By Jason Bryant
Special to BassFan
Bass are fickle creatures by nature. When subjected to extreme changes in weather, they get even more difficult to predict. And when those extreme weather changes also happen to overlap with the yearly spawning ritual, it can be downright maddening to even the most seasoned tournament pros.
That’s the exact scenario the 49 anglers competing in last week’s Bassmaster Classic had to deal with. The pre-practice period was marked by cold, damp and generally miserable fishing conditions. The single day of official practice was a partly cloudy, T-shirt-and-shorts kind of affair. By the time the Classic finally kicked off last Friday, the air temperature had dropped 20 degrees and much of the Red River backwaters had been whipped into slop by a punishing southwest wind the day before.
After the bipolar weather week, it’s not surprising that the anglers who finished in the Top 5 all fished areas that were not only prime pre-spawn staging locations, but also featured select attributes that made them ideal locations for when the fish made a dash to the banks to build beds.
2nd: Greg Vinson
> Day 1: 5, 17-12
> Day 2: 5, 16-12
> Day 3: 5, 13-07
> Total = 15, 47-15
Runner-up Greg Vinson was drawn to the Little Jungle area in Pool 4 by a flurry of bites he coaxed from beneath a single hyacinth mat there in practice.
“That (Little Jungle area) was the first place I looked on the first day of practice,” he said. “I went to one little mat about the size of my boat and got five or six bites right away and I was like, ‘Man, this place must be full of fish.’ I moved around and checked some different areas after that, but I never got another bite. I went back to that exact same mat on the last day of practice and got bit again. That pretty much told me where I needed to be.”
“That spot was really a perfect setup,” he added. “It had every type of cover you can think of. It was about 3 feet deep in the main part and it had a ditch running down one side that was about 4 feet deep. It was protected from the wind and the inflow of the river. It was just an ideal spot for the fish to transition into and eventually spawn.”
A War Eagle spinnerbait was the ticket for targeting the transitioning fish on day 1. A NetBait Salt Lick (soft stickbait) worked slowly around stumps and spawning beds worked better on days 2 and 3. He also punched hyacinths with a NetBait Baby Paca Craw and targeted bedding fish with the original Paca Craw.
“My bite on day 2 and 3 was definitely best in the afternoon,” he noted. “It seemed like the last 45 minutes of fishing time every day, a new group would come up to spawn.”
Each day on his way back to the weigh-in he’d stop and throw a crankbait at what he described as “the outside bend of an old channel bank” near the launch.
“That spot was about 150 yards from the launch and I would try to hit it real quick on my way back in. It wasn’t good for many bites, but that’s actually where I caught my biggest fish on day 3.”
> Spinnerbait gear: 7′ extra-heavy Carrot Stix rod, Shimano Curado 50E casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 5/16-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait (chartreuse/white).
> He used a Colorado/willow-leaf blade combination and replaced the stock willow-leaf with a larger blade.
> Soft stickbait gear: Same rod, reel and line as spinnerbait, 4/0 Owner offset-shank hook, NetBait Salt Lick (watermelon/red, tail dipped in chartreuse JJ’s Magic).
> Punching gear: 8′ double extra-heavy Carrot Stix rod, Shimano Curado 51E (left-handed model), 50-pound Stren Sonic Braid line, 1-ounce Jethro Tungsten weight, 4/0 Paycheck Baits punch hook, NetBait Baby Paca Craw (black shadow).
> Sight-fishing gear: Same rod and reel as punching gear, 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, NetBait Paca Craw (Cajun craw, tips of claws dipped in chartreuse JJ’s Magic).
> Crankbait gear: 7’3″ medium-heavy Carrot Stix Wild Black rod, Shimano Curado 50E casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, Bandit 100 Series crankbait (chartreuse/black back)
> He said he fished the Bandit “straight out of the package.”
Main factor in his success – “I’d say my decision-making. I let those bites I got in practice lead to me to the right stuff, and I adjusted my presentations with the fish.”
Performance edge – “The NetBait baits and the War Eagle spinnerbait. Keith (Poche) and I were both using NetBait products so I think that was a key. The NetBait stuff isn’t big in Louisiana yet, so I think those fish aren’t conditioned to them. The other thing was the JJ’s Magic. There was a noticeable difference in the number of bites I got once I started dipping them.”