He thinks he's fooling people, but you're no fool. That comb over just can't hide the barren patch on top of his head that unfortunately stopped being so productive.
While a balding man's comb over doesn't produce much more than a few side-glances and a snide snicker or two, there is a type of comb over that can be much more productive. I'm talking about combing over a flat that's full of fall bass.
Flats don't get much respect in the bass fishing world. Most anglers see them as nothing more than bald stretches of barren water that don't even deserve a second look. Flats are to bass anglers what Seinfeld's George Costanza is to women — neither gets much respect because they are bald. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
However, there is a difference between a bald head and a bald flat. You can see everything that's happening on a bald head because it's there exposed to the world. You can't see everything happening on a bald flat because it's covered by a few feet of water.
As it turns out, those supposedly featureless flats that anglers motor over on their way to sexier sections of the lake are usually some of the best fishing a lake has to offer. The reason flats are so productive is that they are rarely fished, and they actually aren't that flat after all.
Two Louisiana lakes stand out as being full of productive flats. The first is Toledo Bend. This lake has acres and acres of flats — channel flats, timber flats, grass flats, you name it. If there's a flat to be fished in Louisiana, you can find it at Toledo Bend.
The other flat-filled lake that stands out is the one some refer to as "Little Toledo Bend" — Lake D'Arbonne. It only stands to reason that since D'Arbonne is considered a smaller version of Toledo Bend that it would have the same kind of, albeit smaller, flats.
Two anglers who have learned to work the flats for all they're worth are Lake D'Arbonne regular Todd Thompson from Calhoun and Toledo Bend veteran Dennis Tietje from Roanoke. These guys have learned that finding out what's really under the water on a flat and combing a flat over with horizontal search baits can be more productive than Fabio at a romance-novel convention.
"The first thing you've got to understand about flats is that they aren't really flat," said Thompson. "Most flats have some kind of undulating bottom.
"Take D'Arbonne for instance. The flats there are full of little ditches and depressions. It may not be much difference, but a 6-foot ditch on a 3-foot flat is all the difference a bass needs."
Thompson pointed out a section up Little D'Arbonne as a prime example of how a flat isn't always flat.
"There's a spot to the right up Little D'Arbonne that has a duck blind that almost everybody fishes at one time or another during the day," he said. "What some of these people don't know is that there is a old duck pond out from that blind. It isn't but about 60 yards wide and 80 yards long, but it's an 8-foot hole on a 4-foot flat. That's the kind of area that will load up with bass during the fall."
Thompson believes that finding where a flat begins is key to catching fish during the fall. In other words, a flat has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is the edge of the main channel, a secondary creek, a slough, a ditch or a depression. That deep-to-shallow transition zone is where Thompson finds gangs of hungry bass.
"The first thing I would do when fishing a strange lake is look at the timber," Thompson said. "The old big timber is the remnants of trees that used to be on the old creek, and they point out where a flat is going to drop off into deep water. I'll put my boat in the deep water and search the edge for a while, all the while keeping an eye out for bait up on the shallow section of the flat."
Since he has to cover so much water, Thompson ties on a bait that allows him to make a rather quick horizontal presentation. His most productive bait for the D'Arbonne flats is a Wobble Head.
"I start out with it around the big stumps on the flats that are close to deep water," he said. "I like a Wobble Head because I can reel it like a Rat-L-Trap, but it's a quieter presentation. The key to the flats is the presence of shad, and I think noisy baits can sometimes scatter one big ball of shad into 10 separate balls of shad because it spooks them a little. I can reel a Wobble Head around the edges of the flats and know if anything is home pretty quick."
If Thompson doesn't find anything home at the edge of the first major depth change, he moves out on the flat while continuing to search for areas that offer a little deeper water. When he finds it, he again puts his boat in the middle of it and concentrates on the edges.
"I'll keep throwing the Wobble Head, but I'll start mixing in a few spinnerbaits and a topwater or two," Thompson said. "If I see them busting shad on the surface, I'll put down everything but the topwater — generally a Zara Spook. These deeper areas are full of bass because they are also full of shad. Sometimes those shad will move to the surface, and that's when you see the schooling action on top."
Thompson stays in the deeper water because he doesn't want to disturb the shad or the bass by spooking them with boat noise. Most anglers who have tried to maneuver a big bass boat across a stump-filled flat can attest to the fact that banging off stumps and stirring up mud with the trolling motor can turn fish off in a hurry.
