The tension backstage was intense during the weigh-in at the Bassmaster Classic, and it wasn’t because of the number of fish in each contestant’s bag. The nerves had more to do with fear that another bag might be opened: the one holding a personal fail-proof tactic.
“You try to keep stuff as secret as possible,” says competitor Dean Rojas. “Maybe it’s a colour that worked in a certain situation or a certain way to cast your lure, anything to give you an edge over the next guy. That’s why you never see the older guys talking.”
As Pat McIntire, CEO of fishing tackle manufacturer Pure Fishing, told us, “We talk to anglers so we can create new products, but they won’t give full disclosure in front of each other. Alone, one on one, that’s when the really good stuff comes out.”
So, we took them aside, one by one, and got their best tips. Try them out the next time you hit the water, and when you start pulling fish in to your boat, please do us a favor: keep the secret to yourself.
10 All-Purpose Tips
1. Glue your bait
When I’m flipping in real heavy grass, I like to dab a little super glue on the hook and slide my worm up on it. It anchors the worm in place so you won’t lose it. I’ve won tournaments with that technique.
Steve Kennedy, 2005 Wal-Mart FLW Tour winner, Kentucky Lake
2. Downgrade for bigger fish
If the fish suddenly stop biting, but you know they’re around, downgrade your bait and change your retrieval speed. Go from a seven-inch worm to a four-inch worm, and slow down your presentation. A lot of times you have to slow it down for the bigger fish.
Eric Naig, Crestliner Boats team angler
3. Drag your line to the honey hole
For spinning tackle, spool your line off the reel and drag it about 50 yards behind your boat on the way to your spot. Then reel it all in. You won’t have any kinks or twists the rest of the day.
Larry Nixon, two-time BASS Angler of the Year
4. Pack a Sharpie
I carry 25 different colour Sharpie pens to customize my crank baits. If you put a little red line where the gills would be it mimics bleeding. To mimic a perch, I’ll paint the fins orange. To mimic a shad I’ll paint a black dot behind the eye toward the tail.
Brent Ehrler, 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship winner
5. Tune your crank baits
Cast your lure and reel it back in. Watch it all the way to the boat. It should come back straight. If it runs to the right, tweak the eyelet to the left with some needle nose pliers or vice versa if it runs to the left. An untuned lure won’t present properly and won’t catch fish.
Walt Ermanson, owner of Trophy Charters on Lake Erie
6. When all else fails, use a grub
I’ve used plastic grubs to catch everything from bass to perch to saltwater species when nothing else worked. It’s a subtle lure, so fish don’t have to swim as fast to catch it.
Jay Kumar, CEO of Bassfan.com
7. Handle fish with care
I try to not be rough handling the fish. Hold it at the bottom of the lip, and don’t remove its slime. Fish can get diseases if they don’t have the slime, which protects them.
Violette Sesco, BASS’ oldest active angler (80) and a competitor on the Women’s Bassmaster Tour
8. Mimic animals
Different animals hatch in the lake, depending on the time of the month, and that’s usually what the fish are keying on. Try different stuff — lures that mimic shad or frogs or grubs, that sort of thing. One will be sure to catch fish.
Mark Sexton, bait analyst at Berkley Fishing
9. Let your bait hit bottom
After you cast, watch your line fall limp before reeling it in. It means your bait’s on the bottom, in the strike zone. Then, when you’re slowly reeling it back in, lightly shake the rod with your other hand. It mimics a live worm better.
Gerald Swindel, 2004 BASS Angler of the Year
10. Find the food, find the fish
I look out for great blue herons because they’re hunting for the same food my fish are hunting for. When I find the herons, I know there must be fish nearby.
Ken Penrod, Hall of Fame fishing guide
10 Bass Tips
1. Save shredded worms
When your plastic worms get torn up, save ’em. Bass like to ambush wounded prey, so a beat-up worm is perfect to use, especially in shallow water.
Anthony Gagliardi, 2006 FLW Tour Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year
2. Red fools the fish
In shallow cover — wood, stumps, clumps of grass — I like to use a spinner bait with a red or pink head, and a crank bait with red hooks. The red makes the fish think the bait’s injured, and they’ll bite at it.
George Cochran, 2005 Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship winner
3. Skip your bait
When you cast, stop halfway instead of following through, similar to a check swing in baseball. This makes the lure hit the surface of the water a few feet before your target, so the lure skitters over the water. It’s a good way to get under docks and other structures.
Mike Iaconelli, 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion
4. Keep your hooks sharp
I use a file to sharpen my hooks every time I catch a fish and before every trip. It takes 30 seconds. Bass have boney jaws, so a sharp hook is more apt to penetrate the fish.
