Cody Huff’s life reads like a page from a book. The 2020 edition of How to Become a Bass Pro, to be specific.
At just 23 years of age, Huff has already dominated the college scene, winning the Basmaster Bracket event and appearing in the 2020 Classic. He recently took down two Toyota Series wins and competed in both divisions of the Bassmaster Opens. Prior to turning 25, Huff will likely have an established place on a major pro trail, a growing list of sponsors and significant tournament earnings in the bank. All that’s left to do is decide which circuit to pursue.
Huff’s upbringing was much like what you’d imagine. He joined his father as a partner in local team tournaments at a young age and struck out on his own as a teenager with a hand-me-down bass boat. Huff’s hometown of Ava, Missouri – also home to bass legend Rick Clunn – is an outdoor-based community where most guys hunt and fish and stay outside more than in. Turn left out of the drive to get to Table Rock; right to Bull Shoals. Professional bass fisherman is as much a natural step here as anywhere.
I learned a little about Huff when he won his first Toyota event of the season at Toledo Bend in January. I found his bait choice intriguing. “When I won in Texas, you couldn’t even find a jigging spoon in a tackle store around there,” Huff recently mentioned. But Huff unlocked the overlooked deep-water secret en route to a $30,000 payday.
Fast-forward about 10 months and Huff, again, was out in no man’s land. This time, however, the body of water was closer to home. For his Table Rock win, Huff targeted a few fish with the spoon, but more were fooled with another overlooked lure – the Rapala Jigging Rap. An ice-fishing mainstay, the Jigging Rap has a cult-like following in a very few deep-water bass fishing locales out west and in the Midwest. It’s an efficient lure, sinking fast and almost never coming unbuttoned from the mouth of a bass. But it sure looks funny.
Huff doesn’t care. For most of his short career, he’s keyed on off-the-wall lures and patterns and sought to find fish in places others don’t bother to look.
“I’ve caught them as deep as 90 feet,” Huff confirmed. “Some suspended last week were over 115.”
Interesting, for sure. But even more so were the subtle clues Huff gave in his approach to targeting those wolf-pack suspenders. When asked about his set-up, Huff was quick to credit his Bass Pro Shops reel and it’s blazing 8.3:1 gear ratio.
“If I don’t lead the fish correctly, and the bait falls behind them, I’ve got to crank it in real fast and make another cast. If you’ve let the bait fall 50 feet, that’s a lot of line you need to get back quick.”
Whoa. Hold up a minute. Lead the fish? In a hundred feet of water?
Suffice to say that my recent conversation with Huff took a wild turn when I learned of his methods for targeting open-water bass. Yes, as you’ve likely already guessed, Huff is using sonar technology that allows him to look in front of his boat, identify individual fish and watch their reaction to his lures. In addition, Huff has learned that these fish are always moving, chasing and eating.
“They live more like stripers than bass,” he noted.
For years, Huff had targeted the same water depths and areas using traditional 2-D sonar. While he’d nearly always find the same fish, it wasn’t until recently that technology allowed Huff to learn why the fish occasionally committed to his lures, but quite often didn’t.
We’ll leave that part out.
You see, my purpose here is two-fold. One, to bring more attention to Cody Huff, his incredible talents and accomplishments as a young angler, and the overall "wish I was you" feel that many of us are getting when we consider being 23 years old with a growing bank account and sponsor list.
But secondly, I must again bring up the controversial subject matter of advanced sonar. I’ve received more feedback on this subject than any I’ve written about recently. It seems I’m not alone in my concern over the future of the sport – heck, the future of game fish in America – once this space-age technology percolates through the masses. I can only imagine the outcome for other species of fish that inhabit open water; those that aren’t protected by the catch-and-release mentality enjoyed by bass. But that’s another story.
In any case, there’s real concern over what’s coming. For a guy like Cody Huff, there’s only endless possibilities. I can relate, as I still vividly remember my initiation years ago to underwater cameras and side imaging. And, given a change in roles, I’d be right there with Cody, buying up every transducer and accessory I could afford, to be looking up, down and all around my boat in pursuit of one more cruiser.
Instead, I’m on the other side, and I’m concerned. Maybe I’m leading an allegiance of middle-aged anglers destined to become crabby old men. Like the round table of guys who griped about the A-Rig, or the paper chart, or probably even flashers in the Tom Mann days.
“It’s not fair to the fish,” goes the overused battle cry. Or is it?
From what I recently learned, this story is far from over. In fact, it’s just beginning.
(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.)