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Major League Fishing lesson for all competitive anglers

Major League Fishing lesson for all competitive anglers

Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour has brought attention to the catch, weigh, & immediate release tournament format but it also allows us to reflect on the way anglers have approached the traditional, 5 bass format.   Co-founder of MLF, Boyd Duckett, along with several other MLF pros all have a similar message around the new format and that is- it’s a non-stop, all-in, heightened level of competition.  These anglers cannot take their foot off the gas.  It’s agreed by the pros that if you, as an MLF angler, aren’t catching bass, someone else is and you are falling behind.   Jacob Wheeler caught over 129lbs of bass (88 fish total) in one day of competition on Table Rock Lake on May 31, 2019.  Fun fact- his largest fish was 2lb-6oz that day.  Can you imagine the pressure being another competitor, say, such as Shin Fukae (who caught 66 bass that same day) when seeing the score tracker updates on Wheeler’s weight?  The format just lends itself to the inevitable constant stress of keeping up!  The analogy has been made that this format is the cross-fit of the bass fishing tournament game, while Bassmaster might be called the weight lifting competition. 

While the fitness comparison certainly seems valid, perhaps it leaves out an important nuance that all Bassmaster, FLW and other traditional format club anglers can reflect on: sense of urgency.  The pressure the anglers are experiencing and describing in MLF should be present in Bassmaster and FLW too, but it isn’t being applied by most so the level of competition is less than it could be.  The score tracker in MLF makes it evident what the competition is doing, like the scoreboard in a basketball game.   But in say, a Bassmaster Elite Series event, that pressure should be there even though you can’t see it like in MLF.  The pressure to do more and perform at a higher level has to come from within.  A Bassmaster Elite angler should think twice before spending two minutes adjusting a Go-Pro camera or leisurely eating a snack or doing anything that’s not intentional and deliberate.  Why?  Because once one Elite pro carries themselves with that level of laser focus and sense of urgency to cull up or find that kicker, it puts the same pressure on everyone else in the field, just like we see in MLF.  This is where the weight lifting analogy leaves out the subtlety of speed.  Sure weight lifting requires time in between reps and a right cadence to maximize results.  But why would a Bassmaster Elite angler want to make less casts or ever slow down?  Slow down on a retrieve or bait action, sure, but we are talking macro here- you can’t catch a lunker if the bait isn’t in the water.  Over the course of an 8 hour fishing day, several actions that are typically acceptable but are adding up to several  minutes less of the bait in the water for many anglers. 

Is the game ultra-competitive in Bassmaster and FLW? Absolutely, the pros live and breathe this sport and all want to win.  They already do many things to prevent wasting time.  But when several former anglers from both B.A.S.S. and FLW are saying it’s a new level of competitive stress at MLF, is it not an admittance that many weren’t putting that same level of stress on themselves prior?  Let’s be clear, this could be just moving the dial up a degree or two for intensity, but that’s a big deal over the course of a 4 day competition and of course over a career.  Here’s one example- the MFL pros handle fish more quickly once in the boat in general.  Why should that not be the case in BASS?  Some MLF pros actually choose baits that are easier to re-rig after a catch.  Again, why is it acceptable in the traditional 5 bass formats to not worry as much about that?  Even though the goal of catching big fish requires a different approach, it shouldn’t be a reason to execute that approach in a less urgent manner.  It would be interesting to take a current MLF Bass Pro Tour competitor who was formerly in the Bassmaster Elite field and have them compete back again in the Bassmaster Elite field and see how their approach changes.  Perhaps we already saw this with Ott Defoe winning the 2019 Bassmater Classic. 

