I t’s the ultimate Get-Rich quick scheme on the water. An angler might have nothing in the live-well and rapidly diminishing hopes of filling it, when seemingly out of nowhere bass begin blowing up on bait all around the boat. They’re feeding heavily, and they’re not shy about taking the first lure that crosses their path. This makes for one of the most exciting and fast-paced stories in fishing.
Although, it doesn’t always happen exactly that way, Bass University instructor Cliff Crochet has had surface-busting schooling fish help his cause on more than one occasion, and he said that Texas anglers should be on the lookout for them all fall.
“I haven’t had a lot of success looking for them,” the Louisiana pro said. “But there have been multiple times when I’ve found them, or when they found me. If you fish where they’re going at that time of year, with the shad moving towards the backs of the pockets, you’re going to run into them.”
It’s not necessarily confined to a particular part of the day or a particular part of the fishery. If bass are chasing shad there’s a good chance it’ll happen at some point when they have the bait collected and pinned. In fact, Crochet said he can often sense when it’s about to occur: “You can see the shad schooling before the bass get to them. It’ll be just a little ripple on the water, about half the size of the deck of your boat.”
Of course, just because you’ve set your boat down exactly where you’d expect the fish to start feeding doesn’t mean that it’s going to occur that way. Most often, it seems, they start chowing down on the shad just out of your casting reach. Crochet said that it never fails. “If you make a long cast to the right, they’ll blow up on your left,” and since you sometimes only have a brief window when they’re “hot,” that can be a death sentence. That’s why he does as much waiting as he does casting.
“It pays to stay quiet the whole time,” he explained. “I’ll watch my Lowrance electronics and when I see the balls of shad, that’s when I’ll slow down even more, because I know it’s a possibility.”
He’ll keep his front unit on down-scan, not traditional two-dimensional sonar, especially around grass, because it produces a clearer picture. He’s also a huge fan of the Hydrowave.
He keeps it on any time he’s fishing, whether it’s frogging in shallow murky water or drop-shooting offshore, but it’s especially valuable when the fish are chasing bait. “If nothing else, it camouflages you, but I truly believe that when fish are schooling it gets them up and keeps them going longer than they would without it.
His first choice for Texas schoolers in the fall is a Bill Lewis StutterStep top-water, which he can launch a country mile, and “you can walk it real fast to cover a lot of water.” He described the oddly-shaped lure as “very athletic,” and asserted that the ability to make it dance across the water and otherwise “look like he’s on his death bed,” will catch the attention of bass that have more than enough to eat in front of them.
He’s not a believer in gaudy colors, typically preferring to utilize anything that resembles a shad. He believes that erratic and noticeable motion is the key to getting more and bigger bites. “I typically wouldn’t throw a Senko in this situation,” he explained.
His second choice, for when he has trouble getting fish to break the surface or he’s convinced that the bigger ones are hanging deeper, is an old-school Rat-L-Trap. Like the StutterStep, he can cast it into a headwind and still “throw it 700 miles.”
With both lures he uses either a 7:1 or 8:1 gear ratio reel. At this time, perhaps more than any other, being able to retrieve line in a hurry can be critical. “You’re fighting against the clock because it lasts only for so long,” he said.
If you fire out a cast and the fish blow up in the other direction, you need to be able to recover, reload and hit the hot spot. If a bass misses your lure and won’t come back for it, you likewise need to get back in the strike zone.
Because casting distance can be the difference between an empty live-well and five bass in five casts, Crochet tends to rely on longer rods, too, noting that the guy throwing a popper on a six-foot stick won’t have the range of someone throwing a 1 ounce aerodynamic Stutterstep on a longer rod. He uses a 7-½’ Falcon composite rod with 15 pound Seaguar fluorocarbon for the Rat-L-Trap and a five-power 7- or 7 ½ foot Falcon rod with the big topwater.
“You have to have the right equipment if you’re going to take advantage of this situation,” he concluded, noting that a 36 volt trolling motor is another valuable tool for chasing down schoolers.
There can be a lot of waiting around for the right conditions to converge, once they do it’s a virtual fire drill, and the angler who misses that opportunity may end up kicking himself at weigh-in time.
Email Pete Robbins at [email protected]