UPCOMING EVENT: Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

Up to your eyeballs in shad

Ramie Colson Jr. among the shad

Editor's note: For more in-depth articles about bass fishing, learn about a subscription to FLW Outdoors Magazine, where this article first appeared.

Two fall days. Two giant schools of shad. Two completely different outcomes.

A couple of members of the magazine staff and I watched the first shad school crash into our creek arm like a wave. The school was a swimming blanket of silver and gray covering the mouth of the arm, washing its way past the boat and blacking out the electronics. None of us had ever seen a school of shad so large - or so many surface explosions and diagonal lines on the electronics. Bass seemed as plentiful as the shad, and for an hour we caught them every cast by slow-reeling crankbaits, laughing as we argued who got the pliers next.

The second school surprised Cadiz, Ky., pro Ramie Colson Jr. and me on a main-lake flat. We were working the ledge at the edge of the flat when the water in front of us was transformed into a battleground. The surface of the water looked like it was under aerial assault, with frothy explosions of bass busting shad at the surface for hundreds of yards. We cast everything we could think of - spinnerbaits, topwaters, rattle baits and even the magic crankbait that had worked before. Thirty minutes later, the school had continued on down the ledge, the trail of surface eruptions visible for another 15 minutes. We were left with parting gifts of two bass and plenty of disappointment.

"I can't believe with all those bass that we only could catch two," I say, utterly defeated.

"I know," Colson replies, shaking his head. "But it's kind of hard to feed them artificials when they already have steak."

Colson's statement couldn't be truer. If given the choice, a bass is going to eat a live shad over a crankbait almost every time, especially when the bass is surrounded by millions of live shad.

But if that's the case, then why did we catch them so well in the first scenario?
Finding the one lure schooling bass want can be frustrating, but the rewards are worth the effort. Here FLW pro Ramie Colson Jr. is rewarded.
It's a question that vexes almost every angler, both professional and amateur. It's also a question with no definitive answer. We asked a few pros who have encountered the too-much-bait problem at one time or another for advice. Nothing is set in stone, but experimenting with the various approaches they suggest might help you turn a bad situation into some of the best fishing you've ever experienced.

Find the right lure

Ramie Colson Jr.

Colson is no stranger to the problem of having too much bait. He grew up near Kentucky and Barkley lakes and both reservoirs are loaded with shad. In the fall, once young-of-the-year threadfins have reached an attractive size for bass, it's not uncommon to see schools of shad so thick and large that they resemble whales swimming beneath the surface. When it's Colson's boat they're passing near, he starts thinking about the one lure that will fill up his livewell in a hurry.

"There is usually one lure that is the only lure they want," he says. "We never figured out what that lure was that one day [mentioned at the beginning of this article], but when you do figure it out you can catch them every cast. You just have to wade through different lures to find it."

That's what happened during our magazine field trip. The school rolled into a creek, and bass were busting near the surface, suggesting that topwaters and spinnerbaits fished at the surface would draw strikes. They produced a couple bass, but it wasn't until one of us tied on a ghost minnow Jackall MC/60 crankbait that we started catching fish consistently. Luckily, we all happened to have that particular lure, in both shallow- and medium-diving models, and in that color. So we all caught fish.

Here's the kicker, though. After awhile, we started experimenting with different crankbaits to see if they would work. We tried different colors, diving depths and models. None of them caught fish with any consistency. But one of us always had on the MC/60, and that person never stopped catching fish.
It was owing to luck that we happened to have the right crankbait, but it illustrates Colson's point that there is always one lure that will get the attention of the bass among the throngs of bait. And that lure can change as bass change their preference.

That same MC/60 that worked so well the first day on Kentucky Lake caught only one fish the second Diet Mountain Dew pro Jason Christie will try different retrives to see if he can get a reaction strike.
day on Lake Barkley with Colson. Could they not see it in the different colored water? Was it running too deep or shallow? Was I reeling it too slow? Who knows? What's important is that Colson has had plenty of times when finding that one lure meant he caught fish nonstop. There were other times when not finding it resulted in little action.

Get their attention

Jason Christie and Shad Schenck

When Diet Mountain Dew pro Jason Christie of Park hill, Okla., first started fishing Grand Lake O' the Cherokees, he quickly located dozens of pockets where every third cast snagged a shad. A slam-dunk area to fish, right?

"Twenty years later, and I have yet to catch fish from any of them with any consistency," Christie says.
The only thing that has worked for Christie is the same thing that works for Waynetown, Ind., pro Shad Schenck: being different.

