Four Easy Ways To Become A Better Bass Angler
Fishing At It's Best
January 1, 2024
The late Aaron Martens, Rick Clunn, Gary Dobyns, and Eddie Johns are four of the most consistently successful anglers I've ever known, but their prowess isn't due just to natural ability, although that does play a part.
Aaron was known as a finesse fisherman. People used to say that Rick Clunn was the Zen master of fishing. Gary Dobyns is known as a power fisherman. You may not know Eddie Johns, but if you lived anywhere near him, you'd be familiar with his name. He dominates the tournaments in his area.
What gives them the edge? Here are easy ways you can emulate these anglers and become a better fisherman yourself.
Aaron Martens–Fish Like A Hunter
Without a doubt, the fishing world lost a giant when we lost Aaron. He was not only one of the best fishermen I've ever met, but he was also one of the kindest. He also had the ability to focus on the job at hand to the exclusion of everything else, which was one of his major strengths. One thing that Aaron did that most other anglers don't do is study not just bass behavior, but also the behavior of their prey.
Out west a lot of the big bass get fat on a diet of not just shad, but also craws and stocked trout. Aaron made it a point to study crawdads, shad, and trout. He had a pond where he would watch crawdads for hours. He knew how they reacted to danger and what kinds of cover they liked to live in. He knew where they spent the summer and where they went in the winter. When he fished tournaments in January and February, he'd turn over rocks on the bank to see if there were craws under them, and what color they were. No matter what color the craws or baitfish were, Aaron could match that color with a Yamamoto bait.
Even better than rocks, Aaron said, is stacked wood. He called it a fish magnet. Since his usual craw-like bait, the jig, snags badly on that, he'd fish wood with a 7-inch Aaron's Magic worm, Texas-rigged. He would pitch this past the wood pile and shake the weight, keeping it on the bottom and letting it root in the dirt like a craw with the tail dancing. He watched craws and he knew that when they were feeding, there would be little clouds of mud around them, and he could mimic that with his baits.
Fished Like A Hunter
From studying crawdads, he knew that a good stretch of bank – one that would attract crawdads – would have a hard bottom and some broken rocks, with some trees as a bonus. He also knew how easy it was to spook fish because he studied them as well, so he kept at least fifteen to twenty feet away. The bigger the fish, the more wary they are, he said. So he'd stay stealthy and keep back. "Somebody who is looking for a trophy buck doesn't sit out in the open," he said. Aaron really did fish like a pro hunter, knowing his prey, their food, and their habits intimately.
He was also very quiet when he fished. Bait presentation and where you keep the boat are only part of it, he told me. Don't stomp around, don't open and close lockers, and don't cast right to a target. "Food isn't going to just fall out of the sky," he said, "so make a quiet cast past the target and drag the lure down to the fish."
If There Were Trout
If the lake he was fishing had trout in it, Aaron would bring along his big swimbaits. You must find areas where big fish can hide from trout, he said – standing trees, bushes, etc. He looked for ambush spots like sharp points, especially with a good drop-off or timber. He said big bass will stay along the drop-off and look up, waiting for the trout to swim over them, sometimes in thirty to forty feet of water.
When he fished a swimbait, he tried to picture what the fish were doing. He would make his swimbait act like a scared trout, giving it some good jerks and twitches and making it go really fast. Sometimes he made it come back with the tail just out of the water, making a wake. This makes it look like an injured trout.
A Fantastic Fisheman
Aaron had a huge store of knowledge about not just bass, but what bass eat. This is just one of the things that made him such a fantastic fisherman. It's something you can strive for as well if you want to be a better bass fisherman.
Rick Clunn – The Basics
When I first started fishing, Ricky Clunn was THE man when it came to bass fishing. I remember reading that he would sleep on shore of the lake where he was going to fish, to become in tune with nature. In fact, that is one of Rick's keys to success – being so in tune with the fish and the birds and the environment that he noticed absolutely the tiniest details. He told me that it sounds simple, but it's accurate: bass react to biological stimuli, and they all do the same thing. He employed a three-step method to locating bass no matter where he fished.
Step One is to establish a Seasonal Pattern. This tells you what area of the lake you should be fishing at a certain time of the year to get the most bites. Developing patterns, Rick says, is your most important asset. Your tackle is just tools, tools that should complement your abilities. Recalling past experiences and reapplying them in the future is the key. Keep records, he says – you are the most reliable source of information. Anything beyond yourself is just degrees of lies. He says it took him a year of keeping notes for it to pay off.
Where The Bites Are
Rick says don't mix unlike bodies of water together in your notes – for instance, man-made lakes, rivers, tidal waters, etc. He sectionalized the lake map. Number 1 is the deepest, clearest water. Two would be midrange depth. Three would be the shallow areas, such as rivers coming in. He would divide coves up the exact same way. Then he would keep notes on what kinds of water he caught fish in at different times of year. The two main things a seasonal pattern does is eliminate non-productive water before you waste time on it, and it puts you in the places where you'll get the most bites. You can even use tournament results from magazines. Don't bother with techniques – you are just interested in where – what area.
Step Two is to establish the Current Pattern in your confidence area (the seasonal pattern gives you this). What are the fish doing right now. Fish the area like you're fishing a pond. Identify visible objects. Bass, Rick says, are object-oriented fish. 98% of them will be relating to objects. You have less than six types of objects they'll be relating to. Fish each of them and eliminate them until you find a fish. Work each kind thoroughly. Get the feel until you have done it efficiently.
