"When to stay and when to go"
By: Curt Samo
I had the opportunity years ago to fish with the great angling legend Larry Nixon. One of the things I will always remember him telling me is that the thing that separates the great fisherman from the average fisherman is the decision making process of when to stay on a spot or when to leave. Just a few weeks ago, I was fishing a tournament on West Point Lake in central Alabama. I was faced with this exact dilemma.
I had found a classic fall pattern with fish in the backs of major creeks. The fish were in roughly 2 - 3 feet of water. The temperature in the back of the creek where I had found the fish was about 67 degrees. That first practice day, I caught about 14 pounds of bass, which on this particular lake would normally be a winning weight. Paying attention to the weather forecast for the week, I knew a huge cold front was scheduled to hit the area. On the second day of practice, I went back to those same areas to expand my pattern and locate more spots in the back of the creek. I found a few more fish and felt comfortable with the quality of fish in this area. During practice I was catching them on a Lucky Craft Redemption Spinner Bait. I also caught a few on a Lucky Craft LVR 150 rattle bait. After the second day of practice, the cold front really settled in. On the third day of practice I decided to leave those areas alone and move to the main lake to locate some bonus hot spots to add to my creek pattern. That night the temperature dropped to 31 degrees. I felt this would affect the bite somewhat, since the fish were so shallow. Yet I knew the fish were there, so I committed to go to the backs of those creeks.
When I arrived the first day, I found that the water temperature had dropped seven degrees overnight. I thought that the bite would be slow in the morning, then pick up as the water temperature warmed during the afternoon. I threw the spinnerbait most of the day, and though the bite was tough, I ended up with 4 fish and was sitting in 18th place after the first day. That night, record cold temperatures came in. I was nervous about the activity level of the fish in the back of those creeks with such a severe front. I made the decision not to abandon this pattern based on the quality of fish in this area. The big decision would be if I got to that location and didn't get bit at all: should I abandon this area for warmer water, or commit to this area and find a presentation that would make the fish bite.
I arrived to my spot on the morning of the second tournament day and was shocked to see that the water temperature had dropped to 54 degrees. The fish would not bite a spinnerbait, so I tried several other presentations and caught 2 fish right away, to my surprise. One was on a black/blue Chompers Tube and the other was on a white Chompers grub. Then the bite died. I tried several more presentations and for the next 4 hours did not even have a bite. Being a couple fish out from a check, I needed to make some decisions. In the back of my mind, I knew that I only needed 1 or 2 more quality bites. I decided to stay, thinking that the water temperature would rise a few degrees and increase my chance of getting a bite. That never happened and I lived with the decision. There have been times in my tournament career when staying paid off, and times like this when it didn't. I hope that I can learn from these decisions and put that information into my tournament archives.
It is worth noting that due to the major cold front, that many of the fish I did catch were barely hooked. I feel like the rod and reel combo that I was using really helped me to land some of these light-biting fish. Any time a reactionary bait is being used, it is important to use a rod that has a lot of give because this allows the fish to take the bait in without pulling it out of his mouth. My favorite rod for this is the Bass Pro Shops Crankin Stix. I was using a 7 foot, medium-action model, and I had it teamed up with a Johnny Morris Signature series reel and 17 pound XPS Flourocarbon line. This combo definitely seemed to help me get a few more bites and land the fish that I did in the clear water that I was fishing. Until next time, good fishin! Bass Pro Shops Pro Staff, Curt Samo.