Closing the Gap
Use this strategy to catch bass at all stages of their winter doldrums.
By hitting what Clark Reehm called high percentage areas, anglers can dramatically up their chances of catching a good bag of bass.
Regardless of how badly you might want to, you’re not going to pick apart a defense like Drew Brees. You’re not going to crossover dribble like Chris Paul. And you’re not going to milk the clock like Les Miles.
OK, maybe that last one’s not such a great example, but you get my point.
Professionals have reached pinnacles that the rest of us can only dream about. Professional bass anglers are no different.
There’s not a bass angler alive who doesn’t wish he could cast a crankbait like Kevin Van Dam, flip a jig like Denny Brauer or bump a worm like Larry Nixon.
But the one thing that’s always fascinated me about professional bass fishing is just how accessible the professionals and their techniques are to their fans.
You might not be physically gifted enough to jump like Jimmy Graham, but with a little bit of time and effort, you can fish just like your favorite tournament pro.
Take 2011 Bassmaster Classic competitor Clark Reehm for example. This young participant in the bass wars went to high school in Leesville and college at Louisiana Tech. Although he lives in Lufkin, Texas, today, he knows how to competitively catch bass in just about any water in Louisiana.
If you followed the 2011 Classic, you recognize Reehm as the only angler who gambled on Delacroix. Unfortunately, his gamble didn’t pay off, and he zeroed on the first tournament day, but had the tournament been just one week later, when the Delacroix bite popped off, he might have been the one holding the trophy.
During the "Super Bowl of Bass Fishing," Reehm actually demonstrated how to expertly fish the Delacroix area when faced with limited time. He had only two hours to fish once he got over there from Bayou Segnette. His was a problem of bad timing rather than bad fishing.
Reehm could have headed to Venice, but he says he would have been relying on a 3- to 4-pound average since not many bass over 5 pounds get kicked out of there very often since Hurricane Katrina.
He could have headed to Cataouatche, but that entire area was essentially dead during practice, and the most predictable bite had been trending toward Venice leading up to the tournament.
Reehm could have fished anywhere but Delacroix, but he chose to spend $300 on gas to get to the Crow’s Foot near Caernarvon because he felt it was the only spot that had consistently produced enough big bass since Hurricane Katrina to help him win half a million dollars.
"The water around Caernarvon was the warmest water found anywhere before the Classic," Reehm said. "It was four degrees warmer than anything else I found.
"That’s huge the first couple months of the year. That was a good sign to me that the bite could fire any day."
With only two hours to fish upon his arrival to the area, Reehm fished very specific patterns for 30 minutes each. As each one failed to produce, he knew he was in trouble. However, with some proper timing, you can put Reehm’s plan into practice and maximize your time on the water.
First 30 minutes
Covering water is essential with limited time on the water. Reehm elected to spend his first 30 minutes of fishing time slinging a Mr. Hooty spinnerbait to anything he felt looked right.
"You’re better off covering water when you don’t have much time to fish," he said. "I was trying to hit high-percentage areas, and fishing in South Louisiana, you can’t go wrong with a small chartreuse/white spinnerbait to cover water during the prespawn."
Reehm worked his spinnerbait by casting it at 45-degree angles to anything on the bank that looked like it might hold a fish. He kept it high by the visible cover but slowed it down to let it crawl over the first break line off the bank.
With his spinnerbait, Reehm was able to cover everything from the dirt to the deep with one cast. When he didn’t get a bite on his blade, Reehm thought the bass might have been hanging out in other areas trying to get warm.
Second 30 minutes
A lot of the matted water hyacinths and other vegetation on the bank was dead, but Reehm knew that dead mats of vegetation retain warmth from the sun’s rays. Bass like to pile up under the mats.
"I hated to start punching the mats with such limited time," Reehm said. "Punching mats can be a tedious approach, but at the same time, if you find the right mat, you can load the boat in five flips."
These small honey holes within a grass mat usually have something just a little bit different about them. Reehm says there might be a depression under the mat in that one little area. There might be a black bottom holding more heat. There might be a little current rolling through there just right.
"Whatever it is, when you find those little spots in the mat, you can get right in a hurry," Reehm added. "But again, 30 minutes of that without a bite, and I knew it wasn’t happening either."
Third 30 minutes
After striking out punching grass, Reehm thought he might be able to find some fish on wood cover. He was getting a little desperate for a bite, but he felt like his systematic process of elimination was putting him closer to where he needed to be.
"All I was doing at this point was motoring past stretches of bare bank and hitting only the high-percentage areas on visible wood laydowns," he said. "I didn’t want to waste a lot of time fishing areas that might hold a fish. I would rather spend my time in this situation targeting areas where I know fish are if they’re up."
Reehm worked some of the laydowns with his Mr. Hooty spinnerbait, but he focused more on pitching a Kicker Craw soft plastic into transition areas within a laydown, which included areas like forks in the limbs, spots where one log lay over another, the base of the trunk near the bank and the tips of the deepest limbs.
"When you’re fishing like this, the whole idea is to get in and get out," Reehm explained. "These are the kind of spots where a bait falling right in front of a bass is going to make him bite.
"If he doesn’t bite, you get your bait out and put it in another spot as quickly as you can."
Fourth 30 minutes
The only option for Reehm to try after working his first three patterns was to fish the middle of the dead-end canals to see if the fish were there but just had not moved up shallow yet.
"Bass can be in the gut of a canal, and you’ll never know it if you never fish under where your boat is usually positioned," Reehm said. "This is the time to pick up some kind of lipless crankbait like a Rat-L-Trap or an XCalibur XR50."
While checking to see if bass were hanging out in the middle of the canals, Reehm allowed his bait to fall down into the gut. Then he sharply lifted his rod to rip his crankbait out of the grass.
"I knew any day or any hour those bass were going to move up," Reehm said. "And when they did, this would be the first spot they would pull up to with the rising water temperature.
"By going down the gut, I was hoping to trigger a reaction strike from the spotty grass where they would first gather to move on up even shallower."
Reehm has no regrets about gambling on Delacroix during last year’s Bassmaster Classic. Rather than having to contend with two or three other boats in the same canal down at Venice, he chose to run bread-and-butter techniques for the time of the year and the conditions he faced at Caernarvon.
"I wasn’t going to pull out something to experiment with," Reehm said. "With limited time, you’ve got to go with your meat and potatoes because that’s what catches the big sacks. Given the opportunity, I would do it all over again and hope for some better timing."
Reehm might not have caught bass like a professional angler during last year’s Classic, but he surely did fish like one. His first day was an example of how a pro leaves no stone unturned nor one minute wasted.
Fish like Reehm if you head out to Delacroix the first few months of this year, and if your timing is right, you’ll discover that the gap between amateur and pro isn’t as wide as you might think.
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Posted on January 01, 2012 at 1:00 am by Chris Ginn
Posted on January 01, 2012 at 1:00 am by Chris Ginn
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