“The Wind Is Your Frienemy”
This post (and accompanying video which can be found at the end of this post) is the accumulation of 3 torrid weeks on the Nock using reaction baits like jerkbaits and squarebills to catch early season bass. Over the last 21 days my 3 fishing buddies (Cory Long, Carl Picarri, and Jim McMullen,) and I have caught close to 80 fish over 10 or so trips, with a couple of 15+ fish days which is pretty productive for Lake Nockamixon.
So, what factors does BNF attribute to this success? Well, after the long hard winter, where the Nock was hard water right up to the very end of March, the fish have really put the feedbags on prepping for the spawn. The water temperature has been fairly stable, staying in the mid 50’s to mid 60’s over the 3 week period, with a few cold fronts and rain systems keeping the water from warming too fast. With this drawn out period of stable water temps, the pattern has remained fairly consistent.
In addition to the stable and slowly warming water temps, the Nock has seen it’s fair share of windy days. My boat doesn’t do well in the wind, it’s like a leaf in any wind over 10 mph, so hence the ‘enemy’ part of ‘The Wind Is Your Frienemy’. It takes a good deal of focus to assimilate the surroundings, control the boat, and make the right casts to the optimal areas. It is frustrating fighting the wind, but the rewards are huge. Learn to deal with it and get out there when the wind is blowing.
The ‘friendly’ part of ‘The Wind Is Your Frienemy’ is that the fish are much more active. The chop on the water breaks up the sunlight on sunny days, and their profile from above, so they feel more secure. The wind also pushes microrganisms against banks and across ambush points, where baitfish gather to feed and prep for their own spawn. Find the baitfish, find the predators that feed on them. That is one of the reasons we have had a great variety of bycatch this year in addition to the largemouth and smallmouth bass that we are primarily targeting. We have caught tiger and purebred muskellunge, black and white crappie, and yes, even carp on the reaction baits we have been throwing.
Apply the combination of water temps, wind direction, and baitfish, and you have an idea of where to start looking for those big bass we all want to catch. Then add the factors of: clouds/sun, access to deep water, warmer vs colder water (as it varies in different areas of the lake), emerging weed growth, existing structure, moon phases, and the Solunar Calendar and you can further narrow down the times to fish, the water to cover, and enhance your chances of fishing in those areas where fish are holding and are active.
Now you’re ready to get out there and hammer them, correct? Not quite yet. What are lures we using to mimic these baitfish and get the big mommas to chow down? And when we get them to chow down, how do we keep them hooked so that we can get them to the boat for some of that sweet, sweet CPR (Catch, Photo, Release)? There are two schools of thought here, and both are equally effective.
One approach is to use a jerkbait. Why is the jerkbait so effective this time of the year? It perfectly mimics a forage fish’s profile. It can be worked as quickly or as slowly as you wish to adjust for the water temperatures and activity level of the fish. When the temps are colder, cold blooded creatures like bass have a much reduced activity level, they are looking for that easy meal without expending much energy. So slower presentations where the bait is stationary for periods from 2-10 seconds or even longer give those sluggish fish a chance to get to the bait and decide if they want to eat it. That’s why 9 out of 10 jerkbait hits are on the pause. You’ll twitch, twitch, the bait and pause it, then twitch again and there will be a fish on. We’ve caught both smallmouth and largemouth bass on a variety of jerkbaits. Each has their unique action, diving depth, and colors that make it effective.
One of the standards is the Megabass Ito Vision 110 (length: 4.3 inches/110 millimeters, weight: 1/2 oz, diving depth: 4-6ft, price: $24.99 at Precision Tackle). It comes in a wide range of colors, twitches and suspends like no other jerkbait on the market, and the consistency from bait to bait out of the package is phenomenal. It is the jerkbait that all others are measured by. It doesn’t come cheap, retailing for 24.99 at my favorite retailer, Precision Tackle (which carries the best selection in the USA, 51 colors, including many hard to find Japan only colors. I suggest following them on Facebook to receive the latest updates, as they have frequent shipments of popular, hard to find, and limited colors that sell out quickly). But the price is highly justified as they are THE fish catching machines and the pro’s choice since 2000, the year they were introduced to the USA. The Vision 100’s have often been imitated, but the action and quality have never been duplicated. I’ve caught 90% of my fish this year on two Megabass Vision 110 jerkbaits and colors: the Japan only GG Deadly Black Illusion (OB) and the Japan only Wagin Reaction. The Deadly Black Illusion (OB) I’ll use when the water is a bit more stained, and the Wagin Reaction I will use when the water is a bit clearer. I like these colors as the mimic the baitfish that exist in the nock, but also have a bit of color. Megabass Vision 110 colors that have also caught fish this year are HT Kissori Shad, M Shad, Elegy Bone, GP Pro Blue, IL Tamamushi (OB), and GP Skeleton Tennessee, and Kohuku Reaction. The Megabass Vision 110 family has a ton of variants in depth ranges, sizes colors so you can really fine tune your lure presentation. (If youre a musky hunter, I suggest M Western Clown, Table Rock SP, and Matte Tiger)
For the same depth range as the Vision 110, but a with different action and profile, I use the Ima Flit 100 SP (length: 3.9 inches/100 millimeters, weight: 3/8 oz, diving depth: 3-5 ft, price: $17.99). My go to color is Tennessee Shad, but I extend the orange through the whole belly using a marker.
