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Getting Started in Bass Fishing
By Paul Crawford

Out here on the Internet, we exchange a ton of good ideas between people of similar interest. Most of the dedicated discussion or topic boards are filled with folks who passionately love the subject being discussed, and Bass Fishing is no exception. But we do have new folks come in to join us who are not as experienced in the subject, want to learn about it, and often get frustrated or confused when passionate experts start debating minor details or the merits of advanced and expensive gear. It's to these relatively newcomers to whom we're addressing this article. If you're just getting started in fishing, or feel like you are, then This One's For YOU.

Since you are interested enough to be reading this, I'll assume you're currently doing some amount of fishing on your own, (or at least intend to), and familiar with the basic rod and reel. We'll kind of take it from there and look at the various steps of involvement from your first artificial baits up through your first boat or two, and maybe even your first tournament if you get that far.

Why Fish?

I can think of thousands of reasons to fish: getting outdoors, enjoying wildlife, the excitement of the chase, the mental puzzle of understanding the fish, and later competition and comradeship. Virtually none of these reasons have anything to do with Bass Masters or money. If you have visions of taking up an easy sport and running off to make a living at it, you're probably better off to set your sights on the NBA or the PGA Tour, and more than likely a better chance to make it. Tournament fishing has become a part of the sport, but only one part and not everyone needs, wants, or likes it. If you're getting into fishing just because of tournaments, you're very likely to be disappointed.

Most bass fisherman I know come from an inside job, (not necessary, but an observation.) They either sit behind a desk or work indoors and rarely see the sunshine other than weekends. An unusual number of them are designers, engineers, or other such "professional puzzle workers." They like mental work and are good at it. They bring that same analytical thinking, (some say just "anal"), to their hobby. Just about all bass fishermen like the outdoors, love watching wildlife, have the patience of Job, and much rather accomplish something in catching a fish than actually landing one.

That last point seems peculiar but is none the less true. Bass fishing has very little to do with actually catching bass, at least what you would think of having a fish on the line. Turns out bass fishermen do a whole lot more fishing than catching. So if dinner is on your mind, you probably want to look at easier prey. Very few times will you find yourself "on fish." "On Fish" means you can land 1 legal size bass every hour or so. Chances are pretty good it's closer to 1 fish a day rather than 1 fish an hour. Sure you have the occasional great day where you catch 4 or 5 an hour, but that's one day in 50 or 100 for most fishermen. Unless your lake is a bass factory, you'll spend a lot more time looking for fish than catching them. So, if you're taking up bass fishing, you'd better like to watch birds and squirrels because you're going to see a lot more of them than you will bass, at least for a while.

Now, this is not to say it's boring. There are days when you have a wonderful time and rather hope the fish don't interrupt you. But this is about catching bass. When you do lay into one, it's an adrenaline rush like few others. The excitement of a big bass on the line, especially after all the work you've invested in getting him there, makes for racing hearts and sweaty palms. It can make you giggle like a teenage girl or want to cry like someone ran over your puppy depending on the outcome, and sometimes both. Most bass fishermen agree the absolute top of the line is fishing top water lures. To work a top water for an hour or two with out reaction then, out of the blue, have a giant fish blow up on it like someone threw in a bowling ball is a thrill like no other. If that doesn't get your attention, then you don't have a pulse.

Your First Equipment

Unless you're independently wealthy, you start off fishing on the bank, not a $25,000 bass boat. All of the rest of your equipment, your approach, and your expectations must adapt to that fact.

Now, understand before we get started here we're assuming you're pretty much stuck on the bank. This suggested equipment list and approach will give the bank fisherman his best shot. Oddly enough, I wouldn't necessarily recommend starting off for bass. A black bass is a member of the Sunfish family which places them along with crappie, perch, and sand bass, all of which should be your first targets. Many of the other members of the family also prefer the same habitat and forage as the black bass, and when getting started, you can use the practice.