While D'Arbonne has some grass flats, Thompson said the lake isn't blessed with the kind of grass flats that span Sam Rayburn or Toledo Bend, but they do merit some attention.
"I'll fish the edges of the grass flats early and late," he said, "but I'm more comfortable on the wood cover. And if I've learned anything in all the years I've been fishing it's that you catch more fish when you're comfortable with what you're fishing."
Grass flats aren't an afterthought at Toledo Bend, though. Thompson has been there enough to know what they hold. Tietje, on the other hand, has fished the Toledo Bend grass flats enough to know exactly how to pick them apart.
"The shad really ball up around the grass lines on the flats at Toledo Bend during the fall," Tietje said. "You can't get too shallow in the grass either. Actually, if you can get to the inside grass edge, that's where you should be fishing. The grass starts to fall back a little bit during the fall, and there'll be a little sandy spot behind that inside line. You'd be really surprised with what you can catch in that little zone back there."
Tietje prefers working the grass with a small, almost invisible spinnerbait. His favorite is a 1/4-ounce baby bass or some kind of transparent color with a small willow blade. While he favors the clearer skirts, he will switch to white if the water gets a little dingy.
"You can also throw a little Fluke back in those areas," he added. "Of course, everybody knows that the topwater fishing is the best it's going to be all year around the grass in the fall. You can work over the edges with just about anything, but buzz baits, poppers and walking baits dominate. And you can't forget those floating frogs. They can be killer this time of year.
"A bait that I've been using here lately is a Mann's Baby 1 Minus. You can pull it through the shallow grass without hanging up very much. And when you do, you can yank it out pretty easy."
Like D'Arbonne, the key to finding the most productive flats at Toledo Bend is to know where and how fish move on the flats. In the case of Toledo Bend, the grass gives the little creeks and cuts away all summer long.
"You can see a few of the drains and creeks on a map," Tietje said, "but we use the hydrilla to our advantage. It will give away a drain every time when it comes to the surface because it'll grow right up to the edge of the drain and stop. If you see a cut going back in the grass when it's matted, you can bet there's a little cut going back on the flat. That's where the fish will first move up."
The one drawback about fishing flats during the fall at Toledo Bend is that the water level is usually coming down, and, unfortunately, that means Toledo Bend is almost unfishable. If you can get your boat in, however, you'll find some of the most unbelievable fall fishing on the flats that are still covered with water.
"What I like in that case are the main-lake flats rather than the flats up the creeks," Tietje said. "The fish on these flats aren't going to take off on me, and they'll get as shallow as they can get on those flats out in the lake. Get up there where you can see the little stumps and pockets of grass in the shallow part, and you'll see why the fish relate to that shallow water."
Tietje says the entire lake is covered with productive flats, but he prefers fishing the ones way south because they seem to hold lots of fish.
"Of course, those guys who know the flats well up north catch piles of big fish," he admitted. "But I like fishing a familiar area where I know all the little spots within the spots."
Tietje also knows something that Thompson knows — the absolute best flats are those that are closest to the main river channel. They may be a little harder to locate, but they are where anglers can find bass bliss during the fall.
"Those flats are so good because they are so close to where fish live most of the year," Tietje said. "There's just so many more fish out there by that deeper water that it can't help but put the odds in your favor.
"They'll do the same thing that the fish on the other flats will do by moving as shallow as they can and getting around little stumps and grass. They're up there looking for bait, so if you can find flats with bait you will find the bass. If you're not seeing little schools of shad or minnows jumping around, go on until you find a flat where you do see them."
While Toledo Bend and D'Arbonne offer some of the finest fall flat action around, they aren't the only lakes with productive flats. Claiborne, Caney, Bistineau, Caddo and Grand Bayou all have productive flats. You can even find flats between the docks at the Mississippi River oxbow lakes like Bruin, St. John and Concordia.
Rivers also have productive flats. The Red River and the Ouachita River backwaters are full of flats that can be productive during the fall as long as the rivers don't get high and muddy.
No matter where you fish a flat, the basics are the same. Look for flats that have shad activity, then figure out how the fish move on the flat. Work up from the first major drop looking for depressions and ditches, and concentrate around their edges. Use baits that cover water quickly, and keep an eye out for breaking fish.
You may get a few side-glances and a few snide snickers when your buddies see you fishing the middle of nowhere, but don't worry because you'll be the last one laughing.