Category Archives: Bass Fishing Basics 101

Down Imaging and Sonar – Where’s it at?

I seen a post on Facebook the other day about “Do You Really Use Your Depth Finder To Help You Catch Fish”? That is a really good question, as I have seen a buddy that I fished with that had a new Garmin Depth Finder on his boat but never turned it on while we were fishing. In his case I think it was all about having the “Newest Thing” on his boat. It’s the same as having Power Poles® on your boat but never put them down. If you’re going to pay out the money for the newest technology then you need to take the time to learn to use them. I personally have six units on my boat but actually only use three or four of them at a time. Two of the units were small in-dash depth finders that came with the boat.

One thing I had a hard time understanding when I first got my first depth finder an old “Super Sixty” flasher that I used to catch a lot of fish watching it. I could watch my jigging spoon go up and down as I lifted and lowered my rod and see the fish signals come to the spoon while watching the flasher. Now that we have the choices of Side Imaging, Down Imaging and Sonar all in the same units they have really become a big help in catching fish whether it be bass, crappie, bluegill or white bass.

As we ride around the lake or body of water you are fishing looking at things that pop up on the screen and wonder what they are. To learn this, we must both spend the time on the water learning our units and to actually know what they are that we’re looking for. Here is a screen shot of something on the bottom that my boat passed over. One what is it and second where is it in relation to the boat and where do I need to make my cast to make contact with the structure?

Okay take a look at the photo above and see if you can tell, first what is it, and second where is it and third where do I cast to so I can try and catch any fish that may be located in the structure. Just by looking at the photo above, I first thought it was directly under the boat which in this case part of it is but most is not. If it is under the boat where under the boat is it located? I would in the past make a cast straight behind the boat to try and make contact with the structure. Sometimes I would make contact with the structure but most of the time I did not. The one way we can tell that part of the structure is partially under the boat is the red coloring in the screen shot in the brush top. This red color tells me that the strongest signals are in the very center of the sonar cone. Take a look at the photo below to get a better understanding of what this means.

Now let’s take a look at the same piece of structure with our Down Image unit and see if we can see what it is and where it is.

Okay we can tell that it looks to be a brush top someone placed in the lake and there looks to be one fish on the right side of the brush top on the right at the edge of the screen. By looking at the fish and the shape it could possibly be a crappie as it is tall as it is long. But this is only a guess and we have no way of knowing unless we actually catch the fish.

Okay so now we know it is possibly a brush top but where is it. Well again since I thought I drove over the structure you’d think it is behind the boat. But again, it could be but also could not be under and behind the boat.

Now let’s see what the structure actually is and where it is in relationship to the boat. We can determine all this by using our Side Image unit. Not only will it tell us what it is but where it is located and where we need to make our cast to try and catch that fish that we are after.

Okay from the side image view we can tell that it is actually a brush top under the boat and also a bucket with what looks to be canes by seeing the shadows of the canes. And last a huge stump to the right of the boat about 20 feet to the right of the boat. By the way can you find the fish in this screen shot? Hint look for the shadows they give the fish away.

In this last screen shot I did with third party software available to you the angler you can see the location of the structure.

So, to get the best out of your new or current units you have to use the tools you have and learn to use them to help you catch more fish. After all this is the reason, we spent the hundreds of dollars if not thousands of dollars on the “Newest Thing” for our boats.

Tight lines……

Thermocline

Definition of thermocline

: the region in a thermally stratified body of water which separates warmer surface water from cold deep water and in which temperature decreases rapidly with depth.

The thermocline is formed on lakes with little to no current flow that allows the mixing of the top and bottom layers of the lake waters. Since cold air and water is heavier that warm or hot air or water the heavier sinks and the warmer rises. In the following three images you can clear see the thermocline. Summer and early fall is the times that the thermocline is most prevalent with the high air temperatures this time of the year.

Why knowing where the thermocline is important to you as a fisherman? Simple it will define the maximum depth you need to be fishing. The thermocline is void of life giving oxygen so the fish you are seeking can not live in the thermocline. During the summer and early fall, adjust your unit to see the thermocline. Scan the area you are planning to fish and look for the top of the thermocline. Let’s say the top is at 27 feet as in the images in this blog. Then the maximum depth you need to fish is no deeper that 27 feet. Look for a or drop-off, shell mound or hump that is shallower than 27 feet and fish there if you see fish on them with your down image units.

