Notwithstanding various regional, geographic and climatic considerations, a black bass is a black bass and therefore subject to a common set of principles that make these boogers bite.
Several such points of astute acumen arose at this year’s Bassmaster Classic on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville. At this level, any of the qualifying anglers could put on a bass-fishing clinic worth our note-taking attention—especially on a bass powerhouse like Guntersville. However, a handful of key points from this event standout as particularly relevant.
This year’s Classic and season is obviously long gone, but many of those techniques will play a role this fall. Consume this information now in anticipation in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic and you might pick up a few extra tips you may have otherwise overlooked. The countdown to the Classic has begun!
Riprap was the winning pattern on Lake Guntersville during the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
Classic winner Randy Howell found his winning fish around the riprap embankments of a small bridge in Spring Creek. Credit the champ with making the right call on specifically where to look, but truth be told, anyone could’ve found those fish. In fact, Howell humbly stated that the riprap he targeted just wasn’t anything all that special.
“I wish I could tell you there was something (unique) about the riprap I fished, but there really wasn’t,” he said. “This spot was just the same kind of stuff that any weekend fisherman might fish.”
But that’s just the point—sometimes the best spots are the most obvious ones. Without question, riprap stands consistent as one of the top bass habitats in just about all but the dog days of summer. It’s not fancy and it’s not terribly complex; but it is undeniably one of the most promising scenarios that a bass angler of any skill and experience level can fish.
Other top Classic finishers, including 5th-place Randall Tharp also found plenty of action on the riprap. The 2013 FLW Forrest Wood Cup champ caught his riprap fish on jerkbaits and crankbaits—mostly under the watchful eye of spectator boats and motorist who’d park alongside the road to watch.
“You have to try a bunch of different retrieves to see what they like on these rocks,” I recall Tharp telling nearby onlookers during a period when my media boat trailed him.
Riprap banks like the ones that Howell and Tharp fished are right out in the open and it’s likely that most of those submerged rocks have felt a few crankbaits. Moreover, anglers of even basic skill level stand a good chance of finding fish on this type of structure.
Howell did most of his damage with Rapala DT6 in a Demon pattern and a Howeller Dream Master Classic (Guntersville Craw)—a medium-diving crankbait whose lip begins narrow and then flares outward to push a lot of water and effect a wide wobble and intense vibration. The Howeller also contains high frequency rattles in weight transfer chambers that allow the beads to slide backward on the cast for maximum distance, and then move forward for a nose-down posture on the retrieve.
Topping off the tempting traits, Howell’s winning bait came equipped with an internal circuit board and sound chamber that plays real-life recordings of distressed baitfish. (Anglers can hear the sound by wetting thumb and forefinger and touching the contact points at the hook mounts.) Howell believes the combo of sounds and vibration played a big role in attracting key bites.
Early in day three, Howell was catching fish on the DT6, but as slower current, less wind, muddy water and sunnier skies diminished that deal, he knew he had to jump start the action. Switching to the new Livingston bait proved to be the game-changer.
“The electronic baitfish sound, along with the rattles and the big vibration at the same time – all three of those things combined made the fish bite again,” Howell said. “I started getting reaction bites and catching bigger fish with that bait. It was a perfect recipe for success in that situation that day.”
Howell threw the bait on 7-foot Daiwa Tatula medium-light, short handle cranking rods (his design) fitted with a 6.3:1 Daiwa Tatula Type R reels carrying 12- and 14-pound Gama fluorocarbon. He tried different line sizes to vary his running depth.
Tip: Howell said the many of his bigger fish ate the Livingston bait while it had paused. Often, his bait would hang in a crack in the rocks, but before popping it free, he’s just shake his rod tip to move the rattles. Occasionally, the bait would loosen and slowly ascend, only to be met by hostile reception.
“When the bait was floating up, they nailed it,” he said.
On the Classic’s final day, when Howell caught his career best limit (five bass for 29 pounds, 2 ounces), his Livingston crankbait was hitting the Spring Creek bridge riprap in 7-9 feet. As he recalls, the bass were suspended over rocks in 12-15 feet and scanning a shallower section of the riprap. Noting this positioning and obvious feeding activity helped Howell dial in his presentations and stay on the bite.
Elsewhere, second-place finisher Paul Mueller reported that electronics played a key role in his positioning, as well. The Connecticut angler said that targeting the right types of spots with repetitive casts was a necessary element of his success. He credits his Navionics Platinum chip for providing the detailed views he needed for targeted presentations.
“The points I was fishing would top out at about three feet and drop into seven,” Mueller explained. “The fish would sit on the upside of the point and I’d just slow roll that chatterbait through the grass and they’d react. That Platinum chip allowed me to see those points where those fish were sitting.”
Mueller used a 1/2-ounce Rat-L-Trap to catch his first two days’ limits—including his second-round sack that weighed 32-pound, 3-ounces (heaviest single-day stringer in Classic history). When day three found the fish less cooperative, he switched to a 3/8-ounce chatterbait with a Reins swimbait trailer.
Mueller found those day-three fish in classic prespawn staging over points with grass in an old creek channel off the Tennessee River. While that Trap would’ve constantly snagged at the slow speed he needed, he coaxed tough bites by creeping the chatterbait.
As we anticipate the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, watch as the event unfolds and note what tactics the pros are catching their fish on, it could lead to a big catch on your home waters.
The Lighter Touch
Justin Burris and Ryan Winchester or Georgia’s Clinton High used a novel approach to capturing second place at the inaugural Bassmaster High School Classic, held at nearby Lay Lake on Day Two of the Bassmaster Classic. Targeting riprap banks, they caught their fish on an Alabama rig. But not just any A-rig; there’s held the standard swimbait bodies on Showboat Lures Feather Weight heads made of molded hot glue, rather than lead. These lighter heads not only lessen the A-rig fatigue, but they let you fish the rig super shallow.
So, there you have it—a sampling of the many tips and insights gleaned from this year’s Bassmaster Classic; this kind of information does not come too late! Apply the logic where it fits—especially seasonally, keep an open mind and your big catch may be one cast away.
Still counting down until Day One of the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.