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Big Fish Prep Prevents Heartbreak

Fighting a true big bass takes a level head and previous heartbreak.

Big Fish Prep Prevents Heartbreak

We all want the glorious results but are we willing to do the front-end work? We could be talking about business success, musical careers or simply the local gym. All fitting applications, but how about the planning, preparation and—here’s the biggie—delivering that moment-of-truth performance.

We’re talking about how you handle your shot at that potential day-maker, that tournament kicker, that personal best. Addressing every variable and what-if would take longer than we have, so let’s look at a handful of points with make it or break it potential.

Overwhelming Force

We all love those fish jumping videos, but when a big, experienced fish realizes its mistake, expect a no-holds-barred street fight. For Bassmaster Elite Chris Zaldain, talking a whopper largemouth into biting a big crankbait or topwater is only of the challenge. In his experience, the less time a fish has to fiddle with dangling hooks, the less chance it’ll figure out an escape angle.

“When I’m big-fish fishing, I’m a big proponent of big line, big hooks, big rod; I’m prepared for this big bite,” Zaldain said. “When a fish bites, I love to keep those treble hook points moving toward me. I don’t like (extended fights); I like to get them to the boat and either swing them in or lip them quickly.”

Knot Gonna Lie

Essential to his big fish plan, he said he has complete confidence in Seaguar AbrasX fluorocarbon. That said, even the sturdiest line choice proves futile if your knot fails. That’s why Zaldain doubles his line and ties a double uni-knot.

“With that heavy artillery, I encourage anglers to use a knot that’s doubled up—double Palomar, double uni,” he said. “Any knot that’s doubled increases your chances of cushioning the shock of a big fish.”

Also, Zaldain’s had plenty of time to learn how to tie a dependable knot; but shells, rocks, craggy stumps and all types of harsh bottom debris, have no regard for one’s skill. Particularly with downward facing crankbaits, along with all his bottom dragging baits, he said he cannot overemphasize the importance of frequent knot inspection.

“Your line can get compromised by a mussel, a nail on a dock, a sharp rock on riprap or a piece of metal rebar,” he said. “Checking your knot is huge, because on any cast, you could catch that fish that could catapult you to the top spot (in a tournament) or even a personal best.”

Battle Plan

Really a 2-parter here.

Part 1:

We’ve all said it: “You gotta fish where the fish are,” but ambitious casting without forethought usually ends in heartache. Around docks, we like to skip way back into no-man’s land, cast over walkways and pitch across cables, but you’d better have a plan for negotiating a fish’s exit.

When you’re linked to an angry bass, space becomes tight in a hurry, and you can bet the fish will not make this easy on you. Some will say they just want to get bit and they’ll worry about getting them out later. Nice when that works, but while fortune favors the bold, consistency favors preparation.


Similarly, in standing timber, stump fields, or points with random obstructions, you may be eager to make that first cast right as you’re drifting or idling in; but don’t get ahead of yourself. Old bighead might take that first cast and hurt your feelings if you’re out of position to A. Properly set the hook, or B) gather line fast enough to keep him off those line breakers.

Part 2: Situation-Specific

Stetson Blaylock, Elite pro from Arkansas, notes that while largemouth in heavy cover require a get-it-done mentality, open water smallmouth efforts end better with the exhaustion strategy.

“It’s totally opposite if you’re fishing for shallow water, heavy cover largemouth. If you’re flipping wood, grass, boat docks, anything like that, you want to have those fish in the boat as fast as possible.

“There are more opportunities for those fish to escape because you’re using a heavy weight, so it’s easier for them to dislodge the hook with those heavy sinkers or jigs, versus the tiny hooks of northern smallmouth fishing,” Blaylock said. “If let those shallow largemouth fight, they can get leverage with those weights, and they can get you back down into the cover you’re trying to get them out of.”

Stetson Blaylock smallmouth bass
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stetson Blaylock knows what it means to catch big bass all across this country. Photo courtesy of Kyle Jessie, Bassmaster.

Initially, a green smallie may not act its size, but the sight of a boat tends to inject a shot of reality. Painfully recalling tank smallies that pulled a boatside Houdini, he said the big ones have a nasty habit of lulling you into a false sense of confidence—until you reach for them.

“Those fish will come up quickly and act like they’re through fighting, but then, when they get close, they take off again,” he said. “You may think ‘I have to get him in the boat,’ and you see its successful for some guys, but for me, every time I’ve made that quick decision to not let him fight back out, I lose those fish more times than not.

“You set the hook and reel them up to the boat and you’re like ‘Alright, this is a good one; I got him,’ and they’re just pulling around the boat. And right as you make your move to get down and land them, they really become aggressive and start fighting hard.”

The takeaway: Don’t jump the gun and make sure you’re only reaching for gassed smallmouth.

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