Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

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Paul Roberts
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Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

Post by Paul Roberts »

Did some exploring of the larger of our, new to us, ponds. It's over 100yrs old, 11acres in size, with a reputation for stunted bass -that is, if you cast randomly to the shorelines. However, the pond appears to hold some promise. The reel is a super-tuned 1984 ABU UltraMag (narrow spool version).

22.5”: Now this is a lap full of bass!

18.75”:
Last edited by Paul Roberts on Mon Aug 07, 2023 7:42 am, edited 9 times in total.
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Mike N
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Re: In my backyard.

Post by Mike N »

Wow, Paul, that’s awesome. Love to see those big Pennsylvania bass!

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Re: In my backyard.

Post by Paul Roberts »

Me too! :)
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Mike N
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Re: In my backyard.

Post by Mike N »

After a rain this evening I threw a rubber crayfish and nightcrawler in our small farm pond and caught a couple. I fished last Sunday in the afternoon heat and wasn’t as lucky.





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Re: In my backyard.

Post by Paul Roberts »

Nice backyard shots, Mike.
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David Lehmann
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Re: In my backyard.

Post by David Lehmann »

That's a nice, healthy bass with great color! No signs of stunting in that fish!
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Re: In my backyard.

Post by Paul Roberts »

Yes, these two were in very good condition, as were a few others, apparently large enough to feast on, rather than compete with, the hordes of smaller fishes in the pond. These two big ones were 22.5” and 18.75”: in the 6 and 4 lb range, respectively.

Mike’s fish looks to be in good condition too. Part of the trick is keeping numbers down and good prey numbers and sizes.
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Re: Bass Fishing, in my backyard!

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Decided to consolidate some things here, since... I'm on to something!

It's mid-summer and I'm finally clearing some time to see what I can find in the larger of the two ponds we co-own.


Been having a tough time finding quality bass in this pond. From this spring's fishing -a peak time to find out what a water body can produce- I know the pond holds promise. It can grow some large bass. But, there appears to be a hole in the year classes, with precious few mid-sized, "quality" bass; The ones that keep us casting and able to tell us when we're... on to something.

There are many small skinny bass here. An upcoming year class? Or stunted? Likely both. I've found some 10" individuals that are sexually mature: stunted individuals. Most males I've seen on beds have been 9 or 10" long, too small to fend off the hordes of sunfish. The little males I've observed (by video) last just a couple of days before they are overwhelmed and abandon their beds.

The ponds are unmanaged, beyond the addition of grass carp years ago. Grass carp have some disadvantages in that they can really clear out the vegetation in a pond, but then leave the unpalatable plants behind, namely coontail. Coontail then takes over and grows so dense that the initial point of weed management is lost. Coontail is also shade tolerant, so those bassy looking coontail mats and lily pad flats are NOT hollow underneath. Actual mats and breaks in that cover are relatively rare, making sunfish hunting for the bass a challenge -hence the skinny small bass that just can't break out of insectivory. The lack of breaks in the cover also makes the fishing challenging. Where I can put a lure, and have it be effective, is limited.

A veritable wall-to-wall coontail carpet:


I started my mid-summer fishing plying the main basin where there is open water and outer weed edges. But, cranking and worming (Jig, Wacky, Neko) has not yielded a single quality bass. Next up is the lily pad fields that rim the pond. And it was obvious at the get-go that there are a LOT of bluegills in those pads. Their surface feeding can sound like popcorn popping in there. And the occasional crash or surge tells me they are not alone in all that dense cover. No surprise really: Cover and food. Some of those surges are almost scary sounding, so it appears that there are likely, at least some, large bass in those pads.

Bluegill beneath the pads.


So, it was time to break out the heavy gear and get into the thick stuff. Time to go a-“froggin’” -one of the few lures that can actually fish through that stuff, and cover water too. I say "froggin'" because the prey the bass would be targeting is not frogs but bluegills. Frogs are mostly shoreline bound. It's surface feeding bluegills the bass are after. One might think that a lure on top of the pads wouldn't suggest "bluegill" but I have got to see bluegills get themselves up onto the pads and have to skitter across them to get back into the drink. Most bluegill activity is happening beneath the pads of course, which has me wondering whether all the misses commonly associated with “froggin’” are the result of confusion in the bass’s part -the bass expecting the prey to be just beneath the surface, not above. And the act of getting a bluegill into your mouth is likely different than for a buoyant floating lure. Just guesses. They do miss, and expend some real energy in their attempts. It amazes me how much water they can throw when they crash a "frog" lure!