Finding the thermocline is easy with the new Side Image and Down Image sonar units, in my case I use the Humminbird Onix 10 SI and the Helix 12 Gen2 Mega Scan. You will need to learn to adjust the sensitivity and contrast settings. You can find settings on this blog just do a search in the search bar. There are a lot of YouTube videos on how to tune your units.

Hope you find this blog helpful in understanding the thermocline in your fishing.

Tight lines….

My Tackle Box – Zoom Centipedes

Here is is a little finesse worm that I’ve caught literally hundreds of big smallmouth bass on over the years. The Zoom Centipede is another of my Go-To lures when I need or want to catch fish. This small worm is a killer for spotted bass, smallmouth, rock bass and largemouth bass.

centipedesAs you can see from the tackle box above there are only a few colors that I use on a regular basis and of these the green pumpkin is the one I use the most.The other colors are watermelon-seed and June-bug for darker conditions. In the next couple of weeks at least on Pickwick Lake tie on one of these little finesse worms and fish them around rocks, pea gravel, downed tree-tops and along rip-rap shoreline and you’ll catch some big fish. When I’m on Wilson Lake I like to fish the pockets and coves that have downed trees and logs in the backs of pockets.

My Setup: Rod, Reel , Line, etc.

The rod I use are the same ones I use when I fish the Shaky-head worms. Mine is a 7′ medium action rod in a good quality graphite model. I like the St. Croix Rage rod paired with either my favorite Shimano Symetre or Quantum Smoke size 2500 reels. I spool these reels with one of my favorite lines Mr. Crappie Hi-Viz 6 pound monofilament line. I’ve used fluorocarbon in the past as well but really like the mono better. Most of the bites are very lite and I’ll see my line twitch or move off to one side or another most of the time so the Hi-Viz line is a benefit for me. I’ve caught hundreds of bass on the Hi-Viz line so the fish does not care if it is visible or not.

As for hooks I like Gamakatsu hooks in size #1 or 1/0 in both the 58410  EWG or the 54111 Round bend models. These are both light wire hooks that are required with the light 6 pound test line I use. The use of the medium action rod instead of the medium heavy rod will keep you fro breaking off the fish on the hook-set by allowing the rod to give instead of the line snapping.

As for weights I in the past only used 1/16 or 1/8 ounce lead slip sinkers but now almost exclusively use tungsten weights. The reason I use the tungsten is for two reasons. The first is that tungsten is more dense than lead which gives it a harder feel that transmits through the line and rod for a more sensitive feel of whats on the bottom. When fished around rocks or gravel you can really feel the difference. Sometimes I’m only feeling the bottom composition and when it feels different or I loose contact of the feel then a fish has picked up the lure off the bottom. The second reason is what i can rock hopping in that I make my cast out onto rocky structure such as boulders or rip-rap. I watch my Hi-Viz line for it to go slack and at the instance that it does I hop the worm off the bottom about 6 inches to a foot not really allowing the worm to settle flat back on the bottom. This causes the tungsten weight to make a clicking sound when it contacts the rocks. When i used the lead slip sinkers the lead was softer and I do not get the clicking sound.

When fishing the Centipede worm I cast out watching my line sink slowly on a semi-slack line. The instance it makes contact I slowly raise my rod tip up and move the worm as I said 6″ or so and repeat for about 6 feet to 12 feet and then reel in and make another cast. I’m usually fishing for active feeding fish or for fish that are on the beds. Almost all the bites are when the worm moves the fish pick them up and move off to one side or the other. Since the worm and light weight hook and weights have almost no feel to them to the fish they seem to hold on to them a long time. When I detect a fish or bite, I slowly reel down and sweep the rod while reeling in the slack line. Since I’m using a light wire hook the fish will set the hook its self. this way you will not likely snap the line of break off the fish. I like my drag a little on the loose side and will loosen the drag and back-reel on a larger fish. I’ve caught a lot of 5 to 6 pound smallmouth using this method over the years.

Good luck and now try out the little Zoom Centipede worm and see if it also becomes one of your Go-To tools in the tool box…

My Tackle Box – Shakyhead

Here is my go to box anytime I just want to catch bass, it is my Shakyhead box. This little technique was introduced to me by an old fishing buddy years ago. Before the shakyhead was a popular and now well known way to catch fish my buddy and I were winning tournaments and catching lots of fish on them,

shakyboxMy buddy called me on his way home from a fishing trip in south Alabama and was telling me about a black man he had drawn out for the tournament. He told me that the guy was using a bait-casting rod turning it upside down and putting a spinning reel on it. Then taking a 1/4 ounce lead-head jig that he painted with fingernail paint. Putting on a Zoom Trick worm and tossing it out and shaking it and was catching a lot of fish on it! I thought what the heck you gotta be kidding me.

