Guide Mike Bucca is at it again, catching huge spots down in Georgia. A few years ago, I wrote the following about him for B.A.S.S. Times. I can't guarantee that you'll enjoy the same success if you employ his techniques. But, hey, if Mike can do it . . .
When Mike Bucca goes fishing, he sees spots.
But it’s an addiction, not an affliction.
While spotted bass are an incidental catch for many anglers, the guide specifically targets them in north Georgia lakes such as Lanier, Carters, and Allatoona, where they predominate.
What he has learned about them and the success that he enjoys pursuing them might convince you to target them as well.
And in ways that you’ve never considered.
“What most people fail to realize is that the aggressiveness of a spotted bass is twice that of a largemouth and it’s the same with curiosity,” said Bucca, who has learned about spots from assisting with electrofishing surveys as well as catching them.
“Those are the No. 1 aspects that any angler can capitalize on and turn to his advantage.”
Thus, the Georgia guide employs a run-and-gun, power offense most of the time, whether he is throwing a tube with a trailer treble for short bites, a suspending jerkbait, or, preferably, an 8-inch Bull Shad swimbait that Bucca makes himself.
That’s right, his go-to bait for spotted bass, a fish that rarely exceeds 6 pounds, is a huge lure usually reserved for targeting double-digit largemouths in Mexico, California, and Texas.
“What I noticed from electrofishing is that we caught a lot of 4- and 5-pound spots that had big, forked gizzard shad tails sticking out of their gullet,” he said. “Another thing was that there was a lack of smaller shad. My theory is that the meal-sized shad get eaten up before they get too big.”
After seeing this behavior repeatedly, Bucca realized that the smaller swimbaits that he was buying and using weren’t necessarily the best choice for catching smaller, but more curious and aggressive spotted bass. Generally, these baits were trout imitators designed for throwing to West Coast bass, which often feed on stocked rainbow trout.
“Until recently, there were no big gizzard-shad-type baits or big threadfin- or blueback-herring-profile baits,” the guide said. “And that’s what spotted bass feed on.”
So he created the Bull Shad. And spots, from 2 pounds to more than 6, have proven most appreciative, with late winter through the spawn being prime time and fall a close second. Bucca even has caught crappie on the huge lures.
“I like the big swimbait because it is an absolute rush to watch a giant spot attack it,” explains the Georgia angler, who keeps the jointed lure on top or near the surface with a speedy retrieve. “Topwater can’t even come close to the rush you get on a big swimbait bite.”
Bucca asserts swimbait fishing to be “the least understood technique in all of bass fishing, especially in the South.” Also, the larger ones, he insists, are not too big for spotted bass and mid-size largemouths, contrary to what many believe.
One of the main reasons that they work, he believes, is that so few use them, especially on heavily pressured fisheries where anglers tend to downsize baits instead of upgrade.
Another is that a swimbait mimics a large, easy meal. “Bass, especially big bass, are efficient feeders,” he said. “They would rather eat one big meal instead of exerting a lot of energy eating a bunch of small meals.”
Georgia fisheries biologist Jim Hakala added, “If a large prey is acting normally, the trigger to strike may not be there. I think that a lot of times they (bass) select for a certain size prey that is usually much smaller than what they can handle. But if something large isn’t acting right, they make take the opportunity to hammer it.”
Where are they?
In lakes that they share, spotted bass often can be found in the same places as largemouths. But they are decidedly different fish.
“The biggest difference between the two species is habitat,” said guide Mike Bucca. “Largemouths are basically shallow-water fish that love wood. Spots are much more adaptive, as they can be just as happy in shallow woody environment as they are in deep, clear environment with absolutely no cover or structure.”
Look for spots, he advises, around points --- especially main lake points --- bluff walls and rocky shorelines. And don’t forget that they often suspend.
In general, spotted bass will be deeper than largemouths, added Norm Klayman, a former tournament angler and guide who has been catching both species on Bull Shoals for nearly 40 years. “Once they get past the spawn, they will move deeper faster than largemouths,” he said.
“Sometimes, they will run open water over channels and you can catch them on top.”
While largemouths like flats, Klayman said, spots tend to prefer larger rocks and hang out more along channels, especially at the ends of bluffs and chunk-rock banks.
Chances are good that chartreuse is one of the primary colors in your tackle box. It’s a standard for spinnerbaits. As a dip, it sweetens the tails of soft plastics. On crankbaits and topwaters, it brightens bellies and sides, as do lime, citrus, parrot, and a palette of other variations that have evolved from chartreuse.
But where’s the color that started it all? Where’s the respect? In other words, where’s the school-bus yellow? Unless you carry some of the retro baits, such as the Heddon Lucky 13 and Arbogast Hula Popper, it’s probably not in your box.
“Chartreuse is brighter and yellow has been forgotten,” said Stephen Headrick, a lure designer and owner of Punisher Lures and Dale Hollow 1 Stop near Dale Hollow.
“Yellow now is one of the most underfished colors. But it can be a great color year around.”
“Bandit has a Spring Craw crankbait that’s about 75 percent school-bus yellow,” he added. “It’s a killer in spring around mud flats, when crawfish are starting to come out and move around.
“Crawfish start spawning at about 60 degree, earlier than most believe.”