Mark Zona, host of ESPN Outdoors
5. Look at your livewell water
When you put a bass in the livewell, they’re notorious for spitting up what they were feeding on. From there you can tell what color lure or kind of lure to throw the rest of the day.
Matt Herren, No. 2 ranked angler, 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Tour
6. Face the wind
Sacrifice some distance in your casts and fish with the wind in your face. Bass always swim with the current, so it’s better for them to find your bait before they find your boat. Plus, the noise of water slapping your hull will carry away from the spot you’re fishing, which is good.
Ish Monroe, winner of the 2006 Battle on the Border
7. Fish shallow in the spring
In the spring bass hang out in spawning beds. Concentrate on shallow areas, especially in pockets and coves protected from the wind because this is where they like to guard their eggs. They’ll bite as much out of irritation with the lure as they will out of hunger.
Jay Yelas, 2003 Bassmaster Angler of the Year
8. Make your bait seasonal
Bass eat different bait depending on the time of year. The general rule is early in the year they like crawfish, so use peach-colored patterns. In the summer and fall they like shad, so use chrome or silver baits.
Mike Hawkes, 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Series event winner, Lake Cumberland
9. Fish before the storm
The best time to fish bass is before a front comes through, and the worst time to fish them is after. The pressure makes the bass more active, so watch for a wall of clouds moving in. When it’s too pretty out, bass aren’t likely to bite.
Forrest L. Wood, Ranger Boats founder and namesake of FLW Outdoors
10. Bug those bass
Bass is an ornery fish. You have to keep tapping at it to upset it into biting your hook. Bass position themselves in cover, and like the lure presented to them at different angles. I’ve tossed lures a hundred times onto the same location until finally getting a bite.
Ray Scott, bass fishing legend and founder of BASS
5 Saltwater Tips
1. Know what the tide is doing
The tide is the most important thing about saltwater fishing. It washes across the reefs, telling the bait to move and the fish to eat. Basically, on days when you have multiple tides, meaning water moving all day, that’s good fishing. On days with no tide, that’s a day you probably want to mow the lawn.
Capt. Bob Leonard, treasurer of the Texas Salt Water Guides Association
2. Become scentless
Redfish have a keen sense of smell, so I carry a bottle of lava soap wherever I go to get rid of the smell of gas or sunscreen. I don’t want those scents getting on my lures.
Mike Laramy, professional redfish angler
3. Stay away from junk fish
If it’s the middle of the summer, you want to stay away from high-profile areas like shipwrecks and large reefs because that’s where the sharks and barracudas hang out. Head to low profile areas like live reefs and rock bottoms. Grass beds are best.
Capt. John Parks, 2005 Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour Championship winner
4. Change fluorocarbon after a fight
Once you fight a fish on a fluorocarbon leader, it becomes stressed and will rearrange its chemical properties, becoming visible to fish again. So whenever you catch any decent-size fish, you want to change that line because you probably won’t catch another on it.
George Poveromo, host of George Poveromo’s Salt Water Fishing on ESPN2
5. Pick the right lure depending on depth
Anglers should be aware that a fish’s best vision occurs at the surface. The moment you go past 50 feet in most coastal waters, the colour spectrum becomes much narrower. Use your colourful lures near the surface, and your whites and darker lures in deeper water where bottom fish key on contrast, not on colour.
Keith Jones, director of fish research for Berkley
5 Tips for Fishing with Kids
Kevin Van Dam became bass fishing’s first $2 million man in 2006. But the moments he enjoys the most are those spent with his 10-year-old twin boys, Jackson and Nicholas. That’s what he was doing when we caught up with him on a rare tournament-free Saturday morning. Within two minutes of our arrival, Jackson had a fish on. For Kevin, it was no less exciting than catching another lunker during the Bassmaster Classic. Here are his five top tips for keeping kids tuned into fishing.
1. Start with equipment that fits the child’s size
A fishing rod should be no bigger than six inches longer than a child’s height. Push-button reels are entry-level models and perfect for kids.
2. Go to a small pond instead of using a boat
That way the kids can run around if they get bored.
3. Coach as much as possible, but physically help them as little as possible
They need to do it on their own because the excitement is in the struggle. Fighting a fish of any size turns into a huge event for kids.
4. Even if it’s hot, pack a pair of pants and a sweatshirt or long-sleeve shirt
It’s cooler by the water, and if the bugs start biting, kids can cover up.
5. Start kids with live bait instead of lures
Worms are perfect. They catch fish well and are fun to play with. After they get the hang of it and are ready for lures, use lures with exposed hooks like crank baits and spinner baits. They’re easier to use, and they catch numbers.