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Written By: Cal Kellogg, January 22, 2014
A while back I had the privilege of spending several hours on the water with master swimbait angler and self described trophy hunter Matt Allen. The insights he shared with me were informative and often surprising, but the learning didn’t stop there.
While I found the wisdom he shared with his words to be enlightening, watching him in action was really invaluable in terms of the tidbits I gleaned relating to presentation and overall strategy.
“I like fishing for big bass. I like big fish,” exclaimed Allen, as we endured the early morning chill that enveloped Lake Pardee. So I asked him to define what he considers a “big bass”.
“For me when bass get up to about 7 pounds they are nice fish, but for me to call a largemouth big or giant it’s got to be 10 pounds or more,” said Allen.
“So how many big bass do you get with your swimbaits in a given season and what are your favorite waters for targeting trophies,” I asked.
“Depending on the year and the conditions I encounter I’ll typically catching anywhere from 5 to 10 bass that are over 10 pounds annually. Clear Lake, Lake Berryessa and the Delta are my favorite place to hunt for trophy largemouths. For trophy smallmouths Pardee is my number one choice,” Allen related.
Interestingly, Rancho Seco didn’t make Allen’s list. Why is that interesting? Well because it is the place where he caught his biggest bass so far…a 17.2 pound leviathan!
“If you were going to share one piece of advice with guys that want to get into swimbait fishing what would it be.”
“You’ve got to understand that catching trophy bass with swimbaits is really pretty easy. You don’t want to play what I call the big bait head game of being afraid to throw big baits. Even if you personally haven’t hooked a big bass on a swimbait, you know that big bass will eat them, so be patient and try to fish with confidence,” replied Allen.
Next I asked Matt to share his favorite swimbaits with the readers of the Fish Sniffer. “Huddlestons and BaitSmiths are both go to baits for me. When I’m fishing places like Clear Lake or the Delta, I also like to throw Osprey baits.”
When I asked Matt if he thought there was a world record smallmouth in Pardee, things got really interesting.
“I don’t think it’s here. I know a lot of people would like it to be here, but you’ve got to consider the numbers. The record is nearly 12 pounds. Including the record fish there have only been three fish over 10 pounds recorded nation wide and none of those 10 plus pounders came out of Pardee. For there to be a 12 in Pardee logic tells us that we would be seeing 10’s and maybe 11’s. Jumping from the high 9’s to 12 just isn’t likely,” said Allen.
“I also don’t think there is a record largemouth in Northern California,” Allen continued. “Once again, we’d all like a world record to come out of a Northern California lake, but the numbers really tell the story. If you look at San Diego lakes, most of the big bass lakes down there have lake records that exceed 19 pounds. Up here most of the records stand at 17 to 18 pounds. For a 20 plus pounder to be present you would assume that we’d been seeing more 17’s and 18’s and at least one or more 19’s. Until we start seeing 19’s and 20’s I’m not going to start believing that there is a 22 plus in one of our north state lakes.”
When you are fishing with large swimbaits, you’re targeting large fish and that calls for stout tackle. Knowing this I was still shocked by how heavy Matt’s gear is, but when he explained why it made perfect sense.
Matt’s reels are spooled with 80 pound braid tipped with 30 pound monofilament leaders. I commented that I don’t even use 80 pound braid for sturgeon and he replied that the line strength isn’t because of the size of fish he intends to catch.
“The baits I use are heavy and they cost about $40 each. I use heavy line to prevent losing baits if I make a casting mistake or backlash a reel. The 80 pound braid gives me a lot of extra strength and the section of 30 pound mono provides stretch that helps to lessen shock. Making a casting mistake, snapping your line and watching a high dollar bait hit the water and sink can really break your heart, so I try to use tackle that prevents that from happening while still drawing as many strikes as possible,” quipped Allen.
In watching Matt fish I quickly concluded that his primary focus is on fishing as many high percentage spots as possible in a very methodical way. At Pardee, we hit one point after another. In most cases Matt maneuvered the boat up to one side of the point where it entered the lake from the shoreline. He would make a few casts toward the bank along one side of the point. Then he would cast across the point a few times before crossing the point with the boat and working toward the bank on far side.
Once he’d probed all the shallow water thoroughly he then turned his back to the bank and made fan casts exploring deeper areas of the point.
“At times the bass will come up and take a shot at a swimbait in open water, but most of the time you are best off if you can work your bait near the bottom. That’s where most of your strikes will happen,” tipped Allen.
We all hear that big bass want a big meal that they have to expend minimal energy to catch, but I don’t think most of us really take this consideration to heart in presenting our baits. Sure it might seem to us that we are fishing slowly, but do the fish consider our offerings to be moving slowly enough?
One of the things that really struck me when watching Matt work his Huddleston was how S-L-O-W-L-Y he retrieved the line. He moved the bait just fast enough to make the tail work and not one bit faster. At one point I put on a hard swimbait. He told me that bait looked good, but that I had to move it way too quickly to make it swim…
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