Bass Fishing Florida Canals

Bass Fishing Florida Canals
Bass Fishing Florida Canals

Spinnerbaits: Basics, Tips, and Misconceptions

Spinnerbaits: Basics, Tips, and Misconceptions

Basics

To the uninformed eye, spinnerbaits may make you ask, how does this wired-skirted-hook thing catch bass? Well, a spinnerbait imitates a small pod or large individual baitfish swimming along even fleeing from bass. A spinnerbait consists of a roughly U-shaped wire with a weighted hook head covered by a skirt and the other end with blades that displaces water and emits flash, which appeals to two of bass’s senses, feeling and sight. Typically, ¼ to ¾ oz. spinnerbaits can cover any instance you would cast one. Blade amount, shape, and size are important. Spinnerbaits may be single bladed, dual bladed, even multiple blades. The more blades, greater water displacement and flash emitted. There are three main shapes of blades: Colorado, Willow, and Indiana. Colorado blades are short and wide blades that usually wobble and rotate slowly, they push a lot of water. These blades are good for cold-water when bass are lethargic but still hungry or very stained, muddy water were bass’s feeling is an important sense to appeal towards. Colorado blades are also ideal for night fishing because they move a lot of water. Willow blades are long and thin much like the leaf of a willow tree. These blades rotate faster and more smoothly, meaning they are good in situations when a flashy, fast moving spinnerbait is needed. These blades are ideal in clear, fast moving water. Such as current and when the water surface is disturbed by wind. Lastly, Indiana blades is somewhat of a hybrid between a Colorado and Willow blade, Indiana blades often have pitting or indentations on the blade surface and are large. These blades are best for times when a spinnerbait is required but maybe something slightly different from what the bass have been exposed to like on a highly pressured lake. The larger the blade the more water it will push and flashier it will be if gold, silver, or any shiny color. The skirt on a spinnerbait is another feature that will attract bass by sight. Usually, the majority or whole skirt is one color matching the weighted hook head. White and chartreuse are common colors with some skirts featuring schemes to look like actual prey such as golden shiners, shad, minnows, crawfish etc. The clearer the water, the louder or brightly colored spinnerbait should be. The darker or more stained the duller or more natural the color the spinnerbait should be. Think, “Match the hatch.” A good rule of thumb is to choose a spinnerbait that resembles the baitfish on the water body you are fishing. A 3/8 oz. tandem blade spinnerbait is a good size spinnerbait to start with. Tandem blade means two different blade shapes are on one spinnerbait.

Tips

Since a spinnerbait mimics swimming baitfish it is best to throw this bait when the bass are active if not visually feeding. Spinnerbaits are mostly thrown in 10 feet of water or less, often shallower than that like two to five feet. Spinnerbaits are virtually “weedless” or are not as prone to being caught on cover you are throwing in and around even though they have an exposed hook. Spinnerbaits are good to throw when a water body like a river or reservoir has current or when there is some water movement like wind and waves on a lake. Try to throw at visual or known junk under the water surface like lily pads, hydrilla, docks, maidencaine grass, logs, stumps, lay downs, rocks etc. You want to pull the spinnerbait through, around, and over this type structure and weed. Spinnerbaits are also a great search bait to throw in open water in order to find schooling fish or locate bass. In regards to retrieve and cadence, a spinnerbait is retrieved at normal to burning speeds unless you are slow rolling it in deep or very cold water. Most spinnerbaits run at a few feet underwater with a moderate retrieve but this can be changed with different line diameter, retrieves, and weight. Cadence may be every few reel handle turns you jerk your rod tip or pause reeling, a change in motion is often when a bite comes. However, a steady retrieve works well too. Your rod should be facing downward, close to the water and the rod tip facing the spinnerbait moving in the water. This orientation is so you have plenty of room to set the hook. A hookset is usually to one’s side depending on comfort but straight up is not wrong either. Experiment hooksets to become comfortable. With that, spinnerbaits are not as difficult to set the hook as other lures, it is moving bait that bass bites and tries to swim with. The bite is usually not light or faint. You will likely feel it. Spinnerbaits are best thrown in the springtime before and after bass spawning, windy days in the summer, even the cool days in fall and after. A spinnerbait is typically casted on nothing less than a six-to-seven foot medium to heavy weight fast action rod. No lighter than 10-pound test line, however, the recommendations right on your rod and the weight of the spinnerbait can figure this. In short, throw a spinnerbait in moving water with active bass or as a means to locate the fish. Maybe try putting a trailer such as a swimbait or paddle-tail worm on the hook for extra attraction.

Misconceptions

There are a few misconceptions associated with spinnerbaits. For instance, it is strictly shallow water bait. The previous statement is not true. Spinnerbaits are in fact more versatile than one may think. They are underused deep, open water baits that can produce bass catches with practice and locating fish. They are good to throw on deep main lake points, over brush piles, submerged logs, etc. You should try casting a spinnerbait where anglers would likely throw crankbaits, jerk baits, jigs, swimbaits, or worms in that deeper water even at suspended bass. If you can make yourself let a heavy weight spinnerbait sink to the bottom then retrieve in deep water often reserved for other baits, the payoff can be big. You can slow roll the bait on the bottom or work it very violently like a Texas-rigged worm to the point where the blades spin. Another, probably controversial misconception is to have a trailer hook on all of your spinnerbaits. In weedy water, the trailer hook will probably pick up extra weeds that can kill the action of the spinnerbait. Alternatively, it can become stuck easier around wood, brush areas and docks. Bites on spinnerbaits are typically by larger, committed fish that are likely going to really bite the bait so a trailer hook may simply be cheap insurance or not necessary. Granted a trailer hook may be added comfort for you and likely boosts your confidence, it could help you in the mental and opinionated game, bass fishing. Play with different spinnerbaits in varying waters and structures or weeds to see what works for you.