The next weekend I was heading to Waterloo to fish for crappie but of course the wind was howling about 15 to 20 mph where I wanted to fish. I quit the crappie fishing and got out my Carolina rig rod and caught a couple of fish on it. While unhooking a fish and sitting in the bottom of my boat I saw a 1/4 ounce lead-head laying there and thought back to the conversation I had had with my buddy about the shakyhead. I thought what the heck and dug out one of my spinning rods with six pound test line on it and rigged up the lead-head and a Zoom Finesse worm as I did not have any Trick worms. Now remember I had never seen or talked to anyone that had fished it. So I made my first cast with the thing and since I did not know how to fish it, I let the worm hit the bottom and started to really shake the thing with hard high hops of about two to three feet hops. Wham, fish on and it was one about four pounds. I thought good grief this thing really works! To make a long story short I caught at leat fifteen bass including another one over five pounds shaky-heading!

On the way home from the lake I called my buddy and told him about the results I had had with the rig and told him we had to go to Wilson Lake the next day and try it out there. At that time there was a 15″ length limit on Wilson Lake and we caught about 35 keeper size bass on the setup. With me hard shaking it and him slowly hopping it on the bottom as your were suppose to. But I caught almost as many fish as he did fishing it my way.

I told him not to tell anyone about it and we named it the Brother Man so no one else would know about what we were fishing. We went on to finish up in the local club we were in first and third place that year with most of our catches on the Shakyhead!  I fished a local pot tournament with another buddy and we won a lot of cash using the shakyhead and no one knew what we were throwing as we always hid our rods before we returned to the ramp.

How to Rig and fish the Shakyhead:

Rigging: I personally use the following setup and I know that others may laugh at me but I know it works for me and a few of my buddies. The rod I use is a 7′ medium action rod with a fast tip. The medium action rod is important since I use Mr. Crappie Hi-viz 6 pound test line.  the medium action rod allows the rod to give a little so i don’t break off the lure on the hook set. The reel is of course the same spinning reels I use for all my other spinning rod fishing the Shimano Symetre 2500FL reels. The lead-heads I use are hand poured from a Do-It mold that I modified to accept Mustad 38109BLN jig hooks in 3/0 and 4/0 sizes. I also mold in the wire screw locks to make my worms last longer. With this hook I get solid hook up and seldom lose any bass. The weight of the heads I use which I never paint is 3/16 ounce 95% of the time. Since the lead head is always on the bottom I think the painted head is unnecessary. The worm I like best is the Zoom Trick worm in Green Pumpkin or Watermelonseed colors. I usually dip about a 1/2 inch of the tail in homemade chartreuse dipping dye just for confidence.

Fishing: How I fish the shakyhead it to make my cast near or next to the structure and allow the rig to settle to the bottom on a semi-slack line while I watch my Hi-viz line as it settles to the bottom. When the line goes slack I know the lure is on the bottom. before i move the lure I slowly raise the rod tip just to take the the slack line out. I’m trying to feel if a fish has picked up the worm. If so I will feel it get taut or a slight mushy feel to it or I’ll see the line slowly move off to one side. If i don’t feel anything I’ll slowly shake the worm with the tip of my rod about a foot and let it settle back to the bottom and repeat the process of slowly taking the slack line out to again feel for a bite. I’ll do this for about 6 feet or so and reel it in and make another cast.

One of the best five fish limits I had was about 27 pounds all caught on a shakyhead. I caught and released at least a dozen four pound fish that day on the rig catching over 35 bass that day. Almost all the big fish I never felt hit the lure i just lifted my rod and there was a mushy feel to the worm. So if you want to catch a lot of fish learn to fish the shakyhead and see if it becomes one of your go to lures.