Again, there does not appear to be a large population of mid-sized bass to tip me off to a pattern. Little fish don't count. And big fish, well, they are always on the rare side. This is needle-in-a-haystack fishing, the haystack part being quite literal in this case. My job is to home in on the areas that are attracting the better bass. I’ve done this primarily by watching and, especially, listening while I fish. I have developed an ear for those surges and crashes, and drop waypoints in my mind on those areas. One area in particular stood out, collecting "virtual waypoints “, where one of the tiny creek inlets enters. This is not the main creek channel that runs the length of this dammed pond. It’s a tiny side tributary, but runoff has created quite a silt bottomed delta or flat, that has been colonized by water lilies over time. During run-off periods the tiny creek has managed to cut a weed free channel out into that flat. The collection of "virtual waypoints" in this general area has finally allowed me to say, “I’ve found ‘em!”

But what a bear to fish! The pads are so densely grown that they overlap each other over large expanses. A hollow-body “frog” doesn't even touch water through much of it. One might think that the pads would block enough light that the water beneath would be relatively weed free, open for hunting bass. But no. Coontail is shade tolerant and remains fairly dense from top to bottom. There is very little surface matting with open water beneath.


Some bass may have figured out how to catch bluegills in the dense stuff. But, so far, I’ve found I have to rely on bass being along the edges where the pads form a single layer. So, I'm searching for those needles at the edges of the haystack! At least there are some big ones out there for all the trouble.


The first catch in the inlet spot was a 15”er that struck a frog, three times before I was able to stick him. One! That’s a start. "I may indeed be on to something." This fish is on the thin side, not uncommon in mid-summer when water temps are high. However, this pond has remained in the upper 70's for much of the summer. The thin body may have more to do with the difficulty catching appropriate sized prey fishes in the dense vegetation.


A day later, I lost a big one that simply buried me. Big wake and then loud violent surge of a strike; The scary kind! I'd been casting from shore, right at the mouth of the tiny creek inlet, and realized what a mistake it was to be shore-bound as I couldn't paddle over and dig her out. Had to back the drag all the way off, drop the rod in the grass, and hike around to my kayak, paddle out, and rescue my rig. All that was there at the hook end was a big wad of lilies impaled by my frog’s double hooks.

The next day brought a barrel of a 19"er that missed then struck on a follow up cast. It's been my experience that fish rarely come again to follow up casts. Not so when "frogging". Seems they are still looking for that pesky bluegill after a miss. She was a different individual from the 19er I’d caught this spring, by body markings. Good to know there are more than one! This 19er was almost a welcome consolation for the one lost the previous evening. I say almost because the lost fish haunts me still. It was big.

This pond is turning out to be something of a "trophy fishery", a whole lotta work for few -but big- bites: One to three a day. Missing or losing fish is rough. And gosh those big fish are strong! Fighting big bass in dense pads from a lightweight whisp of a kayak is a recipe for... chaos. They turn down and wrap up in those lily “cables”, pulling the kayak to them. Then it’s hand-lining to get a thumb-lock on them. It's a physical fight at boatside; Water and weeds flying. I'll get smarter about it as I go. And I'm sure I'll lose a few more. Happy with each victory.



Oh yes, the reel used: I'm not using one of my lovely old direct drive reels. Even my solid old Pflueger Supremes. What a scary thought adding a DD reel to the chaos! My "frogging" has been done with a "modern" reel, a 1982 ABU Ultra Mag II (the year ABU introduced magnetic cast control to the US market). I’ve added carbon drag washers and a complete internal polishing and lubing. She functions beautifully, essentially fire and forget. Nothing wanting. Fifty pound braid with a ~8ft 20lb nylon mono leader is being used. The mono slips through the pads better, offering less friction than the braid. The leader needs to be replaced periodically due to UV sunlight and physical abuse. When big fish are present our tackle is at risk. Better safe than sorry.
Last edited by Paul Roberts on Wed Aug 23, 2023 10:17 am, edited 50 times in total.
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Re: Bass Fishing, in my backyard!

