TFO Ambassador Joey Nania had an excellent weekend at Lake Norman in Charlotte, North Carolina last weekend with a strong second place win. Nania finished with a total weight of 36lb – 11oz and walked away with over $21,000 in cash winnings. Joey was fishing a “Neg Neeky” Zman Streak 375 on a 3/16 ounce finesse eye jig head on a 1/0 hook in a shiner color for both. Joey was fishing this on the Tactical Elite Bass 7’1″ Medium Light (TLE MBR S 713-1). Check out the video below to see why this rod was the right tool to seal the deal.
We can all agree that 2020 was a tough year. Between many places being shut down and inventory issues brought on by unprecedented demand, it was (and in some cases still) a mess. Not being able to attend fishing shows was one of the many aspects that we (and others) missed about 2020. Needless to say, the return of ICAST last week was a blessing and a long overdue meeting of friends and family, ambassadors, pro staff anglers, and more – both new and old.
For those unfamiliar with the changes in ICAST and IFTD (International Fly Tackle Dealer), the shows are now happening at different times of year – ICAST in July, and IFTD now taking place in October. Historically, both shows happened at the same time – which was ALOT to take in, but great for those wanting to get the most of both worlds. Needless to say, even though ICAST is now more focused on the conventional side of fishing, we still had a TON of people stop by the TFO booth to check out our fly gear, and make trips to the casting pond to try out the new Mangrove Coast and BC Big Fly, as well as some familiar favorites like the Axiom ll-X. While the fly stuff was getting plenty of love, there was a lot of attention aimed at the newly redesigned Professional and Tactical Inshore series, as well as the new Tactical Elite Bass swimbait models.
We were able to film a few videos with TFO Ambassadors Rob Fordyce, Joey Nania, and Jonathan Moss going over some of the new stuff, as well as some classics.
Our good friends at Tackle Warehouse stopped by for a bit to interview Joey Nania, and go over some of the new Tactical Elite additions. Check out those videos below.
Temple Fork Outfitters TFO Tactical Elite Swimbait Rods with Joey Nania | First Look 2021
New Temple Fork Outfitters Tactical Elite Spinning Rod 7’6″ Med Lt w Joey Nania | First Look 2021
Temple Fork Outfitters TFO Tactical Bass and Tactical Elite Comparison | First Look 2021
Be on the lookout for more content from ICAST. We had several friends and dealers stop by to shoot some content on the new conventional gear, and we can’t wait to share them on our socials as they become available.
TFO’s redesigned Professional rod series is designed for the versatile angler of any skill level and is perfectly suited for a wide variety of species and environments.
Highly durable, standard modulus, and moderate fast action blanks with powerful butt sections, come together to create one of the best values of any rod on the market.
New to the Professional series are down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for increased comfort, Fuji Concept O-ring guides, and cork grips all combine to give you a fabulous rod, safe for use in both fresh and saltwater. The Professional series continues to use the popular TFO color coded power system so you can quickly identify which action you are grabbing when the bite is hot.
Full length grips on 7’ & 7’6” spinning rods, split grips on all remaining models.
The newly redesigned Tactical Inshore series, are specialized inshore saltwater rods, built and designed for the accomplished inshore angler looking to find a series that will fit every need they have regardless of geography.
Compared to previous models, the new Tactical Inshore features a slight reduction in the blank weight, improved balance resulting in increased sensitivity, and new down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for enhanced comfort.
The series features TFO’s sky blue finish, Fuji K Guides with corrosion control and Fazlite inserts, premium cork grips with EVA accents and butts – along with shorter split grips on rods less than 7’. Full length grips on all other models.
New to the Trout-Panfish series are two new light power models: the TPS 662-1 (6’6″ Light Power) and the TPS 702-1 (7′ Light Power). Anglers familiar with this series will appreciate these new additions for throwing larger baits, and having more hook set power. Both new models feature the same components and look as the others in the Trout-Panfish family.
Summer is upon us, and topwater season is in full swing, with big blow-ups in store! Here’s a unique approach from TFO Ambassador Jeremy Francis, to tackling three topwater techniques, and getting the most out of your rods for the topwater bite (and more)!
1). Hollow Body Frogs.
