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Written By: Daniel O’ Sullivan, March 12, 2012
The spotted bass has fully entrenched itself in the minds of Western Anglers as a “go to” species when targeting patterns for reliability during a day’s outing or preparing for a tournament. Spotted bass have developed a reputation for being more compliant and more resistant to weather changes that push finicky Florida Strain largemouth or smallmouth bass into a negative mood.
Most bass anglers can recall catching plenty of spotted bass in the two to three pound range, however, most of those same anglers would be able to count the amount of four to five pound spots they’ve caught on one hand. What about trophy spotted bass? Most anglers, if they responded with total honesty would tell you that finding a six to eight pound spot often feels like probing the dark waters of Loch Ness in Scotland searching for the infamous “Nessie”. In a tournament the search can feel similarly unproductive.
For Bill Townsend of Redding, California, that futility is no longer the case. In fact catching big spotted bass has become quite a regular event, even in competition. Townsend has become proficient enough at finding big spotted bass that he has all but abandoned the largemouth bass population of his local lake, Lake Shasta, and says frequently that if he catches a largemouth, it is by mistake.
His approach is often uncommon. He is always aggressive in his attack because he feels his quarry is equally as mean spirited. Not that Townsend is a coarse person, he is in fact one of the industry’s most pleasant people to talk with. However, like any great athlete whose calm exterior hides the lion inside, there is more to Bill Townsend and it is evident when he picks up his St. Croix rods for a day targeting spotted bass.
“One of the biggest problems I see with most anglers is that they default to fish that cannot help them win a tournament,” Townsend said. “Eighty percent of the fish in any lake are fish that are smaller than two pounds, and will not help with the overall weight of the bag if winning a tournament is the overall goal.” Townsend has won six boats in competition on Shasta Lake and each of them has been earned by employing his own special brand of spotted bass tactics.
Townsend tends to go against the flow of the average angler, more often than not Townsend can be seen with his Ranger positioned in the middle of nowhere, a location most fisherman tend to avoid. He found this unique approach by accident one windy Shasta day in April. “I was throwing a Bomber Long A Magnum jerkbait when the wind blew my cast far away from where I had intended to cast,” Townsend related. “The gust of wind created a big backlash in my reel, and while I was picking out the bird’s nest, several huge fish attacked the lure as it floated there.”
Townsend said that he started wondering why those fish were there, and went around the lake trying to duplicate the results. “I kept throwing that Magnum Long A, and knew I was onto something when I hooked into a huge largemouth,” not the result he expected, but confirmation nonetheless. “That fish had that seven inch bait so deep in its mouth I couldn’t see it, and after the fish wrapped up in some stick ups, I tried to work her free for 45 minutes before she finally broke off.” The experience was enough to keep Townsend chasing those open water fish. He has developed a strategy that has produced multiple victories, and a bunch of giant spotted bass.
“I really start each day with a go for broke approach,” Townsend exclaims. “However, you have to remain flexible and learn to follow the fish.” Townsend says that a two week period in January taught him a lot about versatility. “I fished one tournament and threw jerkbaits to get the last check, but went back the next week in a Pro Am and threw worms on the same water in the same weather conditions, and weighed 18 pounds on day one and 15 pounds on day two to win the event.”
Townsend suggests that anglers employ a strategy that provides them a chance to experience success on a higher level. “Try to be very aggressive. Don’t start out just trying to get a limit,” Townsend suggested. “Spotted bass are hostile predators, and they attack with ferocity, so employing reaction methods often triggers that response.”
An example of that approach played itself out last January when Townsend spent two January days throwing spinnerbaits at Lake Shasta in snow storms. Townsend caught two limits of spotted bass that each totaled close to thirty pounds. “I was throwing 3/4-ounce Booyah spinnerbaits in less than 10 feet of water to get those limits. The bite only lasted two days, but those days were a lot of fun.”
Typical days on the water starts with Townsend sliding his Ranger in the water, firing his E-Tec engine and begin using his Humminbird 987 to find the thermocline, especially in cold weather. “Once I find the thermocline, I can pretty much tell where the activity levels will be on the lake that day.” He then starts shallow and as fast as possible before deciding if he needs to target the thermocline. “Cold early mornings are all about swimbaits these days, and I will tie a Huddleston or an Osprey on my eight foot St. Croix Swimbait rod and look for big bites.”
While he is looking for the big late winter swimbait fish, he always has two other St. Croix rods at the ready, a seven foot Elite spinning rod and Avid reel spooled with six-pound test Maxima Fluorocarbon line for a darterhead with six-inch Mother’s Finest worm rigged on it. He will also tie a 3/4-ounce Booyah jig and Yum Gonzo Grub on a seven foot Elite trigger stick paired with a Shimano Curado 200 spooled with 10 to 12 pound Maxima Fluorocarbon line. His approach is different with each bait.
“I go through the area with a swimbait and look for followers or bites,” said Townsend. “If I call some fish to the swimbait but don’t connect, I pick up the jig and quickly work it through the water column, if those fish don’t respond to the jig, then I go to the worm, which I will work fairly slowly.” Townsend finds that by keeping moving he can quickly cover water and find aggressive fish.
“I try to keep in mind the aggressive nature of spotted bass, and I make quick hits in an area without staying in one place too long.” If that approach proves unsuccessful, he uses his Humminbird Fishing Systems to locate deeper schools of fish and targets them with the jig and darterhead worm. “I still move as quickly as possible, but it takes longer to fish deep water, so I try to save that approach for last.”
Townsend has worked long and hard to develop his spotted bass strategy, and it is one that has produced a wide range of success for him. He believes that if anglers remember to cover a lot of water and learn to read the structure they can improve their spotted bass success. “Spotted bass are different creatures, and while they can be difficult to corral from time to time, when all things come together, they can be a lot of fun.”
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