6 Sweet Setups

Catching a livewell full of lunkers starts with positioning your boat to make every cast count. Here's how 6 top pros set up for success.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Did you ever fish a spot where you knew there had to be a bass, yet you didn't catch it? Maybe it just wasn't biting. Or perhaps you didn't throw the right bait, or maybe there wasn't a fish there after all. Move on, you tell yourself. Yet sometimes nagging doubts persist; there should have been a bass back there. Sometimes the problem is as basic as lining up a boat in relation to cover or structure so that lure presentations cover the strike zone. Positioning a boat effectively also might depend on a number of factors, including the clarity and depth of the water being fished and the distance to targets. Regardless of the circumstances, if you don't have a game plan in mind before the first cast, the best you can do is get lucky; the worst is to spook bass away with a clumsy approach. Consider some common bass-fishing scenarios and how experienced anglers position their boats to make every cast irresistible to even the laziest of lunkers.

1. Work the Whole Log
Roland Martin slowly steered his boat through the jumbled maze of fallen and standing dead trees that once stood along the Arkansas River.

Studying the water as the boat inched forward, Martin finally took his foot off the trolling motor pedal and reached for his buzzbait outfit. After he cast down the side of a log that poked out from an island of flooded grass, I asked him why he hadn't cast to any other targets coming in.

"For one thing, the other logs are running every which way, and this one is running fairly straight out from shallow water to where the bottom drops off to deeper water," answered Martin. "Before you cast, you want your boat lined up so you can run a lure down the entire length of a log. The idea is to run it across the surface of the water for a distance so that a bass next to the log or under it can home in on the lure's direction of travel and grab it."

Just then, Martin's buzzbait disappeared in a swirl and he reared back on his rod. Lesson learned.

Pro tip: The best logs to fish are those that extend from shallow to deep water. Typically, bass will station themselves near the end of a log, so keep the boat well offshore and focus on the deep end. Never pass up a log jutting out from a shoreline that is otherwise barren of brushy cover.

Smoke the game bird in a water smoker until it is about three-quarters done. Then finish it off in the oven just before serving, so that it retains some moisture.


2. Plumb Along the Points
Tim Horton's approach to fishing points is fairly straightforward. Most of the lakes where he fishes have literally hundreds of points, and Horton doesn't have time to fool around when he's in a tournament. As he nears a likely point, the Alabama pro approaches from the side and begins lobbing crankbaits over the point from the down-current side. If, for example, the point runs from the shore out about 150 feet and descends from 2 feet deep to 20 feet deep, Horton fishes the shallow-to-deep zones with Fat Free Shad crankbaits.

"The key to where I position the boat relative to the point depends on which way the wind is blowing or the current is flowing," says Horton, a former B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year. "You always want to cast your line up-current, whether the current is caused by wind or by the flow water being pulled by a dam." Horton says the biggest mistake most anglers make is to position their boats on top of a point and then cast directly up and down it.

**Pro Tip: ** The best points are the ones that are perpendicular to current flow, rather than those that run parallel to it. Bass prefer points that are current breaks because thr down-current sides are good ambush spots for baitfish.

Best Bait This deep-diving Fat Free Shad crankbait has a flat-sided design that offers easy retrieves with maximum control. Kick-out paddles allow the lure to pull easily through submerged weeds.


[pagebreak] ** 3. Drop Down on a Ledge**
In the heat of summer or the dead of winter, fishing ledges for suspended bass is the best way California pro Dave Rush knows to fill an empty livewell. If the weather is cold, Rush positions his boat directly over a drop-off.

"Usually, fish will hold near the bottom and back up right against the wall of the drop-off or ledge," says Rush. "Then you want to lower a jig, tube, lizard or drop-shot rig right in front of their noses. I also like to jig a Cordell Spot [BRACKET "a lipless crankbait"] in the winter." In the summer, bass might be 20 feet away and hang closer to the top. Approach a ledge from a distance and then begin fan-casting a topwater lure such as a Zara Spook or a diving crankbait such as a Fat Free Shad. If the wind is blowing from the shore, Rush positions his boat out from the ledge and casts toward the bank, as he believes the fish are facing that way. When the wind is blowing toward land, he positions his boat on the inshore side.

**Pro tip: ** Approach a ledge carefully and quietly, as if you were going to fish the shoreline. Though ledges are often associated with deeper water, bass-especially spotted bass-are just as sensitive to noise as they would be if they were near shore.

Best Bait A topwater lure that's ideal for shallow- swimming bass, the Zara Spook moves in a side-to-side action when an angler uses a rhythmic, slack-line retrieve.


4. Look for Creek Cover
When it comes to fishing the standing timber in the East Texas impoundment of Lake Fork, Mark Pack is a specialist. "Basically, when cover is everywhere, you pay closer attention to the bottom structure," says Pack, who owns Lake Fork Tackle. "I look for ambush points: ledges, points, humps. Bass always position themselves next to such structure. Cover is a bonus." Instead of wandering aimlessly through flooded timber, Pack keeps his boat near the middle of creek channels, sticking to the shady sides and casting his lures so they can be worked along the edges of points, humps or similar structure. Pack has schooled himself in translating what the dead timber is saying about the topography beneath the surface. He concentrates his fishing efforts where trees stand at the edge of structure, positioning his boat so he can cast a jig past the timber and pump it back a few feet under the surface. "You want to bring the jig up to the tree and then let it fall vertically," says Pack.

