I can remember fishing a bass tournament on Lake Vermillion in northern Minnesota years ago. I was in the back of the boat during a pre-fishing mission and the smallies were not cooperating.
We threw every lure we could think of but were having more luck raising muskies than bronzebacks. It was early June, the fish were post-spawn, and the weather was terrible. It was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had on the water.
To make matters worse, out of frustration I lowered a camera onto a rock hump we were fishing. Schools of perch, a lengthy muskie, and a huge school of smallmouth showed on the viewfinder. Dozens and dozens of bronzebacks were right under the boat, but we hadn’t caught a single fish.
That’s when we decided to stop trying to make something happen with the latest and greatest lures and just fish for the bass we knew were there with the presentations we were most comfortable employing.
For my fishing partner, that meant power fishing: spinnerbaits, crankbaits… anything chunk-and-wind. For me, it meant smaller, finesse presentations. While we did have to slow down and really work the cover, we started to catch some fish.
Since that tournament, I’ve learned when the fishing gets tough, it’s easy to try to slip outside of your comfort zone believing you’re just missing out on the right presentation.
Sometimes this is true, especially when there is an epic feeding frenzy going on around one type of food source. Most of the time, however, it’s not a matter of keying in on the magic lure. It’s a matter of fishing with confidence.
This is not meant to knock being a versatile fisherman, because that’s not a good way to go about things. It means, instead, we all have a few fishing techniques we are better at than anything else.
I’ve fished with more than a few bass junkies who are really, really good at pitching and flipping jigs; to the point where if that’s all they did, they’d catch fish everywhere they went. They can simply present a jig to a bass in a way that makes them eat.
Others are crankbait masters, or deadsticking fools. It doesn’t matter. Learn what your strengths are and fish to them. If you have the chance, fish bodies of water that force you into new methods to become more versatile, but don’t forget what you should do when the panic sets in while on the water.
I’m reminded of this nearly every year when a good buddy of mine drives up from Iowa so we can fish the famed smallmouth factory, Mille Lacs Lake. There are a few places that might be better for numbers of big fish in the country, but the list is small. It’s still not easy right after the spawn, however.
Since we tend to remember the 100-fish days where tight lines were extremely common, we always expect the trip to go off in a similar fashion. When it does, it’s something like a religious experience. When it doesn’t, it’s not long before we are picking up what we are good at. For my buddy, it’s almost always going to be a swimming jig or a swimbait. For me, it’ll be a drop-shot with some crayfish-looking plastic.
A curious thing happens when we do that, and we’re on the right rock reef or at the first point off of a spawning bay; we start catching fish. It may not be lights-out, high-five fishing, but it’s good and that’s sometimes all you can ask for the toughest conditions in the smallmouth world.