Dustin Schouest of Louisiana shares with us his tale of moving from saltwater fishing to bass fishing, and the lessons he learned along the way. These lessons offer great advice with as little bit of fun included.
My hair was graying more and more with every paddle stroke. Not from an advanced aging process brought on by exposure to a form of black magic (the local white mage had already cured the last ailment I had), but from the pressure I was feeling in the back of my mind. Conditions had been tough, that much was certain: water so hot swimming in it wouldn’t cool one off, wind blowing dirty, salty water in from the south, and rain making the water look like the most unappealing glass of chocolate milk I had ever seen.
I had recently taken a new job at the outdoor giant Cabela’s. When I talked to the hiring manager, and he heard how deeply I was involved in the fishing community, I was a shoe in. I started training the next Monday for the fishing department. But, the funniest thing about working up there is that my saltwater skills were dwarfed greatly by the passion that many of the Gonzales, La residents have for bass, sac a lait, and bream fishing. This is a subject in which I do not have the skills to pay the bills.
The best thing about working at Cabela’s with a bunch of awesome bass fisherman for coworkers (even high school and college bass fishing team members), is that I can learn, and bounce ideas off of them. From spot ideas to lure colors, they have been teaching me more and more about bass fishing. And now, I want to share some of my new lessons with you guys who may be making the change from salt to fresh!
Lesson 1: Lures Can Run You Broke When You Start Out
I looked at my credit card as I stood in the checkout line. “Now look here,” I told my card, “I know I have treated you badly in the past, I know I wasn’t always the best man, but, I need to ask a lot of you.” I gulped and looked at the bag full of plastics, hard baits, and terminal tackle. I then turned my eyes to the price on the card reader. “I need to borrow about fifty bucks for you.”
Bass fishing is like a poker game: you have a big buy in if you want to play competitively or seriously. Yes, sometimes you can use one particular lure for catching lots of bass, but, sometimes you need something with more flash or a different color in order to pull more lunkers from the water. And these baits aren’t always cheap. Gary Yamamoto’s Senko in various sizes can go for $5.50 all the way to $7.50 a bag. Spinnerbaits from companies like Booyah or Strike King can range from $3.99 up to $9.99 depending on what colors, blade rigs, or skirt style you want. The biggest cost maker in fishing are the hardbaits, such as topwater lures, crankbaits, and jerkbaits. I have seen Lucky Craft lures go for as high as $15.99 for one deep diving crank.
Now, there are always cheaper alternatives to them. Zoom plastics come in a variety of types, sizes, and colors for a very comfortable price, usually no more than $5.00 for a bag of 8-10 lures. If you like Senko type baits, Creme and various other companies offer alternatives that cost a little less, but may not have the durability of the Yamamoto brand lure. Come to hardbaits, Academy carries a brand called H2O Express: they are just as durable as the higher end lures, but, at a lower price point. Many outdoor stores (Cabela’s included) have nameless spinnerbait setups for less than $2.00, with every blade set up and color skirt you may need. I have caught lots of bass on these cheap alternatives.
With bass fishing, you don’t know what will work until you throw it hence why many people who get into bass fishing buy tons of lures at first. When I started getting gung-ho into this thing, I spent about fifty bucks on initial baits. I felt like I was in a Lifetime Network movie because I was so abusive to my bank account. Now that I have lures that I know how to fish and when to fish them, I can spend less and less on lures that I know nothing of.
Now, if you are looking for new lures to try, you can join a subscription service like Lucky Tackle Box or Mystery Tackle Box. For as low as $15.00/a month, you can get a box of lures delivered to your door that will vary in worth, but will always be right at or well above the price. This is a good way to find new lures and build confidence in brands.
Lesson 2: You Will Lose Lures On Everything
I wanted to scream, cry, curse, and kill. The awesome cheap spinnerbait (see Lesson 1) I had caught bass after bass on was caught on was hung up on a piece of braid that was wrapped around a stump and caught up in a huge mess of tree branches. I already hated braid, and this was just amplifying my detest of it. I broke off the monofilament I was using, grabbed both my rods, and walked off murmuring threats against the fishing gods. Not only had I lost that spinnerbait, I had lost a chatterbait to some cypress knees that had caught the hook, and a Texas rigged creature bait to an angry bass messing with a drag that was too tight.
Bass… Love… Cover! You will come to learn that quickly. Redfish relate to oyster beds and points, speckled trout relate to current and cuts in the marsh, and bass stick to any kind of branch, dock, pilling, or overhang like glue. In summer, when the water is so hot you can boil an egg in it, bass need to cool down, and shade is their version of our AC. Cover comes in many shapes and sizes. Overhanging trees, long docks, and downed logs create shade. Sunk tree branches or bushes create ambush points for everything from bluegill to bass. Rocks warm in the winter quicker than mud, and therefore can keep bass warm when the water chills to the touch. Nine times out of ten, you will catch a bass laying on some kind of cover.
And with cover comes hang ups. You will quickly learn Murphy’s Law when learning to bass fish: everything you can hook on, you will. A cast will go too high and catch the biggest and highest tree branch of an oak. Your crankbait’s treble hooks will find every twig on the bottom while you burn the thing along the bottom. And when you do finally hook that six pounder, he will find a dock pilling to wrap you up around. And that is not even counting user error. Having a drag that is too tight will break knots and stretched mono or fluorocarbon. A backlash makes weak points in line: a sudden jolt of a fish biting or even a hang up can break it. Knots will slip and you will watch ten dollar lures sail into the sunset and glint like something from an anime.
