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25 TIPS FOR CATCHING A 10-POUND BASS

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TEN. Americans obsess over the number. We compile top 10 lists; you need 10 yards to get a first down; and in 1979, Bo Derek starred in a movie about physical perfection with the appropriate title 10. Only the Spinal Tap guys worried about turning it up to 11, but we were all in on the joke: Nothing’s better than reaching 10.

When it comes to largemouth bass, that same number plays an outsize role. The bass is the most American gamefish of all, and a 10-pounder is the undisputed benchmark. “I’ve caught a lot of 7- to 9-pound bass, and you can usually get them on the patterns that catch 3- to 5-pound fish,” Texas bass pro Keith Combs told me. “But at 10 pounds, something changes.”

I talked with some of the greatest big-bass anglers in the U.S. about their strategies, secrets, and favorite locations for catching 10-pound bass. Depending on where you live, a 10-pounder may not be an option—but don’t let that stop you from reading, because these tips will still help you catch the biggest bass of your life.

Take 10

Whether you catch a flight to chase your 10, or just want to connect with the biggest bass in your local pond, these five tactics are your best bet in spring and summer

bass fishing, fishing tips
TACTIC NO. 1: DREDGE THE WAITING ROOM

Guide Clark Reehm says that on every east Texas trophy factory, the smaller males go up and cruise the shallows during the prespawn, but big females typically hold back and stage where they’re prime pickings for a Carolina rig. This rig can cover water quickly while still presenting a natural profile. The key is targeting the right depth.

Stick in the Middle
Big girls holding in wintertime haunts 20 feet down or deeper are often lethargic, and although they may eventually slide into ankle-deep water to lay their eggs, your best bet for prespawn sows willing to feed is in midrange depths of 8 to 12 feet.

Hit the Hard Stuff
Bass eggs adhere to hard surfaces, whether that’s rock or wood. With that in mind, Reehm works secondary points made of clay. “We don’t have a lot of rock in east Texas,” he says. “So clay is our hard-bottom substance.” With a decent graph, you can pinpoint the hard bottom and target that exclusively.

Bulk Up
Where many might use a lizard imitation at the end of the rig, Reehm prefers a watermelon Zoom Brush Hog because it provides more bulk for fish that want the most bang for their bite.

Crawl for Glory
You’ll want to cover water, but resist the urge to take your retrieve into overdrive. “The slower the better, because these fish aren’t there to feed,” Reehm says. “They’re waiting for some catalyst, like an increase in sunlight, to move up shallow to spawn.”

TACTIC NO. 2: FIRE UP THE FILET MIGNON

Mike Bucca of Georgia makes the double-jointed Bull Shad Swimbait in tournament sizes of 5 and 6 inches, but he also makes a 9-inch brush-tailed beast that imitates the local prey perfectly. Cashing in with one means striking at the right time of day in the right kind of water.

Set Your Sights
Bucca says a major benefit to chucking giant swimbaits is that they expand the strike zone, meaning the fish can see and hear them from a long distance, which makes it less important that you cast to a pinpoint location.

Shoot for 50
If he had to choose one particular time to look for big mama, it would be right when the water hits 50 degrees in spring, Bucca says. “The biggest fish in the lake almost always spawn first, so they move up early to feed and get ready. It happens a lot earlier than people think.”

Do Some Wood Work
Many hard-bodied swimbaits have multiple treble hooks, but you can’t hesitate to throw them in the thick stuff. “I concentrate on docks and laydowns at the mouths of spawning flats in spring,” Bucca says. Just be sure to carry a lure retriever.

TACTIC NO. 3: CRANK DOWN ON IT

Crankbaits that hit the bottom in 20 feet of water have flooded the market. “Strike King’s 10XD is the bait that I have most confidence in when I’m hunting big fish,” says bass pro Keith Combs. Putting a lure like that to work, however, means rethinking how you crank.

Get a Beef Stick
A big crank requires a big stick. Combs likes a stout 7-foot 10-inch cranking rod from Power Tackle, but to keep the wobble up, he uses a sensitive, small-diameter 15-pound fluorocarbon.

Follow the Rules
It doesn’t matter whether it’s in Texas or a TVA reservoir; during summer your best bet for cranking up a double-​digit bass is to work long points or bars on or near the main lake.