There’s not much in the world of bass fishing that yields heart-pumping topwater blow-ups like a bass crashing in on a topwater frog. While there are different frogs to consider (walking, popping, buzzing), the gear and set-up you should use are mostly the same. For starters, you need line that will float, and not stretch. Hollow Body Frogs are equipped with 2 very strong heavy gauge hooks, therefore you need strong line and a heavy rod to match. Consider 50-60 braid, especially if you like fishing a frog in and around heavy cover. The braid will give you very responsive action with zero stretch, while also cutting through any grass and vegetation a fish may try to dive into after the hookset.
For the rod, the Tactical Elite 7’4 XH (TLE SC 747-1) gets the job done. While this rod is labeled as “Moderate,” the XH power gives it a strong backbone which makes for great hooksets. The moderate action and softer tip also allows for super accurate casts when you’re trying to pick apart holes in grass mats or lily pads. For the reel, consider a model with heavier drag to pull those fish out of the thick stuff, with a high gear speed. Since you’re working the frog with the rod and not the reel, the reel speed will only come into play once you set the hook, and you’ll need and want that higher speed to keep the fish from running into the cover you just brought her out of.
Unfortunately, the frog bite can sometimes die off in mid-day with a high, bright sun. For those times, I’ll use the same 7’4 TLE SC rod, but turn to a jig, Texas rig, or big shaky head worm instead. This rod blank still gives you the great sensitivity you love from the Tactical Elite line-up, which makes for a great bottom-contact rod for dragging baits around in deeper water. If you’re fishing stained water then you can still use braid. However, if the water is clearer, consider switching out reels to 17 lb fluorocarbon. It obviously doesn’t need to float (which flouro doesn’t), and flouro still gives you great feel and very little stretch for your hooksets. This is how I turn this rod into a 2 for 1, and we’ll discuss the same methodology for the next two topwater set-ups.
2.) Big Walking Baits and Ploppers
We’re going to lump a few baits into one, as we discuss the next topwater technique that is highly effective and a lot of fun to fish! Big topwater baits equipped with treble hooks (key component here) that include: Big walking baits, the good ‘ol Whopper Plopper, or the Berkley Choppo. While each of these baits come in a smaller version of themselves, we are currently talking about the big brothers here. These baits are highly effective on shallow flats, main lake points, or fishing parallel to the bank on long casts. To help you get the most out of your casts, hook-sets, and landing ratios, the rod and line you choose make all the difference in the world!
Let’s first discuss the line. You really have two options here, and many personal preferences come into play – monofilament or braid, or a combination of the two for a third option. Both mono and braid float, but depending on how much side to side walking action you are getting or wanting out of your walking baits, braided line can sometimes fall back into the treble hooks and kill the cast/action of the lure. Mono will help prevent this. For those die-hard braid fans out there, you can still use your favorite here, just consider a monofilament leader which is a little stiffer and stays out of the way of your hooks during the walking motion. For your Whopper Ploppers or Berkley Choppo, it really comes down to personal preference between braid and mono, but I’d go with braid IF you’re also using the right rod for this application.
For rod selection, if you’re not using the Tactical Glass 7’4 MH, you should really give it a try. I can’t speak highly enough about this new glass rod (TAC GB CB 745-1). The parabolic bend in this blank allows you to cast a country-mile, but more importantly, the rod is phenomenal for hooksets with these baits. The moderate action prevents you from ripping the bait away from a fish after it explodes on your bait. After the great hookset you bestow upon this fish, you are able to keep the fish pinned with a slower response rate compared to a fast action rod, which prevents fish from throwing your bait on head shakes and brings more fish in the boat. And once the sun gets high and the topwater bite dies off, this rod makes for a great bladed jig set-up. Switch to the reel/line of your choice, but you will still experience the same benefits mid-day with this rod and a bladed jig!
3. Smaller Spooks, Poppers, and Wake Baits
Now that we’ve covered the larger variety of these baits, let’s move to the smaller versions. As much as we all love big bass on big baits, there are times that we have to come to terms with the fact that bass are keyed in on smaller bait fish. For these moments, smaller spooks or walking baits, poppers, and even smaller wake baits can really excel, especially along grass lines or under overhanging trees.
