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Fishing Big

By Russ Bassdozer

Computers tend to constantly divide things into twos, and that's called binary. In fishing, I tend to constantly divide things into threes. I don't know what you call that. I do it anyway.

I like to divide bodies of water into: 1) the upper lake, 2) the lower lake and 3) the middle basin. Usually I'll try to find a natural geographic divide, following the original lay of the land in order to divide each third. Then I decide, through fishing and information, which third currently holds the biggest body of better-than-average size bass. Next I'll divide that third into yet more thirds, and so on, if need be, sorting through each third until I end up identifying the third of each area that holds the best big bass.

I like to divide ancillary coves, bays, side canyons, big creeks or arms into: 1) the back third, 2) the front third and 3) the middle third. Again I favor the natural divide. For example, sometimes the back third is a sprawling flat flood plain delta. I like to divide off that back third at the point where it naturally necks down into the middle third. Then I seek a natural geographic divide where the middle third opens up into the front third. These natural demarcation points exist on any side arm of water anywhere. Often, those natural divides are geographic constrictions or funnel points and great places where gamefish and bait accumulate and stage. You just need to look for the natural thirds. Sometime you can see the thirds better on depth or topo maps. Every side water has them.

All this triplicate slicing and dicing lets me apply a consistent structured analysis to any body of water anywhere any day. It is the same method computers use to operate so fast, except they do it by constantly dividing any pile of data into two halves, and then divide that into two halves, until they arrive at the data that is correct. I do the same thing, except I divide any body of water into thirds, and then smaller thirds, until I arrive at the segment that yields big fish. Any water can be divided and conquered this way.

Armed with this form of structured analysis, you will be a better angler. Just fish the thirds. There's not much more to it than that. If you prefished a big side creek and found the mother lode in the middle third of the creek yesterday but they are not there today? Try the back third, then the front third. Fish may have moved out into the main channel overnight, got blown or drifted or swam one way or another, and moved up into another third the next morning. And once you determine fish are using a certain third of one creek, it's true you can go to any number of other creeks and find them in that same third there.

I divide the daunting morass of bass fishing baits into three buckets the same way, thereby reducing the complexity of bait selection decisions:

  1. Finesse Baits. Finesse baits are becoming more popular, yet there are many anglers who never fish them. When you consider all types of lures, not just soft baits, I'd estimate that under 20% of all bass fishing in North America is done with finesse baits. These are typically light tackle baits, often fished on spinning gear. Lures are typically four inches or shorter. Most finesse worms aren't much thicker than and just as soft as overcooked spaghetti. There are a few finesse worms up to 5 or 6 inches, but they're pretty skinny.
    Arizona-based GYCB, in the heart of Western finesse country, offers a wide selection of finesse baits. Finesse baits tend to catch more but often smaller-than-average fish. It's great fun and there are tough days or seasons (such as winter) when finesse baits rule. Smaller, deeper, darker, slower. Those four presentation principles apply more in winter than any other season. Finesse baits being small, in dark colors (black is best) fished deep (dropshot or Carolina rigs, for example) slowly are the "chill pill" for winter bass. Yet we've witnessed top bass pros the past year or two who use finesse worms to fill limits any time of season. These pros don't necessarily fish finesse all day, but are versatile about fitting it into their game plan. We often read things like "a reaction bite is on" or "fish favor finesse under bluebird skies," and that can be true. Yet, you are often better not to stereotype a day as a "reaction" or "finesse" day, but blend finesse in as a productive part of any day under any conditions. For instance, let's say you fish down a stretch of bank and have action at one or two spots on crankbaits, buzzbaits or whatever. Especially if you had a bite you missed or follower you did not catch, it can be worthwhile to circle back and drop a finesse bait at such spots before you take off, especially if you still need to fill a limit. And keep in mind, you can throw many of the same finesse baits as effectively on 6 pound dropshot gear as on a heavy Carolina rig set-up.
  2. Everyday Baits. These are typically 4 to 6 inch long baits of whatever kind - soft baits, topwater baits, crankbaits, jerkbaits, jigs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, spoons. Everyday baits are the majority of what's used by a majority of anglers. I'd estimate that 70% or more of all bass fishing in North America is done with everyday baits. There are many anglers who fish 100% of their time with everyday size baits. On the chart below, it's apparent that everyday baits are the most common type of soft bait manufactured by GYCB.
  3. Big Baits. Baits bigger than 6 inches tend to be big baits for freshwater bass most places. Big baits catch fewer but bigger bass. Most anglers fish big baits least of all, and GYCB offers less styles of big baits. I'd estimate that 10% or less of all bass fishing across North America is done with big baits. If you tournament fish especially, you're probably not winning as often as you could for one simple reason: Because you don't use big baits enough. I've seen a lot of anglers who are good, can find fish, catch them, but are not "fishing big". They may win a time or two, but are doing it the hard way with everyday baits or finesse baits.
New Size Yamamoto Soft Bait Series Finesse Everyday Big Bait
  3" Senko 9B Finesse    
  3" Fat Senko 9C Finesse    
  4" Slim Senko 9J Finesse    
  5" Thin Senko 9M Finesse    
  3" Single Tail 30 Finesse    
  3" Tiny Ika 92T Finesse    
  3-1/2" Kut Tail 7S Finesse    
  4" Kut Tail 7 Finesse    
  5" Kut Tail 7L Finesse    
  4-1/2" Flat Tail 7F Finesse    
  4" Worm 4 Finesse    
New! 3-3/4" Shad Shape Worm 68L Finesse    
  3-3/4" Baby Craw 3S Finesse    
  4" Senko 9S Everyday  
  5" Senko 9 Everyday  
New! 5" Swimming Senko 31 Everyday  
  5-3/4" Kut Tail 7C Everyday  
  6" Worm 6 Everyday  
  4" Single Tail 40 Everyday  
  5" Single Tail 18 Everyday  
  6" Single Tail "Stretch" 2 Everyday  
  6" Single Tail 19 Everyday  
  4" Double Tail 15 Everyday  
  n/a Skirt 11 Everyday  
  5" Double Tail 16 Everyday  
  6" Double Tail 12 Everyday  
  4" Skirted Double Tail 93 Everyday  
  5" Skirted Double Tail 97 Everyday  
  5" Skirted Single Tail 98 Everyday  
  3-3/4" Fat Baby Craw 3FS Everyday  
  4" Medium Craw 3M Everyday  
  5" Craw 3 Everyday  
  4-1/2" Baby Lizard 13S Everyday  
  7" Lizard 13 Everyday  
  3" Ika 92 Everyday  
  4" Fat Ika 92F Everyday  
  5" Big Ika 92B Everyday  
  3-1/2" Swimbait SB35 Everyday  
  6" Senko 9L Big Bait
  7" Senko 9X Big Bait
  6-1/2" Kut Tail 7X Big Bait
  8" Worm 8 Big Bait
  8" Single Tail 10 Big Bait
  10" Single Tail 100 Big Bait
  6" Skirted Double Tail 99 Big Bait
New! 5" Swimbait SB5 Big Bait

