During the final Bassmaster® Elite Series tournament of 2013 in Detroit, Mark Davis finished second with a four-day catch of 76 pounds, 13 ounces, all from a spot on Lake Erie the Yamaha Pro had never fished before. His secret? Fishing slowly and thoroughly.
“What I did on Lake Erie to find those fish is the same thing I do on smaller bodies of water, and what I tell fishermen in my seminars to do wherever they’re fishing,” Davis emphasizes. “Start by looking for a place where the bass will spawn. This is true anytime of year, for both largemouth and smallmouth, and it’s easy to do.
“Lake maps as well as your GPS system will show you these types of places. For Lake Erie smallmouth I looked for shoals, or underwater rock piles and ridges, but for largemouth you can find large coves that offer shallow water and cover, along with access to deeper water.
“The fish you’re looking for may not necessarily be on these shallow flats or the rock piles, but they won’t be far away. I simply use these types of places as starting spots when I’m looking for fish.”
“While maps and electronics may show a general area, they rarely reveal any specific details of the features that lie below the surface,” continues the Yamaha Pro, “so the only way to learn those details is by fishing.” This is exactly how Davis approached other tournament stops during the 2013 Elite season, including Bull Shoals, West Point, and the Mississippi River.
“Once you choose an area like this, which I think needs to include not only shallow water but also nearby deep water, as well as some type of cover like rocks, wood, or vegetation, I think the key is fishing slowly and thoroughly to learn it. Some of these spots may be 100 or 200 yards long, and on a really big body of water like Lake Erie, the smallmouth shoals may be half a mile in length. You have to fish these places carefully because the bass may only be using a small part of it.
“I have made the mistake of pulling up to a spot and fishing for an hour without getting a strike, then leaving, only to learn later I didn’t fish carefully enough and went right by a school of bass. Smallmouth, especially, do not always bite all day long, so you have to stay long enough and fish the water thoroughly.”
Another part of locating bass is figuring out how they want a lure presented. In deeper water like Lake Erie, Davis used a drop shot rig, but on other lakes he frequently changes to a crankbait because he can cover more water faster. Sometimes bass want a lure moving slowly along the bottom, other times they may prefer a lure moving more erratically. In deeper water, drifting a lure may even be more effective than casting.
“You can literally be all over a school of bass and still miss them by a mile,” laughs the three-time B.A.S.S.® Angler of the Year and 1995 Bassmaster Classic® champion. “That’s why you can’t let yourself get discouraged if you do go for an hour without getting a strike.
“Keep trying different presentations and trying to learn what’s down there on the bottom. Always remember that bass like cover and deep water close to shallow water. The advantage that starting close to a shallow spawning area offers is that you can easily keep fishing your way into deeper water, and eventually you’ll find them.”
Davis’s method of starting with a spawning area and then exploring outward from there has worked successfully for him for more than two decades on lakes throughout the country. He’s a six-time winner in Bassmaster competition, and in 2014 he’ll fish his 17th Bassmaster Classic.®
“When you look out over a big lake you’ve never seen before, it can be an intimidating experience,” admits the Yamaha Pro, “so having a basic starting point is really an important confidence builder. I like spawning areas because they’re the one place I know bass use, and normally they aren’t that far away. All I have to do is take my time and fish carefully.”