Much like above, your line needs to float here. For the same reasons mentioned above, you can choose monofilament or braid. 20-30 lb braid seems to work well with these baits, except for super clear water when monofilament may work better on a slower retrieve and with pressured fish. Reel speed doesn’t matter much so I prefer the higher/faster ratios, unless it’s for a smaller wake bait, then a slower ratio reel helps me slow down the retrieve. For rod selection, we also like to step slightly down in size and power, and use the 7’2 Tactical Glass Bass (TAC GB CB 724-1). This is still a manageable rod length for imparting walking action on these baits, and the hook-up ratio is hard to beat with this rod’s action! Both the 7’2 and 7’4 Tactical Glass Bass rods are great for topwater treble hook style baits, and you won’t want to put them down.
Last thing to mention is that the 7’2 Tactical Glass Bass rod also makes for a great crankbait rod with your favorite squarebill or lipless crank. So in between the morning and evening topwater sessions when you’re slaying ‘em, switch over to a crankbait on this rod and keep sticking them mid-day!
These three topwater techniques and rods stay on the deck of my boat at all times during the Summer months. I now actually have 2 of each so I don’t have to switch reels, and can get the exact action I need and want out of the line and reel speed. You can’t go wrong with these rods, and you if haven’t tried the Tactical Glass series yet, you really need to. The quality, benefits, and price point all come together for high performance fishing to help you land more fish and get the most out of your time on the water!
Blog written by TFO Ambassador Jeremy Francis. You can find out more at his YouTube channel Fishing The LoneStar, or follow him on Instagram here.
Often thought of as one of the toughest times to consistently catch quality bass, the late spring to early summer transition can be a challenge at times – but can also be extremely rewarding! The key is truly being versatile and not getting stuck with just one game plan in mind.
When bass finish up with their annual spawning rituals, there is a lot going on in their tiny little brains. First off is recovery – the spawn is a stressful time for a bass where they are particularly vulnerable, and are often caught by the lucky angler that lands the perfect cast on their bed. With this being said, the recovery period where a post spawn fish just truly won’t bite doesn’t last long!
Within a matter of days, a typical shallow water spawning bass will make its way offshore looking for the most healthy environment to post up in, where feeding opportunities come easy, and the water quality is the best. In most lake situations, deep water is the key to consistently catching post spawn bass.
How deep those post spawn bass might go is greatly dependent on water clarity. In muddy water situations, such as current oriented rivers and reservoirs, “deep” might be 8 to 12 feet, whereas on clear water lakes, bass might spend their post spawn days in 15 to 35 feet of water. The clarity truly makes a big difference.
Knowing where bass spawn is also very important to finding where they hang out post spawn. It’s very important that an angler must understand that different species of bass will spawn in different locations! While largemouth typically spawn in shallow protected pockets and creek arms, spotted bass and smallmouth bass often spawn on main lake banks, points, humps, and road beds. The key is finding deep water such as a point, a ledge, a brush pile, or a grass line! These places provide a safe environment that is normally rich with oxygen and baitfish where the bass can begin to feed and regain strength!
Your bait selection is the final key to catching post spawn bass, and a lot of that depends on the main forage base and the type of deep water your lake of choice has to offer. As a rule of thumb, I like to keep fast moving reaction baits and slower baits ready to go in my arsenal.
For your reaction baits, as the fish begin to recover, chatterbaits and swimbaits can be great fish catching tools. For my personal Chatterbait setup I rely on the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Glass Bass Rod (TAC GB CB 745-1). The balance between tip and backbone on this rod is absolutely perfect, and with light weight high quality components, I rarely miss a bite.
For my swimbait, I love the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE LW 74CB-1). While also being perfectly balanced, this rod has just a touch more sensitivity that allows me to detect and capitalize on light bites in deep water. For my post spawn slow moving techniques, I also keep things pretty simple rotating between a Ned Rig, a Drop Shot, and a Carolina Rig.
With all of this deep water talk, you truly do need to keep an open mind when targeting bass in any season. Remember the principal that not all bass do the same thing or behave the same at the same time! On any given day, there are tons of different ways to catch a bass and while typical post spawn fishing revolves around deep water fishing, the shallow bite should never be ignored!
When bass are finishing up their spawn, many other species such as bluegill and shad are just beginning their annual spawning rituals! With that in mind, baits such as topwater walking baits, frogs, swimjigs, and flipped soft plastics can be used with success for post spawn bass. The key for the shallow bite is low light. This traditionally means early in the morning or late in the evening but cover such as docks, grass beds, and over hanging trees can hold post spawn bass throughout the course of the day.
