Every year around this time, we have our biggest tournament of the year, the FLW Forrest Wood Cup. Its’ a culmination of all the hard work, travel, tackle preparation, and the good and not-so-good tournament finishes in one unique championship event. This is my 18th appearance at the Cup, and I’ve fished several of them on Lake Ouachita. Ouachita is a great venue because it is such a versatile fishery. It’s a big lake with clear water, timber, grass and rock, and could literally be won on any end of the lake. I’ve had some good finishes there and some poor finishes, but I really love the area, the community is supportive, and it’s always a fun place to fish. I spent four days pre-practicing before off limits, and though I think the fishing will be tough, it will be a good tournament. August is always a tough time to fish, but the lake is in the best shape I’ve ever seen. I expect a three day tournament weight of 50 pounds. The show that accompanies the tournament will be exciting. Hope to see you there! Photo Courtesy FLW
Summertime Ledge Fishing
In the hot dog days of summer deep water ledge fishing can be one of the most productive ways to fish. Here’s how I approach ledge fishing. First, let me say, I’m not crazy about ledge fishing in tournaments because you often have to bunch up to get to the best places, but if it’s a tournament where I can have a place pretty much to myself, I’ll give it a go. Otherwise, I look for something else where I can avoid the crowd. But if I’m not in a tournament and filming or fishing for fun, I love ledge fishing. The first thing I do is make sure I have quite a few rods rigged up (six or seven) – football jigs, a few deep diving crankbaits, Carolina rig, and a flutter spoon (something I can jerk up off the bottom and it will flutter down slowly). I generally will rig it with Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon, which is a dense line that cuts through the water well, and gets the bait down into the strike zone. Then I need to know how deep to get, which, in Texas is generally about 15-25 feet. Then I use my electronics to look for structure and schools. The Garmin Panoptix is an amazing tool for this type of fishing in that you can actually SEE schools of fish when you get close to them. So rig up a lot of rods on fluorocarbon line, determine the depth, use your electronics to find schools if possible, and get out there and have fun catching.
Where to Start When its Cold?
When the weather starts getting colder and water temperatures drop, the first thing I do when I put my boat in the water is look at my Garmin 7612 to find where the bait is and what the topography looks like. A lot of times in this cold weather, fish will come out of the creeks onto the main body of water and suspend, so you will want to concentrate on fishing stuff that is vertical, fishing baits that work vertically, like a jig and spoon, something that will work up and down, or fishing a jig very slowly. Or if your depth finder tells you the bait is suspended, often the bass will be suspended, and you can catch them on a jerkbait or maybe a tight wobbling crankbait or a swim bait that doesn’t have a lot of action. It will be a little trial and error, but understanding what bait and bass do when the water is cold is key.
Cranking in the Winter
Throwing a crankbait in the winter months can catch a lot of big fish. The key is you want a crankbait that does not have a lot of wobble to it, something that runs really tight. I like to throw a Strike King Lucky Shad this time of year. It can go anywhere from four to ten feet, depending on the line set up you have and it has a nice steady retrieve. This isn’t a bait you crank real wildly, just make a nice steady retrieve. When fishing like this, you’re looking for stretches where fish can suspend, sometimes bluffs, sometimes rocky. And I like to use a light crankbait rod because these baits can sometimes be pretty heavy to throw. Enjoy these cold fishing days and catch a lot of bass. The dog days of summer will be here before we know it!
One of the best ways to fish during the winter months is to flip mats or matted vegetation. Often and on many lakes, instead of heading out deep when the water gets cold, bass will snug up under the canopy of matted vegetation. I flip this type of cover with an ounce and a quarter Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten. heavy weight to be able to punch through the vegetation. My favorite bait to use is a Strike King Rage Bug in Green Pumpkin. It’s a small compact bait that you can rig totally straight, and I really like the Owner Jungle 4 oz. hook for this set up with a bobber stopper on top and a heavy weight line. The key to fishing this bait this way is to make repetitive pitches into the mats. Pitch it on all sides of the mat, cover it fully and then jiggle it so it can get through and free fall all the way through. It’s a total reaction bite, so you want to be sure to let it get all the way through the canopy and to the bottom. Then when you get it in there, yo yo it up and down, fishing it slowly. This is a great way to catch some giant fish this way in the dead of winter. Good luck!
The Best Line for Topwater
Choosing the best line for topwater fishing can be a difficult proposition. There are several ways you can go, and each one of them has its benefits and drawbacks. The old standby is monofilament. I like Sunline Defier mono, usually in 17 or 19 pound test. Mono floats, it does not backlash badly, and it’s easier to cast, especially when you’re in a hurry. The drawback to mono when fishing topwater is the extra stretch and it can be more difficult working your bait from a long way away. The other way you can go is with braided line. I prefer Sunline SX1 35 on 50 pound test. I also use 65 pound test when throwing a frog. Braid has no stretch, and it can be easier to work the bait, and it’s often easier to extract fish from hang ups with braid. The drawback to braid is castability – it’s just not as easy to cast, especially when casting in a big hurry like on schooling fish. The other thing you can do is to put a monofilament leader on braid. This is an option I use quite often when throwing a prop bait, a popper or a walking bait. It is probably my overall favorite way to fish topwater. My leader length is 7-8 feet and I end up retying the leader knot about once a day. The bottom line on fishing line is that it’s really personal preference. You just have to get out there and decide which one you like the best.
Big Bass Big Baits
In the early Fall, you often see lots of big Gizzard Shad. Bass love these giant shad, and you want to go big with your set up to target these fish. When you start noticing big Gizzard Shad, think big baits. I like to use a big Strike King 3/8 oz. buzz bait with a Rage Toad on the back of it. As the water cools (even down to the 50s, you can catch them with this reeling pretty slowly. I also like big spinnerbaits or even a KVD 8.0 or 4.0. The 4.0 is smaller, but still works when bass are keying on big shad. So in the fall of the year think big baits for bass that are targeting big shad.
Flipping – Its All About the Hook!
Probably the most important part of any flipping set up is the hook you choose to use. Personally, I like a straight shank hook. I think it gives me the best hook up ratio. It’s easy to rig, and the bait stays very straight. The hook I have recently started using is an Owner Jungle Hook (with zo-wire). This hook is extremely strong. Four times stronger than other hooks with the same size wire diameter. Having smaller wire, it penetrates the fishes mouth very easily. And I have found my hook up ratio increasing dramatically since using it. It has a great keeper, keeping the head of the bait up and is by far the best hook I have seen – period.