The first thing you'll need (other than a license) is a rod. We've got articles out here on specialty rods and your local tackle shop will have a bewildering array of rods of every size, weight, and price, which for you is merely interesting. For general purpose bank fishing, it's hard to beat a medium length, medium action spinning rod, (yes, for you purists, a spinning rod.) There is a raging battle amongst the more experienced fishermen on just what roll a spinning rod plays in bass fishing, which for you, again, is merely interesting. After a while, you'll look at a spinning rod perhaps with contempt, certainly as a specialty, so why in the world would you start with one? It solves a number of problems for you getting started. First, it's pretty easy to use. Unlike bait casters, you'll find you can cast easily, even into a wind with a pretty light lure. Second, it will throw lighter lures than your typical bait caster and getting started small and light lures will be the ticket. Third, when using modest size baits, it will throw them a mile. After you get into this a while, you'll find long casts, far from being an achievement, actually causes several problems. But for getting started, it's something you'll likely want in your tackle. Fourth, a relatively short spinning rod will work pretty well as long as you stick with the lighter action rods. You're going to be fishing around shore cover which normally translates into avoiding limbs, cat tails, the occasional rock bluff, and all of those other things that will interfere with your back cast. When fishing in tight quarters, a short spinning rod will allow you to fish where a bait caster only makes you look for another spot. Since good spots are hard to come by, you'll want to take full advantage when you do find one. It also turns out one of the things you'll look for in a good bank is some interference. The same thing that thwarts most fishermen with also thwart most other predators, a fact that doesn't escape the fish. And probably the last good reason is a fairly good spinning outfit is quite a bit cheaper on average than the same quality bait caster. For getting started, low bucks is a plus. Expect to pay around $40 for a good quality spinning rod, and about the same for a good quality entry reel to go on it. I'd look at about a 5 ½ foot rod that is rated for about 1/8 oz up to 5/8 oz lures, give or take 1/16th.

The line you choose, like many other things, should be relatively inexpensive, because you're going to be making some mistakes early. One of the knocks on a spinning reel is it must be nearly full of line to perform properly. So, first good snag you hit on which you bust off 20 or 30 yards, it will be time to respool when you get home. Also turns out spinning tackle is relatively tough on line since the very nature of the spinning bail will tend to put some twist in the line. And even though it's more rare than with bait casters, the first time you start reeling and it leaves a loop out the front of the spool, you'll find out spinning gear will back lash after all. Combined with the fact you're fishing around shore cover that will beat up your line pretty well, you should be getting the idea line is something to change out every couple of trips. For general purpose use with smaller lures, I'd try around 8 lb test. No reason at this point to buy the copolymers, fused, or braids. Stick with the fairly low cost standard line, Stren, Triline XL, or Excel. All will work just fine for getting started and are easy on the pocket book.

Now that you've got a rod and reel, time to pick a few lures and something to put them in. Remember we're going to be bank running here, so no need for a suit case full of deep running lures to use once a season.

Oddly enough, let's start with the tackle box. I'd recommend one of the small "pocket" tackle boxes, about 8" long, 4" wide, with storage on both sides. This little box will hold at least ½ day's worth of lures, can be slung on your belt out of the way, is light to carry, and will limit our lure selection. Should cost substantially under $10 and will serve our purposes well. There will be a selection of different size trays available. You'll want the one with the larger size trays, adjustable if you can find one.

While we're in the accessories department, find a small hook sharpener, preferably one you can store in your tackle box. Most all of your hooks will need sharpened, even right out of the box. We use the "thumb nail test" to tell if the hook is sharp. Lightly drag the point of the hook over your thumb nail at about a 45 degree angle. If it tries to bite in and stick, it's sharp, otherwise, it will need some sharpening. For hand sharpening, we normally use the sharpener on the two upper and outer sides and flatten out the bottom side of the hook. Imagine a triangle arrowhead and you're getting the idea. Even when you're fishing with a hook you sharpened before you started, check it every once in a while. Those weeds and wood you're dragging through will do an number on a point.