Keep an open mind and never kick a dead horse too long. If you do these things and rotate through all of the possible options, you will greatly reduce your bad days on the water!
By now, spring has set in for most of the US. With the longer day light hours and warmer temperatures, its arguably every angler’s favorite season to bass fish. Why? Well, your chances at catching a personal best are at its highest in the pre-spawn. Secondly, the bass go shallow and who doesn’t like to fish shallow?
Spring is also probably the only season that you can simplify by breaking down in to three phases; pre-spawn, spawn, and post spawn. This transitional time of the year can be incredible with both quantity and quality, but it can also be frustrating and downright confusing due to early spring cold fronts, some fish in all three phases, and the post-spawn “funk”.
Generally speaking, for most of the lower 48 states the spawn takes place from late March through early June. It starts earlier the further south you go and a little later the further north you go. Pre spawn fish will be at their biggest all year because the females are full of eggs, spawning fish are on beds and are tricky to catch with a lot of “sight fishing”, and during the post-spawn period you’ll have fish eager to eat but sometimes they’ll be in what a lot of anglers like to call the “post spawn funk” for a short while after spawning where the bass aren’t spawning or feeding heavily.
The way I approach this time of year is to be versatile and prepared. I fish out of a kayak, so I have to be mindful and really dial in what I bring on the water because my storage capacity is fairly small. Even with the storage options on my Hobie Pro Angler 12 MD360, things can get crowded QUICK! That said, I typically bring 10 to 12 rod and reel combo’s, 6-7 3700 series Plano tackle boxes, and enough soft plastics to cover the basics of flipping, worms and trailer options. The amount of rods allows me to pre-rig different techniques in multiple sizes and/or colors so that I’m better prepared for the water conditions and situations that may arise.
The bite windows this time of year are typically small, so I get on the water as early as possible and I stay late so that I can pay attention to the times of the day when the fish are biting. To help clue me in to when and where I should be fishing, I focus on the following factors:
Length of day
Longer day time hours = more sun warming the water. Bass really start to get active when the water reaches 50 degrees and generally spawn in water temps between 55-75 degrees water temperature.
Weather trend 2-3 days prior
The early spring can be volatile with cold fronts, so ideally I want stable weather in the days leading up to my time on the water.
Hard bottom areas of the lake
During this time of year, they like to congregate around hard bottom areas so they can move up to feed up and spawn when the time is right. I’ve seen beds on top of lay downs, next to stumps, on rocks, and on cypress knee root systems.
Southern facing shallow pockets, bays, coves, flats and creek arms are high-percentage areas protected from North winds. However, I don’t mind a South wind as it can sometimes help turn on the bite. I’ve had some very special days in the pre-spawn with a south wind.
This time of year, being versatile is a big factor while ultimately, the conditions will dictate what I’m throwing. I’m focusing a lot on reaction baits like a chatterbait or crankbait, but im also prepared with the slower techniques, like a jig, Texas-rigged creature and yes, the ol’ trusty Yamamoto Senko ready to go.
Once the water is above 50 degrees, I’ll start covering water with a chatterbait or a top water like a buzzbait. If I start with a topwater like a buzzbait, I like throwing a 3/8 oz with a buzz frog instead of a skirt and I’ll throw that until the sun gets over the horizon or until the bite goes away. Then I’ll switch to a chatterbait since it’s an incredibly versatile lure and catches big fish. Up shallow, I’ll throw a 3/8 oz with a Yamamoto Zako trailer and if I’m fishing in water 5-10 feet, I’ll throw a ½ oz and let it sink to the bottom before I start to retrieve. With both the buzzbait and chatterbait, the one thing I see a lot of people do is “chuck-&-wind”, which will catch fish, but it sort of takes away from the versatility of each lure. Instead of just casting and reeling, try doing short twitches of the rod during the retrieve when the lure gets near an object. Also try different retrieve speeds like slow-rolling or burning.
I keep a spinnerbait and swimjig ready as pinch-hitters for the chatterbait. If there is a lot of snags or heavy vegetation, I’ll switch to a swimjig or if the wind is heavy then ill go to a spinnerbait. Though I will say, I don’t have any hard rules and I’ll swap in between the three at any moment I feel I may need to.
