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Often based off a picture, story or a social media post the question arises, “Where did you catch that fish?” Good magicians and fisherman rarely reveal the secrets behind their tricks (or in this case spots). A trophy size bass for me is a fish over five pounds. In California, Florida or Texas a five pounder may not even raise an eyebrow or give you bragging rights for the day but for most anglers a “five” is the benchmark for bass. On a cold November afternoon in Missouri many, many season ago I set the hook on my first truly big bass. Oh sure I had caught hundreds of “cookie cutter” bass, 12-15 inches and an occasional three or four pound largemouth but nothing that I viewed a true trophy. Just at sunset, I was swimming a black jig trailed by a #1 pork frog and felt a steady tug, I slammed the hook into the jaw of a six and a half pound largemouth bass. By Missouri standards a rare fish, by my own account a giant. The bowl shaped lake, devoid of any visible cover and very little contour change didn’t boast of a diverse food base, essentially 85 acres of water with no wood, aquatic vegetation, over populated with stunted bass, blue, some crappie and channel catfish. The problems, heavy fishing pressure, over harvest, no genetically superior bass, and no hiding places for newly spawned fry to hide and a minimal amount of cover. Not exactly a bass haven and hardly bass heaven.

Flash forward a move to the Tennessee. Other than oceans, the Volunteer State has every conceivable type of water and multiple native species and a wide variety of transplants courtesy of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. At last count 315 different kinds of fish, all in one state. We have 29 major reservoirs, including highland reservoirs, expansive impoundments, smaller lakes, huge river systems like the Cumberland, Mississippi and the Tennessee, a one of kind naturally formed earthquake lake, Reelfoot, so many small rivers and creeks marked in red, that the state map looks like the bloodshot eyes of a substance abuser. There exists 19,000 miles of flowing water. Pick a scenario, standing timber, submerged trees, lily pads, cypress trees decorated with Spanish moss, limestone shorelines, shallow water sanctuaries and deep water dwelling spots, we got em’. What swims in these places, the short list is as follows, the three major bass types, largemouth, Kentucky spotted bass and the fierce fighting, frequent flyer smallmouth bass (including the world record), three kinds of crappie, channel cats, huge blues and flatheads, prehistoric looking paddlefish, bowfin (aka grinnel, mudfish, dogfish) bluegill, trout and sunfish of all types, sizes and colors. Walleye, transplanted, sturgeon, musky and stripers also are found in certain places.

All that being said, what does it take to produce big bass as well as other types of fish? Start with clean water. A few clues to the health of the water are some forms of aquatic vegetation. Water weeds are necessary for oxygen and also aid with natural filtration of water systems. Besides the health pluses pads, cattails, moss and natural grasses create hiding spots, comfort and ambush points. Wood is another helpful fish factor. A harbinger of algae to feed forage fish, minnows and others, wood is another natural hideout and ambush location. Combine weeds, wood and healthy water and the stage is set is for trophy time. A diverse food source is critical to the nutritional health and growth of any species. The lunch box of a largemouth or other fish could well and should include many kinds of minnows, frogs, snakes, many types of insects and anything that lives in or around the waters and will fit into their mouths.

Scientifically it’s proven that bass eat more shad than anything else but the fact is that is only because they are more available. The most favored item on the underwater menu is the crawfish because of the high energy and top of the line nutritional value it offers. The physical characteristics of bass are highly developed to make them superior predators. Camouflage coloration, swim speed (bursts of 15 miles per hour) and an expansive mouth that can swallow almost anything. The survival skills of a bass are basic. They have great eyesight. This assists them in recognizing food, danger and navigational paths. Big eyes set to the side make them an apex predator. The upturned mouth and a hinged jaw makes feeding easy from almost any angle. Equipped with excellent hearing, a lateral line that senses vibration and a very limited sense of smell bass get big by feeding often, avoiding danger, minimizing the length of the chases to eat and inhabiting the healthiest waters.

In summary, blue ribbon waters for bass would most likely fit into these categories, remote, little fishing pressure, catch and release practiced, waters that exhibit health, no contamination (making moving waters more likely) a diverse growth of aquatic vegetation, a variety of natural forage topped by crawfish, shad and multiple sources of large populations of nutritionally advanategous prey. Genetically it takes BIG bass to produce big bass, not necessarily Florida strain but not a bad option. The list of bass building factors also include highly oxygenated water, aided by vegetation, cover in multiple forms, deep water, minimally eight to twelve feet.
Find these spots, and you’re ready to launch your kayak into the magic waters I would categorize as blue ribbon bass waters. My personal experience with these theories was born out in Canada, Mexico, all across the United States, and even locally in many public and private well managed waters. Release almost all of your catches, harvest only the smallest of legal fish to eat and further manage the waters, and keep your secret spot a secret.