Basic Lures

You'll quickly learn there is no magic lure that catches fish all of the time. You'll need a few different lures depending on where you're fishing and the mood of the fish that day. After you're in this awhile, you'll collect a huge assortment of lures that worked just great for a day to two on one particular body of water. I've got a few hundred. But for getting started, we can pick out 4 or 5 that will work most of the time in most of the water you can get to from the bank.

First stop will be the pan fish department. Pick up two Beetle spins, one of the larger models and one of the mid-size models. Both can be the standard Black/Chartreuse color with the small silver blades. These will be your "bird dog" lures, or the lure you use to search new water. This little bait has several advantages for you in addition to the fact it will catch anything that swims. You can fish it a number of ways and it's a down sized version of a larger bait you'll use later, the spinner bait. The trouble with the regular spinner is it covers more water than you need to from the bank and it's a "power" bait, or a bait for fairly big and aggressive bass, something you only occasionally run into. Later on when you start fishing from boats, the spinner bait will replace your Beetle Spin in most situations, but for now, use the down sized version. For warming or cooling water, in the spring and fall, it will work well retrieved fairly quickly just under the surface. And occasionally, it works just chunkin' it out there and bringing it back with a steady retrieve. But most of the time, you want to "feel" the bottom with it. Retrieve it just fast enough to keep it off the bottom. With a little practice, you'll be able to feel submerged weeds, stumps, or rocks as the bait bounces off of them. This little thing is practically snag proof and will give you a lot of practice in "seeing the bottom", something that will become extremely important later.

Next over to the hard bodied lure department. You're looking for a very old lure called a Midge-ORena. You may have trouble finding it in any except the best stocked stores, but it's worth finding. Like anything else you have trouble finding locally, you can always turn to Bass Pro Shops which is the largest fishing tackle retailer in the world. The phone number is easy to remember, 1-800-BASS-PRO. They don't carry everything made, but they are way closer than anybody else. If you're going to get into bass fishing, get on their mailing list. Anyway, back to the Midge-ORena. You want the 3/8 oz size in a shad pattern. This lure works great as a top water or just under the surface. It throws a mile and has rather smallish hooks so it comes through cover well. Twitch it on a slack line, and it will kind of dip and pop right back up, great for working slow around isolated stick ups. Twitch on a tight line and it will act as a fairly good chugger, making a splash in the water then setting still. Use the chug to call them in stained or dirty water. With practice, you can get a good chug and hardly move it at all. The kind of lure you can work all day in a coffee cup. Works on top the best when worked slow. Crank it in with a slow retrieve, and will sway slowly just under the surface. A fast retrieve will make the bait go unstable and dart all over the place under water, staying less than 3' deep or so. It's a great little all around bait will catch the biggest bass cruising the shallows. Use it for serious hawg hunting in the spring, fall, and early morning.

While we're there, we'll pick up another hard bait that's the same thing but different. Get a medium size Rapala minnow, silver with a black back. This is another lure that works great as a top water twitched around emergent weeds or isolated cover, but needs calm water and pretty clear as well to work the best. Twitch this one and it will dart down just a touch, then pop back up to the surface, hardly making a ripple. Very subtle and non-threatening to the fish. It also works great as a hard jerk bait, (see the Hard Jerk Bait article in this section for more information about that one.)

On the way over to the soft plastics, you need to pick up some worm hooks. Get the Owners 2/0 Offset Worm Hooks. These are pricy, but will be well worth it. Fortunately, we're not going to go through too many of them. Expect to pay close to $4 for a package of 7. These are cutting point hooks, no sharpening needed and you can tear up the point even trying. If you look at the point under magnification, it looks for all the world like a little razor point hunting arrow. These hooks are extremely sharp, which we will need, and are well worth the price for our application.

