For the most part, I leave the how-to columns to the pros. While I once contributed regular tips to readers on ways to catch more bass, today I find it better to seek advice from the best in the business. Their time on the water simply canít be matched, and itís through such experience that we all can get ahead.
I will, however, chime in from time to time with ideas on how to get more from your fishing. A good book or video, piece of gear or place to visit. Being immersed in bass culture daily, I often stumble across a gem Iím dying to share.
This time, itís items that continue to amaze me. Through a lifetime of fishing, Iíve found a few tools invaluable. In fact, each time to the lake, I wonder how I survived without these daily workers. If youíve been a longtime reader here, you may have heard me talk up a couple of these before. But read on, thereís likely a new component.
Gosh, I wish I had these when I was younger. Buff sunshields, and similar brands of protective masks, provide the ability to turn the sun on and off whenever I choose. I wear them on my neck and, more recently, my bald head, beneath my hat. Stops the lame criss-cross tanlines immediately and rides down over the tops of my ears, protecting a spot nearly guaranteed to eventually develop problems. A Buff holds my hat on when I run down the lake. I can pull it up over my face when I choose and protect my nose. I wear a Buff when I ride my bike, work out, take my dog for hike, work in the yard, play golf; anytime Iím exposed to sun. Every serious angler I know over the age of 50 has had a run-in with skin cancer and/or a no-nonsense dermatologist who likes to cut. Neither are fun, believe me. Buff sunshields are protective, comfortable and soak up sweat, adding to their coolness. Total game-changers.
2. Hook Stone
Todayís super-sticky hooks really donít need sharpening out of the package. However, once they go through a little bit of use, these chemically-sharpened needles dull slightly and take well to a tune-up. Through the years, Iíve tried dozens of hook sharpeners, and find an old-fashioned diamond stone to reign supreme. A good stone wonít rust Ė important if you live and fish in a tropical climate like me, or have a tendency to keep a wet boat.
Routinely sharpening your hooks is important for all lures, but I find it the most necessary, specifically, for single-hook, moving baits. Thatís surprising to most folks who assume cranks and topwaters need the most attention. However, large single-hook baits are often the hardest to stick, leading to a need for a super-sharp point. ChatterBaits, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits immediately come to mind; anything where a bass is likely to be traveling the same direction as your lure at the time of the strike. Tune up your hooks on those lures and youíll catch more bass, period. Also, donít underestimate the dulling potential of grass Ė specifically hydrilla. The next time you spend a day ripping through the grass, compare your hook point to that of a new lure and you might be surprised.
3. YETI Jug
Plastic water bottles are a joke. Many people justify the expense through the convenience. The beverage industry attempts to disguise the obvious problems of disposal and recycling of millions of water bottles by charging less and less all the time, while those same bottles continue to make up the bulk of plastic litter all across the outdoors. Like most fishermen, I want to drink more water, but not add to the problem. When I found the YETI jug, my problems were over.
Filled in the morning with ice and water, my beverage stays cold for multiple days Ė even when fishing in Florida in the summer. The insulating values are simply incredible. Having a gallon of water on hand increases my intake, something my doctor enjoys. I just fill with tap water and go, but my wife takes advantage of the fridge filter to fill her half-gallon jug. Win for all sides.
Several years ago, when first penning this column, I introduced readers to yoga. I know this sounds like a weird topic for bass fishermen, so letís just call it stretching. Yoga, after all, is more than the stretching routine and incorporates a diverse range of life practices. For now, weíll talk about the physical component.
After decades of practice and an interest in research, I canít overemphasize one fact: most aches and pains are caused by tension and stiffness, not by injury, and can be reduced or eliminated through stretching. This includes the vast majority of back and sciatic pain. Instruction is more available than ever thanks to YouTube, where youíll find fitness buffs of all types ready to help. Nothing can replace a visit to a yoga studio, though, if you get the chance. Often, introductory classes are free. If youíve tried everything else for your back or hips, what have you got to lose? I would nearly guarantee a vast improvement for all back-pain sufferers after one month of daily stretches. Itís that life-changing.
5. Big Rods
If you flip lots of heavy cover Ė especially heavy vegetation Ė you know the nightmare. Time running out, you finally get the bite youíve been waiting for. Doing everything right, you lean back into the brute, careful not to develop slack on the hookset, moving the big bass up through the impossible cover. Then, just as the fish should break free, sheís gone, leaving you hung in the slop. Game over.
If this sounds familiar, thereís one simple thing you can do to catch more of these fish: increase the length of your rod. Not necessarily the power or stiffness, but the length.
Like to pitch with a 7-footer? Try a 7'6". Already wielding one that size? You wouldnít believe what you can do with an 8- or even a 9-foot model.
For some time, Iíve used a now-discontinued mat monster taping out at 8'11", and I simply wonít fish for trophy bass in heavy vegetation without it. It makes that much of a difference, especially when making long pitches.
By the laws of physics, a long rod takes up drastically more line than a shorter model, producing more pressure and moving a big bass up and away from heavy cover quicker and more efficiently. Think about it: itís contact with that cover that causes fish loss. If we set the hook on a bass with braid and an 8-foot rod in open water, weíd catch him every time. But once that fish Ė or the lure or hookpoint Ė makes contact with cover, bad things happen. Itís best to get a big bass up and out of cover in one motion, and the ability to do that is a direct result of rod length.
Thereís my how-to for the season. Five simple things that have drastically helped my bass fishing and outdoor lifestyle more than anything that comes to mind. Add one or more to your arsenal and youíll quickly see their value.
(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.)