Be a Bass Master

We never saw it coming. With all the subtlety of an 18-wheeler, Manabu Kurita of Japan blew our doors off last fall when he landed a 22-pound 4-ounce largemouth bass that tied the 78-year-old world record established by George Perry in a backwater south Georgia slough. California, Texas, Florida, Cuba, Mexico--those are the waypoints bass anglers talk about when the subject is world-record bucketmouths. But Japan? Japan is the place where fish with names like koi and ayu swim; where cormorants have better catch rates than Rapalas; where serving sushi is more common than catch-and-release. But the International Game Fish Association has put its stamp of approval on Kurita's place in the records book (technically tied with the Perry bass for all-tackle honors), and it's time to move on. So hitch up your Wranglers, grab your gear and follow us. There's still hope that an even bigger bass is swimming where we fish, and all we've got to do is throw the right lure in the right place at the right time. Once we have the tackle we need, our destinations plotted and our approaches mapped out, we're going fishing. Pictured Left:
Japanese businessman Akabishi Tesuma enjoyed bass fishing so much that in 1925 he stocked bass in Japan. His legacy was realized last year when Manabu Kurita tied George Perry's 78-year-old world record.
FISH THESE FIVE PLACES Largemouth bass can be found just about anywhere the water temperature warms into at least the 70s during part of the year, and where there's plenty of available forage. Though bass are not native to every country they inhabit nowadays, stocking programs have helped spread them around the globe. The following waters are our initial stops on the bucketmouth trail. 1) Lake Biwa, Japan ( pictured left )
This one is a no-brainer. The 165,000-acre lake northeast of Kyoto, Japan, gave up the record-tying largemouth bass last year. Manabu Kurita, who specializes in lunker bass, caught the fish on a live bluegill. Neither bass nor bluegills are native to Japan, but both were stocked in some of the country's waterways beginning in 1925. Kurita has caught other monster bass from Lake Biwa, including an 18 1⁄2-pounder that hit a big swimbait. Kurita says he has seen other 20-plus-pound bass in Biwa, too, so expect someone to open a lodge catering to American anglers there soon. And just in case you think catching the new world-record largemouth will bring instant fame and fortune, consider that it's not really happening for Kurita. Maybe it's the bluegill thing, and the fact that not much about his feat is marketable to American tackle companies. 2) Presidents Lake, AL
There might be better places to look for a world-record bass, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a lake that holds as many hungry lunkers as this one. The 75-acre Presidents Lake, as it's known, was built by BASS founder Ray Scott and is located near the central Alabama hamlet of Pintlala, not far from Montgomery. Presidents Bush I and Bush II have fished the lake, as have a few of the biggest names in bass fishing. Rick Clunn, widely regarded as the best bass angler of all time, caught his biggest bucketmouth ever here--it weighed 13 pounds 15 ounces--back in the '90s. If you're interested in fishing the Presidents Lake, it will cost you $1,950. That includes three nights' accommodations, all meals and two days of fishing on what is arguably the best little bass pond on the planet.
3) Dixon Lake, CA ( Pictured Left )
Japan is a long way to trailer a boat, which is why we'd stop in San Diego and fish Dixon Lake first. This 72-acre impoundment produced the heaviest largemouth on record, though it was never officially recognized and the angler who caught it, Mac Weakley, never applied to the IGFA for a record. The bass was said to have weighed slightly more than 25 pounds (a number of people witnessed the weigh-in), but the scales weren't certified, the fish was unintentionally foul-hooked, its length and girth weren't recorded and, finally, it was released. "Dottie," as the bass became known, has since gone to that Big Lake in the Sky. She weighed 19 pounds when a lake supervisor found her floating belly-up near the shoreline. 4) Lake Fork, TX
Although other Texas lakes, such as Conroe, Choke Canyon and Amistad, occasionally grab the headlines, Lake Fork still chugs along and produces more lunker bass than any other in the Lone Star State. The state record, which weighed a tad over 18 pounds, was caught there in 1992, and a bunch of Lake Fork bass are stacked in behind it. Thirty-five of the top 50 Texas bass hail from this 27,000-acre Sabine River impoundment northeast of Dallas. Before Florida bass were stocked in Texas lakes, the state record was about 13 1⁄2 pounds. Bass that size are almost routine at Lake Fork. 5) Castaic Lake, CA
Take Dixon out of the mix, and you have to like the odds that this 2,230-acre lake north of Los Angeles will produce the next world-record bucketmouth. Six of the 11 biggest largemouths on record were caught from the impoundment. Book a March trip if you're going to Castaic. On March 12, 1991, Bob Crupi caught and released a fish that was said to have weighed 22 pounds  1⁄2 ounce. That catch came a week after Michael Arujo boated a 21-pound 12-ounce lunker that California recognizes as its current state record. And on March 9, 2000, Crupi boated a 20-pound 1⁄2-ounce bass. Honorable Mention - Spring Lake, CA
Combine Florida bass, stocked fingerling trout and an environment in which there's practically no end to the growing season, and you have something that approaches Spring Lake. It was here, back in 1997, that a local fisherman named Paul Duclos caught and released a humongous 24-pound bass that made headlines from coast to coast.