Here are four big baits you really ought to look into in 2007:

  1. Yamamoto's 8" Single Tail with a screw-in bullet sinker.
    The most popular big bait produced by Yamamoto is the 8" Single Tail. This is the Yamamoto trophy bass bait of choice across the "big bass belt" spanning Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and across to Florida. It never got popular with big bass anglers in California, yet Yamamoto's 8" Single Tail will produce bigger-than-average bass there or anywhere in the world. It's really only rigged one way - with a screw-in bullet weight heavy enough to make the tail paddle on the fall - with a big unbendable hook on heavy tackle. In dingy water, this bait goes swell on 65 pound test Power Pro (no leader required) and a heavy rod and reel. In clearer, more open water, you can opt for say, 20 lb test Sugoi fluorocarbon, understanding you will break off a few monsters on such "light" line. There's no secret to this bait, and nothing else you need to know, except throw it all day long. If you catch five fish, they'll be bigger than any five caught on any other soft baits. And keep in mind, in a team tournament, you only need to catch 2 or 3 all day (provided your partner can catch 2 or 3 too). If you want to win tournaments, it doesn't make sense to fish with anything less than Yamamoto's 8" Single Tail.

  2. Yamamoto's new 5" Swimbait on an open jig head or flipped on a weedless jig.
    A second big bass bait from Yamamoto is brand new for 2007. It is the new 5" Swimbait. It's a trophy bass producer, for largemouth of course - but is ideally-sized to attract freakishly large spotted bass and smallmouth. You could fish everday baits or finesse baits, have a lot of fun and catch a lot of fish, but if you want to win a tournament or if you simply want to find out just how big a bass are there? Better throw Yamamoto's 5" Swimbait. Yamamoto provides jig heads for it, with a super duty 6/0 flipping jig hook, in 1/2 and 3/4 oz sizes. Don't underestimate just how heavy a rod you'll need to toss this Swimbait and to set this big jig hook. Gear up with 20 lb test Sugoi fluorocarbon in clear, relatively open water, or heavy PowerPro (up to 65 pound test) in dingy or snag-infested water. With the heavy jigheads that GYCB offers, just keep it swimming at whatever rate keeps it from snagging weeds, bottom, etc. You can also use a weedless flipping jig head of your own choice, and flip it into thick cover, not swimming the Swimbait at all. Just flip it, let it paddle its tail on the drop, jiggle it. Then flip the next spot.

  3. A 3/4 or 1 oz spinnerbait with a Yamamoto skirted double tail trailer.
    Big baits overall are not popular. For instance, most bass anglers have spinnerbaits, but how many 1 ounce spinnerbaits have you? Most anglers have never thrown a one ounce spinnerbait for bass. Bottom line, it simply has a bigger presence than the popular 1/4, 3/8 or 1/2 ounce everyday spinnerbaits. Averaged out over time, odds are you will catch more big bass, even in super shallow water, on one ounce spinnerbaits than on smaller everyday sizes. I bulk one ounce spinnerbaits up even more by stuffing a Yamamoto 5" skirted double tail under the spinnerbait's skirt. Do you want big bass? Then fish big bulked-up spinnerbaits.