"Most of the time you want to match the hatch," Schenck says. "[When there is too much bait] is the exception."

Instead of throwing a small crankbait to imitate the thousands of small shad swimming around, either pro will experiment with offerings that stand out from the crowd. For Christie, a 5-inch YUM Money Minnow swimbait, Heddon Super Spook or a big jig swam through the area are his eye-catching Instead of matching the hatch, bass pro Shad Schenck goes big and loud with his offereings to get the attention of bass among the bait.offerings. Similarly, Schenck ties on a spinnerbait with large blades or a 10-inch worm.

The other advantage of going big, loud and different with lure choice is that it often elicits larger bites, as large bass are less likely to expend a lot of energy chasing schools of small shad. They would rather eat a large meal that's offset from the school.

Being different can also be accomplished with the retrieve. Christie will work the Super Spook as fast as he can across the surface or burn his swim jig to elicit reaction strikes. It can even get more extreme than that.

Prevacid pro Dan Morehead won a tournament in 1998 on Lake of the Ozarks by throwing a buzzbait on shore and reeling it into the water. Shad had accumulated en masse around chunk-rock banks, often in the shallowest water they could reach. Morehead held his boat as close to shore as possible and made nearly parallel casts that ended up on shore. Often, within a couple turns of the reel handle from the time the lure touched the water, a bass would eat the buzzbait.

Plenty of other pros were on a similar pattern, but their presentations weren't as effective as Morehead's. By bringing his buzzbait into the water from off the bank, Morehead was able to get his lure running on the surface the entire time it was in the water, as opposed to wasting a couple of feet of retrieve to get it up on the surface. Those 2 feet were critical to get the attention of bass already surrounded by what they wanted to eat.

Trigger or tempt

Clifford Pirch

When pro Clifford Pirch won the October 2009 FLW Series National Guard Western Division event on Clear Lake, he did it fishing offshore. However, his initial plan was to fish shallow because that's where the bait was - a lot of bait.
If he cannot get a reaction bite, bass pro Clifford Pirch will go the opposite route and dead-stick a lure to give bass an easy meal.

"Every dock post in 5 feet of water or less had thick schools of minnows around it," says the Payson, Ariz., pro. "I'm not sure what kind of minnows they were, but they were about 2 1/2 inches long and they were everywhere. And the bass were right there with them."

With so much bait, Pirch originally opted to go for a reaction bite, burning a lipless crankbait right through the schools of minnows. It worked, but not like he thought it would.

He caught some bass, but more often they would swirl on the lure or bump it as it went by. The bass would show their location, allowing Pirch to cast back to them with a drop-shot. The key then was to let the drop-shot sit as motionless as possible.

"I wanted to make the worm look like it was wounded or dying," Pirch says. "When there is that much bait around, it's not always an easy meal. The schools can be bunched really tight, making it hard for a bass to single out a meal, or the minnows can all flee, making a bass have to chase. By dead-sticking that drop-shot, I gave the bass an easy meal that it could just swim over to and eat."

Obviously, this is not a search tactic. However, a jerkbait fulfills the same criteria, and it can cover more water.

Any of the early spring Walmart FLW Tour events on Table Rock or Beaver Lake the last three years provide an example. A universal complaint at their weigh-ins was that there was too much bait. And in all of them, a jerkbait dominated. The conditions were similar to what Pirch experienced under those California docks.

There were schools of shad everywhere, giving the bass plenty to eat. Better yet, the cold water was shocking and killing shad, allowing bass to swim around and munch on helpless shad easily instead of wasting energy trying to chase healthy shad within the schools. The anglers picked up on this and mimicked the dying shad with jerkbaits.

The pros employed long pauses between twitches to mimic distressed shad. It was simply too tempting for bass to resist, even with all the live shad swimming around them.

Tags: sean-ostruszka  magazine-features 


1000 Islands Day 3 Midday Update



1000 Islands Midday Update Day 2

Day two of the Costa FLW Series Northern Division event presented by Mercury at 1000 Islands got started on a slightly different note this morning when FLW’s tournament directors declared Lake Ontario off limits due to hazardous conditions. The change threw a few of the top pros off their primary plans, but regardless the 137-boat field will be cut down to the top 10 after today, so adjustments need to be made in order to qualify to fish the weekend. READ MORE »


FLW Podcast 126 - ICAST



2017 Walmart FLW Tour Schedule

In what has become an annual tradition at FLW, the 2017 Walmart FLW Tour schedule was announced at a press conference and industry gathering held Thursday on the show floor at ICAST in Orlando, Fla. READ MORE »


