Time for Spring Bucketmouths

Much hype has surrounded the new NRX fishing rods from G.Loomis since they were unveiled at the ICAST Show in Las Vegas last July, where they made such an impression on the show's media attendees that the rods took home the Best of Show Award. Since then the rods have been lavished with more praise and accolades, including the Innovator Award in Outdoor Life's 2011 Tackle Test. As Todd Kuhn wrote in the March issue: "The NRX is built using a high-modulus graphite and nano silica matrix resin system billed as better, stronger and faster than that of its competitors. Boil down the techno-babble and you're left with an incredibly light and sensitive rod with synergistic components and a great tactile feel."
As a member of the test team, I can attest that the NRX rods performed well on the redfish of southern Louisiana, but I'd yet to catch a bass with one. So when G.Loomis's Bruce Holt (pictured here) called to invite me to test his pride and joy on some whopper largemouths at a place called Dream Lake Lodge in Alabama in mid-March I leapt at the chance.
Dream Lake is a bit of a misnomer, as its lodge offers access to not one, but two different intensely managed trophy bass lakes, one 75 acres and the other 50. Paul Bracknell, along with his wife and son, started building Dream Lake I in 1990, and added Dream Lake II in 2000.
Both lakes feature dozens of sunken rock and brush piles; man-made ledges and ditches; and acres of flooded timber. Several underwater aerators, combined with abundant forage in the form of bluegills, coppernose bream, threadfin shad, tilapia and crawfish, provide the Florida and F1 bass comfortable surroundings where they can grow to incredible sizes. The lakes hold incredible numbers of bass in the 3- to 6-pound ranges, with more than 500 heavier than 8 pounds caught and photographed each year and many fish in the 10- to 12-pound range. The lake record, caught in 2006, weighed 14 pounds 6 ounces.
The lodge, situated steps away from the Dream Lake II dock, was built a decade ago and accommodates up to 22 people at a time. Belle and Betty, the camp's cooks, whip up enormous, delicious southern-style meals for lunch and dinner.
Bracknell employs more than a dozen 21-foot Stratos bass boats on the two lakes. They have been stripped down to accommodate anglers' freedom of movement around the boat. Each boat in powered only by a bow-mounted Minn Kota trolling motor. In the place of the outboard motor is a rudder, which keeps the boat running true.
Love is in the air in Alabama in mid-March, as exhibited by these big gobblers we spotted strutting their stuff across the lake's earthen dam on our first morning. In normal years, mid-March is a prime time for bass fishing in the South, too, as the big females move from the depths up onto their shallow beds to spawn, and males voraciously guard those nesting grounds. Due to a variety of weather-related reasons, the bass were incredibly difficult to pattern during our stay at Dream Lake.
West-central Alabama had received 9 inches of rain in the week and a half prior to our trip, and several cold fronts that had moved through the area in the days prior to our arrival had seemingly wreaked havoc with the bass' spawning schedule. So we searched high and low for them in our two days of fishing and threw almost everything in our tackle boxes to elicit a strike from one of the giants we knew swam in these waters.
Among the baits that worked best were shallow-running, square-bill crankbaits, soft plastic swimbaits, weedless-rigged Senkos and grubs and a number of different soft plastics rigged on shaky-head jigs.
This is one of the new Berkley Havoc baits, specifically the Skeet Reese-designed Pit Boss, rigged on a MegaStrike shaky head jig. This combination, flipped into the stained water mere inches from the shoreline and hopped slowly back to the boat, or cast and allowed to drop to the bottom of the 25-feet-deep ditches and retrieved slowly, drew strikes from several 3- and 4-pound bass. The Gary Klein-designed Deuce bait also duped several largemouths.
While we never tied into any truly behemoth bass that call Dream Lakes I and II home, we caught good numbers of mid-range bass and got a great sense of how the NRX rods perform on largemouths.
As I noticed during our Tackle Test back in October, the NRX rod is like an extension of my arm, delivering pinpoint casts to targets near and far.
Equipped with the now ubiquitous micro guides, the 7-feet 1-inch blanks we used in Alabama come in 2- (medium), 3- (medium-heavy) and 4-power (heavy) with extra-fast and fast actions. The rods aren't cheap, costing $475-$500 per rod, but for anglers who take their bass fishing seriously and demand perfection from their equipment, the NRX rods are no-brainers. Another point that takes the sting out of the initial sticker shock is that each rod is backed by the same limited lifetime warranty that longtime fans of G.Loomis rods have come to appreciate.
We had a few of Loomis' GLX crankbait rods on hand, too. These rods are incredible examples of innovative rod technology in their own right, and have gained an ardent following since their introduction several years ago. The most astounding thing about the NRX rods to me was just how much lighter they were--and more comfortable they felt--in-hand when I would pick one up after having cast the GLX for a while. Those who have fished the GLX rods for years might find that statement difficult to believe, so I encourage you to feel the difference yourself at your local sporting goods store.
Even if I had been lucky enough to entice a double-digit bass to fall for one of my offerings at Dream Lake, I don't think it could have given the rod as strenuous a workout as the big marsh redfish our test team caught with the NRX rods in Louisiana. Going head-to-head with a hard-charging bull red and witnessing the picture-perfect parabolic bend of the blank was all the proof I needed that these rods will hold up to the toughest fighting largemouth any angler might tangle with.

I recently tested G.Loomis' new NRX rods against big, mean Dream Lake bass in Alabama.