There’s an old saying in bass fishing that says, “if you can see the bass, it can see you.” For professional anglers like Bassmaster Elite Series pro Chris Zaldain, sight fishing for bedding and cruising bass is a job requirement during the spawning season. Over the years, he has developed an approach that calls for the right bait, equipment and stealth.
Three Must-Have Baits
When it comes to fish that are guarding a spawning bed, Zaldain most often relies on three techniques; a drop shot, a Texas-rig and a swimbait.
The drop shot is one of his go-to techniques because it allows him to keep the bait in place for much longer.
“I like a drop shot because you can shake and shake it in the same spot without having to reel in and make another cast. I use a Roboworm – 6”, Fat, straight tail –(with) a short leader, that is about 4- or 5-inches long,” he says.
Zaldain’s top Roboworm color choice for fishing in the west and across the country is Margarita Mutilator.
A Texas-rigged Megabass Bottle Shrimp in a natural color is another one of Zaldain’s best sight-fishing baits.
“I like that bait because it has the flapping appendages and that seems to be a key for any bait you throw onto a bed,” he said. “I’ll usually stick with a natural color like green pumpkin.”
The third and final bait Zaldain relies on is a swimbait.
“There is something about a big swimbait getting in there that gets them mad, especially big ones,” he continued. “I like a 6” Megabass Magdraft.”
How Long Should I Stay?
While Zaldain admits to spending multiple hours on giant fish, he says it usually ends up being a waste of time.
“I think 45 minutes is about the max to spend on one fish, that you see,” added the California pro. “Usually within 10 or 20 minutes, you should have already caught it or know that it is going to bite.”
Bass are often cruising the shallows before they spawn and after they finish. These can be among the most difficult to catch as they are on a mission and often stop for nothing.
Zaldain believes the ideal depth for finding cruisers is 4- to 5-ft.
“That seems to be the perfect depth and with 8’ Power-Pole blades, I can put them down quickly the second I see a cruiser,” he said. “I will watch which direction it went to and then fan cast all around there.”
He will most often rely on finesse techniques and says the dropshot is his favorite way to catch cruising bass.
If he is returning to an area that he has observed a cruising fish in (either the day before or hours before), he will be cautious.
“I take a note of where the fish was and then Power-Pole down far away from the area, so I don’t spook them,” shared Zaldain. “I’ll stop 30-yds away and start to cast and then slowly inch closer to where I saw the fish."
There are many opinions about which sunglass lens is best; but Zaldain believes it really comes down to preference.
“Some guys like the yellow or amber lenses and they are good,” he said. “I personally like something with a copper or bronze tint; because it works great in all light conditions. The ones I use are the Spy Optics Happy Bronze with the Green Spectra finish.”
Anglers can increase their odds at catching a visible bass just by being stealthy. For instance, the use of Power-Poles helps maintain boat position without the noise of a trolling motor. There are several other tricks Zaldain uses to stay quiet and less visible.
“If I am cruising down the bank, I will keep my trolling motor very low, maybe 20 to 30 percent to stay silent,” he said. “If I come up on a fish quick and don’t get my Power-Poles down in time, I’ll use a push pole to push me back and then put my Poles down.”
This prevents him from “blowing out” the area, spooking the fish and stirring up the bottom.
Another thing Zaldain does is to prevent quick movements. “Once you pull up on a fish, it is best to put your Poles down and then wait maybe 20 to 30 seconds before casting or even before you grab your rod," added Zaldain. “This lets the fish get used to the boat sitting there and makes sure that they don’t notice any sudden movements.”
Fishing for fish you can see, can be fun and at the same time frustrating. Zaldain and other pros have learned the tricks and found the right equipment it takes to increase their odds on sight bass. Consistently catching these fish takes practice and a keen awareness of their activity as well as your own.