Now to the soft plastics. Ignore all of the hundreds of sizes, types, brands, and colors of plastic worms. You're looking for soft jerk baits. Find Lunker Lure's Slug-O. Most of them will be the big 7" size, but you're after the smaller 4" model. Try for Silver Shad with a Blue Back. Don't take them out of the bag and put them in the tackle box to get ruined. The bag is the best place for them and stick the whole bag in your pocket. These will be your #1 option for sticking bass. One of the larger bass I've ever caught, (right at 13 pounds), came on this bait in 2' of water. You'd like to fish these either really fast or really slow, and very little in between. Get the Soft Jerk Bait article in this section and read it ignoring the equipment check stuff and trust me you have the right rod and size of bait for what you want to do.

That's plenty to get started with. Even buying very good quality gear, you should be out of there with change from a $100 bill. Other than line and replacing lost baits, you should be ready for the season. As you get better, (or bored) with these lures, broaden your arsenal with small tube jigs, (you'll want HP High Performance Hooks for those), and maybe a few small plastic grubs on 1/8 oz jig heads. Ask the tackle store for instructions on rigging and fishing these. The only other thing you'll need for your tackle box is a small cheap pair of nail clippers for cutting line, (get them at the drug store, there is no such thing as cheap clippers at the tackle shop.)

A couple of things to not buy. Don't worry about fish attractants yet. Don't start any bad habits by using snap swivels, just tie directly to your line, (swivels not only loose fish by breaking at inconvenient moments, but kill the action of most small baits.) Forget the crank baits and big spinner baits because they are good for cover large areas of water, but from the bank, you aren't. Don't worry yet about worms, jigs, or other bottom bumpers, their time will come and you don't have the right rig for most of them. Wait until you get out on the water before you worry about fishing deep.

Bank Locations

Before we get into the particulars of where to fish from the bank, a couple of general notes. When fishing from the bank, you'll need to be quiet. That doesn't mean you can't talk, it means don't stumble around on the bank and make a racket. A bass has an extremely sensitive lateral line which he uses to detect prey (and your lures) along with potential predators, of which you're only one. You're stomping around on the bank sounds like bombs going off to the fish and he'll make a quick departure to some other area of the lake the first time he "hears" you coming. Along the same lines, if you're fishing clear water, wearing a red sweat shirt probably isn't the smartest thing, (unless it's deer season of course.) Although a bass can't see through refraction like some fish, he'll still likely notice that unnatural color flashing around near the surface, so greens or browns are the dress code of the day.

Bass relate to cover, or someplace to hide. Find good cover and you're likely to find at least a few fish hanging around. Cover can be weeds, stumps, pilings, rocks, anything a fish and use to hide in or around. Something that casts a shadow is always nice if you're a fish, (they lurk in the darkness and attack things blinded by the light.) A deep water escape route is always welcome. Even though you find yourself constantly struggling around shore cover, you'll find in most waters, there isn't all that much cover actually in the water.

Another thing to look for is some type of current. Unlike a lot of other fish, bass don't generally hang around directly in the current. Bass like to suspend beside cover that breaks up the current and simply nab anything floating by. Eddies are always a magnet for bass and a good eddy can hold several fish. It's not necessary to have a constant flow like in a creek or river, a current caused by the wind will work in still water. This should tell you given a choice, you want a strong wind to be blowing from one side or the other rather than at your back or in your face.

Now the following list is not meant to be all inclusive, but should give you a pretty good start. Look for other locations as you gain experience, but if you happen on one of these, don't overlook it.

Rip Rap - Probably the single best shot you have at fishing even with the boaters is around heavy rip rap. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's the large chunk rock used to prevent erosion around roadways, bridges, and dams. What you see above the surface, a jumbled pile of rock with holes and crevices all through it, normally continues under water. If it's a bridge, (very common around lakes), then you'd like to fish the corners on the down current side, where the current is sweeping free food to the fish waiting next to the current. Your Beetle Spin or Slug-O should work great all day, but don't overlook top waters early, late, or if the day is overcast. Cast out into the current and let it sweep the bait down to the fish.

