August 18, 2015
Confession time: I despise bass fishing from the back of the boat while someone else runs the trolling motor. Sure, I enjoy it when a friend invites me to join him, but 99 percent of the time I'd rather fish in my own boat because that means I get to control boat position and speed.
Let me give you a specific example. A buddy and I are fishing for largemouth with softbaits along a deep weedline in a relatively clear natural lake. Because the weeds end in about 17 feet, our boat is in 22 feet and our lures are landing in 8 to 10 feet. The game plan is to allow our baits to fall into the submerged weeds, namely cabbage, and slowly work the lures down the break until they finally leave fish-holding cover.
My friend Scott is running his bowmount trolling motor; I'm in the stern. Factoring in the 10-mph left-to-right wind we are working into, I've chosen an 1/8-ounce mushroom jig head and a 6-inch plastic worm. I'm using a fast-action, medium-power spinning rod and my reel is spooled with 8-pound-test clear mono. Scott is using 10-pound-test mono and a Texas-rigged creature with an 1/8-ounce bullet weight.
The trick with this type of finesse fishing is detecting when your lure hangs on a cabbage leaf or when it was inhaled by a bass. In both cases, your line will go tight and you need to decipher whether a short "pop" of the rod tip is needed to free the lure from a weed, or if you should wind down and set the hook on a bass.
Unfortunately, Scott is working the weedline way too fast, and by the time my jig worm encounters the deep weeds, which is rare, my line is trailing behind the outboard and my lure is trolling up and away from the weeds in an unnatural manner. The worm's time in a fish's strike zone is short, and I'm not surprised when Scott says an hour later, "The bass aren't biting today. I didn't get any the last time I fished this lake solo, either. I wonder what was different two weekends ago when you, me and Bill really slammed 'em here?"
I believe the vast majority of deep-weedline bass fishing busts are due to trolling-motor pilot error. Scott, who has spent many more days in the boat as guest rather than host, mistakenly thought the key to catching the most bass on this lake was covering the most water with our soft plastics. What he didn't realize is our lures weren't picking apart the cover as needed. We'd been on the water an hour, but you could count the number of effective retrieves on one hand.
My friend Scott isn't alone; most anglers I see jig fishing deep weedlines for bass move the boat too fast. So what is the proper speed?
Scott, Bill and I were on this same lake two weeks earlier, and conditions are virtually identical to the day described earlier. Scott and Bill are both using Texas-rigs, and I'm yo-yoing a jig worm through the deep cabbage. On this trip, however, we're in my 17-foot Skeeter rigged with a Minn Kota bowmount cable-steer trolling motor.
With the boat in 22 feet, we cast into 8-10 feet. The trolling motor is set on "momentary," meaning it runs only when I depress the momentary button with my foot. I have the speed set at 35 percent power and rarely change its setting. As our lures hit the water, I remove my foot from the button and the boat coasts to a stop. This allows us to watch our lines as the lures fall into the weeds. If a gust of wind occurs, or if I notice the boat slipping downwind, I press the motor's power button for a few seconds to maintain our position on the weedline. The goal is for our lines to be at 90 degrees to the boat. Each retrieve takes 30-40 seconds. As our lures hop free from the cabbage and enter open water beyond the deepest weeds, we crank up line to ready for another cast. And this is an important point: As we quickly wind up line, I press the momentary button on the trolling motor and move the boat into the wind to make sure our next casts hit new water, about 5-7 yards up the weedline from our previous casts.
The boat slips into the wind along the shoreline in a start-stop, start-stop fashion, pausing during the lure retrieves and moving ahead only when lures are out of the strike zone. Ideally, two or three anglers will coordinate their casts (meaning, the lures land in the water at nearly the same time), so this start-stop routine is easier for the person operating the trolling motor.
If this sounds like you won't cover much shoreline, you're right. But soft plastics such as jig worms and Texas-rigged creatures aren't search lures. If you want to cover water faster, then tie on a crankbait or spinnerbait, set your trolling motor on "constant" and simply steer as you cast and retrieve. Indeed, it's much easier if everyone in the boat is using lures that require the same speed of retrieve. Having one person fish a snail-slow Texas-rig while someone else throws a fast-moving crankbait makes boat control a nightmare.
A Simple Test
From my experience, proper boat control along a deep weedline enables anglers using soft plastics to cover 100 yards of shoreline every 20-30 minutes. If you're covering 100 yards every 10 minutes, then you need to slow down. Pick out landmarks every 100 yards and time/test yourself if you have to; you might be surprised by what you discover about your own boat control. Of course, if you get a strike, reduce the pace even more to ensure you catch every biting bass in the area. Similarly, don't be afraid to make multiple casts from the same boat position to high-percentage spots such as inside turns.
One final boat control tip: On lakes I don't know well, I often run the outside weedline with my outboard and let my electronics show me likely holding spots for largemouths before ever making a cast. Start with underwater points and inside turns that show decent submerged weed growth to find deep weed bass. Such spots can be dynamite from summer through fall, provided you slow down and pick them apart.
Author's note: Perhaps you're curious: Did Scott and I ever catch any bass on the day described at the beginning of this article? Yes. After two bass-less hours, I offered to take my turn running the trolling motor while Scott sat down to eat a sandwich and take a break. I motored back to the same deep-weedline stretch we'd raced through earlier, and this time a much slower boat speed resulted in steady action. The bass were there, we just needed to let them see our lures.