The New Year brings both reflection and resolution; contemplating where we went wrong, and plans to improve in the future. Just as important is realizing where we went right and keying in others so they may also improve.
Such is the case with bass fishing. Every so often, I find myself reviewing the small changes I made as an angler over the year and how each corresponded to more fish in the boat. And, while I never profess to be the world’s greatest fisherman, I do believe I’m one who studies the sport a bunch, and I enjoy sharing what I learn. That way you can avoid similar hours spent daydreaming, resulting in a much better relationship with your wife and kids.
So let’s look at 2019. While much of the bass fishing world was worried about expanding pro tours and tournament formats, I continued to fish, try new things and make note of the outcome. Several key adaptations resulted in an overall tweak to my format, including:
1. Fishing lighter braid – I have always been a big fan of braided line and regularly used even the lightest versions in much of my fishing, including 1/4-pound diameters - thinner than sewing thread - for panfish. However, I never really expanded these horizons to largemouth fishing. But this year found me using smaller diameter lines: replacing my 50-pound standard with 30 and 40 for baits like swim jigs, Skinny Dippers and the like, and the results were stellar. I highly suggest giving it a try where you live; casts are obviously longer and you’ll immediately notice a subtle difference in the action of the baits. But be forewarned: while 50-pound braid seems to last forever and remain nearly unbreakable, the lighter stuff wears out quicker and can easily snap on a strong hookset. Replace more frequently.
2. Using a loop knot – Rather than using a loop knot in the past for topwaters and action baits, I simply relied on a split ring or snap swivel, untrusting of a loop’s strength. But after spending several days in the boat with a few of Florida’s best saltwater captains, I can assure you there’s no worry about a loop knot’s strength. One-hundred pound tarpon and 40-pound snook confirm it. Nowadays, I tie the loop religiously on many bass lures and find the ease in connection, and increased lure action, a real plus.
3. Wearing a Buff – Like most modern bassers, I occasionally used a Buff in the past to block the sun. Now I now wear one religiously. Funny, I know, but I hate the feeling of sweat dripping down my bald head, so I wear a Buff up top, under my hat. And it’s impossible to keep the sun off my neck all the time, so I wear one there, too. I pull a Buff up over my ball cap when running down the lake to keep my hat on. I wear one doing yard work, while snorkeling (remember the bald head?), even in winter as a little insulation around my collar. These sun-blockers have become mandatory basic equipment for me in the outdoors, helping to prevent cancer along the way. Try one.
4. Going diesel – Okay, so a little off the basic bass fishing topic, but not so for traveling anglers. Until 2019, I religiously purchased gas-powered Chevy Suburbans for my towing and daily driving and they did a great job. However, this year I transitioned to a Duramax Diesel and all things being equal, I’m never going back to a gasoline truck. My new pickup is bigger, safer, warmer, smoother and gets 20-plus miles to the gallon. The wheel base is much longer, leading to better towing, and my truck never comes out of cruise control, even when towing a heavy boat through the mountains. And before you complain about DEF (diesel exhaust fluid), it’s a non-issue. A gallon lasts a thousand miles or so, and I purchase a big jug at Auto Zone for $12. Until you own and drive diesel, it’s hard to understand how wonderful it can be for certain lifestyles; steal a buddy’s truck for weekend and give it a try.
5. Spot-Locking everywhere – Many of you know that I’ve had a decades-long relationship with Minn Kota and continue to take part in a bit of their testing and R&D. In fact, I was one of the earliest lead field-testers of the revolutionary Ultrex motor. Yet, even with such longevity and track record, it wasn’t until this year that I fully realized the value of the Spot-Lock anchoring mode. Sure, I’d used it offshore fishing for bass, saltwater species and the like; even a bit when pursuing crappies. But now I use it everywhere. Catch a fish, Spot-Lock. Re-tie, Spot-Lock. Hold on a dock for repeated casts, Spot-Lock. The epiphany occurred when I began catching bait for saltwater fishing off the anchor chains of buoys, all the while being tossed around in five-foot seas and a rolling tide, aboard my 24-foot center console. With modern Spot-Lock, I never moved outside a rod length from the buoy, but never hit it either. It’s that good. If you have the capability on your boat – and it seems just about everyone does nowadays – take it from me: don’t hesitate to trust it. I have no idea how Minn Kota pulled it off, but somehow these motors hold the boat within inches of the original target, regardless of conditions.
Yes, 2019 was a roller-coaster of a year for organized bass fishing and the industry as a whole. But it was equally important in my private practice. Once again, I learned that I have a lot to learn, that technology can help and that the fish we pursue keep getting smarter.
Perhaps that’s the best part.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)