A little later in the year, floating yellow worms, fished straight with a wire hook, will take both smallmouths and largemouths when worked around grass.
“Using yellow at that time of year has nothing to do with the water temperature, the way it does in winter,” he said. “It works then because yellow is just a good color.”
Especially, though, school-bus yellow can be great during winter, when adorning an aspirin-head hair jig, also known around Dale Hollow as a “hoss fly.”
Those who have discovered its effectiveness on smallmouth bass try to share the wealth from time to time. But they’ve discovered that many just will not believe that a bait that seems designed for crappie will catch big bronzebacks.
“I’ve given seminars on the school-bus yellow jig, and people will just not believe me,” said David Duvall, a part-time guide and Dale Hollow regular.
Aside from the color, the fact that advocates say that the jig usually should not be fished with a trailer makes the technique seem even more a tall tale.
“People think that I must be putting minnows on the jig, but I’m not,” Duvall continued. “The school-bus yellow jig is just the best wintertime bait that you can have for smallmouth bass, especially on clear-water lakes like Dale Hollow.”
What makes this bait so effective? The hair that appears dark yellow out of water turns lighter as it sinks below 10 feet or so, explained Headrick, who makes the jigs in a variety of sizes. When water temperature falls below 55 degrees, crawfish turn a similar shade.
“You pop that lure off the bottom and it looks like a crawfish,” he added. “Smallmouth bass can’t resist it.”
And it’s not just in Dale Hollow that this little appreciated bait is effective. It will work in just about any lake or impoundment that has smallmouths, according to Duvall, who also has used the jig on Tim’s Ford and Center Hill.
The key is to fish it in the right places. “I like flats, humps, and long gravel points,” he revealed.
“Personally, I like black shale rock,” added Headrick. “But any place holding crawfish can be good. Depth will depend on the weather.
“If you have clouds and wind, the fish could be in 10 feet. If it’s slick and sunny, they could be 20 to 30 or even more.”
Headrick’s favorite size is 3/16-ounce, but he will switch to 1/8 for shallower water or ¼ in high winds. Duvall also prefers 3/16.
“I’ll make a long cast, close the bail with my hand, and watch the line as it sinks,” he said. “Many times, you won’t feel the bite. You’ll just see a slight movement of the line.”
Once the jig hits bottom, Headrick advises holding the rod at a 60-degree angle for the retrieve. “Give it two quick, little jerks and let it fall back,” he said. “And watch the line.”
If you can’t provoke a reaction strike, he continued, then try dragging the jig on bottom.
Headrick first learned about the hoss fly from his father, but smallmouth legend Billy Westmoreland is the one who convinced him of its effectiveness nearly 20 years ago. “I was using the float-n-fly and he kicked my butt with the school-bus yellow jig,” he remembered.
“Outside this area, I don’t think that he ever told anyone about it. But he always had lots of yellow jigs with him.”
(A variation of this article was published a few years ago in B.A.S.S. Times.)
Passed in 1973, the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) was much needed. Before then, we have given little regard to the damage that we were doing to fish and wildlife through pollution, habitat destruction, and overharvest. The gray wolf, the shortnose sturgeon, the whooping crane, and the American crocodile are but a few of the species brought back from the brink.
But soon environmental activists discovered that they could use the act to impose preservationist agendas, under the guise of saving endangered species. They started suing the federal government to force action.
As a result, the ESA now has become a polarizing force, as examples abound of the federal government abusing its power to seize and/or deny use of privately owned lands and waters. Sadly, some property owners even practice “shoot, shovel, and shut up” as a means of protecting themselves.
And now the environmentalists, financed by Pew Charitable Trusts, want to use the same tactic to restrict fishing by imposing “ecosystem-based fisheries management.” It’s simply the ESA by another name, with the focus on our waters.
The Recreational Fishing Alliance reports this Pew strategy:
“Ecosystem-based fisheries management could ensure the long-term health of our fisheries and the communities that depend on them for recreation, employment, and nutrition," with environmental advocates describing the vague term as a system to "account for the protection of important habitats, consider the critical role of prey, or forage fish, in the food web, and reduce the waste of non-target species through bycatch."
And in response, Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, says this:
"Pew Charitable Trusts wants ecosystem protections put into the federal fisheries law. That way they've got a legal argument to sue and settle for increased fisheries restrictions.
"Under such a nebulous ecosystem definition, Pew and their partners would then have a legal challenge to close down any recreational fishery they choose by claiming the need to protect sea lice, spearing, oyster toads, undersea corals, even jellyfish."
In May, Pew will hold a forum for Connecticut anglers in what RFA calls the “Hijacking America” tour.
“The Pew script explains how ecosystem plans should be created and implemented across our coasts to further integrate ecosystem considerations into management, while appealing for support for incorporating ecosystem-based fishery management policies into federal law by way of changes to MSA (Magnuson-Stevens Act). Event organizers are hyping ecosystem-based management as yet another ‘new approach’ to fisheries management in their war on recreational fishing,” RFA says.
Go here to learn more about this and how Pew, according to RFA, is trying to recruit recreational anglers “willing only to speak positively about federal fisheries management policies that have denied anglers access to healthy, rebuilt stocks like summer flounder, black sea bass, and porgy.”