Which brings me to the next lesson…
Lesson 3: Negative Attitudes Will Ruin Your Enjoyment
I took a breath as I got in my truck, shaking my head. Yes, I did just lose twelve dollars’ worth of baits. Yes, I did lose a very nice fish the other day that would have tied or broken my personal best. But, I had to still smile. I put my Explorer in drive, and put on some upbeat power metal: this time, Kamelot. The worst thing you can do is dwell on mess ups. The regrets of a missed fish, lost baits, and broken rods can make an angler begin to regret ever getting into the sport. When I participated in military simulations (a whole ‘nother story), I saw many people have one bad experience and quit a sport that they sunk hundreds if not thousands of dollars into. This can lead to depression, something that can ruin a life.
Now, if you know my writings or know me personally, you know I have near chronic depression. And it took me a while to get over these failures and understand that bad things will happen in fishing. I went from cursing myself out and hating my skills to understanding that it happens. My father has a saying that I live by now: “It Is What It Is.” Things happen, and you have to deal with them. The worst thing to do is dwell on the bad things, and let that negative energy ruin the good things happening. Enjoy the time you have fishing. Enjoy the birds cawing and cooing in the trees. Enjoy the smell of the water. Enjoy the drive to and from the spot. And let the things that happened on the water stay on the water.
Lesson 4: Learn Any Way You Can
Allison, my girlfriend, asked what I was doing. I texted her back telling her I was doing my usual thing: watching YouTube. But this time I had a notepad and a pen on my lap. “Oh? Watching more video game streams?” She asked, knowing that I had been on a binge of watching a stream of the Super Nintendo classic Earthbound. “No. I’m watching a video about how to work a lipless crankbait.” Thankfully, Allison never once judged me on how I teach myself to fish.
Bass fishing, at least in my experience, has many more intricacies to it than fishing saltwater. While redfish may want a certain lure or color, bass may want a certain lure worked a certain way by a certain piece of cover during a certain point in the tide. Sometimes, figuring bass is like those math problems you see in cartoons: “If a train leaving Boston at 8am is traveling at 55 miles per hour, gives Johnny 5 apples, how many ducks are left?”
The best way to learn this is from time on the water. There is no substitute for it. But, sometimes we can’t always get out fishing. When you cannot, there are endless resources to help you fine tune your technique. One of the most innovative methods of luring now comes from YouTube. Channels like Flukemaster, Wired2Fish, or BassResource’s channel are made to teach anyone how to fish. These include tips on rigging lures, using electronics, and patterning bass. Then there are entertainment channels which also offer tips and tricks, such as LunkersTV, Jon B., and 1Rod1Reel.
For the person who prefers to read, there are books and endless forums and online articles about every subject available about bass fishing. BassResource.com has been around since before the Y2K scare, and offers decades of experience, as well as a very active and helpful forum. Magazines like Field & Stream put articles from their paper publications on their website regularly. And then there are digital books on Amazon Kindle or even audiobooks from Audible.com that are chock full of great facts and tips.
My personal favorite resource I have ever used has been a subscription to BASSMaster Magazine. BASS has been around since the 1970’s, and prints regular magazines sent to subscribers numbering in the hundreds of thousands. I had a subscription to this service when I was 10-12, and I learned so much from it. Sadly, I never was able to really test what I learned as I never had access to much fresh water. I had another subscription as I got older, and I keep the magazines in a special library that I will go back to whenever I want to learn more. With all these resources at your fingertips, you can learn anything about bass with a few clicks, or a few turns of a page!
Final Lesson: Become Confident With What You Have
“I want the best rod for the money, regardless of price!” The customer boasted. He had the look of an average angler, looking for good equipment he could trust. I brought him over to a stand of white and black Shimano rods, and began my spiel. “These Sellus rods are not expensive at all, and they are a great value.” I spoke, handling the rod and giving it to the guy. “What you don’t spend on a rod can be spent on a good reel, or even more tackle. The sensitivity on the rod is amazing, and I can fling a bass onto the bank with no fear of a breakage, and if there is a break on anything, Shimano has a one year warrenty that can fix it!” “Why do you like it so much? Its like $50.00, isn’t it crap?” I had heard that question a million times. “It may not be the best rod in the world or the most expensive, but I have confidence in it.”
You will hear the words “confidence lures” or “confidence gear” all the time. Confidence lures are the lures and techniques that you trust and that you like using. This is built up from experience. Maybe you like a certain spinnerbait color that others scoff at because you caught your largest bag of bass on it. Or perhaps you like dropshotting even in shallows because you like the action of the lures that you throw it on. If it works for you, just use it!
People are very picky on the gear that they use, and they are very loyal to their brands or styles. That is because those pieces of gear have proven themselves. I have a certain color worm that I have caught more bass (and more goggleeye as well!) than any other worm. Once you have lures or styles that you have confidence in, stick to them, and try to improve your use of them.
I hope that these tips and lessons help you get into the swing of chasing bass. Bass fishing is not the easiest kind of fishing to get into, but, it can be the most rewarding. You have to work harder for your fish, and it may humble you more than any other fishing. Be prepared for days of skunking, broken off lures, and missed fish. But, you will forget all about them when you catch a huge bass that you almost lost. You’ll forget all the trouble you may have had when you tell your fishing friends all about that last trip when you landed thirty fish in one afternoon.
Go out, fish, learn, and never give up!
About the Author
Dustin Schouest is a veteran angler from the small disappearing village of Pointe Aux Chenes, La. When not fishing, Dustin is usually found tying flies, editing video, or writing about his adventures from his Vibe Sea Ghost 130. He is a member of the Hook1 Fishing Team as well as a member of Team Filthy Anglers.