By Daniel Kiazyk
It's early summer, the days are long and sunny and the smallmouth bass are up and active in Canada's shield country. It's a magical time of the year to be sure. Part of the magic of this period of time is that this is that time of year everyone has been waiting for after a cold long winter. It almost seems that without a doubt I can expect to receive a call or two from this or that buddy to get out there to enjoy this beautiful tome of year. Another part of this season's angling magic is this is the season when a "buddy bass" is a definite possibility when fishing for early season smallies.
Northwestern Ontario's reputation for unparalleled smallmouth bass fishing is not some pumped up bunch of hype. On the contrary many of the lakes in the sunset country are some of North America's best bass fisheries with some being rarely if ever angled by more than a handful of anglers in a given year. Therein lies this particular regions greatest draw…. Some "pods" of bass are not necessarily well educated in the ways of the hook and line. You can expect to see a good number of bass that are willing to bite.
Well every season is different and has its moments and memories. On some occasions, it also happens when I'm fishing a particular species that I'll have a particular insight as to what's working and why. So, it was this past summer that getting out to a popular bass fishery and putting in the time to see what it took to put a large number in our boat not only yielded memories but insights into bass fishing as a whole. Numbers of bass will do that eh.……
Our approach to these earlier in the year bass on this specific spring wasn't going to be all that different than what we normally apply to smallmouth in this territory at this time of year. A variety of crankbaits (stick, top water, and suspending) some artificial worm techniques and finally a couple of live bait presentations - if all else fails (and this latter approach always seem to work quite well) is what we'll normally bring.
Crankbait selection usually involves an effort to try and imitate some of the natural forage present in the environment. Bass will be sure to let you know if crayfish (in there variety of color phases) or minnows are the "chomp du jour". Stickbaits, slashbaits and jerk baits all seem to work. It's really a good time for this genre of bait. Sometimes it's just a matter of going through sizes, colours and styles before you hit pay dirt.
Worming (rigs with various forms of plastics) techniques with a variety of shapes and forms of plastic is another time proven option. What we find up north in shield lakes is that the rocky and craggy nature of these lakes makes rigging a bit tougher. Nonetheless it's surprising how effective some of the scented baits can be. I'm especially fond of this approach where a transition of bottom types is present form "muck" to "rock". The "muck" areas will hold other forms of aquatic life that in turn can be fished quite effectively with plastic rigged in a weedless fashion. Lightening up the sinker component of our rigs can also make a significant difference when using this particular technique
Live bait as a last resort will usually involve leeches and worms. Both are very effective but quite costly bass attractants. A downside to fishing live bait is that fish have a tendency to take these baits quite far down their gullets requiring various forms of surgical hook removal. Also problematic is the need to replace bait that has been destroyed by a fish that has been especially aggressive. Taking the time that is necessary to re-bait means that your not in the water where you can catch the fish. Bait nonetheless is a good last resort but I prefer leaving it as a last resort.
How then do we present live bait? Well we use two methods for the most part. Of course there are many other means but the tackle box can only hold so much stuff.
Firstly there's floating the bait into bass at the level where they are positioned. Certainly the float has its strengths as it targets those bass who may be hook shy. Not that bass are hook shy, but I believe there's a population of fish who never really see that many hooks being suspended most of the time. Also there are a population of bass who are always deeper or who move deeper on a daily basis and aren't necessarily the tackle busting surface broncos that come to mind when thinking of bass. Having such an unobtrusive in your face approach is certainly a good change-up should conditions require.
Secondly there's "Shotting". Shotting is an approach we'll also often turn to (as for it details that's the stuff of another article). When bass are roaming off points, near to rock piles, off the weedy flats and big boulders. Most often we'll sight fish these areas (given the water is clear enough) and the bass are present in numbers.
But what has the description of all the prior approaches have to do with the purpose of this article. Well, having the latter approaches means that you and your partner can work together with any of these approaches to bag more bass using an approach we call "buddy-bassing".……Ok I'll let you in on what we learned.
Why buddy bassing? Well as simple as this may sound, bass most of the season and in particular during a certain part of the early season become very competitive and aggressive when they are in a feeding mode. Knowing this we were able to develop a new pattern that would tie-in to their very nature.
What did we do? Well, having a second rod set up that would mirror a fishing partner would simply result in more fish. How? Well, if fish were reacting favorably to a specific presentation, a second identical presentation would result in "double" the success. The only tricky part is being able to retrieve the offering you're working with and get the other "identical" bait in the water before the following bass would leave the area.
What does buddy bassing really look like? Well, in one particular case during early summer we found ourselves pitching split shot rigs to what we later found out were large numbers of concentrated bass who were feeding on a particular type of available forage. Once we established they wanted a particular bait we'd still have to go look for more bass once the biters had run out.
Well when we found the aforementioned spot we knew we had a couple of options and would each as already mentioned tie up an identical rig on a second rod of what the other guy had on. Another trick we'd employ was to fight the fish a little more deliberately when hooked up. Not being a big rush to "horse-in" a fish often triggered other bass to follow in to see what was all the commotion. Simply put when one fish is hooked often another couple of bass will follow, probably with the hope that they too might get a free meal.….and there's an opportunity to put down a similar bait to hook a hungry bass or two. Without a doubt, having this little trick present ready to go will definitely increase your odds out there on most lakes.
Considering the buddy bass strategy and having a variety of presentations can at times mean an extra fish or two for the derby fisherman and on the odd occasion a lot more fish on those special days when the bass are just being sassy.