For Yamaha Pro Cliff Pace, fishing transition zones, those places bass stop to feed and rest while en route to spawning areas, proved to be the key in winning the Bassmaster Classic® on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake in late February. During the three-day world championship tournament, Pace caught 14 bass weighing a total of 54 pounds, 12 ounces.
“Even in the 44 degree water we encountered at Grand the bass had started moving toward shallow spawning flats, but they don’t make the move from deep water to shallow all at once,” the newly crowned champion explained. “They stop at different places along their route, and those were the places I fished. Because it was still early in this pre-spawn season, I concentrated on the places where I thought the bass would be stopping first.
“Basically, I looked for areas near the mouths of large coves and tributaries where steep vertical banks transitioned to a shallower, flatter bottom. These were primarily places where a creek channel swung close to the shoreline to create the steep drops, then swung away to allow the bottom to flatten again. I caught my fish in these flatter areas in water less than 10 feet deep.”
When bass make these types of migrations, they do so by swimming up the deeper channels. The shallow areas become natural staging places because of the availability of food, since baitfish also follow these same creek channels. Some bass may even spawn on these shallow areas, rather than continue moving further up the channel. The immediate proximity to deep water, however, provides more stable water temperatures during this time of year, as well as a safety zone if needed.
“Some of the places I fished were 100 yards long, while others were much smaller, depending on the route of the creek channel itself,” continued the Yamaha Pro, “but all had gravel bottoms, which also helped attract bass.
“A number of competitors fished the first points leading into tributaries from the main lake, as well as secondary points in the tributaries themselves, and they also caught fish. All of these are the types of places to look for this time of year when bass are moving shallow.”
The cold water temperatures forced Pace to use a lure he could fish slowly along these gravel bottoms, so he chose a ½-ounce football head jig he could crawl through the gravel; the more rounded head design in these types of jigs help prevent snagging in the rocks. It usually took him an hour to cover a hundred yard stretch, even though he was fishing shallow water.
“In cold water, bass are not nearly as active as they are in warmer water, and they don’t feed as often or as long,” he pointed out, “so timing became extremely important. I never did actually determine a specific feeding schedule on any of the seven or eight different places I fished. On the second day I fished one of my spots four different times and finally caught a bass there on my fourth visit.
“That’s how slow the fishing was. We were all just fishing for eight or nine bites a day, so we generally went several hours between strikes. I was just fortunate to catch some larger bass, including one over six pounds and another over seven on the second day.”
On the final day, the Yamaha Pro caught one bass each on his first two spots, then fished more than four hours before catching two more. After bringing in more than 20 pounds on each of the first two days, he only caught four bass weighing 11-8 the last day.
“I was really afraid I’d lost my chance at winning,” the Yamaha Pro concluded, “but fortunately, my closest competitors also had tough fishing days. I think we were just about two weeks too early to take advantage of what will probably be some of the best bass fishing of the year at Grand Lake. As the bass continue to move toward shallow water, and as the water temperatures continue to warm, they’ll become more aggressive in their feeding and everyone’s catch rate will increase.
“Less than a week after the Classic, an angler caught a 12 pound bass there that will probably become the new lake record.”