John's Journal...


Time of Year and Maps

Click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: Have you ever wondered why bass angling professionals can come to a lake they've never fished before, compete for three days, and catch more and bigger bass than the anglers who live on the lake? Actually the reason is simple. Most of the work of locating the fish is done prior to these professionals' coming to the lake. Many times their preparation for the tournament may have taken place months before the actual contest. They also have another advantage that fishermen who angle the same lake every weekend don't have, because these pros don't have honey holes, favorite spots or places to go to where they've caught bass in the past. So they must rely on their own ability to find the fish on the lake where the bass should be when the fish are supposed to be there - without any pre-conceived ideas about where the bass are.

Knowing the month you'll be fishing on a lake helps you more accurately predict where the bass will be, since water temperature is a critical factor in locating bass. Although most sportsmen generalize about where bass should be during certain times of the year, if you are seriously trying to catch bass, the best way to accurately predict where the bass should be is to call the fisheries biologist in the state where you plan to fish. Tell him the specific lake on which you need information, and ask him where the bass should be on their seasonal migration pattern at that time of the year on that particular lake.

Click to enlargeIf you're fishing in the winter, the bass will most likely be positioned in deeper water along the edges of creek and river channels. If you'll be fishing for pre-spawn bass, then the fish should be holding close to spawning areas in ditches, gullies, potholes and drops. If you're angling during the spawn, the bass will most likely be in shallow water. If you don't reach the lake until after the spawn, the bass may have returned to the potholes, ditches and small drop-offs they’ve been using during the pre-spawn period. When angling in the hot summertime, the bass may be back on the deep creek channels and along points- except early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

But the person who can best tell you where to expect the bass to be is the state fisheries biologist and more specifically, the fisheries biologist who has the responsibility of that particular lake you plan to fish. From this biologist, you'll also learn at what exact water temperature the bass go to the bed, which baits bass prefer at this time of the year, what type of structure is in the lake, and where this cover is located. Fisheries biologists are the most underused source of fishing information available to the angler- yet they are often the most knowledgeable.

Click to enlargeSeveral types of maps are critical to successful scouting for bass. Many sportsmen don't know which road to take and which marina to use to put them closest to the area of the lake they want to fish. A road map can tell you exactly how to get to where you want to go to begin your fishing expedition. A general lake map is also helpful, because it will show you an overview of the lake as well as have the marinas, launching areas, gas stops and campsites marked on it. Too, a general lake map will picture where major tributaries enter the lake and give you a visual image of the surface of the water where you'll be fishing. The third map needed and considered by many anglers to be the most critical for successful bassing is a topo map. Any fisherman who cannot read, understand and follow a topo map is fishing with one eye closed and one hand tied behind his back for several reasons. Bass relate to structure, water flow, temperature changes and bottom breaks. A topo map will show you where those bottom breaks occur, what the depths of points are, and where small feeder streams fed into the main river before the lake was impounded.

Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Arkansas, once showed me one of the ingredients that make him one of America's best bass fishermen. As I watched, Nixon studied a topo map for 10 minutes as we motored out on a lake. Then he accelerated the engine, and we roared across the water for about 15 minutes. When Nixon throttled back, we were a half-mile from the bank on our left and a mile and a half from the right-hand bank. He walked to the front of the boat, lowered his trolling motor, and in less than two minutes announced, "There it is." Thirty-two casts later Nixon had put a 4-1/2-pound and a 5-1/2-pound Click to enlargelargemouth in the boat. When I asked him what he was fishing on, he explained, "There's a bottom break that's about 50-yards long in the middle of the lake. The bottom drops off from 12 feet to 18 feet and then to 25 feet. I spotted this small ledge on that topo map. Because I'm so accustomed to reading a topo map, I was able to go right to this ledge. The major bottom breaks in most reservoirs are fished by many anglers. When you can find a little, subtle bottom break like this that most fishermen never see, often you can find big bass ganged-up on it. Remember, one of those small bottom breaks like this one helped Rick Clunn win a B.A.S.S. Masters Classic in Arkansas on the Arkansas River." This same kind of small bottom break aided George Cochran in his winning the 1987 B.A.S.S. Masters Classic in Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River. By learning how to read and more importantly how to study and interpret a topo map, a fisherman can find honey holes he never could locate by riding the water.


Check back each day this week for more about HOW TO SCOUT FOR BASS

Day 1: Time of Year and Maps
Day 2: An Aerial Look
Day 3: The Weather
Day 4: Call the Lake and Learn the Conditions
Day 5: The Types of Bass Present in a Lake



Entry 307, Day 1