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Found another needle in the haystack. Plastic stick-worm in the open inlet channel between the pads. Very close to where I lost "the big one" the other evening. My word did this one fight! Water temps in the 70's had her in fine spirits. One leap was eye level with me! Then it was all I could do to keep her out of the pads. She went 21" even -in the 5lb bracket. I carefully photo these larger fish to see if they are recaptures. So far, of the four big ones I’ve got a lip-lock on (4, 4, 5, and 6lb brackets) none are recaptures.

Was pretty cool hooking one in more open water, giving her room to put on a show. Instead of the rat-tat-tat of another little one, this one was a solid thump, then solid weight that quickly came to life. What a jump! What runs. She dragged my kayak to the edge of the pads and almost got lost in there. Phew! And Wow!
Last edited by Paul Roberts on Sat Aug 12, 2023 7:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Mike N
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

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What a great read, Paul. Like an article out of Field & Stream in its heyday. Thanks for sharing the thrill of the hunt for big pond bass. Please keep ‘em coming.

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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

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Thanks, Mike. I've been writing up, and photographing, my fishing for decades. Kept hand written journals for 40 years, before pretty much going digital. Did some magazine writing (fly-fishing and traditional archery) too. Most recently a YT channel. Adding videography to the mix has added a whole new dimension.
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

Post by David Lehmann »

Nice fish! Antique reels are cool, but they will never substitute for catching fish, in my opinion! Combining vintage tackle and catching fish is the apex! Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

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Thanks, David. Yes, old reels are indeed cool. And they can catch fish too. A great combination. It’s the fishing that inspired their making. And that journey is still underway. Glad to have more advanced designs and engineering available to me as well. I haven’t the temerity to enter those pads and slop with one of my beautiful direct-drive reels! 🥹 Hence my using a 1980’s model for this fishing. :)
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

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Duplicate post somehow. No delete option.
Last edited by Paul Roberts on Mon Aug 21, 2023 9:23 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Richard Lodge
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

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A great read and lots of bass fishing tips in here, Paul. It's amazing how heavy the weeds are where you're fishing but you still entice the bass to strike. Thanks for detailing all of this!
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

Post by Bill Sonnett »

Paul that pond looks very much like my small lake. In the pads during the day the hollow rubber frog rules. Seeing that Coontail, my first reaction would be to run a Jitterbug over it after dark or a shallow running bait such as a Shakespeare Swimming Mouse.
I love to get old reels, work on them until they run as smooth as silk and the take them fishing using pre-1960 plugs, mostly surface fishing for Largemouths after dark.
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

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Thanks, Richard. Yes, give those bass an opening and they'll take advantage. Unlike a lure, the bluegills and golden shiners in the pond have some say in that! Either there are few good bass in this pond or they are very miserly with their attacks, probably for good reason. They certainly put some energy into those “frog” strikes. It s as mazes me how violent they can be.

Bill, thanks for the suggestions. I've not given the night fishing a good go yet. Might be the best route. :fished
Last edited by Paul Roberts on Wed Aug 23, 2023 11:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Ron Mc
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

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Killer thread, great fish from Paul and Mike, especially that fat bass in your OP, Paul.
Don't have too much to report in my semi-annual drive-by, mostly because of severe heat since May and continued drought.

My best fishing this summer, more like bird dogging, was on two Yahoo snipes, to add a combo that's kind of a dream for me.
Isuzu BC620SSS finished for Headhunters lure shop, matched with a Bright River long handle and S-glass blade wrapped in Headhunter green.
Isuzu bench-builds basically a '76 Ambassadeur, but with full ball bearing race LW, alloy frame and slightly offset foot - smoother drive than you can imagine, with nothing like friction anywhere in this reel.
The Rivermaster rod handle is a copy of Fuji, with shallow offset.
Happy birthday to me.
Image
While this will get some bass time, my real goal for it is close fishing to redfish backs in mud marshes.
The rod, 6'4" on the long handle, is rated 1/4 to 1 oz, but 1/8 oz loads it just right, and casts with aplomb. The combo skip-casts that light weight in a reverse spiral better than any combo I've tinkered.
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

Post by Paul Roberts »

Thanks, Ron!
And Happy Birthday! Stunning combo! I thought LAngley Target for a quick moment. Love that touch. Love the color scheme. Very sweet rig.
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Re: Big Bass, Just Out My Back Door

Post by Ron Mc »

Paul, thanks both for the compliment and b/d wishes.
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