Clear Lake Bass in November Deluge

A Day on the Water with Professional Fisherman, Chad Martin

Monday, November 7, 2005 presented me with a rare opportunity. It is not often you can head up to a lake as great as Clear Lake with a professional angler who is pre-fishing for a year-end TOC and is willing to share with you that he is really “on ‘em.” I had just plodded through my first team tournament as a boater on Folsom Lake with the newly reborn Folsom Bass League. I had called my buddy, Chad Martin, to tell him how I did and do a little complaining about all of the 1.5 pound fish I caught on Folsom and how I couldn’t get that one big bite that might have earned me a check when Chad said, “what are you doin’ tomorrow?” with the remnants of his Arkansas accent.

“Fishing with you on Clear Lake,” I half-jokingly said.

“Meet me in Natomas at 7:30 AM tomorrow, and have your rattle traps tied on, hopefully they’ll be chewin’,” he said.

All right! That was just what I needed after two tough days on Folsom and a meager 21st place finish. A trip to Clear Lake with Chad Martin prior to his Angler’s Choice Pro-Am TOC. I knew he’d be on fish. Boy was he on-em.

We rolled up a little later than we normally would, as Chad had to work on Sunday night until the wee hours of Monday. We put in at Lucerne at about 10:00 AM. The wind had picked up a bit and there was a light drizzle in the air. It was not cold at all - just comfortably cool. My last trip to Clear Lake had been in the blazing August heat and I closed my eyes for a moment to remember that. Boy, was I happy it was cool, overcast, and sprinkling.

Our first stop was not far from the ramp to check a flat that Martin likes to fish. “I don’t know if they’ll be here,” he said, “but I want to check it.” They weren’t (at least not in the quantities we wanted). We stayed for maybe ten minutes as we ripped, cranked and slow rolled spinnerbaits over the flat. We encountered a couple of short strikes but no takers.

The wind gradually intensified throughout the day. It reminded me of an April club-tournament on the lake when the waves were so bad my partner and I decided to never leave the Red Bud area. As many who have been there know, Clear Lake’s wide body and surprisingly shallow average depth can create some very long waves which can absolutely devour a boat.

As that wind picked up, the rain also intensified. We’d probably only been out for 20 minutes when Chad said, “get ready, we’re going to make a run up to the North end, near County and State Park.”

I threw on the life vest and hunkered down. Chad had told me that his Bass Cat Puma would surprise me in that it would handle this kind of water a little better than my Bass Cat Cougar. I’d never been in a Puma. I was skeptical, though, as I know my boat can handle that kind of water quit well.

I was blown away. We ran that lake at 60 miles per hour and it felt like there was almost no chop at all. I was so surprised I kept looking straight out to the sides to see if I could visually measure the wave-height. They had to be at least 1 and _ to 2-footers. That ‘Cat made it feel like nothing more than a slight ripple.

Once we arrived at our destination, the fun began. He put down the trolling motor and barely ever took it out of the water for the next 5 and _ hours as we proceeded to catch 48 fish. The whole experience was eye opening to say the least. We threw rattletraps, crankbaits and spinnerbaits continuously and I watched Martin reel in bass after bass like a trained Ninja assassin. The pros are so machine –like. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a few of them on the water in tournament or pre-fish conditions and the speed, ease, and precision with which they practice their craft makes weekend anglers like me want to stop and watch.

The other piece of the equation is how well a pro can stay on the trolling motor, catch and release fish, cast again, and never allow the boat to drift out of position for the back-seater while he’s doing three things at once. We worked an exceptionally large area over that 5.5 hours and I never felt rushed or hurried. Martin surgically dissected 100s of yards of water.

The rain continued to intensify as we fished and the wind, thankfully, began to weaken. At one point, about half way through the day there was virtually no wind, and it was absolutely pouring down rain about as violently as words will allow me to describe. During this period and one of our few slow spots, Martin turned to me and said, “weather man said it might sprinkle today, what do you think?”

“Na, I don’t think so,” I replied.

We shared stories about friends and co-workers who would think we were absolutely INSANE for whole-heartedly LOVING a day like this. But that is what we do. All of us, right? We are bass fishermen and if it is pouring rain and the fish are, as Martin likes to say, “Chewin’!”, then GREAT! Who cares about the rain? We sport our Cabela’s Guidewear and we forget about the rest.

