early June will be likely dates, depending on when fishing seasons open and how late chilly weather hangs on.
After figuring out when to start looking for shallow fish, the next question centers around where to find them.
“When the time comes, the first thing I do - when that water temperature starts getting close to 60 – is that I’m easing to the banks where I’m looking for protected areas,” said Grigsby, a huge Florida Gator sports fan. “Early sight fishing, early spawn, (for me) will be something that is really protected, things like marinas, a canal, areas that are real protected and doesn’t have water flow.”
- Editor’s note: This is first in a four-part series on sight fishing for bass with shallow-water expert Shaw Grigsby. Jr. Come back to read more on this subject this month. Also read: Sight-Fishing Controversy? Not for Grigsby
Such protected spawning pockets often have a firm bottom, sandy or gravelly areas set off to the side in a cove or in the back of a creek or tributary. As spring progresses, the spawn will move into such areas in the main lake itself, with the breeding activity eventually winding up in the lower end of a reservoir and/or near the dam.
“Early season is going to be back in protected areas and then later in the season, I’ll move out (to the mouths of tributaries and main lake areas),” said Grigsby. “I’m looking for places where they can protect their fry, so you want some kind of cover, some kind of weeds, brush, something.
“So, you kind of look for general areas that have some sort of flats to them where the water can heat up and the sun can penetrate and germinate those eggs, so we can get the hatch (done) and (get) those fry.”
Until Grigsby finds a few fish locked into shallow-water areas — the kind of bass he can try to go catch by sight-fishing methods — he’ll do a fair amount of prospecting in skinny water of up to four-feet in depth.
“A lot of times when I’m going down the bank, I might be throwing a bait like a swim jig or a (Strike King) Pure Poison, which is like a Chatterbait, you know, a vibrating jig,” he said. “I’m going to throw something that attracts the fish - maybe a jerkbait if it’s real clear.”
The goal as he goes down the bank is to look for something that gives away a fish’s location, maybe a glint of a fin, the flicker of a tail, or a lighter spot against an otherwise dark background.
“I’m looking for something that allows me to see the movement of that fish,” said Grigsby. “Then it’s a matter of setting back, getting off away from them, making long casts to them, and fishing S-L-O-W. I can’t expound on that any more, slower is better.”
Why is that?
“If they get an idea that that bait is going to come through the bed and get out of there, they don’t really worry about needing to get it out of there (by their own efforts),” said Grigsby. “They’re like ‘Why do I need to worry about it?’ Making it (the lure) to where it’s coming to the bed and it’s coming slow, (and they’ll) get madder and madder, so slow is really a key.”
In addition to water temperatures getting consistently above the 60-degree mark, Grigsby points out that the ever-present danger of a strong springtime cold front can scramble things, especially early on when the water temperature is marginal.
“If you have a cold front come through, you can pretty much guarantee that it’s going to be tough in the morning,” he said. “But as that water warms up (later in the day), then they get to being on that bed and being more protected.”
Another weather factor that can scuttle sight fishing a bit is sunshine versus clouds, the latter which makes it much more difficult for an angler to see into the water.
“Well, I love sunlight,” said Grigsby. “I much prefer sunlight and I prefer calm. What wind does is it puts a ripple on the water and disguises the movement (of the fish) where you can’t tell whether there’s a fish there or not.
“When it’s slick, boy you can see them, there he is and that’s what I like. Slick water, blue skies, that’s what I’m good with.”
Another key according to the Florida pro is to make sure to position a boat properly to take advantage of ideal conditions. That involves being just far enough off the bank to see key bedding spots in two to four-feet of water along with positioning the sun just right, too.
When it comes to throwing a bait towards a bedded fish, Grigsby said where a cast lands is critical, especially since spawn time strikes are more out of aggravation than a desire to feed.
“Absolutely, you want to throw it past the bed and bring it in,” he said. “A lot of people will try to say that it’s got to be on that exact little spot and I say ‘Really?’ You throw it past the bed and you start going real slow, coming back to it. They’re seeing it coming and by the time it gets there, they’re so aggravated that they hit it before it ever gets to them. So, my game plan is to always go past them.”
Grigsby notes that to catch such a bass, reading body language is a big key.
“You want (to see some) activity, you want them to show that they’re engaged in this pursuit,” said the 2017 HOF inductee. “If you’re throwing in there and they really aren’t looking (at your bait), and you’re changing baits and they’re (still) really not looking, (that’s not a good thing).”
A case in point was a fish that Grigsby worked on years ago during a tournament.
“I threw on one for quite a while and my partner – this is back in the days when we had our partner fishing with us – he put on a totally different color worm and threw in there and that fish just immediately looked at it,” he said. “That’s what you want to see is that engagement.
“If he looks, now you’ve got a shot,” he added. “As he reacts, now you’ll see that fin start to wiggle and shake, and then the tail move, and then him nosing down towards it – that’s when you know you’ve got him.”
How long should an angler work on a bedded bass before moving on?
“If you don’t get reactions of any kind (initially), I’ll try a few different things (before moving on),” said Grigsby. “I’ll change baits a couple of times. It all depends on the size of the fish – if that fish is an eight-pounder and I know I need that fish to win, I may be willing to spend the rest of the day there working on it (in a tournament).”
Since springtime bass are often the biggest they’ll be all year, the same goes for a weekend warrior hoping to land the lunker of a lifetime.
A fish that is worthy of increased time and effort to catch, photograph, and release, all for the memory of a lifetime.