Best Tips from Bass Tournament Winners
This year the Megaware KeelGuard –R & B Bass Circuit Classic took place October 5th & 6th at both Higgins and Houghton Lakes in Northern Michigan. This presented an enormous challenge for the 41 qualifying teams.
This 2-day event allowed teams to weigh in 5 legal-sized bass (smallmouth or largemouth) each day, and the team with the heaviest cumulative weight would win the hardware and money.
Each team would compete on Higgins Lake October 5th and then Houghton Lake the following day. These two lakes are polar opposite, hence the challenge.
Higgins is a gin clear, 10,000-acre lake with a maximum depth of 135 ft. On calm days, one can see the bottom in 25 ft of water! Numerous sand flats exist with a couple of hazardous rocky shoals. There is little aquatic vegetation.
Limited largemouth bass exist on Higgins, but jumbo smallmouth bass lurk in moderate numbers. A 5-fish limit proved to be a daunting task as only 3 of the 41 teams managed their limit.
Houghton Lake poses different challenges. It is over 20,000 acres and has a maximum depth of 30 ft. Visibility is a few feet on the best of days.
While the depths of Higgins Lake make a small portion of it fishable, every acre of Houghton has potential to hold bass. It too has jumbo smallmouth bass, but it also has a healthy population of largemouth bass.
Weather added to the challenge as 20+ mph winds out of the west swept across the widest (5 ½ miles) portion of the lake. This wreaked havoc on the fleet with choppy 3+ foot waves.
Best Tips from Bass Tournament Winners: Preparation
Ron Fabiszak is a veteran of FLW and BASS events, and his partner, Jason Fowler, has logged countless hours chasing smallmouth bass on big natural lakes. This made them a formidable force from the word Go, and they did not disappoint.
They were 1 of just 2 teams to weigh a 5-fish limit each day and won the event by nearly 6 pounds! Rather you are an avid tournament angler or novice, their strategy of dissecting two different bodies of water can help any angler.
“We brought rods and tackle for both lakes,” Fabiszak said. “They’re such different lakes, you could not treat them alike. Even if the same baits would work, they would not be from similar spots. So, we had different line, rods, everything, for both lakes.”
“You have to have an open mind,” Fabiszak added. “We had experience on Houghton, but we had never been on Higgins.”
Best Tips from Bass Tournament Winners: Higgins Lake
Practice Days on Higgins Lake
Official practice began 2 days before takeoff, but they did not wait until then to begin the search. “We were there on two other occasions [leading up to the event], and we did not catch a tournament worthy fish until our second trip.” In total, they practiced 10 days on Higgins.
They covered nearly every inch of water between 2ft. to 65 ft. studying electronics, looking for structure, and trying different lures. It was a struggle. Fabiszak recalled, “After our first trip there, we caught 75 fish – 72 rock bass, 1 pike, and 2 tiny smallmouth.”
On their second trip, Fabiszak caught a quality fish with an umbrella rig, and he knew they had stumbled onto something good. “Jason is the best umbrella rig angler I know, so if they were going to eat this, I had the best partner anyone could have.” Even better, was they got 3 more good fish in that area.
They expanded and then concluded that specific waypoints were not holding schools of fish; rather, certain breaklines held concentrations of fish, but the breaklines were hundreds of feet long.
Expecting multiple fish on any particular spot was unlikely, so the goal of the tournament would be to cover water by keeping the trolling motor going.
Tournament Day on Higgins Lake
“Before takeoff,” Fabiszak said, “I told Jason we are either going to catch them good, or it’s going to be a bad day. I didn’t foresee a mediocre day.” They ended up catching them good.
It took just 10 minutes to catch their first smallmouth bass, and 10 minutes later, they caught the biggest bass of the tournament – a hefty 4.72 pounder. After some time without another fish, they went to their secondary area.
“We caught 2 small keepers in 30 minutes, but there were some other boats in the area and it just didn’t feel right to us.” Fabiszak said. “It’s hard to explain, but we just didn’t think the same concentration or quality of fish were in that area. So we went back to our starting area.”
They kept their boat between 16-18 feet of water and casted parallel to the breakline with the umbrella rig. It was a slow bite, but they finished the day with 12 total keepers, and their best 5 weighed 19.80 pounds.
The next best team had 14.00 pounds. “It was important to keep the boat moving,” insisted Fabiszak. “The more water we covered, the more likely we would come across an active fish.” Instead of waiting for the fish to come to them, they sought out the fish.
Bass Tournament Winners: Pro Tip
“Always keep a bait in the water,” contends Fabiszak. “Rather you are tying on a new bait, eating a sandwich, or whatever, throw a bait in the water and let it soak until you are ready to pick up the rod.”
Case in point at Higgins Lake, “While Jason was culling our fish, he threw out a tube. After he was done, he picked up his rod and a 4-pounder was on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught fish this way.”
Best Tips from Bass Tournament Winners: Houghton Lake
Practice Days on Houghton Lake
Prior experience on a lake can be tremendous help, but Fabiszak warns that it can backfire. “We began by checking out areas that had worked in the past. Fortunately, we found fish relating to some of those areas, but we were prepared if they weren’t.”
Water levels, weed conditions, and weather can alter historically productive spots. Stubbornness can doom an angler.Finding hard bottoms, rather shell beds or rock piles, historically produce tournament-winning smallmouth bass on Houghton. This team knew of many such places.
Contrary to Higgins Lake, these areas are just 5-6 feet deep. After learning these areas were holding quality fish, they spent time determining which were holding fish and which weren’t. “Not all of the spots were holding fish, and some were holding smaller fish.”
By the end of practice, they had established 5 such spots holding the fish they needed. Furthermore, after throwing a host of baits, they determined the fish were reacting well to crankbaits and swimbaits.
Tournament Day on Houghton Lake
Their starting spot was on the windy side of the lake, and it was rocking! They caught two 4-pound smallmouth in the first 30 minutes, but then things got tough.
“Our spots were 5-6 feet deep out in front of a sand flat,” Fabiszak explained, “and we think the wind blew them up on the flat. That area was covered with other competing teams, so instead of getting in their way, we checked out our other spots.”
Unfortunately, that was a common problem. Their other 4 spots were also popular with the competition. They adjusted by fishing around them until they became vacant, but it was a challenging day.
Rotating through their 5 spots required more patience than they expected. “The bite was much tougher than we expected. We stuck to the crankbait and swimbait and managed 10-12 keepers, but we never got another big bite.”
Still, their preparation of the two different lakes was more than enough. Their 14.91-pound limit on Houghton gave them a total weight of 34.71 pounds. Nearly 6 pounds more than the next closest team. They won over $2,800.
Best Tips from Bass Tournament Winners: Protect your Boat
Fabiszak is quick to point out an important piece of equipment on his new boat that won him extra cash, “I installed a KeelGuard this summer.” This netted them an extra $250. “Everyone needs one. You’re just nuts to own a boat and not have one. It makes you less conscientious about damaging your boat.”