Boat Docks - Almost heaven if you're a bass. Lots of overhanging shade from the dock, some pilings or at least anchor lines to guard your back, and an almost unlimited supply of easy food hanging around for the same reasons. Few dock owners will let you fish from a dock any more, but most marinas don't care if you fish from the bank behind the dock. Target the corners and any piling rows you can cast to. The Rapala is an old favor around docks. With a little practice, you'll be able to skip your Slug-O up under the dock just like skipping a stone across the surface.

Boat Ramps - A normally overlooked place with little above the surface to suggest it. Everyone assumes, (incorrectly), that all of the commotion of boats coming in and out will drive away the fish. Actually, the fish get use to it and there are several very attractive reasons to stick around. By sticking around, you should remember most smaller tournaments release their fish right at the ramp and some percentage of those fish simply take of residence right there. The ramp itself is a deep smooth surface normally with a lot of algae on the lower portion which means minnows there to feed. Speaking of minnows, bass are the only thing released at the ramp after a day's fishing. And there is normally some rip rap around to keep the ramp from eroding from waves and wakes.

Power Dams - Another rip rap stop with a lot of current when they are making power. There are often lay downs and snags just below the rip rap line which shouldn't be overlooked. Again remember to fish out of the current in any eddies you can find. If there are back water areas like canals or such leading off the main channel, a swift current can load these places up like you won't believe.

Creeks and Rivers - So, if bass avoid current, why look at flowing water? That's easy, it makes finding the fish predictable. Quietly stroll along the bank and fish current eddies behind points, lay downs, channel turns, etc. Remember the old adage, still waters run deep. If the current seems to die out in an area, chances are it's a deep hole in the river channel, not a bad spot to spend a few casts.

Stock Ponds and Strip Pits - There are a remarkable number of small bodies of water that receive relatively little pressure. These waters are normally too small to launch a boat in yet hold a surprising number of fish, sometimes BIG fish. Remember to ask permission to fish before doing so and clean up after yourself before you leave, (that way you'll be invited back.) For strip pits, always try to figure out where the old road ramp led down into the pit. That ramp is a dynamite spot and you can often cast out to the submerged ledge on the far side of the ramp that could hold a number of fish.

Getting into It

If you roam around on the bank long enough, chances are you'll run into a day that too warm, and the water is too inviting, for you to stay out of it. Time will have come for you to explore wade fishing. Now there are a few areas of the country, and lots of bodies of water that are unsuitable for this. Anytime you go into the water, there is always an element of risk. Wading takes some amount of common sense. Not only are there always the deep holes and ledges waiting for the unprepared foot, but broken bottles to step on, old fishing or trot lines to get tangled in, rocks that give way under pressure, muck bottoms that can suck you down to your neck, and all sorts of other surprises. You'll catch more fish by moving slowly and quietly, and careful movement can also save a pleasant afternoon from turning into an unexpected bath. And please have enough sense that if lightening is in the area, get out of the water.

Depending on water temperature, wading could require anything from an old pair of sneakers to a fully insulated set of waders. My personal preference is less is better. I'll use waders only if I have to and then a light as I can get. If you do use waders, realize that if you do this long enough, eventually you're going to step on slime covered rock and take a quick dip. The only things you can do is: make sure you can swim; make sure you know how to get out of your waders in a hurry if necessary; keep a sense of humor when it happens; and maybe keep an old towel in the car to dry off you and the contents of your tackle box.

As soon as you start wading, you're not only closer to the fish, but able to cast to places next to heavy bank cover that you couldn't before. Off shore weed beds are now something to look for instead of avoid. And the biggest difference is you now have unlimited room for your back cast. You could go ahead and start looking at a bait caster now, but I'd probably hold off for a while yet. You're still not mobile enough for area coverage lures like Rattle Traps or Spinner Baits, nor are you likely to have much need of more structured oriented bottom bumpers like plastic worms or jigs. My number one wading lure is your old standby 4" Slug-O. Fishing a Slug-O slowly around available cover goes at just about the right speed for thorough coverage during wading.

