In any tournament, but especially the Bassmaster Classic, it’s always tough to get much detail from anglers who recognize the need to hold their cards low. Now that we’ve had time to digest the stats and stories from the big event held recently on Lake Guntersville, a handful of interesting points merit discussion.
Don’t Rip the ‘Rap
So, when an angler’s crowned Bassmaster champion, one of the biggest questions everyone wants to know is “Where did you catch your fish?” It’s nearly impossible to escape the watchful eye of media boats and the armada of spectator boats, but often the explanations of precisely what the angler was targeting.
Maybe, it was a particular little notch in a drain running off the flat. Or, perhaps it was isolated stumps strewn throughout channel turns.
Well, clearly Classic winner Randy Howell found the right group of fish around the bridge in Spring Creek, but he clearly stated that the riprap he targeted wasn’t all that special.
“This spot was just the same kind of stuff that any weekend fisherman might fish,” Howell commented.
Others, including 5th-place Randall Tharp also found plenty of action on these piles of manmade rock.
Tharp caught his riprap fish on jerkbaits and crankbaits – mostly under the watchful eye of spectator boats and motorist who’d park alongside the road to watch. Both groups were close enough for Tharp’s occasional moments of friendly engagement.
Such spots are right out in the open and it’s likely every one of those submerged rocks has been bumped by a crankbait at some point. In fairness, pros like Howell and Tharp certainly have a few tricks of the trade and seasoned perspective that affords them a higher level of performance. Nevertheless, the fans that no doubt hit those spots the day after the Classic probably enjoyed a few string stretchers of their own.
Bottom line, rip rap has been and will forever be a top-tier target for prespawn fish. It’s not fancy and it’s not terribly complex; but it is unquestionably one of the most promising scenarios that a bass angler of any skill and experience level can fish.
Bass are opportunistic predators and some of the tactics used in the Bassmaster Classic appealed to those tendencies. However, much of what put that big trophy in Howell’s hands was simply a matter of inserting himself into an existing day-three feeding scenario.
“The fished moved deeper (on that riprap) and I was seeing them on my Lowrance SideScan,” Howell explained. “You could see big arches – just tons of shad on the deep side. The fish were sitting down deep in 15 feet looking up at the 8-foot-deep rock line. You could see the streaks (feeding fish) coming up and down.”
Now the Livingston crankbait he used for the latter part of his day includes a sound chip that plays an enticing tune – a recording of stressed baitfish. Hard to imagine any self-respecting bass turning his back on such stimulus, but Howell left nothing to chance. He blasted the area with baitfish recordings and took the party to the fish.
“I had the Hydro-Wave turned up loud all day on 30-second intervals,” Howell said. “I turned it up to ¾ throttle because I like to have it loud.”
Know When to Change
Second-place finisher, Paul Mueller used a ½-ounce Rat-L-Trap to sack up his fish the first two days – including his record-setting day-two weight of 32-pound, 3-ounces (heaviest single-day stringer in Classic history). Logic tells that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it; but tournament pros know can tell when that wisdom has vaporized.
In the final round, he found the fish in a less-aggressive mood, so he boxed the trap and switched to a 3/8-ounce chatterbait with a Reins swimbait trailer. Essentially, he said it came down to needing a different tool for a different presentation.
Mueller said he found those day-three fish in an old creek channel off the Tennessee River. In textbook prespawn staging, the fish were inhabiting points with eel grass and hydrilla. Here, the trap might have teased a few bites, but patience can quickly lose its luster on day-three of the Bassmaster Classic.
“The difference with the trap was that when you’d tick it along the top of the grass, it would go too fast and you’d get buried,” Mueller said. “I couldn’t really work it slowly enough, but with the chatterbait, I was just creeping it.
A Navionics Platinum chip played a key role in Mueller’s final-round success. Even though he caught the day’s second-largest bag (24-11), he said it was slow going and he really had to put in the coaxing time on each spot.
“The points I was fishing would top out at about three feet and drop into seven,” Mueller explained. “The fish would sit on the upside of the point and I’d just slow roll that chatterbait through the grass and they’d react. That Platinum chip allowed me to see those points where those fish were sitting, so that was definitely a plus.
“The deal for me (on day three) was making a lot of casts. Once I knew where they were, I had to make 40 casts to get one to bite.”
One of the most notable nuggets I gleaned from this year’s Bassmaster Classic actually came from the inaugural High School Classic – a single day event held at nearby Lay Lake, with weigh-ins prior to the Classic’s second day day.
The second-place team, Justin Burris and Ryan Winchester or Georgia’s Clinton High, took second place with 13-9. They also targeted riprap banks, but their weapon of choice was an Alabama rig.
Huh? That one might not make a lot of sense until we explain that the guys fished their swimbaits on Showboat Lures Feather Weight heads. Replacing lead with molded hot glue, these lighter heads not only lessen the A-rig fatigue, but they let you fish the rig much shallower than normal.
“It makes fishing an Alabama rig 10 times easier on you and you can put it places you can’t put a weighted (head),” Winchester said.
No doubt, Classic attendees can always count on bright lights, loud music, an Expo packed with great fishing gear and lots of sponsor giveaways and, of course, the chance to interact with their favorite pros. But for the attentive types, this show presents a 3-day seminar on bass catchin’. Some represent fine-tuned tactics; others simply blow the dust off the tried and true stuff that we shouldn’t overlook.
In any case, while the show’s definitely entertaining, there’s also a strong element of education that’ll make you a better bass angler.