Do your Homework!
By: Charles Stuart

Just for the record, this is NOT a parental guide to getting the kids to do their homework, as I gave up on that idea a long time ago! The "homework" in question concerns the work required prior to a tournament or a day on the water, if you plan to catch fish!

We as fishermen and women do not have the gift of either foresight or hindsight. Any of us who did, would be sitting pretty at the top of the heap right now, so that begs the $64,000.00 question, "What Could I Have Done Differently?"

I cannot remember how many tournaments I have fished during my early years where I said to myself, "why did I do that" or "what made me switch tactics, on a perfect Texas rigged worm bite day"? To be honest with you, back in the late 80's, I was not prepared and so I have either followed my gut instinct or I have allowed someone else's opinion to outweigh my own. Sometimes I would hit it lucky, but the majority of times it cost me a top ten finish in a tournament.

So what are the "ground rules"? Where do you draw the line and say, "I have a plan and I am sticking with it, unless something catastrophic happens that I need a backup scenario".

Before I begin to embark on any (new or familiar) body of water, I get out the maps and do my "homework". I am looking for something different in the structure, contour and shape of that lake or river, that is going to attract and (with some degree of certainty) be a home, for the fish I am targeting.

For the majority of my fishing expeditions, and for the purposes of this article, I am seeking large and smallmouth bass, so my key indicators are: -

1/ Structure.
Note: I should also add that if I can find a combination of three types of structure (i.e. grass, wood, rock, weed, gravel etc) in the same area, this is another indicator to me of "prime bass real estate".

2/ Shallow flats.

3/ Deep water drop offs, (if possible they should be adjacent to the flats).

Your next step is to translate the topographical map information into a fishing location, for which you may need some guidance.

Here is a typical map notation from which you can begin your planning:

"Lake X is very shallow and has very little main lake cover and structure. Riprap near the dam provides excellent habitat for catfish, crappie, and largemouth bass while more open areas provide habitat required by hybrid striped bass. Deeper creek arms are dominated by overhanging brush, numerous lay-downs, and submerged brush, which provide excellent habitat for crappie, sunfish, catfish, and largemouth bass. Shallow flats encompass most of the north end of the reservoir and provide an excellent breeding ground for forage species. Flooded terrestrial vegetation, during periods of high water, provides excellent habitat for all game fish species".

The author of Lake X's notes clearly mentions the dam, the creek arms with overhanging brush and shallow flats. These are therefore my key indicators as to the type of lake I am dealing with, which will help me pre-determine my lure selection. Let us now look at these three indicators and how to tackle them.

DAM
No I am not cursin!

Dams are an excellent "meeting place" for baitfish and predators alike. Usually deeper than the rest of the lake, fish will congregate, looking for a variety of offerings that may be stunned by the pushing or pulling power of the dam. I too am looking for ambush and vantage points above and below the water. Above, for me to make my approach and below, for the bass to hide.

Bait selections should include: Deep Diving Crankbaits, Carolina Rigs. Heavy Jig and Pork Rigs. Deep Drop Shot Rigs and Weighted Jerkbaits.

CREEK ARMS
No my elbows do not need oiling!

Feeder or creek arms offer shelter and forage opportunities for all species of fish. Bass in particular will hold large schools of baitfish in a creek and periodically drive them to the end, where they will gorge themselves as they "cut and slash" their way through the shoal. For those of you who have witnessed this amazing spectacle, we can only gaze in wonder as the baitfish jump again and again to escape the jaws of the bass.

Bait selection should include: Top Water Poppers, Shallow Running Crankbaits, Buzzbaits, Soft Plastic Jerkbaits, Whacky and/or Finesse Worm techniques.


SHALLOW FLATS
No quip from me on this one, other than I check my trailers tires before each trip!

These areas offer a multitude of fishing techniques and variations. Because of their very name, flats are always adjacent to some kind of deeper water. We know that certain species of sunfish (including bass) breed on these flats. We also know that after laying her eggs, the female bass will retreat to the edge of the flats and watch the males guard the nests. Probably the most important fact is that largemouth bass in particular do not roam more than a half mile from the place of their birth, unless moved by man (tournament situations etc) or a powerful force of nature which either physically moves them, or takes away the bait fish on which they thrive, in which case the bass will become "nomadic" following the schools of baitfish mentioned earlier.

Bait selection should include: Carolina and or Texas rigged 4 inch Plastics (worm, tube), Hair Jigs, Spinnerbaits, Buzzbaits, Shallow Drop Shot rigs fished at a 45 degree angle, and a favorite of mine, A Frontrunner!

Bottom line is you have to put in the map work if you intend to catch fish. I don't think anyone really enjoys "Blank or Skunk Days" just because the sun was shining, the birds were singing, or the view was breathtaking! By nature we as humans are hunter-gatherers and whether for sport or food, fishing helps quench part of that desire in us all. Our ancestors looked for tracks, walked with long sticks to test the ground or water depth before proceeding, and followed climactic or seasonal changes, to decide when were the best places and times to hunt and fish. We have come a long way since then, but the principles are still the same.

This is not an all-encompassing answer to the question we began with, but it is a solid starting point for you to maybe say to yourself "Geeze, I'm Glad I Did My Homework!"

Tight Lines!
Charles - Contact me with your questions or comments at or visit me in the chat room for live one on one interviews or question and answer sessions.


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