It’s a situation familiar to most veteran bass anglers: the spawn is fast approaching, and some fish are already showing on beds. The winter rains are ending and the slightly murky, greenish waters are warming into the high 50’s to low 60’s. And, seemingly overnight, bass are everywhere – in front of the tules, beside and under the docks, lazily finning over weedbeds.
A rare occurrence? Not really. It happens almost every year on many of our Western waters. Although it can seem like these fish are aimlessly milling around like teenagers at a shopping mall, they’re actually looking for a place to spawn, hunting for an easy meal, sunning themselves, or simply resting. A perfect situation for sacking a massive limit? It can be. It can also be tremendously frustrating as we watch thick-shouldered bruisers ignore our best offerings. Our pinpoint casts, splashless water entries, and tantalizing rod shakes and shimmies can all go for naught as these green bulldozers appear hopelessly bored with our most convincing sales pitches, as though it’s the big dance, they’re the queens of the prom - and we’re the class geeks.
Cruisers. Some run to them and some run from them. But is there any way to up your odds of arousing the interest of these fish and getting them to bite?
In general, I don’t target cruisers during tournies. It can be tempting, and it’s tough to break the golden rule of never leaving fish to find fish. But, you can end up frittering away most of your precious tournament hours on them. And, if you’ve done your homework, at least in theory, you should have more spots to run to that are holding some biters, especially at this time of year.
Sometimes, though, cruisers are everywhere and there’s no getting away from them in favor of more aggressive, unseen fish. And, let’s face it – what better way is there to tell if fish are in the area than by seeing them with your own two eyes? I like electronics as much as the next guy, but there’s no guesswork involved with these fish. I’d rather cast for a 12-lb cruiser that I can see than dangle a dropshot in twenty-five feet of water in front of a big arc that I’m hoping is a lunker bass (but might really be a catfish).
When these cruisers refuse to commit to my repertoire of reaction baits, I’ll often break out what I call my “cheat rig.” Why call it that? Because sometimes, as a friend once observed, it makes it so easy to convert these skeptics into biters that it’s almost like cheating!
The beauty of the “cheat rig” is its simplicity. It consists of a 1/32-oz Tru-Tungsten T-rig weight (which has a very cool titanium helical wire for holding your bait in place – it will bend in any direction so it won’t abrade your line), 8-lb Maxima fluorocarbon, a 3/0 EWG hook, and a Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver in watermelon with red flake. I fish all this on a 6’ 8” Team Daiwa Steez spinning rod and matching 2500 reel. Just cast it out, let it sink a bit, then work it slowly back to the boat. You often won’t feel the strike; you’ll just lift up and the fish will be there. When it comes to fishing, it doesn’t get much simpler than that.
One word of caution – avoid throwing directly onto their heads. If I see bass slowly swimming along, I’ll cast ahead of them to give them a chance to spot what looks like an easy meal. Cruisers can be skittish, and you don’t want to accidentally spook them.
I should throw in a word or two about followers at this point as well. There’s no question that they can drive you crazy when you’re going for the big bite, throwing something like a swimbait, and here comes a follower – a fish that’s definitely interested, but just not quite sold enough on the idea to put a bend in your rod. As with anything related to fishing, no technique is foolproof. But, through the years, I’ve been able to get these fish to go by using followup baits like Senkos, ripbaits, or – what else? – my trusty “cheat rig.”
Next time you’re on the water and the big girls are turning up their snouts at your best offerings, give the “cheat rig” a shot. And, as you probably guessed – it’s a great presentation to put keepers in the box any time of year. An added bonus is that, if you’re ever fishing with a beginner and just want to get him or her some action – this rig will do the trick more often than not. It’s similar to a split-shot worm in its effectiveness in finding biters. The bigger profile of the Smallie Beaver, though, along with the fact that bass aren’t yet conditioned to this presentation because it’s seldom used, can put a better quality of fish into your livewell.