**Pro tip: ** Flooded trees that stand taller than those of similar girth around them might indicate a hump, hill or point. Scattered, smaller trees emerging from a stand of larger trees suggest a steep slope or rocky bluff. Trees that jut into a channel signal a point.

Best Bait Jigs come in all sizes, shapes and weights. The most popular are dressed with rubber legs or fur. A weedguard in front of the hook enhances the lure's versatility, and a pork, plastic or fur trailer adds to its appeal.


[pagebreak] 5. Cast Along the Rocks
When Connecticut angler Herb Reed positions his boat to fish a bridge piling or rocks, his first consideration is the lure he's got tied on the end of his line.

"If I'm fishing boulders with a deep-diving crankbait, for instance, I will position the boat differently from how I would if I was using a jig or soft-plastic," says the founder of Lunker City Lures.

"I usually avoid casting across the rock with a diving plug, especially when fishing from a distance.

I don't want to drag the line across the rough surface when the retrieve pulls the lure up along the far side of the boulder. I move the boat to change my casting angles so I can run the lure along the face of the boulder, across the back and down each side."

When fishing the rock with a Slug-Go or even with a lipless rattling plug, Reed isn't as concerned about pulling the line across the rock surface because there's not as much tension on it as there is when retrieving a diving crankbait.

**Pro tip: ** When current is running, position your boat parallel to a channel drop-off to fish bridge pilings and seawalls. To brush the structure all the way down when casting jigs or plastics, put the boat against the wall or piling and cast directly up-current.

Best Bait This Cordell Super Spot lipless crankbait attracts fish with the sound and vibration of multiple rattles. Good for a variety of depths, the lure is available in 12 colors, including Texas Red (pictured).


6. Cover the Tree Tops
Dow Gilmore of Chipley, Fla., has a systematic approach to fishing a tree that has toppled into the water. He stations his boat parallel to the bank and then casts beyond the treetop so that by the time his Bagley crankbait (gray shad) reaches it, the lure will have descended to its maximum depth.

If that approach doesn't draw a strike from a big bass, Gilmore slows the speed down on his subsequent retrieves so that the lure covers the water column from top to bottom. Next, he pulls into deeper water so that he's at the head of the treetop. Then he pitches or flips a plastic worm or jig into the branches. He follows that with casts into the shallower water beyond the branches and along the length of the trunk.

If that fails, Gilmore casts a buzzbait or plastic worm the length of the tree and works it back toward the boat. This thorough method of fishing baits around a partially submerged tree works best when there is little other structure along the bank.

**Pro tip: ** Concentrate fishing efforts on fallen trees whose branches overhang a drop-off. Treetops in shallow water or extending far out into the current are less likely to hold fish.

Best Bait
Featuring a balsa wood body, weighted lip and brass hardware, a Bagley lure retrieves with a lot of wobbliance, I will position the boat differently from how I would if I was using a jig or soft-plastic," says the founder of Lunker City Lures.

"I usually avoid casting across the rock with a diving plug, especially when fishing from a distance.

I don't want to drag the line across the rough surface when the retrieve pulls the lure up along the far side of the boulder. I move the boat to change my casting angles so I can run the lure along the face of the boulder, across the back and down each side."

When fishing the rock with a Slug-Go or even with a lipless rattling plug, Reed isn't as concerned about pulling the line across the rock surface because there's not as much tension on it as there is when retrieving a diving crankbait.

**Pro tip: ** When current is running, position your boat parallel to a channel drop-off to fish bridge pilings and seawalls. To brush the structure all the way down when casting jigs or plastics, put the boat against the wall or piling and cast directly up-current.

Best Bait This Cordell Super Spot lipless crankbait attracts fish with the sound and vibration of multiple rattles. Good for a variety of depths, the lure is available in 12 colors, including Texas Red (pictured).


6. Cover the Tree Tops
Dow Gilmore of Chipley, Fla., has a systematic approach to fishing a tree that has toppled into the water. He stations his boat parallel to the bank and then casts beyond the treetop so that by the time his Bagley crankbait (gray shad) reaches it, the lure will have descended to its maximum depth.

If that approach doesn't draw a strike from a big bass, Gilmore slows the speed down on his subsequent retrieves so that the lure covers the water column from top to bottom. Next, he pulls into deeper water so that he's at the head of the treetop. Then he pitches or flips a plastic worm or jig into the branches. He follows that with casts into the shallower water beyond the branches and along the length of the trunk.

If that fails, Gilmore casts a buzzbait or plastic worm the length of the tree and works it back toward the boat. This thorough method of fishing baits around a partially submerged tree works best when there is little other structure along the bank.

**Pro tip: ** Concentrate fishing efforts on fallen trees whose branches overhang a drop-off. Treetops in shallow water or extending far out into the current are less likely to hold fish.

Best Bait
Featuring a balsa wood body, weighted lip and brass hardware, a Bagley lure retrieves with a lot of wobbli