When someone approaches the fishing community with largemouth bass catches of 9.04-pounds, 9.45-pounds, 9.54-pounds, 10.42-pounds and 11.83-pounds most would be enamored and thrilled for the angler, but when approaching the bass tournament fishing community this one phrase seems to be their go-to.
“Live bait don’t count when bass fishing!”
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard this statement when presenting my trophy catch to the bass tournament community here in Southeast Tennessee. It is all too familiar and in all honesty it stings a little but I am quick to respond with a few interesting but very true facts especially since I am a bank fishing angler 99% of the time.
Beginning My Journey of Bank Fishing for Bass With Live Bait
The main fact that seems to be overlooked is that this is not Mr. Smith’s farm pond or a 200 acre private lake at a gated resort where I catch the same fish over and over and get accolades like some do.
These fish were caught on a pair public reservoirs along the Tennessee River with almost 50,000 acres of real estate and nearly 1,000 miles of shoreline to filter through.
For 10 years, I traveled the Southern U.S. as a co-angler and competed in multiple local tournaments and did very well but as the years went by, so did the excitement. I always kept up with the local fishing scene through an online forum and stumbled upon a pair of individuals (Sam and Rich) who toted coolers of live shad up and down the bank at our local dam and had some of the nicest catches that I had ever seen. My interest peaked and I began asking questions and gathering info from the pair and a few other guys on the forum. Not long after, I decided I needed to go get a cast net and set off on a new endeavor.
Stepping into the local tackle shop I made my way to the cast nets and to my amazement the price was far greater than I had thought. With my confidence and brash attitude I said, “What the hell, it can’t be that hard to throw one of these things!!” Then at the drop of the hat I was $120 in debt and well on my way to a new found addiction.
My First Trip Bank Fishing for Bass With Live Bait
Arriving at the dam, I began assessing the bait situation as it ran along the rocky shore and wing wall, I figured a few practices throws in the parking lot was all that a pro like myself needed to fill my cooler with a fine bounty of shad. The visions of grandeur filled the air as I made my first throw of the net and from the looks of the toss I was less than the pro I assured myself I was.
I gathered myself and thought, “I’m going to sling the heck outta this thing and redeem myself in a single flip of the wrist!”……. Wadded up the net, took a look at the area I wanted to throw and then slung her with all my might.
The next thing I see is my net fly, my tow line as well(forgot to put around my wrist), and all my hopes sink into the rocks about 15 feet off the bank…
Needless to say the onlookers were less than impressed and I hung my head in shame as I walked away as my net and my pride found their way to the bottom. That first year, I managed to lose a total of 7 cast nets to the rocks at the tail-waters of Chickamaugua dam and learned more than I thought possible.
Fast forward 10 years and now I have amassed a collection of 15 nets that range in size from 3.5-foot to 14-foot and every mesh size you could imagine to match the bait I’m targeting. I have a 250 gallon home system and an array of portable bait tanks that I use to haul shad in excess of 150 miles in order to target the giant largemouth that I have grown to love.
The Facts About Bank Fishing for Bass With Live Bait
Rewind to the beginning of the article, let’s discuss a few of the “very true” facts that I mention when tournament anglers “shluff” off on me for using live bait and discredit my catch due to that very fact. So, I’d like to shed a little light on the subject and I’ll let you guys and gals make your own conclusions.
Every day heading to the water, I set out without a boat in tow and I pattern the bait and fish without the use of $10,000 in electronics.
I do not have a trolling motor or net to help assist me in the fight to land a lunker, nor do I have a limitless amount of water to fish. I use my sight, looking for birds and water disturbances, look up water flow and weather patterns, and study notes that I have collected over the years. I use this combination to pour into a great day of fishing. Unlike the tournament guys, I have only a handful of key locations that I can get to and do not have the luxury of carrying 10 or more rods and reels with an almost endless supply of baits in storage.
Heading Out Bank Fishing for Bass With Live Bait
Each trip starts either the day prior, or hours before daylight. I load up my gear and select what nets I need for the conditions to catch my bait and size of bait I am targeting. I load up the bait tank on my hitch-n-haul checking that my external batteries are charged, bait basket is strapped, and that I have my salt, filters, and chum (normally dog food) all in order. Gizzard shad, threadfin, and golden shiners are my go to and in some situations if the bait is just not cooperating I will use live bream.
