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Feature Article: Its NeverAll One Thing

It’s never all one thing

By George Kramer/WON BASS ContributorPublished: Jan 16, 2019

I take some heat every year about this time when I repeat: “Life is too short to fish deep.” But it’s true. If I have learned anything from my kids and grandkids, it’s impatience. They want things now, or as close to now as they can get.

For me, waiting for a jig or spoon to fall 45 feet and popping it like I think I might have had a bite or creeping it along the bottom to keep it in the precise zone — those things are way down on my to-do list. I’m not dismissing the skill it takes, or certainly its effectiveness for those savvy guys, but given a choice, you’ll find me in the upper part of the water column.

sometimesyouSOMETIMES YOU JUST have to bundle up and fish. If it’s shallow, great, if not, get your face in your sonar and put your bait on their noses.

I chatted with Rick Grover of Anglers Marine on his way home from Diamond Valley Reservoir (if you don’t know the place: steep, clear and boring) but it has some shoreline cover, depending on the water level. And it also has a very nice grade of fish.

For this latter reason, people will try anything and anywhere to get bit. As Rick had more than 22 pounds that day, I figured I’d ask how deep. He responded he had caught a good one on an ice jig in 35 feet, and that most of the rest came in 10 to 15 feet on a plastic worm suspended above a sinker. (You may recognize the method.)

In any event, there weren’t a lot of bites, but you’d have to admit, the average weight wasn’t too shabby.

Now, it’s unlikely these are the only ways to catch them there, but a similar report appearing in Western Outdoor News, talked about El Capitan Lake (more river-like, with short rocky outcroppings, but also portions with flats and off-color water.)

At the very same time of year as the DVL report, a jig or crawdad imitator was the key bait, expanded to include a crankbait, but obviously not as deep. However, the same report noted that ice jiggers were also catching some fish — a favorite pattern here during the colder months. Also congruent with this San Diego report was the fact there were not a lot of bites to be had.

As you can probably see from these recent accounts, not all the fish are hunkered down on the muddy bottom in 50 feet, nor are they sitting on shallow ambush points, waiting to get picked off by guys in shiny boats. So what do you do?

This is one of those “decisions” you hear the pros talk about.

Before I talk about a key principle in looking, I wanted to clear one thing up. I have spooned fish in 80 feet and dart-headed in 50 and caught them — although they all needed a needle. But that’s because I knew (good intel) where they were and that they would bite.

PALE WINTER BASS can are a result of low light penetration. Could be deep, could be tucked away in the shallow cover. They’re not all in one place.

But what happens when they don’t bite. If you happen to have driven an hour and a half to three hours to the lake and then went another three hours without a keeper, how long do you keep making those penny-in-the-fountain drops?

Today’s sonar can show such detail, but even the best electronics guys cannot tell me unequivocally which subtle marks suggest one group of fish will bite, even if they haven’t yet. And that’s frustrating (or it was, because I don’t chase) when you can see — as sure as submarines — that there are fish in “the cone.”

Which takes me back to a principle unveiled by legendary Dee Thomas and his scribe, Fenwick’s David Myers back in the 1970s. That principle, gleaned from the brochure, “The Whole Flippin’ Story” was two-fold. One, that there are always some fish shallow (my italics for emphasis) and that a shallow fish is a biting fish. (Again my italics).

Can you appreciate what is being said here? You are in the zone (at least one zone) when you fish shallow, regardless of the time of year, that you have a chance.

But be careful here. They did not say a shallow fish was a “feeding” fish. When the water is cold, metabolisms are slowed down. Whatever “feeding” schedules the bass may be on, they are not going to be any more frequent or intense in one depth or another.

But by classifying these bass as “biting,” Dee was telling us that these fish are going to be more “reactive” when they are in shallow water. A bass in shallow (undefined, but relative) water is going to be more responsive than the same fish in 50 feet, even when the latter is surrounded by 20 of its peers.

differentwaysDIFFERENT WAYS TO catch them in winter, deep or shallow, as evidenced by this pale one caught by Ryann Kramer at Lake Skinner.

How you approach this which-way-do-I-go situation is often a matter of preference. Some try fishing backwards, that is, fishing deep early in the day and then switching to shallower water (in a reservoir) as the sun gets higher. I’m sure even the guys who fish tidal water run into this, though they benefit from the fact that neither high nor low tide is a great change in actual water depth.

Others just try their usual shallow-first method, relying on diurnal forces of nature to get something going. And I guess this shouldn’t be overlooked. New guys, in particular, who have no bias against fishing topwaters such as buzzbaits or jerkbaits when the water gets cold, get bites that many veteran Westerners never experience.

And while it might be hard for many of us to tie on one of those baits even while you’re wearing electric socks, I look at these situations as more evidence that Thomas’ axiom remains valid — like it or not.

Some, and I could put myself in this category, just fish “banker’s hours” when it gets cold. Roll out to the ramp after 9 and get packing out by 3. Yes, you’re giving yourself fewer hours to catch ’em, but in theory, you are fishing the better hours for fishing shallow.

On my home waters (natural, shallow Lake Elsinore) there is a school of thinking that says, don’t even go that early — 11 a.m. is fine. Using a method imitating the actions of large, dying shad, local sharpies fish a Fluke on a light, open-hook jighead and hop it lightly off the bottom letting it flutter down in a near-death manner. But they usually do it after lunch.

Hey, put me on a good spoon or blade bait bite and I’ll be a happy guy in deep water. But if you want to guess where I probably caught my fish — figure 10 feet or less.

FALL SHAD CAN get pretty big — but they can die in shallow water or in some deep canyon.

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