If I approach some stumps or a laydown, I’ll swap out with a squarebill crankbait and work it along the edges, bouncing it off every stump, stick and branch I can.
If these techniques don’t elicit a reactive strike, then I will start picking apart every lay down and piece of wood I come across with a jig, creature or worm in no specific order. Bass love to use wood as cover and they’re known to spawn on and around wood, since it offers a form of hard bottom and also protection.
If I come across bass on beds, these slower presentations are the ticket. I’m not big on bed-fishing because you can often waste a lot of your day trying to catch one fish, but I also don’t want to cause more stress on the fish. However, even blind casting you are bound to catch spawning fish so take it for what its worth.
The frog and big glidebait/soft swimbait are my “special teams” lures. For example, if I come up on a random clump of grass along the bank or there is a thick tangle of wood. I’ll work a frog over and through it. Or say I find a brushpile on my side imaging sonar, I’ll throw the glide bait over it or bring the big soft swimbait through it hoping to find a monster female bass looking for a big lazy meal. That isn’t to say these baits are ONLY good for these scenarios, you could definitely fish them both all day. I just choose to reserve them for high-percentage areas during the pre and post-spawn.
This rod performs exceptionally well with chatterbaits, offering enough tip flex to let the fish eat the bait better and to keep the hook pinned, while also having enough backbone to drive a hard hookset and also helps snap your lure free of grass. You get all this in a very light and sensitive rod.
Flipping and bottom baits like a jig, t-rigged creature, and worms, I use the Tactical Elite Bass 7’4” Heavy (TLE SC 746-1). This is a great all-around rod and I’ll have one rigged for both heavy and light applications. Lite applications is the Shimano Antares 7.4:1 for light weight applications with 17 lb fluorocarbon. Heavier applications is the Shimano SLX MGL 70, 7.1:1 with 40 lb braid.
Frogs & Swimbaits:
My clean-up hitters get the heavy rod treatment. For frogs, I like the Tactical Elite Bass 7’2” Heavy (TLE SB 726-1) paired to an 8.4:1 speed Shimano Exsence 8×5 DC, spooled with 50lb braid. For big glidebaits and soft swimbaits, I call on the Mag Heavy 7’11” GTS Swimbait (GTS BBC 7116-1) paired with a Shimano Tranx 301 5.8:1 speed reel and 20-25 lb fluorocarbon. This rod works beautifully with hard and soft baits between 6-10” with a soft enough tip to cast these heavy lures long distances, paired with a stout backbone to really drive the hook hard and cranking big fish in.
Blog written by TFO Pro Staffer Rob Kretsch. You can find out more about Rob here.
Fishing from a kayak brings an entirely new dynamic to fishing that is both challenging and therapeutic. While the average angler starts out bank fishing and some move directly into boat fishing, I think kayak fishing is heavily overlooked. Kayaks come in all different shapes and sizes, styles and price points, so it’s understandable that some may be intimidated by the unlimited options. I’m here to tell you it’s not as bad as you might think, and if you decide to get into one it can change your life!
I’ve used multiple types of kayaks, from paddle to pedal, budget to premium. One aspect they all have in common is the ability to get to where bank fisherman and boaters can’t or won’t normally go. It allows you to seek and chase a new adventure whether it’s a creek, river, small pond or even a big lake. It puts you where the fish are! You also get a little exercise out of it as well.
For those of you looking to get into your first kayak, you should start by establishing a budget. This is key to determining the type of boat you will be able to get into. There are tons of kayaks on the market that fall into multiple price points so having a solid budget is the best place to start. You will see those cheap $300-400 boats at your local Walmart and think I’ll just grab one of those and be good. Most of the time these kayak will work just fine, but just for a little while. You’ll quickly realize the lesser expensive models aren’t comfortable for fishing all day. They’re usually not as stable, and because of the cheaply made design, they can take on water easier, and often quick. My advice is don’t cheap out. While I totally understand its not always easy to afford some of the big name kayaks, but in my opinion, a good baseline for a great fishing kayak is around $1,000. My very first kayak retailed for $899 before taxes and was out the door right at $1,000. Most, if not all kayak outfitters offer demos at no cost – which you should absolutely do before purchasing. Reach out to your local dealer or outfitter to see if they offer demo days.
