Fact 1: Every bass angler dreams of catching a double-digit fish.
Fact 2: Only a few strike gold each year in comparison to the army of fishermen out there chunking and winding in hopes that a 10 pounder will wrap its lips around their bait.
While the 10-pound bite is much more common today than it was 40 years ago, it doesnt change the fact that reaching the benchmark is no easy task. I know some darned good fishermen who have fished their entire lives and never caught a bass heavier than six pounds.
Mark Stevenson is not one of them.
Stevenson is a well-known Lake Fork fishing guide with a rich history of reeling in the big ones from the 27,000 acre reservoir near Quitman. His biggest bass to date is one that changed forever changed the face of Texas bass fishing.
Nicknamed "Ethel," Stevensons legendary 17.67 pounder caught in November 1986 stood as the Texas state record for six years before crappie fishermen Barry St. Clair caught a one bigger while soaking a shiner in deep water in January 1992.
Ethel wasnt Stevensons first double-digit fish, and she certainly wasnt his last. The guide says he has landed dozens of bass weighing 10-plus during his lifetime, much of it spent guiding on one of the nations premier big bass haunts.
Bottomline: Stevenson knows his stuff when it comes to targeting heavyweight bass. He offered up some solid tips to help anglers boost their odds catching one this spring:
Paying Your Dues: Stevenson says the more time you spend on the water, the better your odds of catching big fish, for a lot of reasons. The more you fish, the more casts you make. The more casts you make, the better fisherman you become and the better the chance of getting your bait in front of a big fish.
• Target Big Bass Lakes: The odds of killing a Boone and Crockett buck are best if you hunt in parts of the state best known for producing them. Stevenson says targeting big bass is no different. Your chances are best on lakes with big bass reputations, such as Fork, Falcon, Amistad, Sam Rayburn, Choke Canyon and Toledo Bend.
• The Right Mindset: Stevenson says a bass becomes an entirely different animal once it reaches the 8-10 pound range and it plays by an altogether different set of rules than smaller fish. To catch big bass consistently, he says you must target the right types of water using the proper baits, tactics and presentations, and be willing to settle for fewer bites.
• Sweet Spots: Stevenson will spend a high percentage of his time looking for pre-spawn females along channels and drains that connect deep water to shallow. Key spots along the way might a well-defined bend, channel intersection, a place where a point dumps into a channel or a submerged tree stump or tree surrounded by fallen limbs and other trash.
• Baits of Choice: Stevenson says big fish prefer a big meal and they dont like to put forth a lot of effort to chase one down. During February he will tempt them with baits he can crawl around heavy cover at mid-range depths of 8-15 feet. Jigs, 10 inch worms, deep diving crankbaits and big spinnerbaits with magnum blades get top billing.
• Traveling Light: Stevenson believes big bass spend a high percentage of their lives suspended in the water column. When worm or jig fishing, he prefers to use the lightest bait he can get away with. He rarely throws a Texas rig with a weight heavier than 3/16 ounce, even in deep water. The lighter the bait, the more natural the action and the slower the fall. The slower the fall, the longer it stays in the strike zone.
• Lining Up: Quality line that provides maximum abrasion resistance and good knot strength is a must. Stevenson is a big fan of Cajun fluorocarbon 17-20 pound test. He says the limited stretch allows for rock solid hooksets. Plus, it has low low, memory and is very user friendly.
• Foul Weather Fishing: Some of Stevensons very best fishing days have occurred when the weather was acting up and the barometric pressure was erratic. Pre-frontal conditions accompanied by big wind, clouds, rain, and, even snow, are notorious for producing the big bite. If you can stick with it, do it. It could be worth it.
Its February in Texas and the big bass doctor is open for business. To make an appointment with Stevenson, 903-765-3120.