Move Water
Don’t assume that a deep-diving crank is only good in deep water. Combs will throw his over a shallow point or bar and work it into the depths. “Even in 8 to 15 feet of water, a 10XD will run right.”

bass fishing, fishing tips

TACTIC NO. 4: TWITCH A BED BUG

Some anglers may be intimidated by the idea of sight fishing for the bass of a lifetime. After all, if you can see her, she can see you. But for bass pro Ish Monroe, if he’s on a lake with adequate visibility and the spawn is on, it’s his favorite way to chase them. “The lake has to have gravel and a lot of big fish,” he says. “You also don’t want the water to be super clear.” Success is all about how you approach, and how well you can overcome your jitters.

Get Protection
Monroe doesn’t target fish that have a 360-degree view of approaching predators. “Ideally they’ll be in a pocket of reeds or tules or next to a dock to give you some ability to sneak up on them,” he says. Use that cover to your advantage by moving in close enough to see which way the female is facing, and then readjusting your angle.

Be Patient
If you get too excited and pull a bait off the bed when the fish approaches, it will get the message that the bait is no threat. Monroe prefers to soak a soft plastic in a bed, barely twitching it in place, until the big girl is agitated into striking.

Amp the Aggravation
A lure that undulates in place allows you to milk a cast and push the agitation needle to 10. Monroe’s go-to is a Missile Baits D Stroyer creature bait, which he says has a better hookup ratio than tubes when rigged Texas style.

TACTIC NO. 5: JIG A PIG

California bass guru Mike Long is a swimbait guy, but if forced to choose one lure for giants and one time of year to fish it, he’d go with a football-head jig in spring. A jig is more versatile than a swimbait, as it can get in front of buried bass where swimbaits can’t go.

Get a Jump Start
Many of Long’s biggest jigged fish have come on key pieces of structure during a brief morning feeding window. “I look for big bass to be loaded up on flats next to primary spots like points or soft bends in a channel before the sun gets up,” he says.

Throttle Back
If you want to aggravate a big girl, keep your lure in her face. That’s why Long inches his jigs over the bottom. “With a jig, you can stay in the zone as long as you want,” he says.

Know the Color Code
In muddy water, Long leans on a black-and-red jig. If the water’s clear, he goes with green pumpkin. He’ll swap out trailers from day to day, or even hour to hour, to match the prevailing forage or change the sonic impact. 

Glory: Landing a 10

The Heavy Humps

bass fishing, fishing tips

Hawg glory.
Lance Krueger

➞ “Back in 2007, we were long-lining crankbaits and pulled up on a hump where I’d already caught 15 fish over 8 pounds that year. My customer sticks a fish and it weighs 10.09 pounds. After high fives all around, we release her and go back over the hump the other way. He sticks a fish and says it’s big. I tell him to get her up because there are trees down there, and he says, ‘I can’t.’ When we first saw it, I thought it was a giant carp. When we realized it was a bass, our jaws hit the boat. That fish weighed 13.5 pounds when we got it certified for the Texas ShareLunker program. In 2013 it happened again. Right after boating a 10, we caught a 13 on the next pass at a different hump. Every time we hook a fish like that, I’m shaking as much as the client. Ten-​­pounders are rare, but for every 60 or 70 fish that size, you probably catch one 13. The older I get the more special it becomes because I know the odds are against me.” —Lance Vick, Lake Fork guide

Heartbreak: Losing a 10

The Georgia Grandma

10 pound bass

Ten pounds of heartbreak.
Lance Krueger

➞ “Grandma is a true giant who lives around an old abandoned dock in a narrow cove on a public Georgia lake. She’s tortured me since 2014. On our first encounter, I hooked her with a 9-inch Bull Shad and lost her at the boat. During that battle she lost a chunk of skin off the top of her head, leaving a very distinct white mark. I have seen this fish at least 50 times since, so now she is educated. Last year I walked the woods in full camo to get a different casting angle. I even designed a new bait just for her. On the second cast, she nailed it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a boat where I could control her, and she wrapped me around the lead dock piling and broke me off. Another heartbreak! Guess what my 2017 New Year’s resolution is?” —Mike Bucca, inventor of Bull Shad Swimbaits

 

10 for 10s

Bass this big don’t like to chase a meal and are not easy to fool. So when they do make a move, they want a lot of calories and protein for the effort. If you were to devote a tackle bag to lures for double digits only, it would have to include these 10 baits

Hover over the lures to reveal their names.

