big ez

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A pile of Gambler Big EZ swimbaits. When you have a favorite, you learn to stock up.

For years, I fished for bass with substandard equipment. I caught fish, but I could have caught more and been less frustrated if I’d had the right tools. For the most part, I relied on instinct and outdated information. Whether it was my rods and reels, the baits I was using, or the electronics that I had on my boat, I made a lot of less than ideal choices.

After spending the last two years fishing the MLF Toyota Series, one thing has stood out: The guys who are consistently at the top know their equipment and believe in it 100 percent. Before I started playing with the pros, I thought I did too. I was wrong.

Let’s talk about the rods and reels themselves first. I had a rod for all techniques: Soft plastics, swimbaits, flipping — you name it, I had it. But I was way off base. While I had rods rigged and ready to use all those different techniques, I didn’t have the right tools for each job.

For example, my worm rods were too soft and not sensitive enough. I was losing fish due to poor hooksets, and not feeling the bites fast enough to alert me they were even there. After blowing the first two tournaments last year due these reasons, I have revamped my rods. Well, not all of them — but I’m working on it.

I’m now getting my rods from Reaper Rods in Punta Gorda, and I’ve started ordering them the way I want them. With Reaper, I’ve been able to customize the length, stiffness, tip action and other aspects of how the rod works. They build it the way I want it. And the quality is out of this world. They have a great warranty on everything they build. The rods are light and use all the new technology in blanks and eyes. They’re even timely in getting my rods built and in my hands.

I can’t say enough good things about this small company. And yes, switching has made a difference in my ability to get more bass in the boat. Feeling the bite and setting the hook has been much more consistent since I made the switch.

Reels? Simple: Nothing but Lew’s. These reels allow me to cast the bait farther than I have ever been able to in the past. Their gear ratio allows me to get up on these fish in heavy and thick cover and get hem to the boat. Their warranty is also excellent. I had one reel that I simply wore out in less than a year. Lew’s was on it. I sent it back and had it returned working 100 percent. Lew’s spinning and baitcasting reels along with Reaper Rods has been an excellent combination.

Baits are a trickier thing. Some people fall in love with certain baits, and everyone has a manufacturer they prefer and a color they like. I’m no different. Two baits that have produced more and bigger bass for me really stand out: Gambler’s Big EZ swimbait and Fat Ace senko-style worm.

When I’m in the pads, the Big EZ is all I throw. When I’m out in heavy cover offshore or grass lines, it’s the Fat Ace. My top colors in the Big EZ are black-and-blue, forty-niner and Lane toad. With the Fate Ace, I like junebug or any combination of black and blue. Those have been my go-to baits for the past two years, and they have not failed me often.

Using these better tools makes it more likely you’ll be able to hook and land bass, but does not guarantee you will find more of them. Hunting fish, or at least helping you locate places they may be hanging out, is where your electronics come in.

I use Humminbird electronics, and they are my eyes below the water. The down imaging is crisp and clear. The side scan is tough to get used to, but very useful once you learn how to read it. I also added the Humminbird 360 to my arsenal of electronics. This gives me a great picture of everything underwater around the boat.

And trust me, it works. While fishing in a creek arm recently, I saw a school of bass swim up the shore and past the boat. I was so intrigued watching them on the 360 that I never made a cast.

Having the right tools can definitely help you out. I’m not saying you should run out and change out all your fishing tackle and electronics. And I’m not saying that you won’t catch fish if you don’t equip yourself the way I have.

But look at what is happening when you’re fishing. Are you putting yourself in the right spots to get bit? Once there, are you using baits that are going to draw interest and strikes? Are you hooking and landing every fish that bites? If you answered no to any of these questions, maybe it’s time to change things up.

I saw some deficiencies in my fishing and needed to make some changes. The suggestions I made here have helped me become a much better angler over the past two years. Working with great equipment, backed by people who know their craft, is a good place to be. Now it’s up to me to use these tools and produce on a bigger stage.

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, Missy. Contact him at

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, Missy. Contact him at


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