By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
Fall is feed-up time for bass and if you’re looking to wrangle your share of the action, FLW Tour pro Andrew Upshaw suggests you polish up your skills. But don’t take exception; that’s no slight to anyone’s ability. Rather, Upshaw’s suggesting that you integrate into your game plan a highly productive technique known as “polishing rocks.”
“You know this is the deal when you start seeing those big balls of shad toward the backs of the creeks or the points leading into the backs of the creeks,” Upshaw said. “The fish are going to do one of two things: they’re going to stay on their structure and wait for the shad to come by them, or they’re going to constantly chase those shad balls.
“In this case, I’m targeting the fish that are staying on their structure and what I’m doing is I’m reeling my bait along the bottom and trying to hit whatever structure is down there to make them think it’s a shad and to force a reaction strike.”
For this technique, Upshaw employs a 3.75-inch Gene Larew Rock Banger swimbait on a Larew Hardhead. The articulated football head rumbles over hard bottom and lets that chunky swimbait dance an enticing jig.
“What you have is a bait with a wide profile that gives the fish the action of a baitfish that’s struggling to swim across the bottom,” Upshaw said. “The Rock Banger imitates a bluegill or a shad so well and by this time of year, the fish have seen so many different types of craws. In the fall, the fish really transition to eating shad.
“They’re gorging up on these big balls of shad, whether it be gizzards or threadfins, so the bottom presentation with a swimbait is where I turn when I want to put numbers and big fish in the boat. Those bigger females that you typically won’t catch on topwaters, those are the ones you’re going to catch doing this. It’s about the same thing you’d be doing with a big squarebill like a Bill Lewis Echo 1.75, but in a completely silent manner.”
Now, if the targeted strategy isn’t producing as he’d like, Upshaw takes a broader approach to polishing rocks. Essentially, he’ll slim down his profile and cover water with a ball-head jig and either a 3.5-inch Gene Larew Sweet Swimmer or a Gene Larew Rally Grub. The former gets the call in windy conditions or anytime the fish are clearly active, while the latter’s exaggerated tail action can trigger bites from less-active fish.
When and Where
Low-light conditions, particularly early mornings, tend to find the fish most active, so making a big, noisy commotion with the Hardhead/Rock Banger duo often rewards Upshaw with some of the day’s better bites. Like any fall technique, success often depends on prospecting many areas, but there are preferences worth noting.
Upshaw says that a ball-head jig and a Gene Larew Rally Grub is a good choice for tempting less-aggressive bass.
“You always want to look for something different in the rocks,” Upshaw said. “Maybe it goes from big rock to small rocks, or chunk rock to pea gravel, or a channel swing where it goes from flats to deep. I like anything where I see a difference in bottom contour or even the back of a creek where there’s a rock patch.”
Worth a note: Upshaw says he won’t hesitate to task his rock-polishing rig to pull double duty. Say he encounters a stump row or a bunch of laydowns during his rock-polishing search – bumping that Hardhead through the vertical cover could very likely turn up a bonus bite or two.
Wherever he’s searching, Upshaw has an overriding rule for polishing rocks: “In my opinion, in the fall, you can’t go too shallow. For whatever reason, fish just flock to the shallowest water they can physically get in.”
One thing Upshaw points out is that the Rock Banger’s oversized tail wants to pull the bait up. He keeps his bait buttoned to the bottom by beefing up to an 11/16-ounce Hardhead.
“You want to keep your rod tip down and reel as fast as you can while keeping bottom contact – that’s going to create those strikes,” Upshaw said. “The best thing you can do is cast out there, let the bait go to the bottom and reel it fast and don’t slow down unless you stop feeling the rocks.
“You know you’re doing it right when you’re not hanging up on the bottom and you’re continually keeping bottom contact.”
Without question, polishing rocks can be an intimidating technique. Nevertheless, Upshaw offers a note of encouragement.
“I see guys reel the bait too slow and they hang up,” he said. “They lose confidence because the weight continuously wedges in the rock. They key is to reel a little bit faster and trust that it’s not going to hang up.”
For polishing rocks, Upshaw spools a 7.5:1 gear ratio Lew’s Hyper Mag reel with 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon. This gear ratio, he says, is the ideal balance of speed and power.
“You have to have a fast reel to catch up to those fish sometimes because they hit the bait so hard, but you don’t want it so fast that it throws off your retrieve,” Upshaw explains.
He’ll anchor his work with a 7-foot-2 heavy-action Lew’s Mark Rose Ledge rod. Going too light on the rod choice is a self-defeating mistake.
“Something between a 7-2 and a 7-4 heavy is what you need,” Upshaw said. “That hook has a big diameter and you have to be able to drive that hook home. The only way you do that is with a very stiff rod.”