Field & Stream Online Editors
Field & Stream Online Editors

The basic dynamics of fish populations almost guarantee that every water holding bass also holds a very few that are much larger than the local average. Summer after summer, at a lake or two around the country, an inept kid tossing an improbable lure from the family dock at high noon catches a largemouth bigger than anyone there has seen in years. It’s dumb luck, but it serves as proof that such trophies exist-and that you don’t have to travel very far to catch one.

Getting a lunker from your home water will probably require a radical change in your fishing habits. Big largemouths often behave differently than the small bass you catch every day. They frequently use other parts of the lake or pond. They can feed differently as well.

Also heed this all-important bit of big-bass fishing advice: I once asked Kenny Zwahr, who started the fabled Lakes of Danbury pay-to-fish complex near Houston, why he didn’t have one lake full of nothing but 10-pounders instead of lakes with mixed fish sizes. “I tried that, and it didn’t work,” he told me. “People couldn’t catch them because they fished too fast.”

On this page are five trophy areas to target on a prototypical lake, with advice on how to fish them. There are other options, of course, but these will catch fish. Now go check your drag.

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Bigger largemouths often spawn in deeper water than smaller bass. You probably see average-size bass on beds in water 3 to 6 feet deep. Such spawning flats are often in protected coves where the bottom shelves gradually outward toward deeper water. Check the outside edges of a hard-bottomed flat in 10 to 12 feet of water for bigger spawning fish, especially in or near any submerged cover. This will probably be deeper than you can see, so use your fishfinder. Drag a Carolina-rigged, 6-inch soft-plastic lizard slowly-with long pauses-along the bottom to entice a strike.

Many lakes and ponds have submerged humps that aren’t visible from the surface, but you can discover them by using your fishfinder. In clear-water lakes, the ideal hump comes within a dozen feet of the surface and is ringed with underwater weeds. For a big bass, such places have it all: an adjacent deep-water refuge, weedy cover, and baitfish hanging around. Big plastic worms and Senkos work well here, as does a free-lined (no bobber) live shiner or crayfish weighted with a small split shot.

Thick, gnarly, tangled cover-the kind most fishermen avoid-offers just the kind of seclusion that big bass in hard-fished lakes seek out. A mess of blown-down trees, hydrilla, or bulrushes at the back of a quiet cove will often have a hidden pocket 4 or 5 feet deep. Those are perfect spots for trophies. Approach carefully so you don’t spook fish-use a canoe or kayak if you can. Flip a dark-colored, wacky-rigged Senko (hooked in the middle, no weight) into the pocket, or use a live shiner or, if legal, a bluegill under a bobber.

Picking a best time to catch the biggest bass of the summer is easy, because there’s only one: the hour before dawn. Bigger fish move into the shallows after dark to feed, and the peak activity usually occurs from just before the first pale light of false dawn until actual sunrise. All the Jet Ski jocks will still be asleep, and your lake will be dead quiet. Tie on a black muskie-class Jitterbug and gurgle it back slowly near shoreline boat docks and shallow weedbeds. Strikes will shatter both the silence and your nerves.

Big bass move around, both to and from spawning areas in the spring as well as between deep-water cover and shallow feeding areas in the summer. They usually follow consistent routes day after day, year after year. Though they may go no more than 100 or 200 yards, if you find the route, you can find the fish. A submerged creek channel leading from a deep, underwater shelf back into some shallow-water standing timber is an obvious example. Fish the channel edges with a big soft-plastic swimbait, or very slowly with a 10-inch plastic worm.