When I was a kid, my dream was to become a professional bass fisherman. Every Saturday morning, while other kids were wasting their time with cartoons, I was up early watching the tournaments on ESPN. The pros in those competitions, standing on the podium or in the back of their glitter-finish speed boats and hefting two giant bass out of the livewell to the roar of the crowd, they were my idols. I had bass pro action figures, bass boat posters, and rows of bass lures decorating the walls of my room. I was obsessed. I begged my parents for a boat so I could follow my dreams, and when I was 16, they finally conceded and bought me an old 1980s Bass Tracker. It didn’t have a glitter finish, but to me it was beautiful. I was so excited driving to the boat ramp that first day, that is, until I came to a sudden stop upon seeing line of glittering bass boats ahead of me, all waiting to put in. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise that I wasn’t the only one with a bass-fishing obsession.
Bass are the most popular sportfish in America. In almost any large body of water where trophy-sized largemouth or smallmouth bass exist, you’ll find hundreds of anglers armed with a menagerie of top-shelf tackle and high-tech electronics doing their absolute best to fill their livewells with a limit of bucketmouths on an almost-daily basis. With so many anglers pounding the banks, boat docks, and other popular spots, by mid-summer the bass begin to become wary and much more difficult to catch. Yet, as I eventually discovered after determinedly hammering away with everyone else, the bass are still there and are still catchable in those high-pressured lakes—so long as you adapt your techniques to their changing behavior.
How to Find Pressured Bass On high-pressured lakes, ponds, and reservoirs where anglers pursue bass daily, the fish will become spooky and move out of the most obvious and easy-to-access fishing spots. So, to catch them, the first step is to begin finding areas outside of the classic cover where everyone else casts.
During the mid-summer, when bass fishing popularity is at its peak, both largemouth and smallmouth bass do their best to both hide from the heat and from the anglers pursuing them. Some bass will move into the deepest, darkest shadows of cover. I mean might-get-the-boat-stuck thick, “do I need a trolling motor or a machete?” type of cover. Places with thick weeds, lily pads, and heavy structure such as flooded timber that most anglers will merely fish the fringes of and not actually penetrate. Other bass will move out of the main lake and into back channels and feeder creeks that flow into or out of larger bodies of water.
At other times, large bass will move away from the shorelines that are continuously being smashed by lures and buzzed by the shadows of lurking boats, and go in search of deeper, cooler, less popular water to rest and to feed. The fish will seek out open water and unseen structures in the center of the lake. Sunken islands, rockpiles, and weed beds in 10 to 20 feet, usually just above the first thermocline or where the temperature is a few degrees cooler, will all attract large schools of roaming bass.
Equipment for Pressured Bass I've often carried an arsenal of heavy, stiff bass rods rigged and ready for fast, hard hooksets and pulling bass into the boat as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. Highly-pressured bass don’t need all that rigamarole. Catching them calls for delicate presentations, accurate casting, and a subtle touch.
So leave all the stiff, heavy, baitcasting rods behind and instead switch to some lighter gear, similar to the stuff you might use for trout. A 7- to-9-foot medium-light action spinning rod strung with 10-pound test braided line or fluorocarbon is the perfect tool for the job and all you’ll really need.
The Best Lures For Pressured Bass On lakes and reservoirs with lots of angler attention, by mid-summer most bass have already seen dozens of bright and gaudy crankbaits and big flashy spinnerbaits—so many that they may flee the area at the sight of a popular bait splashing down. The key to success with bass lures is choosing offerings that the fish haven’t seen very often.
Downsizing your presentation and selecting lures with more natural colors are the first two steps to changing your fortunes. Instead of using large buzzbaits and willow-bladed spinners, try some small spinners, like Mepps or Rooster Tails, like you would use for trout. Put aside the giant chartreuse-and-orange crankbaits and switch to smaller, more natural-colored lures, such as a small classic Rapala or a Husky Jerk in natural colors such as gold, gray, or olive.
Fish your lures with a variance of action. Splash down and jerk tiny Rapalas through shallow water imitating a wounded baitfish instead of just casting and retrieving them. Make long, deep retrievals with a Husky Jerk, pausing it and twitching it along deep structures and over weed beds. Flip and pitch small spinners below boat docks and retrieve them slowly, spinning them in areas where bass have already seen a smorgasbord of other lures. Think and fish outside of the box and you shall see yourself greatly rewarded by some monster bass.
