Friday, July 8, 2016

Bass Blast Topwaters: Light the Fuse

Bloop, bloop, bloop--whomp! The Rebel Pop-R bears an awkward name, but sure action.

Bass Blast Topwaters

Light the Fuse

          Nothing else in bass fishing suggests fireworks better than topwater plugs, buzzbaits and weedless soft plastics. A surface strike from a big bass can impress memory for a lifetime, the suddenness not immediately anticipated. Also like fireworks, topwater fishing has to do with light. Once summer gets underway, the word about bass is early and late. By October, plenty get caught during afternoon hours, but I see boats come off the lake before 8:00 a.m. earlier in the season. The usual notion assumes cooler temperatures in the morning and evening account for better action or any action at all, but research has shown changing light advantages largemouths and smallmouths to see prey such as shiners and sunfish better than they can see the bass. Between first light and the sun angling over the horizon, light intensity transitions from darkness to brilliance. Vice versa in the evening.

          We’ve enjoyed surface action during an early August afternoon with the temperature hovering around 90. A front began to approach; clouds slowly thickened, gradually reducing light. One bass after another struck Hedden Torpedoes fished over a weedy flat 10 feet deep. The next two months produced great topwater action. By October 1st, water temperatures about optimal for bass provoked them to give chase throughout the day. Although my favorite October lure is spinnerbaits, whenever clouds alternated with sun or we fished early in the morning or near sunset, surface plugs or buzzbaits worked well.

          Some anglers claim to have observed bass staying close to bottom during these times of transitional light I’ve mentioned, looking upward to catch the silhouettes of any forage. This state of affairs makes topwaters the perfect offerings. Perhaps the bass cruising the weedy flat in August didn’t actually hug bottom, but trailed about through the milfoil stalking anything situated above them. In any case, topwaters work over weedbeds, however deep the water beneath. They’re also effective in timber fields, which may be 30 or 40 feet deep, although usually shallower depths host taller trunks and may invite better surface fishing, may not. Southern reservoirs are a different story than my home state of New Jersey. Snagless buzzbaits may best tackle any sort of timber, stick-ups and submerged brush, unless you want to test casting accuracy with plugs and treble hooks, which I confess I’ve done in the timber at night to great success.

          Changing light is only part of the story, since the lunkers blasting night surface aren’t influenced by light at all, unless the moon is present. No one I know or have read has reported anything in particular about success when the moon shades in and out of clouds, but it is the same principle we’re discussing—just a matter of degree—so interesting to me.

          During summer and fall, when we get up early to fish bass, we make it to the lake before first light to leisurely prepare for first casts with just enough blue to the east to notice the faintest hint of what’s coming, and we’ve caught bass in this darkness. Whatever my partner really feels, I invest more value in the first cast at this time of day than any other. Invariably, I make sure we position so that cast goes to very shallow water.

          Big bass like shallow water so long as they can get away with it, and for this sort of situation, there really seems no other time like very early and well after sunset. I once aimed my first cast to a corner of an 18-acre pond, the Rebel Pop-R plunking down in a foot of water, and I felt the cast was perfect. “Bloop, bloop, bloop, kablam!” Minutes later, I lifted a bass of almost five pounds, and it was still too dark to get a photo.

          Smallmouths are much the same—even in summer—although in my own limited experience, I’ve had the best topwater action in the evenings. During the day, smallmouths hang close especially to large rocks situated in deep water, yet many spread out as the sun goes down, leaving the protection of shadowing stone, frequenting gravel-bottomed shallows, especially those combined with sparse vegetation holding forage. Typically, I fish surface plugs with quick, cadenced retrieves, covering range and feeling very eager with each cast for a strike, because strikes happen fast and frequent.

          October, on the other hand, witnesses smallmouths in shallows all day long, especially at the heads of deep drop-offs with boulders rising out of the water. It’s fun to cast a variety of plugs or perhaps to stick with a favorite right at rock edges, and more than once, plastic has shattered due to a deliberate, but bad cast. Any time of year when water is sufficiently warm, a classic plug like the Torpedo will last as long as anglers fish bass, because nothing beats the blast of a Torpedo.  


Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Jersey Salmon Lost and Largemouths Fill the Day

Another long-planned trip during a summer I just won't have time to get out and fish and do other day trips as previous summers. I'm hoping next year or during 2018 I find more time. I took my son, Matt, to North Jersey with both bass and salmon in mind. Before we left Bedminster shortly after 2:00 p.m., I made a quick decision to forego live herring. With only so much time, we would troll for salmon and concentrate more on largemouths. In the past, we've seen salmon come to the surface during July and August to bust herring, and obviously that's an opportunity to get on them. Once last summer, I hooked one after a bust.

But we've only seen this happen under calm conditions, and today the wind blew enough to make positioning with the electric a little troublesome, though I brought an anchor and we used it. I missed a hit from a bass rather early in the pursuit, and then it took awhile before I caught my first. I had been comparing how I approach summer bass to other guys I know who use all sorts of lures. My summer choices for largemouth in recent years have been: weightless Chompers worms, weightless Senko-types, and a wide array of topwaters. And since I catch plenty of bass, I like to keep the approach simple and improve within these limits.

I caught another bass on my next cast after the first, so my fear that the day might prove to be typical of public waters for most who fish began to wane. We went to my favorite spot on this lake and I quickly caught two more. And then another favorite spot, three more, two bass on two consecutive casts and a hit on the third cast from a bass I'm sure would have been the biggest of the day. You can feel those takes and measure them with enough practice. The knot had gone bad and the Chompers with the 2/0 inset hook broke off. These words I write are the surest self-reminder. Check those knots!

One of these three bass from this second favorite spot got hooked way out from the weedline over 30 feet of water or more. I heard a splash and cast to where the commotion had settled, suspecting a largemouth after herring, because last summer, the same event happened. Immediately, I got a take and set the hook into a bass of about 2 1/2 pounds. We think of largemouths as holding close to cover, and far and away, most do. I wouldn't be surprised if the biggest bass in the lake buried themselves so deep in dense weeds, we had no way to get to them, but a marginal number of fish will take liberties--if there's food to be had--such as cruising out in open water near the surface some 20 yards away from weeds. I had told Matt before we came it would be ironic if we never hook up with a five-pounder at this lake, which is known for nice ones, when we did hook a bass that big at Spruce Run Reservoir. I still have hopes, but I'm very impressed with Spruce Run by comparison, fishing it some since last year. Spruce Run bass see a lot of lures and so they're less likely to hit than if they didn't get so pressured, but on the other hand, they don't have forests of weeds in super-clear water to hide in.

"Matt, you've got to catch one." I began positioning the canoe entirely in his favor, refusing to cast where I sure would have otherwise, pointing out to him just where to put that plastic, and he's accurate. We explored some real good looking water, and I snapped on a topwater as wind died. Nothing doing.

I got a hunch and didn't waste a second. As we motored off, I cast my trusty Phoebe out in back of the wake and put the rod in a holder to troll. We moved over 40 or 50 feet of water out towards the lake's middle when I heard a whack and looked sharp. The rod had doubled over. Suddenly a salmon leapt four feet out of the water. I grabbed the rod and felt the weight of this good fish, began pumping, and looked at Matt.

"It's yours."

"Are you sure?"

"Here." I kept line tight as I passed him the rod. "Keep that line tight."

Well, truth be told, I knew that as I passed the rod, chances were good that salmon would rush forward ahead of the tension--just a couple of seconds when neither of us could reel to keep up. Matt reeled in the Phoebe.

These summer salmon stay down at least 30 feet or so. But they are lightening embodied. They sense that Phoebe, see the sunlit reflections in the clear water, and rush up to strike. Thirty feet seems a great distance to a bass fisherman, but to salmon, it's like sport.

We got on the spot I had a feeling about, and Matt quickly caught his first bass, and soon thereafter, a second. I missed another hit on the Chompers, and missed a hit on a Rebel Pop-R. So all told, nine bass and a lost salmon...and a bass bigger may have a Chompers worm stuck on its maw. Three of mine weighed over two pounds and the biggest was pretty close to three.  

 With the Mets T-Shirt on, Matt makes a wild pitch, the Shakespeare reel sort of looking like a baseball, Matt standing in the canoe as if he would fall over backwards, but no, he got the balance he tried for, while I got the shot before he could act like it didn't happen.