The Basstrix Paddletail made popular on Clear Lake in California in 2007 became the inspiration for a thousand copies. This style of lure still fools giants, and with ultra-fluid motion and no sound, it can tempt wary fish at any depth. Today, newer in-line and line-through models from several companies are available in sizes from 3 inches up to a foot. Bass pro Jared Lintner says his favorite is the 7-inch in-line Magnum from Top Shelf Tackle, and if a double-digit were his goal, he’d fish this lure from dawn to dark.

Glide Bait
These single-jointed hard lures are noted for their distinct S-motion swimming action, and in the hands of a big-bait artiste they can be made to turn 180 degrees to challenge a noncommittal follower. Japanese imports can fetch up to $400, but baits like the Duo Realis Oni­masu work just as well for about $50. In clear water, glide baits are the ultimate fish finders, and just when you think a bass is only a follower, it will get that bait crosswise in its maw.

Carolina Rig
A Carolina rig lets you cover water with a bulky plastic that replicates a crawdad, lizard, or shad fairly quickly but with a subtle presentation. It is equally deadly on outside grasslines in spring, and on offshore structure during the heat of summer. You can fish them shallow or deep, and in heavy current, simply by adjusting the weight. Lots of plastics score, but the original Zoom Brush Hog has always been a top big-bass producer.

Jig and Trailer
With so many new lures available, you wouldn’t think a skirted hunk of lead would be so deadly. But simplicity still works just as it did decades ago—and jigs like Strike King’s Tournament Grade now come with better components than ever before. The color, weight, and fall rate can be adjusted with a change of trailer, but more important, a jig is always fishing. Even at rest, the skirt flares with the current, continuing to taunt big mama.

Oversize Crankbait
The Strike King 10XD gets the most credit for bringing the mega-crank trend to the public, but it’s not the only lure of its kind. Many companies produce models that pass the 20-foot diving mark, a depth that was not within the range of a normal cast with normal tackle just a few years ago. These cranks will get in front of the deepest bass, and with the introduction of big shallow-running squarebill models, they can also bust giants in skinnier water.

Craws and Creature Baits
When it comes to flipping in tight cover, sometimes it pays to pair a big tungsten weight with a bite-size lure. In Florida, anglers utilize stubby little craws like the Yamamoto PsychoDad, and throughout the country, 3- to 4-inch gliding soft plastics like the Sweet Beaver work year-round. It’s not that the fish don’t want a bigger meal, but rather that these compact lures can penetrate thick grass or laydowns better than a gangly lizard or a ribbon-tailed worm.

Big Topwater
Giant Spook-style baits like Black Dog’s Lunker Punker call up monsters, but the latest phenomenon to hit the bass scene is River2Sea’s Whopper Plopper. Borrowed from the muskie world, it marries a stationary front section to a rotating, single-finned tail that kicks up a fuss. Retrieve it steadily or rip it; spring through fall you’ll be in position to tempt a reaction strike from the meanest big bass on any lake. If you’ve neglected to take your heart medication, go subsurface.

Umbrella Rig
Umbrella rigs—a.k.a. Alabama rigs—like those from Hog Farmer Baits may look like chandeliers out of the water, but retrieved subsurface they perfectly match a school of shad. Most of the lures on this list are best in spring and summer; this is one of the few that tempts suspended lethargic bass during the worst coldwater periods. And if you think one 10-pounder on the line will be a struggle, wait until you have two pulling against you (check local regs).

Giant Worm
Plastic worms may be the most basic and universal of all bass lures, and there’s a reason for that. Worms can be fished at any depth, in any water color, and with advances in hook, line, and sinker technology, they’re deadlier than ever. California anglers lean on triple-laminate straight tails, often measuring up to 18 inches. In Mexico, 10-inch Power Worms are the gold standard. On the TVA lakes, don’t be caught without a plum-colored Zoom Ol’ Monster.

Yamamoto Senko
This oversize replica of a Bic pen might be the most unlikely success story in the history of bass fishing, but despite its do-nothing look, it has likely caught more bass than the next two most productive baits on this roster combined. Fished Texas style or wacky style, it has a slow, seductive shimmy on the fall that dozens have tried to copy (unsuccessfully for the most part). When hunting lunkers, step up to the 7-inch model, which has a lot more girth than the 6-inch Senko.

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