I travel to a set of pre-determined locations that I know shad accumulate at various times of the year and I do my best to fill my tank with the water from where the shad will be caught. In most instances the bait can be caught in about 10 throws but in some cases I have spent up to 4 hours in order to catch a dozen decent sized baitfish.
Once I have made multiple trips to gather enough bait to fill the tank, I make sure all filters are clear and that my salt additives are in spec to help calm my fishy little friends. If the location I plan to fish is close, I will not clean the filters or change the water but if I am exceeding a distance of say 40 miles, I will carry and additional 5 gallon bucket of water and stop to wash and clean out my filters because they will shed scales in the tank clogging filters extremely quickly.
The shad are a very finicky species and under stress they go through a thing called osmoregulation where they are forced to expend more energy unless salt is added to the water. The addition of salt inhibits this process and helps them sustain their energy levels and creates an anti-parasitic effect by maintaining their blood chemistry. Now that the salt ordeal is settled, the next thing I verify when I arrive at my location the tank temperature to help insure the shad maintain good health and reduce their stress levels. As little as a 10 degree change in water temperature can cause trauma so I keep a thermometer in the tank and an external one I test the waters with where I decide to fish.
If it is within 10 degrees, I will not add water to the tank from my fishing spot but if it isn’t, I will bucket water from the location into my tank until the water is within range. Now, onto the final steps before I can settle in to fish for the day. My bait basket is an 18-inch diameter by 15-inch deep cylindrical mesh floating basket that I carry with me to keep my bait in to allow them to acclimate to the water temp. I fill up a bucket with water and dip a few shad, shiners, or bream for testing out of the tank and take them with me in my floating basket. If I do not get a taker within the first few casts I will load up and move, if I am successful, you guessed it, I will haul a bucket of water back to my tank and fill it up with enough bait for the day.
Now, Who Said Bank Fishing for Bass With Live Bait Was Easy?
My go-to gear for targeting these gentle giants are spinning reels with braided line and fluorocarbon leaders paired with a variety of hooks. I have two main set-ups that I most frequently use. My first combo is a Penn Spinfisher V 4500 reel paired with 30-pound 8 strand braid and an 8-foot Penn Legion rod with an extra fast and extra-heavy action. Gamakatsu 4x strong live bait hooks. My second combo is a Pflueger President reel paired with 10-pound braid with Shimano Convergence medium-heavy 7-foot rod, and Owner mosquito hooks.
I normally use a free line method and hook the bait through the nose since I fish current below hydroelectric dams most of the time.
I DO NOT hook the bait through the underside of the jaw through the nose because this restricts flow across the grills and the bait does not stay as active and dies quickly. Simply hooking through the nostrils keeps the bait lively and doesn’t create line twists, it also allows the bait to swim freely. If I am fishing in slack water, I will hook the bait through the back and use a bobber to help create resistance when the bait pulls on the float and I feel that resistance attracts the bigger fish. Each condition calls for slight changes just like any other type of fishing and as I have found over the years, there is something new to learn every day. I some cases I have used drop shot and Carolina rigs, but the most effective is the free line or float method.
Bait size is the most important factor that plays into catching big bass and the saying “Big bait, big fish” is 110% accurate based on my experience. I have thrown gizzard shad up to 13.25-inch and had largemouth demolish them and I have used 6-8-inch gizzard shad which get destroyed by smallmouth.
In the last three years, I have caught largemouth ranging from 9.54-pounds in August 2015, 9.04-pounds in June 2016, 9.45-pounds and 10.42-pounds same day in March of 2018, and recently my PB of 11.83-pounds in January of 2019 all off the banks of the Tennessee River. There are countless numbers in the 5 to 8-pound range that are all but forgotten as well and even a fun day with a Disney’s Olaf kid’s fishing rod where I recorded a 25-pound and 9-ounce 5 fish limit in less than 10 casts.
All in all these are the lengths I go to and have went through in order to be able to target these giants from the bank.
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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