Saturday, January 9, 2016

Reflecting on Fishing Tips from 2015

As you can see from the lack of posts, after I fished the final Bassmaster Southern Open tournament of 2015 on Lake Seminole, I didn't look back. The year marked one of my most challenging years on the tournament tour, one I needed to let go of.

As I take time to reflect back and write this blog, I realized it wasn't anything to do with the lakes: we fished some good lakes with beautiful scenery. It wasn't anything to do with people: every town we visited the people were friendly and anglers courteous. It was likely to do with my lure selection and fishing techniques not matching the fishing conditions.

There are certain lures that can be used to catch fish in high pressure situations.  As I review my 2015 season, I will share those lures that I found successful, and the ones that died under the pressure.

1) The first Bassmaster Southern Open was held in January on Lake Toho in Kimmissee, FL. That week we experienced a cold weather front, high winds, and ice on the boats in the morning.  Ice in Florida?..ugh..only during a tournament!  I found bass were extremely aggressive at the beginning of the week before the front. Bass would eat my lipless crankbaits, swimbaits, topwater, and soft plastic baits pitched and flipped to plants like torpedograss, cattails, and bulrush. Color didn't seem to matter, and I used the classics: black/silver hardbaits and junebug soft plastic baits.
bass fishing in Florida tip: Be careful in the small locks
My Triton/Mercury Marine rig in Lake Toho lock going to Lake Kissimmee

The high winds that came through on the last day of practice stirred up the lake bottom and ruined all my openwater areas. I found this out the next day at the start of the tournament .  This muddy water forced all the anglers to fish in the limited, wind-protected, clear water areas.  Of all my practice lures, I found that only my swimbait produced bites in the cramped fishing areas on tournament day. To entice the finicky bass to bite, I had to slow down my retrieve to half the lure speed that I used in practice.  In the afternoon, I found some bass spawning, and plastic baits worked good on catching the male, buck-bass around spawning beds.

aquatic plants, knowing them is the best bass fishing tip
Mix of cattail and bulrush often hold groups of bass

One patch of mixed cattail and bulrush produced a half-dozen bites from big female bass. Unfortunately, the bass were finicky and I failed to land any of them. It still amazes me how big bass can be so precise in biting only the punchers on my 3" crawfish bait, and never eating the full bait. It was a sure indication that these bass had already seen a few lures over the week. 

I ended the 2-day tournament in 122nd place, top 61%, only 9.5 pounds of the top 40 cut.

2) Bassmater Southern Open event #2 was on Alabama River in Prattville, AL in April. This section of river is impounded by a dam, with three dams feeding water in: two dams on the Coosa River, and one on the Tallapoosa River. Water fluctuations were extreme, and while largemouth bass lived in the Alabama River, a species of Coosa River spotted bass was the prey we were hunting. This whole situation was new to this Florida angler.

Bass fishing Alabama BassMaster Open trees holding bass
Water levels changes: trees out of water overnight
My pre-tournament research allowed me to understand the water stages.  Yet, getting used to water movements of nearly four feet overnight was a challenge.  Fallen trees I would find holding bass during practice would be out of the water the next day.

Fishing for the aggressive Coosa River spotted bass reminded me of fishing for saltwater jack crevalle. When they hit your bait, they hit hard and pulled like our inshore saltwater fish. The setup of the Alabama river with its three inflowing streams produced a constant flow of water that positioned bass nicely. I really could get used to that!
Mercury marine, biology, and fishing on Alabama river
Backwater areas off the Alabama River held good largemouth bass
My practice lures which caught both largemouth and spotted bass were spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, shakeyhead worms, and hard jerkbaits. The backwater areas mostly held largemouth bass and the swift current eddies supported more spotted bass.

Since I was not familiar with all the fish species and how each one hit, I was forced to catch a few fish in the practice to confirm the species and size. Drum, catfish, and other non-tournament fish will often mislead anglers to believing they found a large school of bass.

A muddy main river had me searching for clear water creeks
Changes in river flow and clarity, along with fishing pressure, unfortunately pushed the bass into deep water areas, 30-40 foot. Local angler knowledge dominated this tournament, and knowing which deep water holes held the best bass was the key I missed.  There just was not enough time in three days of practice to explore all the deep holes and fish as slow as needed. To compensate,

A large Coosa River spotted bass caught in the tournament on a chatterbait
I sought out the highest flowing, clear-water stream in search of feeding bass. My success was limited, but I left the Alabama River with a better undstanding of how the Coosa River spotted bass behave. The hard jerkbiat and shakeyhead finesse worm were the best lures during the event.  I finished in 123rd place, top 67%, just 8.9 pounds out of the top 40 cutoff.

3) Last stop of the Bassmaster Southern Open was on Lake Seminole out of Bainbridge, GA in October. Lake Seminole was created by Army Corps as a reservoir for hydoelectric power generation, catching the Chattahoochee River, Flint River, Spring Creek, and Fish Pond tributaries.
Took my Triton Boat up the rocky Flint River for shoal bass fishing
Boating on the rocky Flint River was a thrill ride but catching shoal bass was fun  

The Flint River holds a unique species of bass known as the Shoal Bass. This fish prefers to feed on crawfish in rocky rapids, and this stream is ranked as one of the more dangerous rocky streams.  Navigating my Triton fiberglass boat and Mercury ProXS over the shallow rocks took some careful driving.

The river has to be one of the most pristine rivers I have ever fished. Shoal bass are much smaller than their largemouth bass cousins, and fishing for them was only a backup plan.

Bassmaster bass fishing needs AERF biology for fishing tips and plant identifications
Aquatic plants are prime habitat for bass
The reservoir had been fishing extremely tough over the summer months and local tournament winners were reporting low historic weights. Hydrilla was dominating the lower end of the system, but nothing out of the ordinary could explain the low fish catch rates.

