I never fish by the boat ramp. I just can’t do it.
And community holes? Forget it. There’s just something about casting to a spot that sees dozens of lures every day. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that popular locales get that way by producing, and that community holes are often some of the best spots in the lake. But I just can’t.
Every body of water has these places; through time-tested results, many have grown to legendary status. Ken Lake, Nutbush Creek, Mattawoman, the Monkey Box.
Try as I may to get around the action and keep my head down, I’ve never been any good at it. In fact, when scouting lakes prior to major tournaments, I’d purposely avoid pre-fishing anywhere near a community hole, making it impossible to locate fish anywhere in the vicinity.
Oftentimes, it burned me.
Thus, I was quite intrigued by Hank Cherry’s selection for his Classic-winning spot. As you all now know, Cherry plucked the majority of his keepers from a very popular section of rip-rap along one of Lake Guntersville’s famous causeways. There’s a dozen or so similar structures on the lake and a handful receive a tremendous amount of fishing pressure. Fans will recall Randy Howell’s victory on Guntersville in 2014 was accomplished the same way.
That alone would have steered me clear of any causeway casts. But it didn’t deter Cherry.
I wonder why. How is it that some anglers seem to feel at home in a crowd, while others – like me – must believe in their heart that they’re searching for “virgin fish”? Maybe it has something to do with mindset. Perhaps, unknowingly, guys like me actually fish better when we’re not looking over our shoulder.
Either way, Cherry got it done, and did so without a lot of harassment on the water. Nope; surprisingly, spectators boats, local anglers and competitors alike all left Cherry alone for the most part. Alone to pick off fish after fish and take home the biggest title in bass fishing. Alone, on one of the biggest community holes on the lake. On a weekend. In March.
What were the chances of that? Intriguing, as I mentioned.
In this modern age of instant information and technological bassing, every guy in the Classic knew causeway fishing could be the winning strategy. It’s likely many fished Cherry’s exact location in practice, or considered doing so as they idled past. So I wonder, how did this all fall into place?
When I try to put myself in the shoes of a Classic competitor, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of busy-ness: crowds of spectators jockeying for position to watch, weekend warriors bombing boatside casts and cars pulled over on the shoulder. I imagine drones buzzing overhead and a wakeboarder doing circles around my boat.
I envision leading the opening round, only to pull up to my obvious fishing hole on day 2 and find 11 bass boats and a commercial fishermen running trotlines. It’s unnerving.
So I’d skip the community holes.
But those theatrics may be a thing of the past. Today, we’re seeing a different type of fishing fan.
Yes, thanks almost entirely to live online broadcasting, those wanting to learn the secrets of the pros no longer have to chase them around in a boat. I mean, it’s obvious: there’s absolutely no good reason to be on the tournament waters during the Bassmaster Classic unless you’re there to root on a family member or something. The rest of us fans get infinitely closer to the event through the live show.
And now, because of it, competitors may be starting to use a reverse strategy, so to speak. I argue that many pros assume certain locales will see just too much traffic and attention during tournaments and purposely avoid those places, while others know this and purposely choose them. It appears to have worked for Hank Cherry.
Either way, you still won’t catch me flailing away on a causeway or working over released fish. Nope, I’ll make the long run, only to pass up what’s most likely the winning stringer right by the boat ramp. Old habits never die.
But with the detailed attention coming in the form of online broadcasting, even the secret spots are soon to be community.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)