By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
David Walker was one of the most confident anglers in the field during the days leading up to last week's Bassmaster Classic. He'd discovered a tactic in practice that was enticing big fish to bite – and bite hard!
Those fish came from a specific depth range (5 to 8 feet) around the greenest grass the lake had to offer, and they seemed to be receptive only to a particular rattlebait presented in a very precise manner. They wanted it moving very slow with the nose heading straight for the bottom on each fall – almost as if the bait were a football jig or Texas-rigged plastic.
He refined the program on the final practice day and it was a resounding success on day 1, when he weighed a 24-13 sack that put him in 3rd place. It didn't work at all the next day, when he brought just four fish for less than 9 1/2 pounds to the scale, and he initially thought that his tightly honed presentation had been off.
By the following day – the last of the event – he'd concluded that it wasn't the technique that had failed him on day 2; he'd simply been fishing for fish that had moved. With the water temperature and level continuing to rise, they'd turned their backs on him and headed for the shoreline. That idea gained credence on day 3, when he finally went shallow himself and had no trouble catching keeper after keeper from "the dirt" en route to a sack that was nearly twice as heavy as the one he'd weighed the previous day.
Process of Elimination
Walker went into the official practice session, which got under way 6 days prior to the Classic, thinking that the event was likely to be won on rattlebaits. Flat-sided, non-billed crankbaits are the Guntersville staple during the pre-spawn, and the primary method of fishing them is allowing them to become entangled in the ubiquitous grass and then ripping them out, anticipating that a strike will come shortly after the bait has regained its freedom.
The water was still frigid on that first practice day – in the upper 30s in some places and low 40s in others – and some of the pockets had an icy glaze on the surface.
"I started fishing and I wasn't getting any bites," he said. "I kept changing areas and changing areas, trying to find grass that looked good. The good grass isn't everywhere – some of the stuff is stringy or has algae growing on it or has something else wrong with it.
"The little sections of the greenest grass I could find didn't come from the bank all the way out. They started in about 3 feet (of water) and came out to about 5 feet."
But even around that ultra-green vegetation, he had difficulty getting the fish to cooperate. He tried a variety of rattlebaits – some made by LiveTarget (his hardbait sponsor) and some by other manufacturers – and kept working them slower and slower until he'd settled into the hop-drop mode that's common with non-reaction baits.
"I knew it was important to hit the grass and then break it free," he said. "But fishing a lipless crankbait in that depth at normal speed, it was hard to get it hung up. I had to find a way to make it hang up."
Walker had aided in the design of the LiveTarget Crappie. One of its key features is that when it's allowed to fall freely, it doesn't slowly wiggle and flutter toward the bottom in a mostly horizontal position, but instead adopts a vertical posture and drops nose-first. The descent, however, is relatively slow
The lift-and-fall technique with that 5/8-ounce, 2 3/4-inch bait was deadly under those circumstances, which consisted of a lot of big fish just emerging from an abnormally cold winter and beginning their transition to the pre-spawn phase. The prominent rattle undoubtedly helped fish zero in on it in the off-colored water.
The LiveTarget Crappie rattlebait, shown here in the white crappie color that Walker used, falls with a nose-down trajectory.
"I became totally convinced pretty quick," he said. "I was catching a lot of 4-pounders along with some 6s and one that was probably 8-something, and the bait was totally out of sight inside their mouths. When they're taking it that well, you know you're onto something.
"I felt that as the water warmed, it was going to be easier to get more bites."
He made it appear extremely easy on day 1. His severe drop-off in the standings on day 2 was caused by a failure to adjust to conditions that had changed due to the somewhat delayed effects of the powerful storm that blew through the night prior to the start of the event.
"I thought that warm rain coming in would be even more helpful and I was right in that assumption, but what I never anticipated was the water level rising like it did. Those fish had left and swam all the way to the warm water right against the bank.
"It was a lesson learned, but that's always easier in hindsight. Looking back at the timeline of how it all worked, it makes more sense to me now. I spent a lot of time (on day 2) trying to figure out what the heck it was that I was doing wrong and trying to make fish bite, when in reality I was trying to catch fish that just weren't there anymore."
When will it Play Again?
Walker will be on the lookout for further opportunities to run the slow lift-and-drop program with the LiveTarget Crappie.
"I think it needs to be a situation where you're fishing a little bit deeper than real shallow – like 3 to 8 feet – on an outside grass line," he said. "The fish need to be in a mode where they want the presentation slow.
"It'll probably work at various times throughout the year, but those conditions we had at Guntersville after everything had been so cold for so long, it was just what they wanted. Bass fishing is always a puzzle and to this day I don't understand why they don't take a meal anytime it's offered, but they don't. There's always these little intricacies that you have to figure out.
"You can usually catch some doing just about anything," he continued. "But to really catch them well, you have to come up with something they really want at that particular time."
> Walker had some Live Target Crappies custom-painted red specifically for the Classic, as that's the predominant color at Guntersville, but he said the white crappie hue was more productive. "I tried a red one on day 1 and caught a few fish, but they seemed to want something lighter. I caught everything I weighed on that white one."
> He said the Crappy is a little wider than a lot of rattlebaits, which gives it some lift in the water. "Even though it's bigger than some, it's easier to make run shallow. You can reel it slowly and not have it constantly on the bottom."