In addition to a kayak, the absolute first item you should purchase is a PFD (life vest). This is probably the single most important piece of equipment you need to always be wearing. It will literally save your life! Second, you’ll need a good paddle. Even if you purchase or use pedal kayaks, having a paddle comes in handy – especially when you get into a jam or your pedal drive fails! Consider getting a paddle that is comfortable to use and light enough that it doesn’t cause arm fatigue after several hours on the water. A first aid kit, and other safety equipment i.e., whistle, 360 light and flag are also items you should consider as well.
Now for the fun stuff, the fishing gear! This is the whole reason you bought that kayak, and now you’re ready to get after that new PB right?! I typically have a lot of rods with me. This isn’t always needed as I constantly find myself only using a hand full of them. We kayakers tend to bring the whole tackle shop with us as a “just in case”.
Spring is probably one of my most favorite times of year to fish and there are 3 very specific setups I always have in the yak!
A Texas rig setup: I use a 7’ MH Heroes on the Water benefit rod as my t-rig setup. You get the same great action and sensitivity as the Professional Series and when you buy one, a portion of that proceeds benefit a great organization!
A Panfish setup: we live to fish, and fish to eat right? I always have a 6’6-7’ Trout-Panfish rod on the kayak for those crappie and sand bass because you never know when you might run into a school and smack’em! Keep that stringer on deck!
All in all, kayak fishing is a new experience that is easy to get into and I think everyone should try. It’s a great way to relax, unwind, and reconnect with nature. If given the opportunity to try it, you should give it a go. You never know what kind of adventure you may find!
Blog written by TFO Ambassador Brandon Mayes (IG: _thatbassfishingdude). You can find Brandon on social media here or visit his website here.
Prespawn smallmouth to me is associated with constant movement. The prespawn period is typically when water temps are between mid 40 degrees to upper 50’s, with the “Magic Number” being around 60 degrees for smallmouth to be in full-blown spawn mode. Smallmouth in the prespawn are constantly in transition from deeper waters into staging areas and getting closer towards shallower flats where they will spawn. Smallmouth are unique in the fact that they tend to spawn in deeper water than largemouth and are more willing to be in open water areas near the main lake, as long as they can be protected from the elements; wind, waves, and current. The areas that I’m looking for during the prespawn are areas where fish can transition very easily. Fish want to have easy access between shallow and deeper water areas, especially during early to mid spring while they’re feeding up in the prespawn. Important factors such as weather, water color and temperatures are constantly changing, so being able to adjust to these variables is important for catching more smallmouth.
Ideal Water Temperatures
Typically the ideal prespawn water temperature for smallmouth is in the upper 40s to upper 50s – approximately 48-58 degrees. That’s really when I’m going to consider active prespawn smallmouth fishing. Mid April to mid May is a pretty good gauge for when fish seem to be fully in prespawn mode.
Transition, Contour & Structure
Finding transition points in depth and structure are where smallmouth can be found in early spring. Typically, these transitional staging areas are drops, points, or really any subtle structures on the bottom. Hard spots, or areas where there’s small contour off the edge of a hard drop are great holding spots. Smallmouth on northern lakes tend to set up on obvious contour changes, for example areas where there are steep drops near a main lake point can be very productive locations.
In order to adapt to the weather, water color and temperatures, and ever-changing moods of smallmouths, I’ll have a variety of baits tied on during the early spring to find smallmouth. The bait that I’ll choose will depend on the situation, fish mood, and water clarity. Having the ability to catch fish on a variety of baits is one of the most fun, but most challenging things during the spring.
The jerkbait is probably my number 1 bait for fishing the prespawn. Jerkbaits work especially well for the Northern lakes that I’m typically fishing this time of year. They catch fish that are both lethargic and don’t necessarily want to eat. A jerkbait elicits more of a reaction strike, but they’re also a really good bait to cover water with and just get really aggressive fish to come up and eat too.
The rod that I prefer to use is the 7’ Medium Cranking Tactical rod (TAC LW 70CB-1). The reason I like this rod is because the action is snappy enough that I can fish the jerkbait well, but when the fish bites, the rod has a deeper bend (more moderate action) to keep these big smallmouths hooked!