Bass Capital? Take Your Pick
Some locales enjoy better fishing than others, and tourism promoters want everybody to know about it. For example, Crescent City, Florida, bills itself as "The Bass Capital of the World," presumably because of its proximity to nearby Crescent Lake. However, other Florida towns, including Palatka, Apopka, Belle Glade and Lake Wales, have staked the same claim. Likewise, Lake Okeechobee and Lake Walk-in-Water are also called the "Bass Capital of the World," as is the whole of Polk County, Florida. Elsewhere, Branson and Cape Fair, Missouri, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, maintain that they are the "Bass Capital of the World." Eufaula, Alabama, has modified its assertion somewhat, noting that it is the "Bass Fishing Capital of the World." What About Montgomery Lake?
The southern Georgia lake where George Perry caught his world-record bucketmouth in 1932 is best left to the past. A modern angler's first reaction upon seeing the lake might be, "No way." The heavily silted slough off the Ocmulgee River is more a hangout for gars and stumpknockers these days, though it still looms large in the pantheon of fishingdom. Pictured Left:
George Perry, 1932
Click on "Enlarge Photo" to see a full sized version of the table to the left.
THREE ANGLERS WE'D LIKE TO SHARE A BOAT WITH Eli Manning
Though he didn't lead his team to the Super Bowl this year, Eli Manning of the New York Giants is a Pro Bowler when it comes to fishing. As he proved during a "Battle of the Gridiron Stars" segment on ESPN a while back, the younger Manning brother is none too shabby on the water. Maybe he learned more than football when he attended the University of Mississippi. Big brother Peyton has appeared in more championship games than Eli, but we'd bet Eli could fish circles around the elder Manning and the rest of the Colts put together.
Bill Dance
Some guys from Memphis sing for a living, some fish. Bill Dance does his entertaining on the water, and millions of fans are glad of it. Small wonder that this affable Tennessean has had the top fishing show on television for so many years. Not only is he a great angler, but he makes you believe he would give you the first cast at the best spots.
Jane Seymour
"I really believe that fishing is an excellent way for families to spend time together. I know it's had a positive effect on my family, and I wouldn't trade anything for the time I spend with my husband and children fishing and boating," says actress Jane Seymour. Can there be any classier outdoor lady than Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman? We don't think so. After all, who wouldn't want a genuine Bond Girl (Live and Let Die, 1973) in the bow seat when the fish begin to hit?
Stock Up the Fish Box
Check the lineup of lures the pros use to catch most of their winning stringers in tournaments, and you might agree that it's more notable for what isn't listed than for what is. Topwater lures don't make the cut, for example, nor do "finesse baits" or the giant swimbaits that the guys in California and Texas sometimes use to catch monster bass. Sure, those lure types produce plenty of bucketmouths, but they're typically not the choices of first resort. Who knows what the most popular lures of 2010 will be? We've got a hunch that, although the brand names might be different, the basic lure types will be the same. What we do know is that the lures featured here were used to win tournaments, based on the results from recent FLW Tour and Bassmaster Elite Series events. It's a cinch that the Strike King Red Eye Shad that Kevin Van Dam used to win the Bassmaster Classic will make the list next year. Swimbaits
Aaron Martens Scrounger Head; Osprey Talon; Lake Fork Live Magic Shad
Jigs
Strike King Bitsy Bug; Football Jig
Topwaters
XCalibur Zell Pop
Soft-Plastics
Gambler Cane Toad; Berkley PowerBait Crazy Legs Chigger Craw, Mullet, Ripple Shad, Slim Shaky Worm; Lake Fork Baby Hyperfreak; YUM Dinger, Big Show Craw, Houdini Worm; Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw, Zoom Ole Monster Worm, Zoom Trick Worm; Strike King Rodent, Rage Tail Lizard, Baby Rage Craw, 3X Centipede, Coffee Tube, KVD Pro-Model Tube; Yamamoto Senko
Crankbaits
Strike King Series 6, Rapala DT Series; Norman DD22; Bomber Fat Free Shad; Lucky Craft Big Daddy Strike 3
Jerkbaits
Lucky Craft DD Pointer Minnow; Smithwick Rogue
Spinnerbaits
Strike King Premier Pro Model
Tie These Knots
Your lure is only as good as the knot that attaches it to your line. Here are three trusty twists. Strong - Improved Clinch Knot
(1) Pass the line end through the hook-eye. (2) Wrap 5 times around the standing line. Pass tag end back through the small loop and also through the large loop. (3) Tighten and trim carefully.
Stronger - Palomar Knot
(1) Double the end of the line and pass loop through the hook-eye. (2) Double the loop back, then make an overhand knot around the standing line. Pass hook back through loop. (3) Pull standing line.
Strongest - San Diego Jam Knot
(1) Pass the main line through the hook/lure eye. (2) Wrap tag end around the doubled main line 5 times and pass through the loop at the eye. (3) Pass tag end through the main line loop and cinch.
