Have you ever had the chance to be out fishing for bass and run into them when they are in full-blow eat mode? Well, my wife and I were getting ready for a tournament on the St. John’s River above Lake Monroe, and we got to see this in all of its glory.
There is nothing like running into schooling bass. They hit hard, they hit fast, and they just keep coming. There is a huge difference between schooling bass and those that are feeding from ambush spots. Schooling bass will generally ball up out on the edge of cover and destroy a school of baitfish. Ambushing bass — the feeding mode we more commonly see — simply eat everything that comes by them.
As we pre-fished Thursday for our tournament, we raised roughly 25 bass. Going into each new area, we would catch one bass to see if they were of decent size, trying to determine if the spot was worth coming back to on tournament day. By now, you all know I love fishing the Big EZ Gambler swimbait in the Forty-Niner color. That bait was on fire. I ran it through some cover and the bass were simply hammering it. Every good grass patch and clump of pads had bass in it.
How can you identify a good patch of vegetation? We were looking for those that were near deep water and where the current was not moving so fast. That was the key area. When you fish for bass in a river system, you have to find what they are gravitating towards at that time of year. So hit a lot of spots to locate those green beauties.
I came across one clump of pads that we had passed and I told Missy, “I believe there is one right smack in the middle of that pad clump.” I was right, and I was rewarded with a bass that was just under 8 pounds. A true beauty. When I pulled the hook loose, I could see the tail of a baitfish in its mouth. I showed Missy and we released the bass.
We went all over locating bass for two days, and just caught fish after fish wherever we went. We had the time of our lives.
First day of the tournament came along, and I couldn’t catch one. The fish were still there — I missed more than 20 bites on my swimbait. Nothing to blame but my poor execution. I did manage to catch two bass that day, but that’s not what this story is all about.
Missy got one in the boat over 5 pounds. Before we got to the weigh-in, that thing threw up a bluegill about the size of my hand. That kind of sucked because it was weight lost, but we still managed to weigh in just under 10 pounds with three bass due to her big one.
Day two came along. We went to the same pad clump. As before, I go about missing my strikes while my wife calmly whacks another one over 5 pounds. That was the only bass we caught. Again, before we got back to the weigh-in, this thing threw up something in the live-well: A baby alligator. I was amazed.
When I took the hook out of the bass’s mouth and put it in the well, I could see a black tail with light-colored stripes. I thought it was a snake. I was wrong. This gator, now dead and slightly decayed, was about 11 inches long. I had never seen anything like that.
So to have a little fun with the bass club, I put the gator in the weigh-in bag and headed for the scales. I dumped it out for everyone to see. No one could believe that the bass had eaten that little gator. And consider this: This fish had a gator in its stomach with the tail hanging out of its throat, and it still was looking to eat that big swimbait. That was unreal to me.
It was too bad that I had such a bad weekend after a good practice. I truly believe that with the size of the fish we were on, we could have weighed close to 40 pounds of bass during the two-day tournament.
Despite our poor tournament showing, it truly was a great fishing weekend. We had such a good time and the quality of the bass that we were catching was awesome. It’s been a long time since we ran into that many bass with that quality. I can only hope that we get to do that again sometime, because it was really a lot of fun.
The best part was that Missy’s bass on Sunday won her big bass honors for that day in the tournament. She barely missed out on Saturday’s with her 5.26-pounder. But for her to do it on Mother’s Day was even more special. I was really happy for her.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.