I also really like a medium diving crankbait for covering water in the springtime. Using an 8-12 foot diving crankbait allows me to cover a lot of water to locate these big pods of smallmouth. Once I’ve located the school, I can also use the same bait to trigger fish to bite cast after cast. What I’m looking for when fishing a medium diving crankbait are mid depth contour changes, preferably with isolated cover on bottom. Grass, rock piles, or even subtle bottom composition changes can be the key to finding perfect prespawn smallmouth habitat!
One of the x-factors during the spring are warm sunny days with light wind. After a long winter under ice up here in the north, fish are seeking warmer water areas, so light wind days with high sun will warm the shallow waters quickly. On days where other techniques seem not to be effective, a small marabou hair jig can be a great way to target these shallow smallmouths that are sunning themselves in warming shallow water.
A big key when fishing a hair jig is the ability to make long casts to isolated targets. Similar to hunting, having a stealthy approach and being able to sneak up on fish is important, so having a longer rod with the right action to cast light baits is paramount. My rod of choice for a 3/32 ounce or ⅛ ounce hair jig is the 7’6” Medium Light Professional Walleye rod. This rod is long enough to allow me to make the long casts that I need, but also soft enough to handle these baits with ease.
When I’m fishing a hair jig, I’m looking for really obvious cover – big boulders, isolated dock posts, or any obvious isolated pieces of cover. My favorite approach to target this shallow cover is to throw the hair jig by these pieces of cover and use a very slow retrieve, just waiting for the rod to load up with a fat prespawn smallmouth.
Last but not least is a soft plastic swimbait. Of all of the approaches, a 3.5” soft plastic swimbait is one of the most versatile baits that I will throw in the prespawn. This is a lure that you can do just about anything with, from slow rolling in deeper water to swimming high in the water column, a swimbait can be used in a variety of situations. When choosing swimbait colors, I keep things simple in the prespawn; white or shad based colors in clear water situations and darker green based colors when the water gets slightly off-colored or has a stain to it. With these two colors, you can approach a variety of water clarities with success.
With a swimbait, let the approach dictate the size jighead that you choose to use. For smallmouth around open water I’m typically using an open-hook jighead. This allows the best hookup to land ratio, and is my preferred method.
Although these are setups that I use for smallmouth in Michigan, you can use these same setups in other smallmouth fisheries and have success anywhere that smallmouth swim.
The biggest things to prespawn smallmouth fishing is covering water and finding where they are staging. A lot of times where there is one smallmouth in the prespawn, there tend to be many! Cover water until you find them and then slow down and pick them apart.
Blog written by Midland, Michigan based TFO Ambassador Ben Nowak. You can find out more about Ben by visiting and subscribing to his YouTube channel here or following him on social media here.
TFO: How do you adapt to the change from winter to spring and maximize your time on the water to catch more fish?
CP: In early spring, those fish are going to disperse from the winter groups that they were in during the winter, and leave those areas to push up into the shallower, flat bays and bottoms to spawn. In other words, pretty much anything that has a hard bottom without a lot of current.
The Louisiana Delta as a whole, is a very soft bottomed environment. If you can find areas where there’s quality spawn habit in the form of a hard bottom, typically, there’s going to be more than just one or two fish that move in to that area. You have to cover a lot of dead water to find those areas, but once you do, you can slow down and use your typical spawn techniques. This is when your search baits really come into play. Soft plastics primarily fished soft slowly with a very light weight are very effective for picking those fish off.
The other rod I like to use is a 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite (TLE MBR 736-1) for fishing soft plastics. I’ll also use this rod to fish a swim jig or a light Texas rig that I can either reel throw the grass or a weightless stick worm or something similar.
But what about cold fronts? It happens every year – a stretch of warm spring days, followed by a cold snap that takes us right back to winter. This seasonal transition can be extremely rewarding when targeting prespawn bass, but can also present some challenges when cold fronts come into play. See below for two important tips for how to find more fish in these scenarios.
Another tournament season is about to kick off for Bassmaster Classic and MLF Bass Pro Champion Cliff Pace, but before he hits the road, Cliff is doing what he loves the most – winter fishing in the Delta for redfish and bass. Check out some suggestions from TFO Advisor Cliff Pace on how to maximize your time on the water this winter.
TFO:Talk about your fishery back home and why winter fishing is one of your favorite times of year to fish.
CP: Winter fishing back home has always been special to me. To me, home is considered the coastal deltas along Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s where I grew up and learned to fish.
