You can expect full details, video/film and more photos to back this subject up, however, those things will take me much more time. Fishing bigbaits in shallow grass is like everything else an ongoing discussion. I’ve just arrived at Lake Seminole, and the shallow grass and bigbait assault continues. I’m a bit in a holding pattern on some video production stuff, trying to find my path on some directions and paths to take with various projects and pursuits that will remain private for now.
My mental preparations began for Okeechobee this past summer, when sitting and talking with Mickey Ellis for 3:16 Lure Company. I was reminded of some simple lessons and things I used to know. Line thru swimbaits, in particular, can be fished in shallow grass really well because they tend to swim high in the water column, and I knew that coupled with braided line, I could keep those baits even higher in the water column, literally on or just below the surface. Braided line adds weedlessness, trust me on this, its a combination of buoyancy and ability to snatch your bait clean.
The other preparations I had for Okeechobee came from reading the Steve Jobs Biography this fall. Laugh if you will. You ready? “Simplification is the ultimate sophistication” was the quote. Leonardo Da Vinci is the source of the quote, but Steve made me aware of it (along with a few other tidbits of Da Vinci wisdom). Let me attempt to walk you thru this. When you simplify your bigbait approach on a foreign lake or foreign conditions, you need to start with SOFTBAITS. When I assessed what baits I’ve caught the vast majority of fish on, it was clear to me that softbaits are what get bit more often, under most conditions. Of course I had my Triple Trouts and 22nd Century Bluegill on, but unless they are killing your softbaits in shallow grass, they probably aren’t going to kill your faster swimming and moving hardbaits in shallow grass, either. Forget the trout eaters here, we are talking shallow grass fishing, in less than peak heat season. With all the challenges of getting on a bigbait bite on tournament day, the one thing you can do, when conditions present themselves is keep is soft, stupid.
I had a phone conversation with Steve Pagliughi (“Urban”, is his online handle) in November. Steve is a Huddleston guy and a 3:16 guy. Steve and I have never met, never fished together, and just had a conversation about bigbaits and fishing. Steve implored me to take a look at the 3:16 Rising Son Jr. He told me the bait just flat out gets bit. Excellent, that is what I needed to hear, along with his other tidbits of insights about Huddlestons, grass, and line thru swimbait approaches. I don’t pretend to be a ‘know it all’ and find myself laughing at people and fisherman who take that approach. The most talented professionals I’ve ever been around have some common traits, and at the top of the list is humility. Being human and consciously recognizing your human flaws means you are aware that you cannot know everything. You cannot be master of all. You have to leave yourself open to continually learn, make adjustments and keep an open mind and mix the new things you learn into the pool of wisdom and experiences you have, and adopt/apply new things accordingly. California, the Bay Area in particular, excels in an open minded approach to everything. People seek out diversity and different because they know it ultimately enriches them. When you take the approach that you ‘know it all’ or otherwise close your mind to things because they are ‘different’ or don’t come from the same mold you came from or come from outside your world, you stop LISTENING. Folks may hear all and think they know all or are aware of all, but unless you really listen and process the information and take the time to do so, you aren’t really knowing everything. You are just hearing it, and it goes into the bucket of clutter along with everything else we are exposed to in today’s connected world. You don’t know everything, and even if you did, you cannot apply it in real time or in appropriate time. I really appreciated my conversation with Steve because it was so on time, and so honest and something I really enjoy, learning something new, especially in the world of bigbaits. Just hearing Steve’s confidence and experience with the Rising Son Jr. and some of his Huddleston applications got my head right well in advance of leaving for Okeechobee.
The Rising Son Jr.
When you take a look at the Rising Son Jr. it looks like you’d expect a line thru swimbait with a boot tail. Here is what you may not immediately grasp. Notice, there is no ‘hardware’ in the line-thru. There is no metal involved. The bait is 100% soft plastic with the 3:16 Line Thru block glued under the chin/throat. This makes the bait extremely buoyant (it damn near floats). Buoyancy equates to ability to fish the bait over and thru super shallow grass, which is perfect for Okeechobee. Also, buoyancy equates to greater ability to stall (Rate of Stall) the bait and keeps the bait overhead longer. This is a key point to understand, especially at Okeechobee, where you’re targeting fish that are “about” their beds. Big females are rarely locked on the bed. When they are, you sight fish them. Most times, they are ‘about’ their beds, meaning, you want to swim your bait over the bed, putting your bait in their nursery, and keep it there, swimming along, for the longest amount of time possible. The idea being, they aren’t biting out of hunger, they are biting because Mother Nature and natural processes dictate that anything a bass can fit in its mouth will get eaten if it spends time where it shouldn’t during spawn time. Your bait is seen as a threat or an intruder or something that needs to be taught a lesson. Some baits move out of the nursery too quickly, and aren’t the best choice (ie, fast moving hard baits). Buy yourself some 3:16 Rising Son Jrs, and get to work. These things get bit, they catch big ones, and they catch the medium sized ones really well too. Stay tuned, more to come on this bait.
