Making the tough days count

We all love to share the details of our best catches on those days when the fishing is great. But sometimes, it’s more important to share the details of how we made the best of a tough fishing day, when weather and water conditions, temperamental fish or some other factor beyond our control leaves us facing tough, tough fishing.

Making the best of a tough day might be catching one solid fish; figuring out a pattern that produces a reasonably steady bite, or just discovering a new spot or two to hopefully catch a few from when you fish the lake under more favorable conditions. No matter how tough it is, you want to catch something or learn something. Or better yet, both.

I haven’t quite gotten back in the swing yet of getting out on the water early, as has been my style for about as long as I’ve been serious about fishing, and this past Thursday, I wanted to pick Jimfish up by 5, and be at the lake by sunrise, or 6AM at the latest. Instead, I picked him up at 6, and we were at the lake a few minutes before 7. Even so, the conditions and the aggressive nature of the fish when we first got on the water, gave us reason to look forward to a productive day. Calm, with thin cloud cover, and fish that seemed willing to chase down a moving bait in shallow water made for good fishing for the first half hour or so we were on the water.

That Big Blade Chatterbait was easy to keep high in the water column to keep it from constantly fouling in the weeds, and the fish seemed to like the vibration. Or hate it, one or the other. Either way, they were willing to attack it.

I caught a couple twitching an unweighted Lunker City FreakyFish on top, then switched to a Chatterbait, and that seemed to work even better. Jim was getting bit on a chartreuse spinnerbait, and his favorite Panhead Jig. Yeah, this was shaping up to be a great day!

I stopped fishing Tyler a few years back, when they started dumping heavy doses of weed killer into it. It was such a fun place to fish when the broadleaf pondweed (aka cabbage) beds were clean and lush. The veggies have come back strong now, but there’s a lot more mixed beds, with milfoil, crispy coontail and scrubby curly pondweed mixed in. Not sure how I like it, as Thursday didn’t offer the kind of conditions I would have preferred to make an accurate assessment of how the lake’s bass population has adjusted.

Before long, we were fishing the trailing edge of the cloud cover as it moved off to the East and crossed paths with the rising sun that was now well past that eastern horizon. The bluebird skies that replaced the light cloud cover did not bode well for continued fast action. And then came the wind. Not enough to make boat control super tough. but enough to tell us that the weather front had passed.

The bites on the unweighted FreakyFish twitched along the surface were the first to fall victim to the weather change. Then Jim’s spinnerbait and my Chatterbait. I didn’t waste a lot of time. I put a 3/8 oz TitleSHOT jig and Ozmo on the flipping stick for the gnarly places, and pulled out my favorite drop shot rod for the sparse spots and the outside edge of the veggies.

This boulder has produced some really good fish over the years, but today I managed to spook the fish on it after we’d each hooked one.

My drop shot Ribster got bit pretty regularly, but I’m not sure I ever caught two fish in close proximity to each other with it. In fact the only place I felt like I may have gotten into something resembling a school or group of bass in one spot was on the closest thing that Tyler has to a deep, rocky break abutting a heavy patch of veggies — an offshore spot that I might not ever have found without a side imaging depth sounder. Jim hooked and lost one, and I followed up with one on the Ozmo. But then I managed to lose position on it, and ran over it not once, but twice, while trying to get back in position to fish it effectively. If there were a good bunch there, I managed to shut them down and/or scatter them.

Trying to tickle the deep edge of the cabbage growth with the drop shot without getting hopelessly mired down in the greenery can be tedious, but it’s a skill worth learning and perfecting. Today, it produced only a handful of fish under two pounds. But it’s also the technique that produced the behemoth pictured below from the same body of water back in 2007!

Going into search mode, trying to cover water and find one bite at a time when the fish are really shut down, can be frustrating. There’s certainly a value to going with a faster, horizontal approach — covering more water, chucking and winding. But I’ve always favored picking a smaller area apart more thoroughly, trying my best to elicit some interest from every bass that I get within range of, as opposed to getting a reaction bite only from the few fish still aggressive enough to chase a lure.

In my style, it’s important to recognize and key on the spots that are intrinsically more likely to hold a bass that’s more interested in riding out the tough conditions than to chase down a meal. My guiding philosophy in this situation is always that turned off bass are most likely to be found on concave structural elements. The base of a drop off where it meets the flatter basin of the lake, rather than the top of the drop, where it comes off the shoreline shelf. The back end of a cut in the weed edge, as opposed to the outside corners where the cut intersects with the outer edge. They gravitate to positions that offer protection in as many directions as possible. between the exposed roots of a stump rather than on top of the stump. Think concave. The more like a cave a feature is, the more likely it it to hold a bass or two when they are turned off.

Yes, it takes concentration, and maybe even a bit of a daring attitude, to stick a lure with an open hook into those spots, especially on 6 or 8 pound test,. But do it often enough, and you will get rewarded.

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