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Evolution of a Bass Angler: Getting Started

The essentials for bassin' big-time
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You've been watching too much Saturday morning TV. The constant bombardment of BASS pro's blasting around the lake in their NASCAR-looking rocket boats yanking hawg after hawg, screaming and yelling, and then cashing equally hawgish checks has finally gotten to your inner angler. Now it's time to put down the trout gear and figure out what all the hype is about. You too could be the next hero of the bass wars.

But wait, you don't have a boat – or any real bass tackle for that matter. Forget the gillion dollar sponsor contracts; you don't even have a bass rod. Fear not oh fledgling bassman, there's a Sportsman's Warehouse near you perfectly prepared to cure your tackle woes. No boat? No problem. The vast majority of bass anglers learned their skills on local ponds. And most importantly, that's where they developed the passion that eventually landed them on TV.

Whether or not you aspire to become a bass pro, there is a certain process, or evolution of sorts, that takes place once you take up bass fishing. It starts innocently enough with walking neighborhood ponds toting a spinning rod and a few plastic worms and eventually culminates with garage full of tackle and a really cool boat. As with many things in life, the joy lies within the process.

This is the first in a three part series on the evolution of a bass angler. Part one, this article, will cover the basics of getting started. Tackle, lures, and approaches to pond fishing will be covered. Part two will step up to a small boat, like a 12 foot Jon or personal pontoon, which opens a whole new set of possibilities and waters. More tackle, more mobility, more options. In part three, we'll focus on the world of bass fishing as seen on TV, meaning a true "bass boat". There we'll hit the advanced tackle choices, fish locations, and strategies for Colorado's larger lakes like Chatfield, Horsetooth, or Pueblo. Tune in to all three parts for the full effect.

Colorado is not known as a bass state and admittedly, there is less opportunity for bass fishing than, say, Texas. But that doesn't mean you don't have options. There are countless ponds and small lakes full of willing bass up and down the Front Range, and all over the state really. They are perfect places to stop by after work and make a few evening casts, or better yet, take a kid fishing on an early Saturday morning. And you don't need a ton of fancy tackle to be successful. A modest selection of well-chosen baits combined with some basic bass principles will get it done in the ponds in your area.
Fishing ponds for bass
Places like Prospect ponds in Fort Collins, Golden Ponds in Longmont,Riverbend ponds in Arvada, Quail Lake in Colorado Springs, Valco Ponds in Pueblo, or even Confluence Ponds in Grand Junction, to name a few, offer the angler a pleasant environment and excellent walking access coupled with respectable bass fishing. Check with the Colorado Division of Wildlife for a book called "Fishing Close to Home" for a listing of Front Range waters. Or make a forum post on Fish Explorer (www.FishExplorer.com) for information on waters near where you live. Or consult with the fishing department employees at a local shop such as Sportsman's Warehouse for a rundown on local ponds. They all fish and will know not only where to go, but what types of lures will likely work.

To be successful at fishing requires some basic knowledge of the fish you are pursuing, and bass are no different. Knowing a few key characteristics and habits of the beast will aid in deciding where and how to fish in any given pond.

First and foremost, bass are not roamers like trout, wiper, walleye or other open water species. That is to say that bass spend most of their time stationed on a spot waiting for the next chance to eat, rather than swimming around in open water looking for it. What that means to an angler is that open water is rarely productive when bass fishing. Bass relate to cover, which is a term for submerged weeds, rocks, logs, brush – in short, anything that sticks up from the bottom or out from the bank. Cover can be man-made, like culverts or docks, as well. The concept of fishing cover is probably the most important aspect of successful bassin', be it in a one acre pond or 5,000 acre lake.