As we worked the tulles, it became apparent the fish were stacked up, in a big way, on the points and in the cuts. It was like clockwork. We’d cruise along without a bite for a whopping five or ten minutes and then Martin would crank two or three off of a point. I’d crank one or two. Another two for him … and then we’d move on. They were absolutely piled onto those wind-swept tulle-points.

I’m honest with myself as a beginning fisherman. Cranking, flipping and pitching are not, I repeat, NOT, my strong points. So the other satisfaction with respect to this experience was the fact that of the 17 fish I caught, 15 of them were on a crankbait or rattletrap. I learned ways to work that ‘trap that I never thought possible. I would shut up, stop, and watch. Then Martin noticed I was watching and he would say, “most guys never think to work a ‘trap this way, but I have caught a lot of good ones doing this.” Then he would take the time to show me the nuances of his slow-roll, burn, rip and pop techniques. At times he hopped his trap off of the bottom the way you might see someone work a jig or spoon.

Another thing I learned is that it would be very tough, if not impossible to beat the combination of the G-Loomis cranking rod and the Shimano Cronarch reels that rest upon Marin’s front deck. I love my $100 Berkley Series Ones and my $100 baitcasters, but they just are not the same. About 30-fish into our excursion, Martin handed me one of his Loomis/Shimano combos and said, “Here, try throwing this. But be a little careful, the drag is a little loose.”

So I let gently let her swing and I was 10 feet deep in tulles before my thumb had realized we were not in Kansas any more. Great, my wife is going to love this. Now I need to upgrade reels too! It is bad enough I was already negotiating with Martin on the boat after next (he’s already sold the boat we were in as well as the next boat he has ordered). I’m thinking the boat after that will be time for me to upgrade too. About April of 2007 - wish me luck.

As we rhythmically pulled largies from the points and cuts, I asked Martin, “are you disappointed that we are mainly catching 1.5 to 3-pound fish?”

“No.” He said. “It would be nice if we had some good 4s and 5s in here, but I know that we could come back tomorrow on these same spots and we might just catch those 4s and 5s. I just try to focus on catching them in practice and locating them. I don’t let it get me down if we don’t get the big ones, because I know that changes. If you are catching fish, then there are fish there and in one, two, or three days the size of those fish may be totally different. Plus, (as he wryly looked at me) I caught a few good 5’s and a 6 this weekend down South (referring to the South end of Clear Lake), so I know where they are down there if I need a little big-fish confidence.”

But as any tournament angler knows, those 5s and 6s on the South end can be just as easily gone tomorrow as the 4s and 5s may pop up on the North end.

Forty-eight fish later, at 4 PM we called it a day. Martin had to get back home, take a two-hour nap and get to work by 11 PM. Before a tournament such as this he’ll regularly fish every day and work every night while he squeezes in two or three-hour naps in between work and play or shall I say work and “funner” work.

Pro fishing challenges the stamina and mental toughness mightily. As soon as Sunday’s weigh-in is completed on Clear Lake, Martin will be off to Shasta Lake where he’ll check into a hotel room and fish the next three days straight in preparation for the BASS Western Open on Shasta from Nov. 17-19. This is the last scheduled event for BASS in the Western U.S. Martin has a chance to win a boat in this Angler’s Choice TOC or in the BASS Open on Clear Lake.

Follow Up: Martin’s results were not what he wanted on Clear Lake. He never did land that big bite that would have earned him a paycheck. He finished 16th out of 50 anglers and that landed him at 2nd in the Angler of the Year race behind John Harper.

Shasta, however, brought about a different conclusion. Martin finished in 4th place in the BASS Western Open by weighing in a total of 29 lbs. & 10 ounces over three days. He also landed Day two’s big fish check with a 4-14 lunker.

Martin’s Shasta finish not only sent him home $9,000 richer, but also qualified him to fish the BASS Open Championship on the Alabama River the week after Thanksgiving. On Monday, November 21 I spoke with Martin as I completed this article and his excitement level was off the charts as he was breaking down his 10-rod/reel combos for travel, heading to Fishermen’s Warehouse to load up on supplies and making arrangements with other Western anglers to get themselves and their gear back East for the big tournament.

It will be an especially good Thanksgiving for the Martin Family as Chad will get to have his Thanksgiving meal in Arkansas for the first time in 16 years. Friday he’ll head for the river for a solid week of pre-fishing before the Championship.

Best of luck to you Chad, we all hope they’ll be “chewin’” for ya!

Chad Martin’s sponsors are:

Bass Cat
Fishermen’s Warehouse
Galaxy Marine
Minn Kota
Pro Worms
Limit Lures