Bass fishing can be a shallow pursuit


January 16, 1991|By PETER BAKER

If you watch the Bill Dance show, Woo Daves says, you will have heard that 95 percent of the bass in a given lake or river are in deep water.

"But if you will notice," Daves says, "which way is Bill casting? Toward the bank, because he knows the 5 percent that are in shallow water want to bite -- and those are the ones I want to fish for."

Fishing for bass in the shallows is something Daves, of Chester, Va., has done very well for the past 20 years. Last weekend, Daves was among the professional bass fishermen who spoke at Bass Expo '91 at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

"Sometimes I go out and catch fish deep," Daves said Friday evening to perhaps 250 fishermen gathered for a session on shallow-water worm fishing. "But the majority of fish caught are in 5 foot of water or less -- and the majority of tournaments are won in 5 foot of water or less.

"I know what I am telling you works. It is my bread and butter. It is what allows me to go fishing instead of maybe going into an office and working a 9-to-5 job, which I wouldn't like anyway."

Daves' preferences run to medium-heavy spinning rods 6 to 6 1/2 feet, straight-shank hooks, eighth-ounce bullet weights, quick-retrieve reels and 6-inch artificial worms.

"Rods are just like golf clubs," Daves said. "You are not going to see Curtis Strange play the Skins Game with one golf club. He's got to have a driver, a putter, a wedge. Same thing with fishing. You need a rod for each technique you use . . . .

"For example, I don't want a stiff rod on a crankbait because it's got little, bitty treble hooks and a stiff rod can rip the hook out of the fish's mouth. For crankbaits I am going to fish a limber rod that gives a whole lot and acts like a spring. For worms I want a good, stiff rod with plenty of backbone."

A spinning reel with a high pickup ratio also is crucial in Daves' scheme of things, so that the lure may be retrieved quickly and recast.

The monofilament Daves uses is 10- to 12-pound test, unless fishing conditions dictate a change.

"If I am fishing clear water, I am going to drop down to 8-, maybe 6-pound test," Daves says. "If we get in really dingy water with real heavy cover, I'll go to 14-, maybe 17-pound test."

For hooks, Daves prefers 2/0 or 3/0 Eagle Claw straight shank hooks in stainless steel. His reasoning is that bent hooks put twist in the line and spin in the worm as it is worked across the bottom.

"A 2/0 with a straight shank also will be three-eighths of an inch shorter," Daves said. "And the longer hook you have, the more action that it is going to take away from the worm."

The slip sinker Daves prefers is an 8-ounce, with up to a quarter-ounce used on areas of the Potomac River where there is a lot of current.

"But I want to get down to the lightest sinker I can, most of the time," Daves said. "Sometimes I have to go down to a sixteenth, and I have been known to fish a worm with no sinker in clear water when the fish are in real shallow. But use an eighth-ounce sinker for a worm 85 percent of the time."

In putting together his worm rig, Daves inserts a toothpick at the head of the weight and breaks it off before tying on the hook. Once the hook has been tied on (Palomar knot), the sinker is brought in tight to the hook and a 6-inch twister worm, which has been rigged Texas-style.

"Now I'll tell you why I left the toothpick in there," Daves says. "If I just leave this sinker loose, sliding up and down the line, I come up over a limb and my sinker falls on one side and my worm falls on the other and I got problems.

"If I come to a vee on a tree limb, my sinker rides over it, but the worm actually hangs down beneath the limb and I am hung up even though my hook is not snagged or anything."

With the sinker tight to the hook and held there by the toothpick, Daves says, "the rig slides right over because everything works together."

"I haven't met a man yet who could catch a fish on a worm when he is sitting in bottom of the boat retying his line or when he is hung up. You will hang up 85 percent less by pegging the sinker."

There's an old saying that you're not going to catch fish if you don't hang up, Daves says. What that means is that you're not putting your lure into the thick cover where the fish are.

Putting the lure where the fish are, Daves says, is a simple matter with a underhand cast of no more than 20 feet, and often less. "You don't have to be exact in worm-fishing," Daves says, "you just have to be close to the target."

Daves suggests that the best way to practice is to put on a worm and go out in the back yard and cast to different things. Don't set up a cup or a bucket, because making the same cast repeatedly is not a true simulation of what will be expected while on the water.

"So cast around at everything," Daves says. "Try not to knock the windshield out of your husband's car or don't hit your wife's best flower bed and bust it up. But practice simple, underhand pitch casts to different things and you will be able to get the worm to where you want it."

Once the rig is together and the worm can be placed close to the fish, the obvious question is what does it feel like when a bass hits the worm.

"Don't worry about it," Daves says. "We want to learn what it feels like when there isn't a fish on, because that is what we are going to feel most of the time.

Learning that feel requires the proper manipulation of the worm, a process of raising the rod tip one or two inches and then letting the worm settle back toward the bottom. Raising the rod tip two inches will move the worm about six inches through the water.

"And that's what you want to do," Daves says, "move the worm along slowly, crawl it across the bottom.

"Then, one time the worm is not going to move," Daves says. "Maybe it was caught on a limb or a log -- could have been a 10-pound log sitting in that hole. So when the worm isn't moving up and down, set the hook."

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