Depending on what gear you have stored in the garage, wading can open up a whole new world. If you're so inclined, wading is the prefect time to use a fly rod. Your trout rod will work, but if you really get into this, about an 8 weight is right for large mouth. Bass Poppers and small streamers work well. I tie up some little red ants on #16 hooks that I catch perch on just about every cast if I'm in the right spot, (use sink tip line for the ants.)

There is one other place you can go here without a boat, and that's tube fishing. The old "belly boat" is an option for those that have very limited storage space, only fish small waters, or on a budget such that a few hundred dollars might as well be a million. You can buy these from a variety of sources, (Bass Pro Shops again for one), and spend from under a hundred to close to the price of a small boat, depending on the features and strength you need. When I was a kid, I use to make them out of tractor tubes, a little rope, and a piece of 2 x 12. Not very comfortable, (and certainly not something you'd like to use a crank bait around), but effective and practically free. You'll need to pick up a cheap pair of diving fins, (flippers), in order to get around. It's most inadvisable to try it with them. On of the great joys of tube fishing is hooking into a big fish and letting him pull you all over the pond during the fight. It's a great joy unless he wears out or gets off when you're right in the middle of the pond without your flippers. You can paddle around with your arms, (in fact it will become normal), but it's certainly not the preferred method of propulsion. And make sure you sit down far enough in the tube. Tipping over in a tube, particularly in waders, goes past ruining your day. It's down right dangerous. Although you no longer have to worry about stepping off in a deep hole, wrestling around and tipping over or getting your feet tangled may get you into something you can't get out of, literally. With common sense, it's a tremendous way to spend the afternoon and puts you in touch with the fish better than any boat.

If you are tubing, consider yourself a small boat skip on down to the more advanced tackle and techniques.

Getting On The Water Instead Of In It

If you enjoy bass fishing and have access to water over a few acres, then sooner or later you'll get the urge to buy a boat. This is certainly the biggest commitment you've so far made to bass fishing and therefore you first real opportunity to screw things up. Your first boat will be your greatest source of pleasure and frustration, often more of the latter than the former. You can tie up anywhere from a few hundred dollars to around $40,000 with another $35,000 or so for a towing vehicle. If those upper numbers seem ridiculous now, believe me when I say if you stay in it long enough, you'll find yourself trying to fit them in the budget. Although I have seen some folks, (with more dollars than sense), jump straight into the professional Cadillacs, I can't urge you enough to make all of your learning mistakes with a small boat. There is a tremendous amount of assumed knowledge in owning, maintaining, and operating a big boat, and I don't know of any other way of gaining that knowledge other than experience. Do this one right and it will lead you down a life long path of enjoyment. But I've seen more than one aspiring angler give up the sport entirely because they couldn't cope with their first boat.

The next few statements are going to be very odd, and you'll certainly find those that disagree. But since I have to put my name on this article (and they don't) this is going to be my best advise on the subject.

First, stay away from used fishing boats, particularly used bass boats, like the Black Plague. An inexperienced owner with a used bass boat is the world's quickest ticket to Bass Fishing Hell. With any boat, you'll find there are an amazing number of things that are attached or go into it, all of which tend to break just about every time you put it in the water. That's why you get the old adage "a boat is a hole in the water you pour money into." Used fishing boats normally have a large number of things like pumps, aerators, electronics, cables, and such which constantly need repair and maintenance. Without the necessary attention, they will break just sitting on the trailer. You're probably not yet at the stage where you need most of this stuff and you'll find your weekend hobby is fixing the boat instead of fishing out of it. A good used boat, particularly from a friend where you know the history, is an excellent option for the next step or two, just not for the first one. Stick to worrying about fishing for a while and worry about boat maintenance in a year or two, (you'll want a bigger better boat by then anyway.)

