Let the birds show you the way to hot schooling bass action.
The sun had not yet crested the ridge over the Tennessee River when my buddy, Jim Rhodes, Regional Manager for Sportsman’s Warehouse, his son Trent, and I piled into my Key West Boats center console bay boat and pointed it upstream. It was early April, and I was hopeful I’d be able to put them on fish. The tailraces below Nickajack Dam can almost always be counted on to produce good number of fish.
Although the day would eventually warm up to around 70 degrees, in the shadows of the mountains the early morning boat ride was pretty nippy. Our discomfort was forgotten, though, when rounding the last bend into the sunlight, the dam came in sight. Up ahead the sun-washed sky was filled with white seagulls wheeling and diving over the boils. We knew we were in for some hot action.
When you see gulls ganging up on the rivers and lakes, get over to them. There’s some kind of game fish underneath cutting up the bait. Injured minnows struggle to the top where the birds pick them off. The feeding bird are like a big “Fish Here!” arrow — a sure sign there’s game fish down below. Rig up a BoJoLe Flutter Spoon and go in there and catch them. Sometimes you’ll find bass — largemouth, smallmouth, and spots — or you’ll get into schools of white bass, yellow bass or stripers. You never know what you’ll find. This morning white bass made up the bulk of this school.
Ravaging bass were rounding up big pods of shad and trapping them against the water’s surface. Then the rapacious bass ripped through the tightly-packed shad, wreaking mayhem and scattering them in all directions. With each attack the water churned with frantic shad. We cast past or right to the heart of the action, let our BoJoLe Flutter Spoons drop to the bottom, and then retrieved them slowly beneath the killing zone. When the action was fierce, it wasn’t uncommon for all three of us to get our rods bent at the same time — usually with big ol’ “boat paddles” as folks hereabouts call the big, slab-sided white bass.
In the turbulence below a dam, shad movement isn’t nearly as obvious as on quiet lake coves; but gulls weaving back and forth overhead have no trouble picking out the flash of their silvery sides as they surface. When bass constrict the school and drive them upward, the birds swarm in for a top-water feast.
The best lure I’ve ever fished under the birds is the BoJoLe Flutter Spoon. Fishing it is simple; just cast out, let the bait drop to the bottom, and slowly pull it straight it back to the boat. Another effective technique is to reel it across the surface to the shad and then kill the retrieve and let it flutter down like an injured bait fish to the big predators lurking below.
Shad seek protection in the anonymity of the school. Usually the entire mass of baitfish moves in precise formation; no individual shad makes itself obvious. But when one is wounded or disoriented, it is out of synch with its pod. It becomes a target. Mimic that. Move your BoJoLe along, jiggling the tip of your rod to make it look like an injured minnow staggering along. That’s all it takes for a bass to zero in on it.
Spinning gear is optimum for this kind of fishing. We used 7-1/2 foot medium light rods. Our reels were spooled with 8-pound test green or gold mono — highly visible to us, but not to fish in the clear-to-dingy water.
When the birds back off, either their crops are full or the fish have backed off on the pressure. White bass action will often come and go. They’ll feed like crazy and then go lazy on you for a spell. You just have to wait on them. The bass are still there, though, and can be enticed to bite. Just let your Flutter Spoon drop down and speed up your retrieve. Fish react to the fast-moving lure as it flashes past whether they’re full or not. If you’ve been getting bit on a 3/0 or 4/0 Flutter Spoon, downsize to a 2/0.
This day the most productive lure was the little #2 chartreuse spoon with its red hook and a red throat. Any time you can put a red flash on your bait, it’s a deadly combination. Chartreuse seems to be the best color for fishing schools. You’ve got thousands of little silvery shad down there, and a gold or silver flutter spoon isn’t so obvious. The chartreuse color stands out best, presenting a clearer target. With a bait like this, if a bass sees it, it’s going to grab it. The BoJoLe is the only lure I’ve ever seen that emulates a little shad or minnow any way you want to use it.
Let me give you a useful tip: rig up several BoJoLe spoons before you head for the river. Get a slab of Styrofoam. Rig up you BoJoLe’s with a two- or three-foot shock leader between the lure and swivel. Stick the lure’s hook in one end of the Styrofoam and wrap the leader around the other end. Use an upholstery pin to secure the swivel in place. That keeps all your rigs straight so they won’t tangle up on you. Then, when you break off, you’ve got them ready to fish.
School fishing is just hard to beat. When you follow the birds to schooling fish like this, it’s often non-stop action… Bam! Bam! Bam!
This is not real complicated fishing; just get in close to the killing field, throw your lure in amongst them, and hang on.
So when you fish, keep your eye on the sky, and let the birds point the way to some fast action.
“The Ol’ Stump Bumper”