One of the advantages of pond fishing is that you literally have them surrounded. Deciding exactly where to fish is easier when you can effectively fish the whole place. Having said that, fishing the high percentage spots, like where there is a bunch of cover rather than open, flat banks, will increase your catch rate. With time and practice (doesn't fishing practice sound like fun!), you will develop a feel for what to cast to, not to mention the accuracy to cast very close to it. On sunny days, bass tend to relate even tighter to cover, possibly even directly against a log or in its shadow. On overcast days, they may roam an area around or near cover. Either way, fishing around cover is a major key to consistency.
Fishing cover for bass
Having snagged and lost a few thousand lures in other types of fishing myself, I understand why most new bass anglers are tentative about casting a lure into the closest bush in hopes of plucking a largemouth out. Well, millions of bass fisherfolks before you have had the same feeling and have developed bass lures that are virtually snag proof, as well as tackle designed to properly present them. Many of these lures are inexpensive and very easy to use. There is a lure for every type of cover, but a pond fisherman in the early stages of evolution need only carry a small cross-section to be successful. The venerable plastic worm and associated terminal tackle, spinnerbaits, a surface plug or two, and a jig selection are all that a pond outing requires. A spinning rod, spare spool of line, pliers, and polarized fishing glasses complete the total package.

The appropriate rod and reel combination for any situation should be selected based on your anticipated presentation, not the size of fish as is often assumed. To bass fisherman, this means a rod that is stiff enough to accurately cast lures in the one-eighth to one-half ounce range on about ten pound test line. Remember that you'll be fishing right around cover for fish that will try to retreat into said cover when hooked. Even though the bass may be only 2 pounds, the cover/lure combo will necessitate the heavier line. If nothing else, the heavier tackle will keep your lure losses to a minimum.
  For your first rod, a St. Croix 6'6" medium power, fast action spinning rod is ideal. It features the accuracy you need to fish around cover, combined with the backbone to get solid hooksets and land bass of all sizes. A mid-size spinning reel will hold plenty of line and has a powerful and smooth drag to compliment your monster hookset. Ten pound Trilene monofilament or 15 pound Fireline Braid (or better yet, a spool of each) will effectively cover any bass pond. Incidentally, this set-up is key throughout the evolutionary process and has a place in any bass pro's rod locker.

Weedless lures usually require a robust hookset to sink a large hook in a bony jaw. The hook is often buried in the plastic, as in the case of a Texas-rigged worm, or is protected by a weedguard. Bass newbies are well advised to take their time and plan a hookset more so than with other fishing. Bass will usually hold on to a lure, particularly a soft plastic, giving you time to set. When a bite is detected either by a "tap" on the line, steady pressure when you lift the rod, or movement of the line that you are watching closely like a good basser, lower the rod tip, reel down on the slack and snap the rod away from the fish. Immediately reel to keep pressure on the fish in an effort to keep it from wrapping you up in the cover.

Surface lures, spinnerbaits, and other less weedless lures are not as difficult to hookset. Always set away from the direction of travel of lure or fish if possible and never let slack into the line after the hookset or during the fight. Always pre-set your drag so that it clicks a time or two on the hookset; drag should be set to your line strength, not your fish size. If using braided line which has no stretch, the drag setting should be the same as if you were using mono of a lighter test. This will make your braid more forgiving while still getting solid hooksets and providing excellent control and abrasion resistance. The braid is much better for fishing large lures like spinnerbaits on spinning rods, but will pull the smaller hooks of a topwater plug out of a fish if the low-stretch factor is not considered.

As previously hinted, your pond lure selection need not be extensive or complicated. The foundation of any lure selection for bass fishing is soft plastics, like rubber worms. There is an infinite variety of soft plastics available and they all catch bass. For Colorado, natural colors like browns and greens are generally best. Berkley Power worms, 4" lizards or craws, and 3" tubes are all great choices. Rig any of them Texas style on a size 2/0 extra-wide gap worm hook with a small (1/16 - 1/4oz) sliding bullet weight ahead of it and drag it around cover of any sort for excellent results. Either mono or braid works well. This would be a great first choice for any pond, weather, and season.