There are several advantages for fishing in the Delta in the winter. First, like many places, there is less boat traffic and fishing pressure in the winter. Unlike other times of year, you can go out and have a day to yourself and just enjoy the solitude that the great outdoors has to offer. Winter is also the easiest time of year to fish (to me), if you understand it well.
During the winter, there’s obviously going to be cold fronts that come through. Cold fronts can be detrimental to the fishing. When it comes to tidal fisheries and cold fronts, some of the Northwest winds that stem from the fronts actually blow the tides out to their lowest points. What that does, essentially, is it bunches up fish from hundreds of thousands of acres of shallow water into whatever deeper water that is nearby by for them. It’s the best time of year to target fish that tend to group up.
Locating Fish in Winter
It can be a little bit difficult to locate fish in the winter. They aren’t as scattered out and you really need to find those precise locations where they group up. Once you get them dialed in, you can essentially have a chance at catching all the fish in that area within a square mile.
So to me – it’s that time of the year where those fish are going to pull to a little bit deeper water. They’re going to be bunched up on really hard spots – anything that’s in the water from a curb standpoint – maybe some grass that’s a little deeper than anything in the area.
When I say “deep” I’m not talking about 20-30 feet deep. I’m referring to water that is 4-7 feet deep. That might be the deepest water in an area.
The other aspect is a lot of our fishes’ food source is actually salt water based. We have shrimp and other food sources that migrate into the marsh in the fall and in the summer. These winter cold fronts push all those food sources back out into the gulf.
You have these fish that have bunched up that don’t have a meal sitting around the corner just waiting for them. It just makes them very susceptible to be caught. It makes it easy for the angler.
There are many situations where areas that contain bass will also have redfish, and will also contain speckled trout, flounder, and lot of varieties of other species. You can catch all these different types of species in the water in an area the size of your truck.
Winter Set Ups
TFO:Talk about the your favorite setups for fishing in the winter.
CP: There are two main techniques for me when fishing during the winter on the Delta: one is a crankbait, and the other is a jig. You can pretty much take those two techniques and get a fish to bite when you find those concentrated locations of fish.
For baits, I usually go with Black Label baits. I also really like the flat sided baits – especially when the water is really clear. If I’m in a situation where I want something that has a little bit more feel or noise to it in dirtier water conditions, I’ll often times use some of the Jackall baits.
Winter Jig Set-Up
As mentioned earlier, water this time of year is really low, so typically your shorelines are mud banks with basically nothing up shallow to target fish. You’re normally fishing little hard spots.
I usually go with one of my V&M jigs – something subtle rather than a jig that has more kick or flap to it. I’ll pair it up with a chunk style trailer. The weight of the jig is usually somewhere between 3/8 oz. and 1/2 oz. depending on the depth I’m fishing and the tidal flow we have that day.
Positioning the Boat For Maximizing Success
TFO: What other tips do you have for making the most of your time on the water in winter?
CP: It’s important to position the boat in a way that you can present the bait to the fish with the tidal flow. I’ve found it definitely makes a difference more so on these lethargic fish than what it might on other times of the year. Presentation anytime of the year can be everything.
Once you learn an area and know where the fish are positioned, it is important to set up (to me) on the downstream side if possible, and fish your way towards the fish upstream. Typically, those fish are going to be facing upstream. These fish are very tough. They’re going to be on something like a hard spot or a piece of cover – it could be anything.
After you catch one, nine times out of ten, there’s more than one there. If you’re fishing with the current and you catch a fish, by the time you unhook that fish and release it and fix your gear – the current is either directing you right on top of or past that location. So, by fishing into the current, you can catch a fish while holding you boat position, and you can make the same cast twenty or thirty more times if you need to in order to fully maximize the potential of that spot without disrupting it.
TFO:When does the winter season typically transition into spring for you? What are signs that you look for or notice on the water?
CF: Every year is different, but there’s always a drop dead date when this stops. I’ve seen it end as early as the first of February, and I’ve seen it as late as March. It just depends on what Mother Nature gives us.
Spring fishing revolves around when these fish decide to move up and spawn. Other factors include the length of the day, as well as weather patterns (temperature, precipitation, etc.). A lot of fish will spawn based on the moon.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog for early Spring tactics!