The Best Soft Plastics for Pressured Bass If you ask any bass pro what are their favorite lures, most will answer “a plastic worm” without hesitation. These wriggling offerings are probably responsible for more big bass catches than any other lure. Plastic worms come in a staggering variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, and for pressured bass, there is perhaps no other lure more effective than a worm, so long as it is rigged properly.
There are dozens of different ways to rig plastic worms—Carolina, Texas, Wacky, Neko, Shakey, etc. However, for finicky bass that have seen a lot of lures, it’s hard to beat a Wacky Rig. Wacky rigging a plastic worm is a simple and incredibly effective way to fish a plastic worm that has consistently found me fish on popular and pressured bass lakes from Lake Champlain to Lake Okeechobee. To wacky rig a plastic worm, first choose a plastic that is even in width throughout, such as a Senko or a Dover Crawler. Then take a short-shank, wide-gap worm hook, and stick it through the center or thickest part of the worm. That’s it. You also buy special O-rings to thread on the worm and slide your hook under, which makes the plastic last longer. This rig can be jigged in deep water under a boat, cast into the shallows and twitched, or pitched and simply left to sink beneath overhanging structures such as boat docks and willows. It’s a slow, tedious presentation, but few things are more attractive to bass. Just make sure you keep tension and watch your line closely because the takes are often light.
Aside from plastic worms, there are other soft plastic baits that can be quite effective for pressured bass as well. Large creature baits that resemble lizards and crayfish are good but can become a bit tired when bass get persnickety after seeing a lot of lures. Instead, I prefer soft plastics with simple designs that are easy to fish like the Lunker City Sluggo and Berkley The Deal. Both are simple and effortless to rig. Simply stick the point of a hook through the fat end or “head” of the soft plastics and cast away. Many anglers will want to thread these lures onto the entire hook thinking they may miss strikes or hang up. This is a mistake. Bass inhale their food so having the hook in the end of the lure will give the lure better action and increase your hookup ratio. It will also catch more weeds though.
In shallow water, fish these plastics with no weight and simply cast and slowly twitch them back towards the boat or shore. In deeper water, add a single, medium-sized split shot 5 to 8 inches above the lure. Let the bait sink to the bottom and then retrieve it at a moderate pace, keeping it just above the bottom and pausing and twitching the lure along the way, feeling for a strike.
How to Use Live Bait for Pressured Bass While almost all of us fantasize about coming tight on big fish with shiny, fancy lures like we see the pros do on TV, many of us are willing to catch a big bass any way that we can. This often means putting our desires and lures aside, because nothing catches tough bass better than live bait. Minnows, nightcrawlers, and even live crayfish are real meals even the most cautious bass will find difficult to resist.
Of all live baits, minnows are probably the most popular and efficient bass attractants in existence. While there are a lot of popular ways to rig them, such as hooking them through the back and suspending them under a bobber, the best way to present pressured bass with a minnow is to make it look as natural as possible. So, instead of rigging the minnow under a bobber or with a heavy weight that will splash and distract the bass, try hooking it through the mouth and nostril and treating it like a weightless soft plastic: flipping and pitching the bait into bits of structure and “bassy” looking spots. Do so while holding tight to the line and staying ready because big bass will absolutely smash the struggling baitfish, often as soon as it hits the water.
Crayfish and nightcrawlers should be rigged in much the same way but will work better in deeper water and off rocky structure. Adding a single small split shot will help them get to the desired depth quickly, but the less you add to the rig, the better. Nightcrawlers can be threaded onto the hook headfirst, with the point exposed just below the band. You can also inflate them to add a little flair, much you would rig worms for stocked trout. Crayfish should be rigged with the hook point through the last joint at the tip of their tail, allowing them to crawl along the bottom and flip through the water where they can gain a big bass’ attention.
Becoming a Bassmaster Seeing the number of boats and anglers out on the popular lakes and rivers during the peak of the bass season can be downright unsettling. Bass fishing is possibly the most popular sport in the outdoors world, but many anglers are often deterred by seeing the great numbers of fisherman infiltrating the lakes. With so much competition, many feel they have no chance of catching that slab of a bass they’ve always dreamed about. It doesn’t have to be like that. With the right lures, tactics, and creativity, nothing stands in the way of your bass angling fantasies.
Feature image via Bill Lindner Photo.