Gear for the 3:16 Rising Son Jr:
Rod: G-Loomis 965 BBR
Reel: Shimano Calcutta 300 TE
Line: 65# Power Pro
Trap Hook: One 1/0 Owner ST-36 harnessed to a #4 Owner ST-66 (when in doubt, fish the stock hook provided, it works great, I just like the insurance of a second stinger back further in the bait. Stay tuned, more to come on the trap hook setup).
The 3:16 Sunfish/Bluegill
So, you might be wondering, when did you throw the 3:16 Bluegill or Sunfish (same bait, two color options, both of them excellent) vs. when did you throw the Rising Son Jr? When I first arrived at Okeechobee around Christmas time, the water was approx 13.75. When I left Okeechobee in Mid February 2012, the water had dropped below 13.25. Half a foot on Okeechobee is significant. Falling water on Okeechobee is a chronic problem we face each winter. As the water falls, it creates less and less swim lanes to throw baits in. The grass starts topping out and you better be on your game to keep you bait up and out of the grass while fishing. The 3:16 Sunfish/Bluegill is not as buoyant as the Rising Son Jr. and it tends to fish a little deeper, so as the water level dropped, I had fewer and fewer places to fish this bait effectively. I found that Okeechobee bass really hated bluegill and sunfish baits swam over their beds/nursery areas too. Bluegill/Sunfish tend to be an enemy of bedding bass because they eat the bass eggs and/or the bass fry. Bass love to eat bluegill/sunfish, and it’s honestly something I’ve never committed that much time to. I get asked all the time, what bluegill bait do your recommend? Now I have an answer, because I committed a ton of time to learning the bait and getting familiar with it. I really hate recommending baits or tackle without having any experience. Expect more to come on this bait too. Need a bluegill bait? Fishing around bedding fish? Throw a 3:16 Bluegill or Sunfish and see what happens.
Gear for the 3:16 Bluegill/Sunfish:
Rod: G-Loomis 965 BBR
Reel: Shimano Calcutta 300 TE
Line: 65# Power Pro
Hook: Owner ST-41 Treble Hook 1/0 (no trap, just single hook, no rings, just direct tied to hook)
I’ve written and filmed plenty about the 6″ Weedless Trout, the Grass Minnow and Weedless Shad, its about time to shed some light on the 8″ Huddleston Deluxe Trout on Okeechobee. I wasn’t fishing the Rainbow Trout color, but I’m sure it would work. Of all the generally available colors of the 8″ Huddleston Deluxe, I’d pick the Golden Shiner or Hitch Color to start. Understand, you need to be prepared to fish both a ROF 5 and ROF 12, so have 2 rods ready. I fished the ROF 12 with just the single top jig hook, because with braided line, it fished extremely well in the grass and could be snatched clean. The ROF 5 was fished with the “Southern Trout Eaters” Huddleston Rig, and I loved that the ST-66 Owner Stinger Trebles matched and handled the braided line very well. I fished the 8″ Huddlestons on the outside grass edges, edges of lilly pads, edges of Kissimmee Grass, edges of reeds, and over top hydrilla. The bait fished pretty darn well. Depending on wind and depth and amount of water I had to work with, would depend which ROF of Huddleston I’d fish. When you lob cast a bait that weighs almost 5 ounces, its going to sink down at least 6″ or so when it hits the water at the end of your cast. So as the water was falling on Okeechobee, again, it became harder and harder to fish certain areas without constantly being mucked up in grass. Even with braid, 400 TE reels and a stout 8 footer, you cannot snatch clean from super thick hydrilla and pads from the outset of your cast. So, fishability at times was a challenge, but not impossible. It can be exhaustive fishing, like when you’re fishing a buzzbait and really working to keep the bait on the surface 100% of time, getting it running right just after it hits the water from the end of your cast. I didn’t catch lots of fish on the 8″ Huddleston, but the ones I caught were STUDS. The bites were awesome too. Just crushed the bait. Looking forward to getting back there and working on this bite more. Again, stay tuned, more to come on 8″ Hudds in the grass.
Gear for 8″ Huddleston Deluxe (ROF 5 & ROF 12):
Rod: G Loomis 966 BBR
Reel: Shimano Calcutta 400 TE
Line: 80# Power Pro
Trap Hooks: None on the ROF 12, just use the top jig jook. On the ROF 5, use the Southern Trout Eater Huddleston Rig.
Okeechobee is such an awesome place, I miss it already. I just love the warm winter weather, the fishing, the tournaments, the Tiki Bar and the entire Roland & Mary Ann Martin Marina & Fishing Campus, and shallow grass. Okeechobee was the first place I fished after resigning from corporate life on Dec. 31 2008, and my first week on Okeechobee in early January 2009 almost killed me. I wrecked my boat once, got lost a couple times, got eaten by mosquitoes , and couldn’t buy a bite, but my how things have changed. I settled down and got right. Three seasons later, I’m finally putting together a bigbait bite, and gave ’em a run at the FLW Tour and Everstart with the bigbaits. Didn’t quite pull it off perfectly and have a lot of room for improvement, but I sure enjoyed progressing and taking bigbaits to the shallow grass of Florida.