During my summertime practice on Lake Seminole, I was able to identify a lot of aquatic plants and catch some nice largemouth bass out of them.

Fishing pressure added to the difficult fishing conditions during the official practice week of the tournament, I had not ever witnessed so many local anglers on the water fishing during the work week as I did on Lake Seminole. The fishing pressure was over the top.

bass fishing and plant identification tips for bass fishing in Florida
Aquatic plants found on Lake Seminole (videos click here)
Flipping is always a strong fishing technique in plant filled lakes and I knew this method would dominate this event. Anglers could spend days flipping soft plastic baits into the large variety of floating plants and abundant submersed plants like hydrilla, coontail, sago pondweed, and fanwort. Flipping for days is exactly what I did in practice!

Click here to visit the UF IFAS video webpage and learn more about aquatic plants

Unfortunately I was only able to entice a bass or two per day to bite, I was not alone as my fellow competitors were also reporting low numbers of bites in practice.

I took the chance of not knowing whether the bites were from bass or mudfish since I didn't use hooks in practice, Hitchhiker screwrigs are a great lure invention for holding baits on fishing line with actually hooking fish. I felt I couldn't afford to hook the limited number of bass willing to eat with all the angler fishing pressure,

Roomates Jimmy Keith, Darrel Pons Sr, Paul Elias, and Shaw Grigsby Jr.
bass fishing with Triton Boat pros fishing florida
Here I sit between Jimmy and Darrel, along with Shaw Grigsby Jr and Charlie Hartley
This last tournament of the year was special for me as I was able to house with my good friends Shaw Grigsby Jr, Paul Elias, Darrel Pons Sr, and Jimmy Keith. These Elite pros and seasoned anglers have traveled the country, and it is fun to hang out with them.  Not to mention I always gain from their insight and experiences!

The camaraderie and friends you make on the tournament trail is another benefit to the Bassmaster orginization, whether it be the Bass Nation or Open trails.

The BASS organization encourages us to post photos and video during practice.  My practice experience was out shadowed by a few guys posting photos of giant bass ten to twelve pounds caught during the week. I was obviously out of touch with the fishing conditions.

Bass fishing on Lake Seminole learning plants and biology to catch fish
Anglers at Bainbridge GA ramp waiting for their launch numbers to be called

On the first day of the tournament I navigated my AERF-wrapped Triton Boat down the stump filled Flint River, to the lower end near the dam. I started off fishing a large hydrilla bed next to an open-water main lake channel where I had found bass in practice.

I noticed a small flurry of active bass first thing in the morning, and other than that it was a slow bite. I felt the trolling and outboard motor noises cutting through the grassbeds had probably kept the bass and baitfish on the move, and constantly alert them to angler presence.
biology of lake seminole offers different fishing tips for bass fishing
First bass of tournament was a nice five pound largemouth 
After flipping the grass for nearly an hour I switched baits and caught my first, and biggest bass, of the tournament. I  caught it working a spinnerbait over a hole in deep hydrilla, I was surprised the fish hit a powerbait when the fishing was so slow.  It made me believe the fish were suspended in the grass and would indeed hit a reaction bait. I alternated between the spinnerbait and flipping a black and blue creature bait all day. It was not a fancy or exciting way to fish, just required making thousands of flips into miles of hydrilla and coontail beds growing along the main river. My fishes areas in the lower end failed to give up anymore bass. For the last hour of the tournament, I ran up the Flint river to try and fill out a five-bass limit. Cranks baits produced some small bass, and while I managed to catch both largemouth and shoal bass in the event, they never weighed enough.

Video clip of day one weigh-in on Lake Seminole, by AERF
I ended up finishing in 92nd place, top 55%, a mere 7.9 pounds out of the top 40 cutoff.


Insight Genesis maps help my bass fishing on my AERF Triton boat
Relaxing in the off season and reflecting on my tournament year
During my winter break from tournament competition, I relaxed in my home state of Florida while thinking back on my season.  My tournament record for 2015 was good, but not great.

I ended up 93rd in the Angler of the Year standings (out of 230 pros), equal to the top 45%.  I guess I am happy, given the high level of pro competition on the Bassmaster Open trail.

I was out of my comfort zone the entire time: fishing out-of-state lakes, practicing only two and a half days each event, angling for species of bass I rarely get a chance to catch, and competing against the best local anglers and Bassmaster Elite pros.

Yes, I got beat by a lot of anglers, but I equally beat some of the best local anglers and biggest names in the business. I experienced the core of tournament bass fishing, a sport that offers a roller coaster ride of emotions from highest of highs to lowest of lows. 

With 2015 behind me, I push forward into a new year with high hopes and renewed energy. My blog, website, and social media reached an all time peak in viewers and set the bar. Sharing information about fishing tips, bass and lake biology, and aquatic plant identification has become a second passion along with my tournament angling.  Each tournament situation is different, and I really enjoyed sharing the sights and stories through social media such as my Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest,

AERF Mercury Marine Insight Genesis logos
Bassmaster Open photo by JO
Knowing aquatic plants allowed me to fish them better, and research on plants was supported by the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation (AERF). I proudly wear their logo on my tournament jersey to help anglers learn about aquatic plants.

Additional support from Insight Genesis and GoFree Social Maps  really helped me maximize my Lowrance mapping features. Visit my website for links and upcoming how-to videos.

None of our recreational activities would be possible without our troops fighting to keep America free and safe. Please visit Kids In Support of Soldiers to learn how you can help them send monthly care packages to actively deployed soldiers defending our country.

Please check back with my blog monthly as I share new adventures and new fishing tips to make your fishing better and more enjoyable.

I hope you learned something new along with way! 

Thanks for following along,  Jeff Holland