A smaller option (Carl’s favorite jerkbait) is the tried and true Lucky Craft Pointer 78SP (3.0 inches/ 78 millimeters, weight: 3/8 oz, diving depth 4-5 ft, price: $14.99). Go to colors include Aurora Black, MS Shad and Ghost Minnow.
For fishing a little deeper, the Jackall Squirrel DD (length: 3.2 inches/79 millimeters, weight: 3/8 oz, diving depth: 8 ft, price: $14.99) has caught fish, mainly smallies. Colors were HL Aurora Black, Secret Shad, and SG Threadfin Shad.
For fishing on top of submerged weeds, there is only one option for me: the Osprey Spiritual Performer (OSP) Bent Minnow 106 (length: 4.2 inches/ 106 millimeters, weight: 3/8 oz, diving depth: floating, price: price: $19.99) in Super Wakasagi.
The second approach to spring fishing for big bass is using squarebills and swim jigs. These are used in the same areas that you would use jerkbaits, but would like a more aggressive presentation. When using the squarebill you are looking to bounce it off cover such as rocks, limbs, stumps; places that bass use for cover or ambush points. Look for lake bottom transition areas, such as from gravel to larger rock or rip rap. The swimjig is used for those areas that have emerging weed growth that makes it impractical to fish treble hooked baits.
Squarebilled crankbaits used successfully (especially by Jim) are the Spro Fat John (length: 2.35 inches, weight: 5/8 oz, diving depth: 1-3 ft, price: $11.99) in Chartreuse Black Back (stained water) and Cellmate (less stained water), and my choice is the Jackall Aska 60 SR (length: 2.5 inches, weight: 3/8 oz, diving depth 3-4 ft, price: $15.99) in Black Chartreuse (stained water) and Super Shad (less stained water).
Swimjigs (used by Jim) were the Revenge Swim Jig in 3/8 and 1/2 in Black/Blue (price: $4.79) tipped with Power Team Lures Craw D’ouevres and for me of course it has been the Keitech Model III SwimJig (BNF review here) in 3/8 and 1/2 in Black, and in BlueGill Flash tipped with Keitech Fat Swing Impact paddletail swimbaits (BNF review here) in 3.8 and 4.8 versions or a California Reservoir Lures Weightless Slim Thrasher.
So when we are throwing these treble hooked reaction baits, the tackle it is thrown on is critical for keeping the fish hooked up, especially on the treble hooked lures like the jerkbaits and squarebills. I use a technique specific setup for jerkbait fishing: The rod is a Megabass F4-65X4 OneTen Stick that Megabass designed specifically for jerkbait fishing. It has a nice backbone for twitching and jerking the bait, but a nice moderate fast tip with enough give to keep the trebles from pulling out. Paired with that is my supertuned Daiwa Steez 103HA reel that has a very smooth drag. The smooth drag is important as and sticking or stuttering can pull the trebles from a lightly hooked fish. I set my drag medium light, so that a fish can pull some drag if it wants to, there is no horsing a treble hooked fish like you would punching. The line I use is 10lb test Sunline Reaction FC (23.99 for 200 yards at Precision Tackle). There is a theory that the lighter line you can use the better for jerkbaits, such as 4-6 lb test, enabling the best action from the bait. That probably is true, and will work for gin clear waters with little structure, however the Nock usually has stained water, and the areas that I fish jerkbaits are riddled with structure so I feel more comfortable fishing the heavier 10lb test line. The Sunline Reaction FC has a little bit of stretch compared to a line of the same diameter used to fish structure such as Sunline Structure FC (27.99 for 165 yards at Precision Tackle, so in combination with the reel drag set correctly and the moderate fast action of the rod, I feel extremely confident that once I hook a fish on a jerkbait, I’ll be boating it.
Of course, there’s so many variables and everyone fishes differently, so using braid with a fluorocarbon leader such as James does (20lb Sunline FX2 Braid 125 yard spool at Precision Tackle to 16lb Sunline FC Leader 9.99 for 50 yards at Precision Tackle), or a 10lb mono like Carl and Cory use (such as 10lb Sufix Elite 7.99 for 300 yards at Precision Tackle), are very viable approaches to line and combined with the appropriate rod and reel can ensure that you have more success that failure when you’ve hooked into the big one.
To conclude this little article/fishing report, remember that even though fighting the wind/elements can make for a challenging time on the water, it can provide some of the most rewarding trips of the year for catching big fish, of any species. More proof is below (as is the promised video evidence!)