Si Se Puede ... Yes We Can

Mexico’s Lake Zimapan is different in many ways from the lakes to the north such as Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and California’s Clear Lake, but one element it has in common with those famous fisheries is big bass. READ MORE »


5 Rookie Lessons Learned

People have asked me what my first year on the Walmart FLW Tour was like. Well, it was like running headfirst into a hurricane for a few months. I came out the other side a little battered, bruised and smelling like fish. READ MORE »


FLW Podcast 125 - Scott Martin



Review: Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Lite

Recently I had the opportunity to try one model in particular – the 7-foot, 4-inch Magnum Pitchin’ rod. After fishing with it several times, I’ve concluded that it performs as advertised, is sensitive and lightweight, and is well worth the money. READ MORE »


Reunited, and it Feels so Good

This year I really had a reunion with finesse fishing. Most of my better tournaments came from fishing some type of finesse presentation. Finesse tactics seemed to always give me a certain confidence about the day. While finesse tactics are nothing new to the game of bass fishing, this year I regained the confidence and joy of catching bass on smaller offerings. READ MORE »


2016 ICAST Preview

The doors to ICAST don’t open until next week, when everyone gets out on the showroom floor in Orlando, Fla., but there are already plenty of snippets of information available. FLW’s media crew will be there in full force to bring you coverage of the hottest new products, as well as the annual New Product Showcase awards. For now, take a gander at some of the early birds. READ MORE »


FLW Canada Kicks Off at Tri-Lakes

Among these Canadian all-stars was the eventual winning team of Chris Vandermeer of Peterborough and Jeff Slute of Millbrook. Capitalizing on a strong day one shallow-water smallmouth pattern, the duo took advantage of the slick-calm conditions using a silver-hued topwater popping plug to agitate the lake’s bronzebacks into attack. READ MORE »


FLW Tour Pro Cooksey Recovering After Accident

Walmart FLW Tour sophomore Dalton Cooksey of New Concord, Ky., is recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee following a single-car accident that took place Wednesday afternoon. READ MORE »


FLW Podcast 124 - Jeremy Lawyer



Stetson Blaylock’s Recipe for a Wacky Rig

From March until the end of the fishing season I’m going to have a wacky rig on deck. It’s a really effective way to fish anytime the fishing is tough, or if the fish are up cruising banks. Anytime fish are about 5 feet deep or less, I can catch them on the wacky rig. READ MORE »


Morgan Claims third FLW Tour Angler of the Year Title

MINNEAPOLIS – Livingston Lures pro Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tennessee, added to his incredible fishing resume by winning his third Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year title Saturday at the FLW Tour's final 2016 regular-season event on Lake Champlain.... READ MORE »


Three Things by DD: Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake did not go the way I intended. I was pumped and ready to rock out a top-20 finish. I had great expectations of myself, but nothing seemed to come together. Practice was dicey, but I thought for sure I could put something together to make the cut. That was until day one came, and the whole vibe of my day instantly went from eager to agitated. READ MORE »


How to Catch Smallmouths with Hair Jigs

The “right” hair jig for smallmouths is a small 1/16- to 1/8-ounce marabou jig with a round or mushroom-shaped head. The jig is similar to marabou jigs used by crappie fishermen, but bass models will often have a larger, stronger hook and possibly a longer or thicker skirt. Naturally, anglers have their favorites, and there are subtle differences in jigs that make some better than others. READ MORE »


Two Exciting Events to Look Forward To

We are in the last stretch of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour. Awaiting us is the Lake Champlain tournament in just a few days. A couple of things will be settled there: the pro field for the Forrest Wood Cup and the Angler of the Year. READ MORE »


Tagging Along with Sprague in Kentucky

Through the first four events of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour season, Jeff Sprague finished inside the top 20 every time and challenged for the win at Beaver Lake. After stop No. 4 on Pickwick, Sprague took over the lead in the Angler of the Year race. This is the story of his first tournament as the AOY leader – stop No. 5 on Kentucky Lake. Currently, Sprague is preparing for the finale on Lake Champlain. He’s in second place in the AOY standings. READ MORE »


Waunakee HS Wins WI Title

The Waunakee High School duo of Colin Steck and Nathan Lorenz brought a five-bass limit to the scale Sunday weighing 13 pounds, 3 ounces, to win the 2016 TBF/FLW High School Fishing Wisconsin State Championship on the Minocqua Chain of Lakes. The win earned the team trophies, the title of state champions and advanced the team to the High School Fishing Central Conference championship on the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, on September 23-24. READ MORE »