The 2015 B.A.S.S. Elite season was arguably the greatest in its short lifespan. Anglers were set to face waters from all around the country, with different techniques needed to take home the trophy at each body of water. Yet two anglers, Edwin Evers and Aaron Martens had two victories each. How did these anglers have such success where a single tournament win is a major accomplishment every season? These Elite Series Pros have nearly the same tackle and access to the same places on the bodies of water. What makes the first place anglers shine next to a field of the greatest bass fishermen on the planet? It’s simple…variation.
Aaron Martens had the greatest individual year in the Bassmaster Elite Series last year. He took home two wins and an Angler of the Year trophy. His season earnings totaled over $300,000. Everyone following the Elite Series knows his name. How did he do it? On Lake Havasu, Martens was having a decent day. At the pace he was fishing at he did not have an opportunity to win, but would still walk away with a mediocre paycheck. Nearing the end of the tournament, Martens found a pattern. He noticed a bird nest in a large covering of standing grass. He moved in as deep as he could and threw a jig in the water near the nests. Certainly there would be a few fish in the area, but what was he thinking? Then he got bit, and bit again. The bass he caught were large enough to win him the tournament and walk away with $100,000. Martens inferred that since the nests were just above the water, a bass would be waiting for a bird to fall in so it could eat. That is exactly what happened. Martens had found something no one else did. That is the key to success in bass fishing. Doing something different from the rest of the field.
Another Angler who was able to find a different technique was Brett Hite. He was fishing on Kentucky Lake, a very high pressured lake where locals attempt to master the area. Hite was using a rig called the Neko Rig. Anglers from the east coast have seen the rig for a decade, however the middle of the country had never heard of it. Before I continue I want to explain what a Neko Rig is. It is very similar to a Wacky Rig, which many anglers have heard of and taken up recently. For those who have not seen a wacky rig, it is a small finesse round bend hook or a drop shot hook with a soft plastic stick bait hooked through the center. This can be fished in many different ways including weightless and on a drop shot. It is designed to be moved sideways and resemble a crawfish or dying baitfish. The Neko Rig is a twist on that, it uses a nail weight that is inserted into the side of the soft plastic to weigh one side down. That allows the bait to have a bottom-heavy action on one side. This was a key factor in Hite’s setup as it got him a third place finish and released a new bait to the world. This was a different approach to the often used amateur angler’s bait.
Different techniques are not the only way to shine brighter than the rest. Aaron Martens claimed his second 2015 Elite Series Victory at the Chesapeake Bay. The competition was tough and a fellow competitor, Bill Lowen, was ahead of him. Martens was ready for another win, but he had to make a tough choice. Make a run to where all the other anglers were going; a shoreline based part of the bay, or go to a system of boat docks where he believed, overtime the bite would get better. He chose to go to the boat docks where he was alone the whole day. Everyone else was working patterns on the other side of the bay and they were slowly catching fish. Martens continued to work the boat docks and began to catch fish including a tournament sealing 7 pound bass. He was somewhere the rest of the field was not and that was the game changer. The area he was working was alive, but needed time to get the fish to come to it. He worked a lot of the day with no sign of fish and many lost ones as well. Although he struggled his spot made the difference and won the tournament.
There are plenty more stories like these, Casey Ashely winning the Classic on a swim bait, only it had an underspin jig head (a jig head with a willow blade under it) and that made the difference against the Bassmaster Classic field. There was also Chris Zaldain fishing a deep sand bottom with rocks. He was using a Megabass Spark Shad and slowly reeled it over the rocks and got bites on it, but only within the first few casts he made, due to the very pressured fish. The spot was very unique with the rocks in the water and it helped that most of the field was using a drop shot, not a swim bait. These are all unique approaches that were the difference makers to win the tournaments. There was a different technique every tournament and that is how they won it.
Now are these variations really doing any good? I believe they are giving the anglers a very small advantage, one that allows for more realism or attractiveness to the bait or area. I have also discovered that there is a tangible difference to the anglers who win the tournaments. Their variations are allowing the anglers to catch bigger bass. The sizes are barely different, but do make the difference. The fish caught by the leaders appear to be averaging around one pound heavier than the second and lower position angler’s bass. This is an important note because, this variation in the bait or spot actually affects quality of bites, not just the quantity that is sought after to gain a quick limit. Overall, the angler that does something different will get more and bigger bass than other competitors.
Now all this information is very useful when looking back on a season and dissecting it, but how can this help the average angler? Use this information to explore. Finding good spots isn’t about going to your best spot on a body of water. Go out and fish your favorite spot, but take some time to explore and find some new spots that you are totally unfamiliar with. Use a new bait and vary the approach that you take with your bait. That is how you can do something different. Now don’t go out and throw a 10 inch worm in January. Don’t do something that is obviously not going to work. Just try something that might work, if everyone is throwing a buzzbait, try a wacky rig. That might make the difference, and then everyone will be asking what you are using, not the other way around.