Dream Boats
George Perry no doubt would be flabbergasted by the rigs that bass pros use nowadays. These sweet fishing machines are equipped with speedy outboards, electric trolling motors and electronic gadgetry galore. Go ahead and feast your eyes on the 2010 Nitro Z-9 bass boat--the rig Kevin Van Dam used to win the Bassmaster Classic.
The Mad Dash: Loaded with multifunction gauges, a tinted windscreen and tilt steering, the Z-9 console is more 'Vette than boat. Among the features are an in-dash Lowrance HDS-7 fish finder with GPS chart plotter. Room With a View: In all, the Z-9 measures 20 feet 9 inches long and a full 8 feet wide--and comes with a custom-matched trailer.
Stowaways: Huge auto-illuminated storage areas include under-lid lure holders and organizers. When closed, the lids become casting decks that are bigger than most New York apartments.
Power Play: The Mercury 250 Pro XS OptiMax will get you to a hot spot before the other guys have even left the boat ramp, with a top-end speed of more than 70 mph. WARNING: Do not wear your fishing hat when the motor's running. Bring 'Em Back Alive: Advanced livewell systems mean nothing is lost at weigh-in. The Z-9 features two 20-gallon livewells.
A Look Aside
At its most basic level, fishing for a big bass is all about rigging and using the right lure, presenting it in the right manner and fishing it in the right place. Of course, it's that last part--knowing where there are bass to be caught--that baffles most of us. You can't see underwater…or can you? With the new side-scanning sonar technology available, it's possible to survey all water within casting distance and pinpoint the location of any bass that you want to go after. Being able to look underwater to either side of your boat is a huge advantage. That's what side-scanning sonar will do for you. It's a real time-saver, especially when you team it with downward-scanning sonar. And, of course, the top-end units have GPS, so you can mark any potential fishing holes for future reference. It's possible to locate literally all the bucketmouths within casting distance of your boat. Just as important, it also shows you where not to fish. Here are a few places to put this amazing new technology to good use. » Isolated pieces of cover along a shoreline, or around underwater humps and ledges
» Junctures where two types of cover meet and overlap, such as fallen trees within weed beds
» Gaps or openings in weed lines or places where the weed line tapers down to an underwater point
» Brush piles that accumulate at the upriver ends of submerged islands, or in front of and under docks
» Riprap banks where the rock extends into the water in uneven deposits The latest side-scan units made by Humminbird and Lowrance provide detailed coverage of everything to either side of a boat and, in the case of Lowrance's new DownScan feature, even under a boat. Compared with conventional downward-scanning sonar, side-scan is expensive. Humminbird's largest Side Imaging model, the 1197c (10.4-inch screen), retails for about $3,000 (humminbird.com). The 997c (8-inch screen) sells for about $2,100, and the 798ci (5-inch screen) sells for about $1,100. Lowrance's receiver module (LSS-1, about $600; lowrance.com) incorporates both SideScan and DownScan modes and ranges from about $600 to $2,000. Pictured Top:
Humminbird 1197c
Pictured Bottom:
Lowrance LSS-1
Flipping: (1) Let out the length of line you intend to use for your cast, then grasp line with your left hand. Swing the lure back, toward you, and in one fast motion, flip (2) in the direction of your target. (3) Release line and lower rod tip.
Pitching: (1) With the reel in free spool, let out a rod's length of line, holding the lure in your free hand. (2) Dip the rod tip toward the water and snap it at your target while letting go of the lure. The lure should fall silently into the cover.
Gear to Get
To watch Tommy Biffle pitch a soft-plastic to flooded cover, or Denny Brauer take apart a dock with his flipping technique, is to watch a craftsman at work. Biffle, of Oklahoma, and Brauer, of Missouri, are veteran pros and considered by many to be the masters of pitching and flipping, respectively. Tommy Biffle's Pitching Gear: A 7 1⁄2-foot medium-heavy Quantum Signature Series Rod, Quantum Tour Edition bait-caster (7:1 gear ratio) and 25-pound-test Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon. Denny Brauer's Flipping Gear: A 7 1⁄2-foot medium-heavy Rodsmith Signature Series Perfect Flipping Stick and an Ardent F700 Signature Series flipping and pitching bait-casting reel.Brauer prefers to use a 25-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon in clear water and 60-pound-test braid in dingy water.
Read Sign
The best fishermen don't just fish; they interpret what they see and hear around them. Here are some of the visible and audible signs that might help you catch more bass.
» Lots of shorebirds, such as heron and egrets, suggests plenty of baitfish. Find the birds and you'll find the fish.
» When current is running, an isolated eddy near the surface means there's some type of cover that might be holding a bucketmouth.
» Schools of shad along the shoreline of a cove in spring indicate that they're spawning and attracting bass.
» Minnows showering up from the water are a sure sign that bass are attacking them from below.
» Sudden bulges in the water here and there under aquatic weeds signal the presence of feeding bass.
» Wind-caused ripples that end in still water mark structure such as a drop-off or submerged weed bed--such borders hold bass.