During seminars, I am often asked how long I stay on a spot trying to catch bass before I give up and move to some other location. This might sound pretty elementary, but on the Bassmaster Elite Tour, this is a subject that’s on our minds constantly and we talk about it a lot. I call it a matter of timing.
Timing is about being around a school of bass when they’re feeding, or just as importantly, being on a particular spot when bass are also on that spot. If they’re not feeding, or worse, not even there, you’re not going to catch them. For instance, at the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe a few weeks ago, I fished the same spot where Jordan Lee caught his winning stringer, 27 pounds, 4 ounces, the last day. I have caught a lot of fish there myself in previous tournaments, and so have many other fishermen. I fished the spot twice the first day and once the second day and never caught a fish either time. Again, that's a matter of timing.
I believe on some lakes schools of bass move into certain areas to feed They pick off the easy forage, then move to a different spot and feed again. At Falcon Reservoir in South Texas where I guided for five years, I once established timing patterns for several schools of bass. I had 9 a.m. fish in one place, 12 noon fish in another, and 3 p.m. bass in a third area, and they bit right on schedule every day for several weeks. When you fish the same lake day after day, you can establish a timing schedule like this, and my hat’s off to Jordan for taking advantage of the time he was on his spot.
Another time on Falcon, I found a school of big bass that bit at 2 p.m. one afternoon. My clients and I loaded the boat with giants, so of course we went back to that same spot the next morning. I was sure we’d hammer ‘em all over again, but all we caught were one-pounders. We could catch a fish on every cast, but nothing heavier than about a pound. We used up the next few hours hitting different places, but at 2 p.m. I took us back to see if we really were dealing with a timing situation. We were. The big bass had returned, and our heaviest bass that afternoon weighed 12 pounds, the smallest between seven and eight pounds.
For me, the most difficult times to establish any kind of timing schedule for feeding bass is what we’re coming into now, the summer season, and it continues into the fall. Both have periods of calm, stable weather that can suddenly change for the worse, and in many lakes, that’s what changes bass behavior. I do believe if you find an area that seems to contain only small bass, at some point during the day it will attract larger bass, but the window to catch those larger fish may be very short until the weather stabilizes again.
I know from experience, as do all the pros, that a lot of things in addition to weather changes can influence the feeding schedule of a school of bass. One of these has to be the movement of the forage itself. We know shad tend to move shallow during the night to feed, and bass move shallow around daylight to intercept those shad as they start moving back toward deeper water. Weather, particularly wind, will also move shad and often trigger a bass feeding spree.
In a strong wind, and particularly one that continues for several hours, more than just the water’s surface gets rolled around. Deeper water also gets churned up and a condition known as upwelling occurs. This is when plankton and other microscopic foods baitfish eat get washed toward the surface. The baitfish begin feeding and that activity starts the bass feeding, too, and it can happen very quickly.
At Lake Fork during one of the Toyota Texas Bass Classics, I was fishing a 25-foot deep hole that had produced a couple of key bass for me the previous two days, when the wind suddenly started howling, quickly building up to 25 to 30 miles an hour. I caught a five pounder pretty quickly, but then, on my electronics, the screen just turned black as a huge school of baitfish moved in, presumably to feed on the plankton. The bass came with them because during the last two fishing hours of that day I caught big fish between five and eight pounds on almost every cast, enough to win the event. The bait had not been present when I first pulled in to begin fishing, but once they did come in, everything changed. That was definitely one time when my timing was right.
There are times when we can actually influence the timing of feeding bass. We usually call this “firing up a school,” but for it to work, you absolutely have to be on a spot bass where are present. There is no specific lure or presentation I use, only repeated casts to the same spot, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made 10 casts like this without a bite, then caught one on my 11th cast, and caught fish on the next consecutive 10 casts.
The key to making this happen, I believe, is fishing as fast as possible and duplicating each cast as accurately as you can once that first bass hits. You can’t waste time weighing the bass or picking up a different rod because the school may move and you’ve lost them.
Generally speaking, when I pull into an area, I study it first with my electronics and look for bass. If I don’t see any, I don’t fish there, but if I do see some, I believe I should be able to catch them. My very first cast is usually with a crankbait or swimbait, and often with a fast retrieve, trying to generate a reflex strike. If I do get a strike, I may slow down to let the bass take the lure better, but if that fails, I usually change to jig or plastic worm, something that stays on the bottom.
All this does not take me very long. When I see bass on my electronics, I feel like I should be able to catch them within 15 minutes. After casting the crankbait or swimbait from several different angles, and making five or six casts with a jig, I’ll leave if I haven’t had any bites. I may return to that spot again later in the day because I know it’s all just a matter of timing.