Written by:
Luke Lewis
Team Lunkerbrag angler of Central Florida
lukeslewis19@gmail.com  

3 ways to improve your bass fishing skills

3 ways to improve your bass fishing skills
1.
Concentrate! A big part of successful fishing is about being engaged with the “now”, being well aware of all the nuances in front of you. Try being more in tune with your line and lure to increase your odds. How many times have you made a cast and reeled it in so quickly you knew it wasn’t going to produce?  Have you cast and not really focused on what is happening under the water once the bait drops?  Have you been distracted by the sights and sounds around the lake?  Don’t confuse this with noticing your surroundings, such as where birds feed on a lake- that is helpful!  If you’ve ever “sight fished” or seen an angler on YouTube doing so, you’ll notice how in tune with the fish and water the angler is.  Why?  Because they can see the fish!  Typically you can’t see the fish you are hoping to catch but if you believe the bass are near you, why not make each cast as if a new personal best bass is there looking to feed?  One of your casts that will indeed be the case or it may have already passed you by because you didn’t believe it!
2.
Learn a certain type of lure really well. It could be a plastic worm, a spinnerbait, a jig, or any type of bait.  Pick just one type of bait and get to know it thoroughly.  For example, you might regularly fish a worm Texas-rigged but do you also know how the action changes on a wacky rig, a drop shot or Carolina-rig?  How does the action change with hooks of different sizes than you typically use?  Do you know how quickly the worm falls so you can count it down after it hits the surface?  What does a twitch of the rod tip do to the action?  What distance will the bait cast?  Work on understanding all of these details to really become an expert of that bait.  If you can become an expert using one specific lure this year, then by next year you can be on to the next one.  In a few years, you’ll have in depth knowledge and experience with several baits. This isn’t suggesting you only use that particular bait for an entire year but just focus on it over others for a given time period and make a plan to learn a new aspect about it when you are out on the water.
3.
Participate in fantasy fishing. There is a small chance you’ll win a prize but if you spend a few minutes reading before and after each event, you’re guaranteed to learn!  Learning the anglers’ strengths and experience, the lake conditions, and following the results, you’ll learn more than you can imagine.  For example, the 2016 Bassmaster Classic was interesting.  Grand Lake flooded twice in 2015 so it was still muddy with only 6 to 8” of visibility.  The water temp was 44 degrees starting out.  So when you go to a muddy lake on a cold day and wonder what to throw, you could see what the pros do here as an example.  It was a 3 day event and after the first two days Jason Christie had a big lead.  He fished a spinnerbait; I know that because I read it and saw it in video clips online.  Many other anglers who did well also fished a spinnerbait.  Aaron Martens placed 3rd overall and said he caught all but 1 fish on a crankbait.  He claims the sharp treble hooks were a big part of the reason he was able to stick the picky fish.  So it makes sense, in muddy water, fish needed the vibration to know the bait was near.    Another key takeaway is that many fish the first two days were caught in shallow pockets.  They weren’t so much spawning as they were going where light penetrated the murkiness a little better.  Evers even claimed it had to do with the bright moon during the tournament time. Then on day 3 it changed a bit.  Edwin Evers caught 29.3 lbs in one day to beat out Christie!  He mainly did it on a hand tied jig-brown, green and orange to be exact.  On day 3 the fish seemed to move a little deeper from what I’ve read.  They were still tight to cover in the muddy water, so a jig made perfect sense.  Evers fished the moment (see tip #1 above) and didn’t assume what worked on day 1 and 2 would do the trick the final day.   I wouldn’t have known about this without being into fantasy fishing.  It gives you a reason to pick certain anglers and it is fun to follow up after each event and learn from it.  Just like anything, you have to put in the work to get the output.   Put a few minutes into deciding your fantasy fishing picks and covering results and you’ll improve your own bass fishing skills by learning from the best!