    A 3/4 or 1 oz flipping jig with a Yamamoto Kreature trailer.
    A fourth style of big bass baits, flipping jigs with silicone or rubber skirts are renowned for producing big bass.
    The term "flipping jig" can mean slightly different things to different anglers: 1) Anglers who flip jigs in weeds require pointy-nosed streamlined jig heads. 2) Other anglers who flip in flooded wood, brush and less-vegetated waters, will use none other than the bulbous Arkie style jig head. 3) Deep water anglers may also use and refer to football head jigs as flipping jigs too. What all have in common is a bulky silicone or rubber skirt that needs to be embellished with a beefy soft bait trailer, or even real pork. My own preference is to stuff a bulky Yamamoto Kreature under the jig skirt as a trailer. I do this with the skirted double tail hula grubs too, but the Kreature is a bit bulkier. It's my jig trailer of choice.
    This brings me to one of the biggest (pun untended) tips I can give you. If, like many anglers, you fish a lot of Yamamoto Hula Grubs alone on jig heads, try adding a silicone rubber skirt first, then thread the hula grub underneath the jig skirt. You will instantly upgrade the quality of bass you catch. You will not catch as many small fish as with the hula grub only on a jig. But by adding a silicone rubber skirt, you will catch bigger bass. It's really that easy to catch bigger bass.
    As with spinnerbaits, anglers tend to favor everyday sizes of flipping jigs from 1/4, 3/8 to 1/2 ounce. Few anglers ever throw 3/4 or 1 ounce flipping jigs, except only in extreme cases to break through thick grass matted on the surface. Yet big bass hold an untoward interest in such heavy jigs, even in mere inches of water. You get less of the smaller fish on the heavy jigs, but big fish seem to like the heavy jigs better.
    Colors I use with big jigs are basic. You will get far less hits, too few on which to make subtle distinctions between lure color choices. So I basically stick with:
    In dark water, I use black (black/blue, black/red, black/purple) skirted jigs with matching black (black/blue, black/red, black/purple) soft bait trailers.
    In clear water, I use brown (brown/orange, brown/green, brown/purple or peanut butter jelly) skirted jigs with matching brown (brown/orange, brown/green, brown/purple or peanut butter jelly) or green (green pumpkin, watermelon) soft bait trailers.
    In medium color water, I go "half-and-half" with black-and-brown (black type skirts and brown type trailers) or brown-and-black (brown type skirts with black type trailers). It doesn't matter which half is brown and which half is black.
    Even with the big spinnerbaits in dark water, I most often use a black (black/blue, etc.) spinnerbait with two big Colorado blades. In murky water, colors with black in them seem best for big jigs and spinnerbaits. When it gets late in the day or at first light, I like ones that are basically black also.
    In clear water, the same type brown spinnerbaits will work as good as brown jigs. You'll probably never ever see any other than white, white and chartreuse, or basic shad color spinnerbaits in bass magazines. Yet brown (brown/orange, brown/purple, etc.) spinnerbaits work big bass magic. Watermelon, watermelon/red and green pumpkin spinnerbaits work swell too, although you've probably never seen many green spinnerbaits yet.

In closing, those are four of the best big bass baits I know - Yamamoto's 8" Single Tail, new big Swimbait, a honking 3/4 to 1 oz spinnerbait and a big, bulky flipping jig. Equip yourself with those four big baits. Divide any body of water into thirds and then thirds-of-thirds in order to find the big bass sectors. Fish big baits only, even in practice or on fun fishing trips. By fishing big, even on "fun fishing days" you cuts out a large percentage of the small bass. You will get less dinks but more big bass. Most important is that you will learn how to fish more clearly for big bass, because you are not being distracted all the time with bothersome small bass. In this kind of approach, smaller fish are a distraction you do not need. Catching little fish can clutter your mind, and confuse the focus you need to have for big fish. By filtering out and not being distracted by small fish, it's easier to get the big ones. You'll know the small bass are still there, because you can switch to everyday or finesse baits and massacre them. But don't give in to the temptation. Just fish "for the large" and in time, you'll change how you fish, how you pick and approach spots. You won't be able to put your finger on what you do differently, but you'll begin to think and act like and fish instinctively for big bass. You'll learn how big bass operate, how they use "vantage points" from which they oversee and thereby control everything going on in a prime area. You'll learn how to identify and approach these vantage points which are not necessarily the "textbook" spots you always read about. You'll be on your own, with no roadmap to follow, and you may not even know how you got there, except that you keep pulling monsters in most every fishing trip. It's a different mindset than trying to load the boat with 20, 30 or 50 little fish you can't weigh anyway. You only need 5 a day, the biggest you can, to win a boater or non-boater side of a tourney. In team tournaments, all you need is 2-3 big bass a day - and you need to count on your partner to catch 2-3 big bass a day. Any more or smaller fish is a distraction you do not need. You'll need only one to win the big fish prize. Just one to beat your own personal best. Just one to brag about... until you get the next one. Fish big. Be big.

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