What makes one angler more successful than others? You will often find the same anglers at the top of the leader board time and time again, and one of the reasons for this is a relatively simple approach.
The single most important aspect of catching bass is to fish in the right spots, so-called “high percentage” areas. The latest and fanciest lures can’t catch the fish if they aren’t there, and only practice and high-quality electronics can really give you an advantage in this regard. This is one of the reasons why practice before an event is so important and why locating the fish beforehand is essential to a successful tournament day.
Often when you come in with a good bag of fish you will likely be asked what lure the fish were caught on, when really people should be asking you where you caught them and what the conditions were like at that spot. In my opinion it’s all about the spot and not what bait was used as it’s not often that fish are keyed on a specific lure in a single colour… it’s just that the fish were there and were feeding at a specific depth!
You can work out how to catch them if you know that they are there. Fishing more of your high percentage spots should result in more fish caught and better bag weights if you are a tournament angler. I have found that simply fishing along a bank between your high percentage spots sometimes yields a fish, but this strategy is most likely wasting precious time and it’s a good idea to motor between your spots where you can.
Most of the high percentage spots will likely be small isolated targets that you can cast directly at; such as a single stump or laydown, rock pile or a simple 1ft transition in depth in the back of a bay. Usually, if a fish is there it will bite, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time fishing the spot, but keep in mind that the strike area might be very small so accurate casts are essential.
As mentioned previously, practice is very important in order to find the fish in advance. Often bass are resident and if you found them there in practice, they are quite likely to be there come tournament time. Many of our waters are drawing down at this time of year and there is a lot less cover left in the water, but this tends to concentrate fish around the remaining cover and they can be easier to find. Look out for these subtle isolated spots and make the effort to target them.
Any interruptions in depth will present an attractive place for a bass to sit and ambush prey. I have found this to be a very useful strategy in our rocky dams in the Cape as cover is generally limited when the water is low. Target these fish with a square-billed crankbait or something that can bump along the transition zone. Old road beds and erosion lines are a prime example of what to look for as they often have subtle depth changes along their edges.
A stump or single laydown in shallow water will attract feeding bass during the heat of the day. Bass roaming the shallows in the early morning often shelter in shallow tree limbs in very shallow water when the sun gets high.
I remember a Boland Regional competition a few years back where myself and Rowan Timmer found big largemouth sitting tight against single shallow sticks in less that a foot of water.
These fish were almost impossible to see but every isolated stick had a good bass on it for about 1km of the bank and it made for good fishing on an otherwise tough day. We were making long casts at these sticks with flukes and the bass were rushing out of what little shelter they had to grab the baits. It was interesting to see how a big bass could possibly avoid being seen in such shallow water.
Ultra-shallow backs of bays
Often neglected because they can be hard places to get your boat into, these shallow areas usually have a little grass in the back of them which provides shelter to various bait species. These areas warm up faster and are usually warmer during the day then the surrounding water and bass move into these shallows to feed. It can be tricky not to spook these fish and so very long casts with a subtle entry are key, keep in mind that you will probably have to pull the fish over some structure to get it out. Bass can sit perfectly still and with a little bit of colour in the water you are unlikely to see them; by the time you do see the fish shooting out the shallows it is too late.
They love to sit in small shaded spots for the same reason that we can’t spot them with polarized glasses – they can pounce on any prey unexpectedly. Dirty water improves super shallow fishing as fish love to sit in the slightly warmer water. It is imperative to present your bait with care in shallow water as they often spook easily. This can be difficult when making long casts but practicing a soft entry for you bait can make all the difference. If possible, cast the lure onto the bank and ease it towards the fish, or onto a patch of weeds and slip it into the water in front of where you expect the fish to be.
On highly pressured waters or when conditions are changing it is necessary to find insignificant-looking targets to cast at. These are spots that bass will hangout next to for a period of time before moving on to the more obvious spots. The key is to find an area that has all the aspects of a good feeding spot without looking too obvious and might be overlooked by other anglers that haven’t put in the practice and scouting time. Some of these sneaky spots may only work when the wind blows a bit of current or when the water dirties so it is important to find several off-the-track spots and hope that one of them produces!