The Enlightened Bass Fisherman

12 Steps to Largemouth Nirvana

Field & Stream Online Editors

Several years ago I fled a dreary Ohio winter to fish Lake Okeechobee. The warm Florida sunshine lifted my spirits, so it didn't concern me that I had caught only a few undersize largemouths in more than half a day of casting.

But then it all changed. I was idling through a wide, shallow flat, and noticed choppy water pushing against the shady edge of a matted hydrilla bed. I tied on a heavy spinnerbait and cast it on top of the matted grass. I dragged the lure off the edge of the vegetation, let it sink a foot, pumped it hard, and was immediately jolted by a 4-pound bass. I continued to flop, drop, and pump along the 50-yard stretch of hydrilla and caught seven more bass up to 5 pounds. Moving across the flat, I motored from one hydrilla patch to the other, catching bass almost at will.

That day was a crucial step in my growth as a fisherman. Yes, I caught a lot of bass. But more important, I'd made a series of decisions about where to fish, what lure to use, how to retrieve it, and a number of other actions that put me directly in sync with the bass. My years of practice and learning about bass fishing had rewarded me with an entirely new experience.

Such success doesn't come overnight, however. In order to take your fishing to its highest level, you have to realize some truths and make some changes in your entire approach to the sport. So study the following 12 principles. You'll not only become a better bass fisherman; you'll also have a lot more fun on the water. Realize that there are no magic lures.

Realize that there are no magic lures.
1 Bass fishing success doesn't start inside your tackle box. Your focus must expand beyond lure selection to encompass the whole environment in which bass live. Study how bass relate to the cover and structure available to them in different seasons and under varying conditions. When and where do bass spawn? What do they feed on? What are the seasonal movements of their forage? The answers to those questions will guide you to the proper choice of lures and presentations. Become reasonably competent with an assortment of baits.

Master one versatile lure
2.The lure you choose should complement your personality. A spinnerbait is a good choice for aggressive anglers. Meticulous casters tend to adopt Texas-rigged worms or jigs. Although some accomplished bass fishermen choose crankbaits, jerkbaits, and even topwater plugs as their fishing lure counterparts, you'll have better results if your chosen lure can cover water from the shallows to the depths. Whatever lure you select, decipher its every nuance to increase its effectiveness. Become reasonably competent with an assortment of baits.
3Your basic tool selection should fit into a small tackle box. It could include spinnerbaits, shallow- to deep-running crankbaits, plastic worms, topwater lures, jerkbaits, weedless jigs and jig trailers, jigging spoons, and a soft weedless frog or rat-one for every type of bass habitat. When your confidence bait fails, these lures offer other paths to success. Be leery of expanding your basic selection; too many lures dilute proficiency. Break the habit of fishing the same spots. Stick with basic colors **
** 4
When, say, a purple plastic worm fails to draw strikes, a pumpkinseed worm isn't likely to turn things around. Instead, switch to a different lure, or try another location. Dramatic changes beget dramatic results. Once you start catching bass, you may find color swapping beneficial.

Some proven lure color choices include chartreuse-and-white spinnerbaits with gold and nickel tandem blades, firetiger and Tennessee shad crankbaits, black-and-blue jig-and-pig combos, junebug worms for murky water, watermelon-seed worms for clear water, and both silver and gold jerkbaits with black backs.

Break the habit of fishing the samspots
5You can't get on the path to bass nirvana until you get off the trail to nowhere. Fishing familiar places is hit-or-miss and doesn't challenge you to consider the many options that may yield better catches. Tap your proven fishing holes only when conditions are favorable. Spend a portion of every fishing trip exploring new places and experimenting with different approaches. Only by expanding your knowledge of habitat and how bass relate to it will you reach a higher level of fishing.

Don't be led astray by other anglers.
6When you're not getting bites, you may be tempted to try what someone else is doing. That guy fishing in the middle of the lake may look like he's onto something, but he may not have had a bite all day. Strive to find your own fishing patterns.

Be especially leery of dock talk. Strangers who loudly tout their bass fishing expertise are usually full of hot air. Good fishermen tend to keep things to themselves. All the tools you need to catch bass lie within your grasp, the most powerful tool being your mind.

Tune into the weather.
** 7**Let current conditions determine how and where you fish. Wind and overcast skies generally put bass on the attack. Their strike zone enlarges and they are more responsive to aggressive presentations. A lure that covers water quickly, such as a spinnerbait, is likely to draw hard strikes.

High pressure and a cloudless sky curb bass activity and shrink the strike zone. Pick cover apart with worms or jigs, and give bass plenty of time to react.

Be mindful of the weather throughout the day. Even a subtle change, such as a slight breeze after a period of dead calm, can turn passive bass into aggressive feeders.

Use your options 8You don't have to find a theoretical best pattern, just one of several viable options. When one method isn't working, even though it appears to be the right choice, be willing to make bold moves. For example, if bass ignore worms and other bottom-bouncing baits, you may get their attention with a topwater plug. Or, if deep dropoffs and ledges on the lower end of an impoundment fail to turn up bass, consider running far up a major tributary and fishing shallow cover in murky water. Become the lure
9
Your thinking must oscillate between an awareness of the whole fishing environment and a focus on your lure. Lose concentration and you'll miss soft bites and overlook important clues.

When a bass strikes, especially the first fish of the day, you must garner every bit of information. Where was the lure in relation to the cover or structure? Exactly what was the lure doing when the bass hit? What was its depth? Keen awareness at this crucial moment can clue you in to the pattern of bass that day.

Vary your retrieves.
10Every cast asks bass the question: Is this what you want? When you repeatedly fish a lure the same way, you ask the same question over and over. If you're not getting strikes, the answer is a reverberating No!

The difference between a big catch and meager results can be something as subtle as letting a spinnerbait drop 6 inches next to the shady side of stumps as opposed to making a steady retrieve, or dragging a worm on bottom instead of hopping it. Give bass options, and they'll tell you what they want.

Stay in touch with nature during the off-season.
11Bass fishing is more hunting than fishing. Hunters know that food, shelter, and reproduction are the primary factors that determine movements of game-and the same is true of bass. It's no coincidence that many of the most accomplished professional bass anglers-Kevin VanDam, Larry Nixon, Roland Martin, Jimmy Houston-are avid hunters.

Hunting with a camera, gun, or bow helps you tune in to the natural world from a different perspective and provides insights that will improve your bass fishing.

Solve the puzzle. **
**12
Maintain a steady, deliberate quest for finding bass. Take joy in the journey, but don't get overly excited at the outset because you'll become quickly disappointed if you go a few hours without a bite.

An even temperament allows for heightened awareness. Your reward is the immense satisfaction that comes from finding bass and refining an effective pattern using your powers of concentration. Catching the bass is a result of that achievement.t perspective and provides insights that will improve your bass fishing.

Solve the puzzle. **
**12
Maintain a steady, deliberate quest for finding bass. Take joy in the journey, but don't get overly excited at the outset because you'll become quickly disappointed if you go a few hours without a bite.

An even temperament allows for heightened awareness. Your reward is the immense satisfaction that comes from finding bass and refining an effective pattern using your powers of concentration. Catching the bass is a result of that achievement.