My Tackle Box – Grubs

Ahh the ole grub, this lure was once my favorite lure for big smallmouth bass. I’ve probably caught more smallmouth on these lures than anything else in my tackle box. But then again back then that’s about all i ever threw. A local smallmouth guru Leon Tidwell was the person that got me throwing these little fish magnets. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s Leon caught lots of huge limits on them. And me being in Quad cities Bass Club with him and the other great anglers such as Ray Gresham, Sam Moody, Paul Cantrell, Jack Nesmith, Johnny Bryant, Wallace Smith just to name a few. We all threw these lures especially when we were on Pickwick Lake home of the world class smallmouth fishing.

grubs

When I did throw these baits I used a 5′ to 6′ rod as these were the only thing available at that time. Now I use a 6’6″ or a 7′ medium to medium heavy rod with a Shimano Symetre 2500 spinning reel spooled with 6 or 8 pound line. I like both monofilament and fluorocarbon line. If I’m around a lot of rock or shell-beds then I’ll use the mono instead of the fluorocarbon line for the extra abrasion resistance.jigheads

How I fish the grubs, the first thing is make sure there is current running on Pickwick especially. I like anything over about 50,000 cps current flow for the grubs to work their magic. On Pickwick I love to anchor while fishing, I discovered a long time ago that if you catch two fish and for sure three fish off of a spot then there will be lots of schooling fish around the area.

My favorite grubs were Harville that are no longer made in the 5″ length and of course the smoke with silver glitter on a 1/4 ounce lead-head. Action Plastics made a good grub back years ago that I caught a lot of bass on in their 3″ version of the same color. Pearl white along with chartreuse and pearl chartreuse were other favorites if the water was stained or muddy.

I’ll make a long cast upstream ahead of the shell mound and let the grub rigged on either a 1/4 or 3/8 ounce lead-head depending on the current flow. I work the grubs two different way, the first is to allow the grub to land on the bottom, and allow the current to slow roll along the bottom while very slowly reeling in the slack line. If the current is really rolling then I’ll use the 3/8 ounce lead-heads to keep it on or very near the bottom. And the second way is, once the lure hits the bottom start your slow retrieve and don’t stop, twitch or impart any extra action to the grubs. About the only thing I will do is that if I’m fishing near a sudden bottom structure change such as a drop-off or stair stepping bluff walls with several ledges under the water. I’ll allow my grub to sink back down to the bottom and start my retrieve again with the non-stop retrieve.

Almost all the bites will be very light with the smallies just coming from behind and inhaling the grub and just swim off with it. Sometimes they will hammer the grub with a sudden hard jar. This usually happens when there are a lot of active fish that are competing over the bait. Another fish the drum, will knock the heck out of the grub as will catfish.

So get a few lead-heads and grubs and see if you have as much luck on them as I did.

My Tackle Box – Hair Jigs

Here is my hair jig box that I depend on mostly during the cold water months and in the late fall season. Most of my hair jigs are as you can see are black. The white ones are used mostly for smallmouth fishing. When fishing these lures I use the cast and drop method in that I make a long cast and let the hair-jig slowly drop to the bottom.

hairjigs

The equipment that I use is a 6’6″ to 7′ medium action spinning rod, of course the more sensitive the better. I use a Shimano Symetre 2500 spinning reel spooled with 4 to 6 pound fluorocarbon line or the same sizes in monofilament except I use Mr. Crappie Hi-Viz line so I can watch the line as it falls. Jig weights I use vary from 1/8 ounce up to 3/8 ounce most of the time. In the summer when the bass get in those huge schools out on the ledges I throw a jig up to 3/4 ounce and then I’ll just work it fast with hops off the bottom. When I use a trailer they are usually either a Zoom Split Tail Trailer or their Salty Pro Chunk.

 The best places to fish these are usually on steeper structure such as bluffs, main lake drop offs and steep end main lake point drop offs. Rate of fall (ROF) is the important thing to remember when fishing hair-jigs. Make a cast and watch your line as it sinks, almost all hits will be on the first drop. Fish are very aware of their surrounding area and anything that comes through it will be detected. I count the lure down and watch my line as it settles to determine the rate of fall. When the jig hits bottom I jerk it off the bottom with a sharp upwards jerk of my rod and watch the line as it settles back down. If nothing has hit the lure or no hits then I’ll real in and make another cast about ten feet further away and start all over again.

Add a few of these tools to your tool box and get out there and learn to fish them and they will put a few more fish in your live-well.