Two Types Of Current Patterns
You will find there are two different types of Current Patterns: individual fish or a concentration pattern. One big stump may have one or two fish. That's an individual pattern. If you're on this, you need to duplicate it by looking for big stumps. Moving from one to another is a milk run. If you find an area of flooded brush, vegetation, etc, that is holding schools of fish, you should stay there. This is usually not individual objects, it's masses of objects. The individual pattern is the most common, says Rick. When you find the pattern, don't waste time fishing between the patterns. Go from object to object on the big motor.
Step Three is one that he finds very few people consciously do – it is something that elite fishermen do. This is what he calls the Specific Pattern, and anglers who do a lot of flipping are most likely to do this without even thinking about it. Finding that salt cedars hold fish is a current pattern. A specific pattern is knowing what limb the fish is on. The first fish you catch tells you where they are, he says, you just need to listen to the fish. This is where being in tune with things comes in.
Exercise Mental Awareness
Awareness is all-important. Visualization is key, he says. "Get down on the bottom with the worm. Talk the worm back to the boat and you'll be right there when he hits it." Rick says you must exercise mental awareness like a physical attribute.
A caveat – when conditions change, it's time to start over and find the new Current Pattern.
Gary Dobyns – It's All In Your Head
"Dock Talk" is the bane of every fisherman. There are probably very few fellow fishermen you are willing to believe when they tell you what the bite is, right? Gary knows this better than most, and over the years he's had a pretty good time trying to psych other fishermen out, and he's been psyched out in return. He and Dee Thomas were famous for messing with each other's heads. This was good-natured, but other folks weren't so friendly.
Dobyns has had competitors send their friends to pound his water the day before a tourney, or just do incredibly rude things on the water like wake his boat, go between him and shore, etc. Maybe you've had guys do that too. My partner and I were on the spinnerbait bite of a lifetime once at Lake Pleasant in a tiny cut that no one had the least bit of interest in until we started catching fish there. Before long, we were being crowded by boats, and one guy even hit our boat with a lure. It's crazy.
Find Your Own Fish
Gary says that what you need to remember is that you CANNOT fish someone else's fish, even if they tell you exactly what, where, and how. You need to find your own fish, then ignore the dock talk, because odds are, especially if they are tournament anglers, they are trying to mislead you.
Another incredibly important thing (and this was hard for Gary) is to learn to ignore it when you're being baited and keep your cool. If you start getting ticked off, they won. The key is to remain focused on the job at hand regardless of what is going on around you or what is being said. A guy might cut you off to try to make you mad. If you get mad, it ruins your day. A huge part of fishing is mental, says Gary, whether you fish tournaments or not. I'm sure you've noticed that if something is worrying you, you don't fish as well. You must be mentally tough and just let everything roll off your back. Gary says fishermen have changed and people are much more likely these days to be rude and nasty. Just let it go.
Focus On Your Fishing
There are mental exercises like meditation that can help you learn to focus on your fishing and ignore negativity. There are even sports psychologists who can help a lot if you really have a problem with anger and wanting to get back at people. Rick Clunn called it "being in the zone". Be focused on your fishing to the point where you almost don't even notice anything else. It takes practice, but you can do it. Your fishing will be vastly improved.
Eddie Johns – Fishing By The Book
Keeping a log is something that Hank Parker told Eddie Johns about many years ago. The question was "what is something you can tell me to help my fishing that would help everybody?". Parker told him to write it all down and don't let anybody else look at it. The fish will be in the same place every year.
At first, Eddie just wrote down dates and where he caught fish. But now he knows how the moon affects fish, so his book has gotten very detailed. He logs water temperature, air temperature, fronts, and weather changes for two to three days before the fishing trip. He also notes what did NOT catch fish – areas, baits, etc. Sometimes he just writes four or five lines, but as time goes on he has gotten more detailed.
Eddie has organized his book by months. The book is now huge, but he can quickly determine what he should be doing (a very detailed Seasonal Pattern) by finding the lake he'll be fishing in the book for the month he'll be there. It's easy to zero in on the conditions that are current and match them to notes in the book, so he knows just where to go and what to throw.
Preference For Paper
He says you don't have to be as detailed as he is, just a few little lines. He keeps a little notebook in the boat and jots things down, and he also takes photos when the water is low and puts them in the book. He doesn't use a computer because he doesn't trust them. He started out keeping it on his phone, but it fell overboard and he lost four years of notes. So paper is the way to go, and he does his research in The Book before he goes to the lake. He's got 15 to 20 lakes in the book now. He NEVER writes down what anybody else says.
Here are the types of things he records: lake, date, launch, water temperature, wind direction at time of catch, weight, location of each fish, sunrise, bait, depth caught at, which direction the boat was going, what color worked, weight of sinker if any, hook, details about structure – for instance, if rocks, smooth, jagged? He also draws a little map if it will help make it more clear to him. Keeping the book has make him more focused. He pays more attention to the environment and the lake because he knows he'll be writing it down. It makes him notice things. He jots down notes in the boat just enough to jog his memory so he can write it when he gets home.
Fishing Log Apps
Here's the thing: everyone wants to see Eddie's book, but only 1 out of 100 guys will take the trouble to keep one themselves, and it is absolutely the easiest thing that will make the most difference in your fishing. It gives you confidence, and confidence is a good thing. If you don't mind using electronics for your book, there are plenty of fishing log apps available.
Maybe you've noticed that the things these elite anglers do tie into each other. Paying attention to the fish, to what's going on in nature around you, focusing on your fishing and ignoring distractions, learning about the fish and the prey – all these things help give you confidence and focus. These are all things that any angler can do, and they will absolutely make you a better fisherman.