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.
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
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.
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.
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.”