By John Neporadny
Special to BassFan
Catching a five-bass limit and then targeting bigger bass has been a winning strategy throughout the years for both pros and weekend tournament anglers. Once a limit is in the livewell, the next step tournament competitors must take is to decide whether stay the course or switch gears in an attempt to catch "kicker" fish.
Following is some insight into the after-limit strategies of some top touring pros.
Jason Christie believes the type of fishery dictates the post-limit tactics you need to try for multiple-day events.
“If you go to Sam Rayburn, Kentucky Lake or Grand Lake or somewhere that has a lot of fish, a limit is just a starting point and it just depends on how big that limit is,” he said. “For instance, I might have a target weight of 15 pounds that I feel might be okay for the first day. Once I get that limit I can start expanding on my water and try more areas within the area I'm fishing. Sometimes I might just totally switch gears and go to a totally different pattern, more of a big-fish pattern or something to where I start practicing again for the next day, looking for new waters and trying different baits.”
The Oklahoma pro recommends a couple of post-limit strategies for single-day tournaments.
“You just catch all you can catch (from a spot),” Christie says. “You don’t save anything but you still play the same strategy. If you get a limit and you don’t feel like it is going to get any better, then you may want to switch gears 100 percent and try something different.
"If you got a limit within an area with a couple of 5-pounders and just three keeper-size fish, it might be a good idea to just sit there and pound it out and hopefully you run across a couple more big fish.”
Playing the wind is another tactic Christie recommends for targeting kicker fish after catching a limit.
“You can start running some spots that are real windy and hopefully some of those bigger fish are up there eating,” he said.
Kevin VanDam switches to the “big bait, big fish” strategy after putting a limit of decent keepers in the livewell.
“It just depends on the body of water you are on,” Kevin VanDam said. “Every lake and every situation is different, but typically I'm going to use bigger baits and try to target areas that have big-fish potential, like heavy cover or deeper spots or things like that.”
The four-time Bassmaster Classic winner says he will immediately make changes even if he catches a good limit with power-fishing tactics.
“There is something to be said for having confidence and knowing you have a decent limit in the box early. It changes your demeanor and the way that you fish. You can be more patient and you can take some risks.”
The size of fish he's catching in an area also determines what VanDam does after catching a limit.
“In most cases. if I'm catching smaller fish it is because that is what's there,” he said. “There's a rare chance sometimes that you can catch a big one like that, but most of the time the fish there are going to be similar in size and chances are, especially the longer you stay therr, that you're not going to catch big ones. Typically, if you are on a group of fish, if a good one is going to bite, it's going to be one of the first ones and then they usually get smaller after that.”
When he started his pro career fishing in the West, John Murray adhered to catching a limit first and then adjusting to catch kicker fish, but he has noticed more touring pros are following a different trend today.
“They just go for the five biggest right away because sometimes that limit won’t do you any good anyway,” he said.
Murray’s strategy after catching a limit depends on the species of bass available in the waters he's fishing.
A Whopper Plopper is one of John Murray’s favorite kicker-fish lures to try after completing his limit.
“If there are (spotted bass), I might start fishing for largemouth more,” he said. “On some lakes around (Tennessee) you catch limits of largemouth and then you go fish for a big smallmouth.”
The Tennessee pro suggests a change in strategy after catching a limit because the tactic you're using to catch numbers of bass probably won’t produce bigger fish.
“So if you are finesse-fishing with a dropshot and catch a limit, you would then try your bigger-fish bait like a big swimbait or bigger jigs or just present bigger lures at different depths and probably not even in the same area."
Murray’s favorite lures for kicker fish include a 6- to 9-inch swimbait, River2Seas Whopper Plopper 130, and LuckyCraft Pointer 128 or Smithwick Super Rogue jerkbaits.
The 2017 Toledo Bend Bassmaster Elite Series winner claims post-limit strategies also vary depending upon whether you're fishing a multiple- or single-day tournament.
“If you're catching 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-pound fish (in a multiple-day event), you try to catch a limit of 2 1/2-pound fish,” Murray said. “The minute you get to where you feel like you're culling only ounces instead of pounds, then you get out of there.
“A lot of times I could be fishing for big fish with a swimbait or flipping a jig or punching mats right out of the gate,” he says. “So in those cases I am going to keep doing what I'm doing because I know a big fish is coming. But if I start out on schooling fish and there are a lot of 2-pounders or spotted bass, or if I've got a little bank with a lot of keepers on it and I'm throwing a shaky-head, Ned rig or dropshot, then I'm going to an idea I found in practice of how I can get a better bite.”
"So in a multiple-day tournament you would save those keepers for another day. When you're fishing just one day, you might go ahead and exhaust that school.”
Mark Rose says there are a lot of variables that determine how to fish after catching a limit.
“A lot of times I could be fishing for big fish with a swimbait or flipping a jig or punching mats right out of the gate,” he says. “So in those cases I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing because I know a big fish is coming. But if I start out on schooling fish and there are a lot of 2-pounders or spotted bass or if I've got a little bank with a lot of keepers on it and I'm throwing a shaky-head, Ned rig or dropshot, then I'm going to an idea I found in practice of how I can get a better bite.”
Mark Rose often moves offshore to find bigger bass after catching a limit of post-spawners on topwater lures in the early morning.
The back-to-back FLW Tour events he won in 2017 at Guntersville and Travis lakes are classic examples of Rose’s strategy of sticking with the same pattern after catching limits each day.
“I was fishing for big fish in those tournaments,” he said. “Fishing was pretty decent and in practice I was getting 12 to 14 bites a day and some of those were really good ones. In those situations I was just fishing all day and not changing anything up because what I was doing to catch bigger fish was the same thing I was doing to catch my limit.”
The Arkansas pro suggests seasons can also dictate which post-limit strategy to employ. He notes in the spring you can quickly catch limits throwing vibrating or swimming jigs along clay points or flipping or casting jigs to riprap.
“Those are big-fish patterns so you really don’t do anything different after catching a limit,” he said.
However, during the post-spawn, Rose said he can often catch a limit on an early morning topwater bite and then fish offshore for kicker bass.