Breezy, rainy, or pre-frontal conditions put bass on the feed. At these times you can cover more water with spinnerbaits. Get a 1/4oz tandem blade model in natural baitfish colors and fish it around cover, over weeds, or just along windy banks. Cast it out, immediately close the bail and begin a steady retrieve. Snap the rod tip or pause reeling occasionally to make it erratic. Slow reel it just above the bottom or burn it just under the surface creating a wake. Try a lift-and-fall retrieve in more open water. However you fish it, pay attention to how you got your first bite and duplicate.

A popper, like a Pop-R or Frenzy Pop, is big fun for pond bassing and great way to develop your skills. Bass are very surface oriented and will readily strike a floating plug from about April through October. Fish them directly adjacent to visible cover or over drop-offs or weeds. Toss them out, "pop" them with the rod tip and pause. Again, vary the retrieve until you get bit and repeat. Set the hook by sweeping sideways, not up, after the plug has actually disappeared from the surface. This is one of the most fun ways to fish.

A selection of leadhead jigs is cheap and an easy way to catch bass. They work very well where there is less snaggy cover like weed growth. Plastics tails can be small worms, craws, tubes, or grubs. They can be swam evenly, hopped on the bottom, or allowed to free fall. Variety is the operative term with jigs and they are a staple in all bass fishing. An eighth ounce jighead with a five inch Gulp! Shakey Worm in a natural color fished slowly is a money maker wherever bass swim.

A few generalities may help you get started. First, chose your colors based on the conditions. Low light or stained water; chose bolder colors. Bright light or clear water calls for more natural colors, regardless of bait style or type. For weights, chose the lightest that you can cast accurately and feel. Windy conditions or deeper water call for more weight (1/4 - ½ oz.), while calm or shallow water means less weight (1/16 - 1/8 oz.). Use smaller baits in clear or cold water, bigger baits in stained or warmer water. When trying to find what they'll bite on any given day, let the weather be your guide.

If it is windy, rainy, overcast, or generally pre-frontal conditions, use more aggressive baits and presentations. Baits that move faster, flash or vibrate more, or contain rattles are good choices to exploit the feeding conditions. Calm, sunny, bluebird days mean less active bass sitting tighter to cover. Then use subtle presentations with smaller baits. Cast very close to visible cover - too close always beats too far. Toss horizontally-retrieved baits, like spinnerbaits, past visible cover and retrieve back by as close as possible. Jigs or worms can be cast softly right next to the cover and allowed to fall vertically to get bites.

Regardless of what you are fishing, always pay close attention to how you got bit. How deep, what type of cover, how fast you were reeling, etc. are all things that you should note and duplicate to get other bites. As you skills develop, you'll figure out that they are part of a "pattern", or set of conditions that you can use to problem solve a bigger pond on another day.

Bass are the number one gamefish nationwide because they are exciting to catch under a variety of conditions. The skills it takes to catch 'em from the bank in ponds are the same that are required on the nation's great bass lakes, only less complicated. They are in fact the foundation of successful bassing everywhere. Get yourself some basic tackle. Keep an open mind. Read up a little and walk around a pond or two in your area. Be observant and stealthy in your approach. Before long you'll catch a few. Take some photos and put 'em back for next time. It's an absolute blast and the first step in the evolution of a bass angler.

 

© 2014 Chad LaChance
About the author, Chad LaChance:
Known as Fishful Thinker, Chad LaChance is a professional fishing guide, author, and instructor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. He is the host of "Fishful Thinker TV" on Altitude Sports Channel and guest host and weekly contributor on FM102.3 and FM 105.5 "ESPN Outdoors". Chad is a seminar speaker at various consumer shows including the International Sportsmenís Expo, a columnist for Sportsman's News, and a field editor for FishExplorer.com. Equally at home with fly or conventional tackle, he has been featured in the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Fishing & Hunting News, Western Outdoor News, The Coloradoan and others. Fishful Thinker is proud to be sponsored by Sportsmanís Warehouse, Toyota Trucks, Pedersen Toyota, St. Croix Rod, Evinrude, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Camp Chef, Ranger, Lowrance, Bullhide 4x4, Fuel Off-Road, Costa, and Crowley Marine.
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