With Todd Barnes
Spring time fishing can be feast or famine. This time of year fish are constantly moving, and keeping up with them usually means staying ahead of them. General seasonal patterns may point you in the right direction, but, it takes the ability to read the current conditions and extensive trial and error to find the fish when the books cannot give you the answer.
I met up with Todd Barnes (President of Omega Custom Tackle) at 3:30 a.m. to grab breakfast and head out to Lake O located in central Illinois. I hopped into his Omega Custom Tackle wrapped Toyota Sequoia which towed a matching 21 ft. Triton powered by a 225 h.p. Mercury outboard. Off we went as we traded stories of big fish and tournament success.
We arrive at the ramp around 6:00 a.m. accompanied by an armada of tournament rigs ready to roll. A sizable tournament was going out that day which would later crowd up the 1,775 acre lake. With the boat launched and Todd Barnes’ Team Daiwa Zillion rod and reel combos laid out on the deck, we were ready to start fishing. Immediately, the trolling motor is in the upright position and the Humminbird Side Finder reads 72 degrees.
Baitfish are flipping all over the point so Barnes begins his search with a spook while I follow him up with a Lucky Craft RC 1.5 and a Derek Remitz Signature Series football jig. No luck here. As we move on to the next point, the sun begins to peek through the trees and Todd points out that the visibility of this normally clear lake is barely one or two inches.
I launch a long cast with the Derek Remitz Omega jig up shallow on the point behind a clump of grass. Before the Chobee colored football jig settles to the bottom a big bass annihilates it. She darts out from the cover and immediately starts stripping drag from my brand new Ardent XS600 casting reel. After a grueling battle, Todd lips the fat bass and heaves her aboard. The first fish of the day tips the scales at over five pounds as it is full of eggs and sporting a bloody tail. Not a bad start five minutes into the day. This was clue number one to establishing what is largely an undiscovered spring time pattern.
As we fished around the point with nothing more to add, Barnes decides to head back in to the cove to see if there are any fish back in the shallows like the first one on the main lake. About 2/3 of the way back on the last deep bank, a nice bass smashes the RC 1.5 right at the boat. The fight was on and the fish was pulling hard. I had only about two feet on line out so I disengaged the reel and slowly fed out more line. As the fish tired I brought it close to the boat and lipped it in. An easily recognizable post-spawn fish. With the second fish of the day over three pounds, we now had over eight pounds for two fish.
No more luck back in some of the fishiest looking cover in the lake. We tried spinner baits, crank baits, jigs and top waters. So Barnes turned the boat and headed back toward the main lake. As we arrived at the point Barnes picks up his Revelation swim jig. A bass smashes the 3/8 ounce black and blue Omega swim jig accompanied by an Okeechobee Craw Paca Chunk. He swings and misses. A few minutes later it happens again. Another couple minutes passes and it happens to me. Finally, down the inside of another flat main lake point, a nice bass inhales Barnes’ Omega jig. He rears back and his Team Daiwa rod buckles as his Seaguar Fluorocarbon straightens. After a short but intense fight he puts fish number three in the boat, 4 ½ pounds. Minutes later on the other side of the small cut in the point I put another 4 ½ pound bass in the boat on a similar Omega jig in Rapture color.
The sun is now up and the bite has slowed dramatically. We are still constantly getting smashed by bass on main lake points and Barnes made a final decision on what was happening. A spring time pattern that few people catch on to was in the works. We were catching late spring time spawners on main lake points. That is why we were getting so many bites but so few fish were inhaling the jig. And that’s also why the quality of the fish was so exceptional.
Continuing on with the pattern we were having a very difficult time hooking the short strikers. Barnes decided to swing the boat out off a long flat point and fish the drop off from 8 to 15 feet of water. Even though the water was very dirty from recent heavy rains, it was possible that the mud was only on the surface. “On a generally clear lake, even when it’s muddied up, the fish will relate to deep structure because that is where they normally reside.” Nothing more than some good rocky cover on this point.
Barnes heads the boat back toward the other end of the lake and decides to fish deeper on another main lake point. He ties on the 7/16 ounce Omega flipping jig in black and blue to attack this point. As his jig reaches the 10 foot depth zone, it gets heavy and he sets the hook hard. The fish pulls straight down then comes straight back up. He brings the fish close to the boat for me to lip. Another 5 ½ pound bass comes aboard.
As the sun is getting low and the day is drawing to a close, we continue our trek to the other end of the lake. The water on this side of Lake O has about two feet of visibility. Throwing his 7/16 ounce flipping jig again, Barnes starts to catch fish. A three pounder, a 2 ½ pounder, another four pounder, all of them on main lake points on the same jig. He is whacking fish right and left now, but the day has drawn to a close.
We load the boat and feel very successful for the conditions we were faced with. “Anytime the water muddies and you have the extreme weather this area has seen lately, add to that a blue bird day with only light winds, and you know it’s going to usually be a very tough bite.” We were very fortunate to be on a pattern nobody else on the lake had found. “This time of year most fishermen crowd the backs of the creeks and coves. When the main part of the spawn is over you will find late spawners on the main lake. To have them all to yourself makes it that much sweeter.” With our best five going over 23 pounds, we left the lake with smiles on our faces and tales to be told.