Apr 29, 2015

2015 Fishing Season and Annual Bass Tournament

While bass have performed their annual spawning in the southern states, like Georgia; here in Wisconsin the spawning has just begun. Just as the climate is different as well as water conditions between the North and the South, so is the presumption of what baits to use.
When I worked in the Sporting Goods department for the local Walmart, local fisherman in Wisconsin would insist that certain types of lures and rigs just won't work in Wisconsin where the bass species are smallmouth versus the primary largemouth bass rule in the southern states. I convinced some of them that their establishment of using only certain lures to catch smallmouth was just a consensus and was not based upon the reality of experience. 

For example, while fishing for bass with small Rapala jointed lures around an old shipwreck near the Old Stone Quarry off the bass feeding grounds, I unexpectedly caught perch, several of them with that lure. They were not legal size and were returned to the bay, but it proved that perch could be interested in something that most use to catch bass feeding on baitfish.
The same applied as to the local attitude towards using small spinnerbaits in certain conditions and water terrain would also produce bass, sometimes a Pike.
The Northern waters are open because most of the vegetation dies in the cold, harsh winters; while in the South, like Lake Okeechobee, the vegetation never fully disappears over the winter months. I have experience of both fishing in southern waters and northern waters. I miss those lugger largemouth bass in Georgia, but the thrill of catching a Pike matches the adrenaline kick. Smallmouth bass are not as big as largemouth bass, but they put up a substantial fight when reeling them in.
Peninsula Smallie Lure
Most folks here use crawfish colored tubes with weight to bump on the bottom to catch smallmouth, as well as simple live bait with bobbers to control the depth. Minnows and leeches can produce a daily limit of bass when fishing off the shoreline. After so long using various lures and rigs, like Carolina and Texas rigs, fishing with live bait and waiting for the bobber to react is just too boring.
In both the North and the South, jigs are used for catching bass and the 'new' Alabama swim jigs are becoming popular and productive among the pro bass fisherman. With the upcoming bass tournament coming here off the Peninsula in the first week of May, I imagine that the jig will have its use and produce results.
When using the jig, Northern anglers approach cover and work it in a parallel pattern, while the Southern pros toss their jigs in the middle of thick vegetation. Both will bump the jig to attract attention, imitating the crawfish in action.
In the North, anglers usually use a straight retrieve, while those in the South generally pop or shake the jig. Slow retrieve is used for those fishing for bass in cover because if the jig is popped or shaken, a Pike will hit it rather than a bass.
Tharp's 4x4 Swim Jig
Even the new swim jig designs are different between Northern and Southern anglers. The Southern-style jigs are bulkier with stout skirts and heavy weed guards to work the thick growth of vegetation. According to the BASS Tournament pros, the 4x4 Swim Jig is a bit hit in the South. Elite Series rookie, Seth Felder of Minnesota uses a swim jig in his home state in the milfoil, looking for bass over 5 pounds. Pros like Randall Tharp fish in both regions and catch bass with jigs, it is just a matter of design and presentation; knowing the difference between the regional bass.
Jig skirts are usually made of silicone, but some of the pros prefer the old “Living Rubber” skirts claiming its more durable. But while they last longer than silicone, they are not available in as wide a range of colors as silicone skirts. Whichever jig skirts are preferred, hand tying them is best – more durable and clean off well when you slap the water with them.

The 4x4 Swim Jig is popular because its design slides over something it hits and less likely to get snagged. Randall Tharp swears by them, winning $10,000 in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup while fishing in thick vegetation. But even he admits that no lure is 100% vegetation/terrain proof when it comes to snagging.
Tharp's 4x4 Swim Jig comes in 1/4-, 3/8-, and 1/2-ounce sizes, but he mostly uses the middle size. The same goes for Felder. [B.A.S.S Times, May 2015, Pete Robbins]
Realistic Crawfish Lure
The object of jig lures and Rapala-style lures made to look like crawfish (some geographical areas refer to them as “crayfish”). I use both, along with the crawfish tubes with a weighted hook made especially for bumping the bottom with less of a chance of snagging - but the color is an important factor.
Not Snag-Resistant, But Effective
Crawfish change colors according to season and water conditions; therefore it is important that you know your area crawfish. There are literally hundreds of species of crawfish, which means there is a wide variety of color variations. The color that represents the general species of crawfish is reddish. Whether you fish in Florida, California, Great Lakes, or New York – the red crawbait works in the spring. I have the reddish ones as well as the darker variations. Crawfish are like chameleons, their environment influences their color.
Livingston Lures has come up with what is called the Guntersville Claw that has an electronic smart chip that produces baitfish sounds – and it is programmable with four modes to choose from. Smart chip technology has produced electronic marvels for HD chart and fishfinders with GPS systems, especially important to the tournament pros in covering waters in a limited time period seeking the big bass that wins tournaments.

The May 2015 edition of B.A.S.S.Times, written by Jon Storm, is a great source of information about fishing docks, with advice from pros like AndyMontgomery. He stated, for example:
The best cast for skipping a lure far under a dock isn't a powerful one, but a smooth one.
As spawning ends, fishing for bass becomes a deeper venture, which means color once again will play into catching smallmouth off the Peninsula and the popular tube baits will be utilized. But when the bass become pressured by the seasonal anglers hitting the waters, the jig still ranks supreme when fishing for bass and even pike.
Jonathon VanDam, following his father's lead
Jonathon VanDam is the son of the championship legend, Kevin VanDam, both growing up fishing the Great Lake waters and is known for catching smallmouth with lures like the Strike King Rage Blade Blaster in gold or silver, hopping and fluttering across the water with his G. Loomis NRX rod and Shimano reel. When the waters reach temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees, he targets smallmouth ready to spawn using the choppy waters as part of the erratic action of his Strike King KVD 300 jerkbait. I follow the lead of the VanDam anglers and keep Strike King lure variants in the tackle bag.
During spawn, the Texas rig drop shot works great with a 1/0 Lazer Straight Shank hook on a 10-pound line. I use Berkeley Fireline on my spinning reels and braided line on my baitcasting reels. I find that using a Flourocarbon leader on braided or Fireline works well when using drop shot methods when pitching tubes or even jigs. When using Rapala, I fish with or without the leader. When it comes to Pike, the thin steel leaders available will save your line from those nasty teeth. That applies to Muskies, when fishing farther north.
There has been a serious depletion of perch in waters off the Peninsula and in Lake Michigan in general. If I catch perch instead of bass, I return them.
As the local marinas start filling with boats again and I see Bass Tournament boats being trailered down Michigan Street in their scouting ventures in preparation for the May Bass Tournament – Sturgeon Bay is calling me to return. 
Unfortunately, that call will not be answered as much as I use to; the mind being more able than the body it transports.

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