The best lessons in life are often learned the hard way. I recall a tough lesson reinforced at a Bassmaster Northern Open on Oneida Lake in New York a few years back.
“Stick” to the Basics
I pride myself on being an angler with an open mind. I refuse to stick with a tactic or place on the lake if it fails to produce. This philosophy has led me to success countless times and came with me to Oneida Lake. After spending an entire week practicing, I found the bite to be tough. However, while most anglers reported that bites were few and far between, I was finding quality fish every day. I felt an opportunity was knocking to finish high in the tournament. The most consistent producing baits were swimbaits, tubes, and a drop shot rig. I was vigilant on remaining open-minded on which bait was best for each spot and each day.
A Valuable Discovery
When day one of the tournament arrived I was supremely confident. By slinging these baits and going through the areas that produced in practice, I would manage a competitive bag of smallmouth and largemouth bass. But, I had forgotten what got me to this point.
It began when spot #1, my most reliable producer in practice, failed to produce a single fish. After saturating the area with the aforementioned baits for an hour, I moved on. Nearly every spot produced the same results – nothing. And before I knew it, just 15 minutes remained. I was bewildered to find only two quality smallmouth in my livewell, and then it hit me. I finally slung the bait that has produced more fish for me over the years than nearly every other bait combined: a soft stick bait rigged wacky style. Almost immediately I caught another keeper smallmouth and a pickerel. A lightbulb went off in my head.
Unfortunately, now it was too late. After one day of the competition I brought just three fish to the scales weighing 7lbs 15oz. I settled in at 102 out of 196 professionals. Disappointment was not a strong enough word to describe my feelings, but I took some solace in the valuable discovery at the end: the stick bait would catch a mob of fish on day two.
Wacky Rigged Stick Bait
When day two was over my co-angler was calling me a prophet. Before take off, I boldly told him to tie on a stick bait rigged wacky style, because it would catch hordes; and it did. The onslaught began almost immediately in front of a disapproving audience. Amongst a crowd of boats, in an area that failed to produce a single fish on day one, we caught over 20 keepers. All other surrounding competitors failed to catch a single fish.
Wacky Rigged Stick Bait: Technique
Working a wacky rigged stick bait is as easy as fishing can get. Simply sling it out as far as possible and allow it to naturally shimmy down on slack line. Once you’re confident the bait has hit bottom, lift your rod up from the 9 o’clock position to the 2 o’clock and repeat all the way back to the boat. The fish on this day ate it up.
An interesting secondary pattern developed throughout the morning as well. Sporadically, small schools of smallmouth would surface. To coax them into biting, I threw a host of baits (lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits, and topwater) at them, but never scored a strike. Out of frustration, I threw the Stik-0 at the schooling fish, which is unconventional for schooling fish. I soaked that bait for 10 seconds before lifting it, and when I did, a largemouth had swallowed it. This happened numerous times and I caught my biggest fish doing so. It was apparent that largemouth were following the schooling smallmouth and hung out under them waiting to eat up the scraps.
“Stick” to the Basics: The Lesson
At the end of the day my limit of largemouth weighed 13 lbs 9 oz, which catapulted me up 41 spots to finish 61 out of 196. While I am proud of the strong finish, I will always regret forgetting the most valuable bait in my arsenal on day one.
Thus the lesson: always have an open mind and refuse to be content, but never allow that philosophy to ignore techniques and patterns that have proven themselves. Also, I won’t ignore the threats in the water, which means my boat won’t enter the water without the protective products from Megaware.