The Athens Review
Legendary Texas bass pro Tommy Martin of Hemphill fields hundreds of questions in a year's time from fishing fans and guide clients, alike. One of the most common things the inquiring minds want to know is: "What is the best way for me to come a better bass fisherman?"
It is rare that Martin has to ponder much before coming up with a reply. That's because the answer is always the same.
"I always tell beginning anglers the single best way they can become a better bass fisherman is to improve their casting and lure presentation skills,” Martin said. “It makes no difference how well you can read a depth finder. If you can't consistently put your lures into the places where bass live, in a manner that is conducive to getting bites, you aren't going to catch very many.”
Naturally, casting accuracy and lure presentation don't mean all that much in open water situations where you are dragging Carolina rigs on points, slow rolling spinnerbaits on river ledges, zinging a Rat-L-Trap or fancasting a Senko on expansive spawning flats.
Where precision casting does come into play is when you are going after fish that are relating to targets that you can visibly see, such as stumps, trees, stick-ups, boat docks, bulk heads, laydown logs, bushes, brush piles, rocks or grass beds.
Bass are inherently attracted to these types of objects for the shade they offer on sunny day and, more importantly, for the cover or concealment they provide for ambushing unsuspecting prey. Place a crappy caster and a good one in the same boat in a situation like this and frustration is almost certain to follow.
Just ask Martin. He knows all about it.
“One time I drew a pro from Florida in a tournament on the Red River,” he explained. “He fished around wide open grass beds all the time, but he didn't have a lot of experience fishing tight to cover — situations where lure placement and presentation are critical.”
And it showed. Martin took the angler into an old oxbow lake with lots of shoreline bushes, overhanding limbs and lay down logs. It was a nightmare of a day.
“He stayed hung up the whole time,” Martin recalled. “One cast his bait would be on the bank and next one it might be 10 feet up in a tree or bush. He finally admitted he wasn't very good at casting.”
The message to relayed by all of this is simple: Probably 50 percent of fishing tactics frequently used to catch bass don't demand very much in terms of casting ability. But the other 50 percent do.
Case in point — if your goal is to become the best angler you can possibly be, you should make an honest effort to become more proficient with a bait caster in your hands. Here are proven tips to get it done:
The right set up
There are a variety of great bait casting reels and rods on the market today, but no two brands are exactly the same. For that reason, Martin thinks it is critical that anglers pick a brand of reel/rod they are comfortable with and stick with it.
“The more familiar you are with your equipment, the more proficient you will become at using it,” Martin said. “You'll have a tough time accomplishing that if you have six different brands of reels on the deck, because they all cast a little bit different.”
Another good point to make about bait casting gear is to be sure the rod choice is well suited for the lure choice. It's not good idea to throw a 3/4 ounce on a wimpy topwater rod. Nor is it wise to throw a topwater on a broom stick.
Also, make sure the spool tension knob and braking mechanisms are set properly for the weight of the bait and the existing wind conditions. Otherwise, you will spend more time battling backlashes than fine tuning your casting skills.
There are a number of ways to launch a fishing lure. The big four are the basic overhand cast, roll cast, flip cast and pitch cast. Master these casting methods, along with the back hand, side arm cast and underhand cast, and you will develop knack for putting your baits in places were many anglers can't.
Conventional casting is the most elementary of all. It is best suited for open water situations where distance is more of an issue than threading the needle.
Most anglers chunk and wind spinnerbaits, crankbaits, lipless crankbaits, jerk baits, stick baits and other moving lures when bass are roving in relation to submerged grass beds, points, humps or schooling on or near the surface. It also applies to Carolina rigging and Texas rigging.
Flipping and pitching are more specialized techniques used when bass are hanging tight to individual objects such as stumps, bushes and under boat docks. Pros sometimes refer to them as “power fishing” techniques.
While the mechanics of flipping and pitching are somewhat different, the objectives are one in the same: to pendulum a weedless plastic or jig into tight quarters with precision accuracy.
The presentation should be so subtle that the bait barely makes a ripple when it enters the water. This means the lure must maintain fairly low trajectory in flight.
Flipping is ideal for probing short range targets, 10 feet or less away from the boat.
Pitchin' is basically long range flipping. The rod is used as a pendulum for propelling baits to targets 10-30 feet away. Like flipping, the pitch cast is typically used for placing baits tight to cover, so it is generally advised to use a rod with some meat to it.
The roll cast, under hand cast and loop cast are casting techniques that work great for putting spinnerbaits, frogs, Texas rigs, jigs and soft plastic jerk baits into tight places or under stuff from a distance. All are performed with the rod tip close to the water so the lure maintains low trajectory and skims just above the surface, or in some cases actually skips across it.
If you want learn how to put bait into dark shadows 10 feet beneath a boat dock or six feet beneath an overhanging limb with hardly a splash, you need to learn to perfect these advanced casting techniques.
“If you're around docks, trees, bushes and brush, an overhand cast is pretty much useless,” says Martin. “You have to make an underhand cast in those situations. It keeps the bait low and allows you to get it into tight spots with a quiet, soft presentation. You can't do that with a overhand cast.”
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.