My Tackle Box – Flippin Box

Here is my flippin component toolbox that I use to put together my system. I prefer the straight shank flippin style hooks with the plastic keeper taps molded on the shaft. Most of the time I’ll be using 4/0 hooks with the plastic I use. If you noticed the small yellow plastic disk in my box those are bobber stops, I like the 8-12 pound ones to hold my tungsten weights in place. Another thing I like is the lead sinker with the screw-lock molded into them. The way I rig those is to run my line through the bobber-stop then the sinker then through one of the jig skirts usually black and blue or green pumpkin. Next I tie on my hook with either a Double improved clinch knot or a Palomar knot. Now I’ll just select the type of trailer I want to use to suit the conditions and rig it on weedless.

flippinThe setup I use is a St. Croix Mojo 7’11’ Flipping Stick or a 13 Fishing Envy 7’11” flipping Stick with a left hand Shimano Curado 200E7 reel spooled with either 30 to 40 pound Suffix 832 braid or Berkley Big Game Monofilament in 20 pound test. I use the left handed reels so I can make my pitch with my right hand and never have to switch hands to set the hook as the lure slowly drops to the bottom. I won’t go into the flipping process as there are a ton of instructional videos on YouTube.

My Tackle Box – Bladed Jigs

Here is one of my bladed jig (Chatterbaits) boxes. Most of my newer lures are in another bag lost in my boat along with a ton of other tackle I have. As the water is starting to water up and the fish are starting to stage getting ready for the spawn these lures are great search baits. As the days warm up and especially when the days get longer and the light levels are increasing. The bass now want to start their move to the shallow water to feed up getting ready for the spawn that will be starting when the water temperatures get in the upper fifties and lower sixties.

bladejigs

I have a separate bag that I keep my skirts in and I’ll change out skirt colors to match the water color but my favorite one is a chartreuse and white color. The key to using these style lures or tools is to have the right trailer on the jig. I really like a Yamamoto Swimming Senko in white or a similar color. I usually pinch off about an inch or two to downsize the Senko’s. To fish these I prefer a 7′ medium heavy rod on a 6:3.1 geared reel spooled with 15 pound Seaguar Red Label fluorocarbon line. You can fish these around piers and laydowns in shallow water but still near deepwater. When the water warms up or late in the day fish them in the backs of pockets around wood cover. I’ve found a slow steady retrieve works best for me.

My Tackle Box – Swimbait Jigheads

Here are a few of my swimbait heads that I get from LB’s Custom Lures. As you can see there are different styles and different weights. You must remember that all fishing tackle whether it is a rod, a reel, fishing lines (mono, fluoro or braid), hooks, weights, lures, etc. are all just tools that we use to help us catch fish. Now putting these tools to work only comes AFTER we have located the fish we are after, bass, crappie catfish bluegill, etc.

lbsswimbaitjigs_1

We can fish the most beautiful expensive lures around for an example The Alabama Rig and still not catch fish if we are not in the right locations. And all the swimbaits in the photos below are just that tools. Some of these heads are weedless to a point, some are very heavy to be fished dragging the swimbait along the bottom and others lightweight to be fished on top through weeds and weed beds like a buzzbait for example.

lbsswimbaitjigs_2 lbsswimbaitjigs_3

I can have the best tool set in the world and still not be able to work on a car if I don’t know how to use them! So as a beginner start out with a few SIMPLE tools and learn to use them before buying a complete set and NOT knowing their use.

lbsswimbaitjigs_4. LBsunderspins swimheadjigs

As you can see I have quite a collection of different swimbait heads that I carry in my boat.

My Tackle Box – Tuned Jerkbaits

Here is my tuned jerkbait box. Not all my new ones such as my new Rapala Shadow Raps are in this box yet. This box is where I’ve tuned my suspending jerkbaits by either adding different size hooks, split-rings or sometimes adding two split-rings along with suspend lead dots to the lures. As the water temperature increases and or decreases the water density will change. And in the process the lures will either sink, rise or suspend at different rates with the density of the water.

jerkbaits_tuned

So I try to tune my jerkbait to have a very slow head down drop. Sometimes you will have to say add a larger hook on the front along with adding or increasing the size of the split-ring or do the opposite to achieve the speed you are after. I usually do this at home with an old gallon ice cream bucket filled with water and either add ice cubes or add hot water to get the temperature I want to match. I’ll usually ask around what the lake temperature is in the morning at the boat launch and try to get the water temperature as close to that as I can. Then as the day goes along in the afternoon I can usually decrease the size of the front hook and or the size of the split ring to adjust for the density of the water as it heats up.