What do an 11-lb. largemouth bass from a major reservoir caught by a tournament angler, a personal best largemouth of 7 pounds caught from a south Georgia river and a 3-lb. largemouth caught from a pond by a beginning angler have in common? They are trophy bass! Each angler has to define what a trophy bass is, and frankly, their definition is all that matters.
I started as a teenager devoting all my angling effort into catching an elusive 10-lb. bass, until I succeeded on May 7, 1995, a day still etched in my memory. I cannot explain it, but a switch flipped when I had accomplished that goal, and my new angling goal was to learn how to catch pretty much any species that would bite. Today, my definition of catching a trophy does not even involve me every time. It is just as much a “trophy” to watch my son catch a nice fish or put someone on their personal best bass.
If you see a blog or article written by Chris Mitchell (Bassmaster website managing editor), you will notice that his profile picture has him holding a nice bass. We fished together a few years back, and that was his biggest bass at that time. It was a true trophy to us, as evidenced by the high-fives and flashes going off.
Nowadays for me it is more about the who and how than the chest-beating of another tick mark on a score sheet. I definitely had a chest-beating phase, and that is OK, too. Regardless of how you define a trophy largemouth bass, we are right in the middle of the best time of the year to catch one.
Josh Bertrand, of Gilbert, Arizona, is heading into his fifth season on the B.A.S.S. Elite Series. Home for him are the deep, gin-clear waters of the southwestern deserts, but while on tour, he fishes all around the country.
“In tournaments, any time you catch a 5-pounder, it is a trophy. And, the key is to be there at the right time to catch a giant fish as they head to the banks to spawn. Spring and nighttime are the right times for the big ones,” he said.
Winter is giving way to spring right now, and the biological clock of the female bass makes her let her guard down some while she moves shallow to spawn. Ahead of the spawning season, bass put on the feed bag to provide nutrients for egg development. A big shad (or spinnerbait) or huge crayfish (or jig and craw) are two premium food items for sow bass. Find a staging area adjacent to spawning areas, and you have figured out a piece of the puzzle.
Josh mentioned nighttime, another time period when large bass let their guard down and are vulnerable to anglers.
The late Pat Cullen, of Valdosta, used the cover of darkness to amass an unreal number of bass heavier than 10 pounds by throwing buzzbaits. He caught more than 1,200 double-digit bass in his 40-plus years of trophy bass angling, and most of them ate buzzbaits at night. However, this time of year, daytime gives up plenty of trophy bass.
In 2011, I wrote a series dubbed the “10-pound Bass Tour” for GON. I fished with friends in three different locations across Georgia. Our first stop in February was Pineview Lake on Fort Stewart near Hinesville. We boated a 9-lb., 8-oz. beast there. An 8-lb., 12-oz. bass was fooled by Les Ager at Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area at our second stop. Our last destination in April was Lake Varner near Covington. Chris Nelson broke the double-digit barrier with an 11-lb. behemoth that hammered a swimbait, and we had several other fish in the 7- to 9-lb. range during the trip. At each location, we were able to fish the pre-spawn phase as we moved from south to north Georgia each month. Timing was important on our trips, as we fished for big, female largemouths that were staging before the spawn.
When not participating in tournaments, Josh defines a trophy bass like many hard-core bass anglers—a 10-pounder. When at home in Arizona, he likes throwing big swimbaits for bass that are chowing on recently stocked rainbow trout. He caught his biggest bass to date, a 12-pounder, on a topwater bait, but he also caught two bass heavier than 10 pounds on swimbaits. When fishing in the Southeast, his go-to bait for a fish of a lifetime is a black-blue-fleck 10-inch Berkley Power Worm. He has a lot of confidence in fishing that big worm Texas-rigged around spawning areas to land big fish in tournaments and just fun fishing.
“You usually need to work a Texas-rig slowly to fool big fish, and that is the downside to using it during tournaments,” Josh shared.
He likes to pitch the worm around docks and heavy cover, such as brushpiles and blowdown trees and work the heavy cover meticulously to trigger bites.
Other traditional lures that work great for trophy bass this time of year in Georgia include jigs, big spinnerbaits and Texas-rigged plastic lizards.
Jigs are my favorite trophy bass lures. My first giant bass (at least giant for a 17-year-old in my home state of Maryland) was a 6-pounder that I caught with a black/blue jig and a black pork rind trailer that I slowly worked near a spawning area during early spring.
Because of my affinity for jigs, I started custom-making them more than 30 years ago. At the time, the choices were basically black/blue, brown/orange, black and brown living rubber, but I wanted to customize my lures with tinsels and other color combinations. With the advent of silicone skirt material and dozens of head styles, the jig options are now limitless. My favorite jig trailer is a Keitech Crazy Flapper crayfish, and I usually match my trailer to my jig color.
When big female bass are looking for a big shad bite, a heavy spinnerbait with oversized blades is a great option to run past their staging location. Points and deep brushpiles are excellent areas to trigger a reflex bite with a blade. Shad hues usually produce best, but in heavily stained water, I have caught big fish well with a blue/chartreuse combination. The approach that has worked best for me is to lean toward willow blades in clearer water and Colorado blades in stained water.
Pitching Texas-rigged plastic lizards is a staple during later spring when the females make their move to the shallows immediately prior to spawning. Many tournaments on Georgia reservoirs have been won with big fish by anglers pitching 6- or 8-inch lizards to every piece of shoreline cover while bass are moving up to spawn. Junebug and green pumpkin are hard to beat if you do not already have a confidence color.
I am excited about a new product about to hit the market from Keitech USA. They have been one of the leaders for years in the solid-body swimbait market, and their 5.8” Fat Swing Impact has been a consistent trophy producing bait. Look for them to introduce an even larger Fat Swing Impact swimbait this year. You will not catch many 2-pounders with these big swimbaits, but their slow wobble and natural colors will definitely get the attention of giant bass like their smaller, tournament-winning cousins.
Rods on the longer and heavier end of the spectrum get the nod this time of year, as you might have to handle a giant fish on any given cast, and your offerings are usually oversized compared to other times of year. Flipping stick-sized outfits are the way to go.
“My favorite setup for Texas-rigging big worms is a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy-action Abu-Garcia Villain rod paired with an Abu-Garcia Revo ALX reel,” said Josh. “Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line in the 17-lb. test size gives me the perfect amount of stretch and sensitivity.”
Sensitive and powerful graphite rods are the norm for worms, lizards and jigs, but e-glass rods are great for spinnerbaits. If you have too much sensitivity for that bait, you have a tendency to pull the lure away from the fish before they truly inhale it. I usually use fluorocarbon if using an e-glass rod and monofilament if graphite is my rod choice.
This is the time frame that bass anglers dream of all year long, no matter how you define a “trophy.” Gear up with some of these suggestions, go fishing on your favorite bass waters this spring, and maybe you will realize your “trophy” dreams.
Editor’s Note: Capt. Bert Deener makes a host of custom-built lures for all species in both fresh and saltwater. For a catalog of his lures, e-mail him at email@example.com or call him at (912) 288-3022.
10-Pound Bass Tour
In 2011, the author wrote a three-part series dubbed the “10-pound Bass Tour.” He and some buddies fished Fort Stewart, Ocmulgee PFA and Lake Varner and boated three bass that weighed more than 8 pounds, including an 11-pounder from Varner.
All three of those stories are online at www.gon.com.