Your first boat should be small, light, and not, (let me repeat that), NOT have a gas motor on it. You're going to have plenty of things to worry about and learning to be a 2 cycle mechanic should not be among them. Gas motors are used to get you to where you want to fish, and with a small boat and a little home work, you can slip it in the water where you want to fish in the first place. Once you're fishing, a gas motor, (and tank, and hose, etc.) is only expensive extra weight that is in the way. For bass fishing you want an electric trolling motor, (and oddly enough hardly anyone uses them to troll), and that will be all of the power you will need.

Depending on budget, a new or used small boat can come in many forms. Even for the top of the line, it should be difficult to tie up $1,000 in your first boat. A canoe is a very good option, as is a 10' or 12' flat bottom john boat. For those more committed or with a better day job, those pontoon style 1 or 2 man mini-bass boats really are all they're cracked up to be. Regardless of style, make sure to check the weight rating on the mandatory safety plate attached somewhere on the hull. You'll need a capacity of at least 100 pounds more than you weigh, (batteries are heavy things.)

Next you'll need your trolling motor. You want a 12v motor, (small boats rarely have room or capacity for 2 batteries), and the cheaper transom mount is all you need, (the big retractable brackets are used on the glitter boats.) Buy about as much power as you can afford within reason, (the 42 lb thrust will quickly drain your battery and just about put your small boat on a plane, not necessarily a good thing.) The $100 low end version will work for most applications, but it's hard to have too much available power if you find yourself in trouble with unexpected wind or current. One thing to look for, (which most of them have) is a reversible head. For some reason the manufacturers still think you want to push a boat with a transom mount. You don't. It's always easier to pull a rope (or a fishing boat) than to push one. You'll have much better boat control in all conditions by turning the head around and pulling yourself along instead of pushing. Don't worry too much about the number of power settings you get. You'll want a foot switch to control the power. There is a little water proof "normally off" switch that you can put in the power line so the motor only runs when you depress the switch. They usually have a little locking bar for a constant "on" mode when you need to travel some distance. For $15, it will be your best investment, much cheaper and better than the variable power on the motor. You set the power on the motor higher than you need and then just kind of bump yourself along or hold yourself in the wind with your foot switch while you're fishing. While we're at it, you'll be sitting down in your small boat so there is no reason or room to go to the expense of a foot controlled steering mechanism on your motor. The regular hand steering will do very nicely.

An electric motor isn't much good with power, so you'll need a battery. Expect to pay from $40 to $75 for one. Since you only have one, it's better to go with the larger 105 amp hour version for just a couple of more bucks and pounds. I personally check out the local Interstate Battery distributor and buy seconds for about ½ price to put in my big boat. I've had pretty good luck with them and they hold up over a day's fishing and a long season of recharging. Speaking of recharging, if you don't already own a battery charger, it's one more expense of boat ownership. The Automatic types are always preferred and really not that much more expensive.

Unfortunately, you're still not finished spending money on your first boat. You need to check with the local marine patrol to find out the required safety equipment for your area. Required or not, most of it is a good idea. A second mode of getting the boat back to shore, (a paddle), is normally requested. A small collapsible model that you can clip to the side does well. A small first aid kit is never a bad idea when fish hooks are involved. Some type of light will be needed if you get caught out after dark or in an unexpected fog bank, (those clamp on stern lights with a couple of clips installed by your paddle serves the purpose and keeps things out of the way.) Some states require a fire extinguisher even on boats with gas motors (another clip on item.) And, of course, all states require some type of emergency floatation device. Although few folks wear a wrap around life preserver, (unless of course you don't know how to swim), everyone has at least a throwable cushion, normally one they sit on for a little added comfort. Let me point out that in all of the many boats I've owned over the last 40 years or so, I can't think of a single one that I haven't at one time or another, some way, some how, fallen out of. And while on the subject, a couple of those little Velcro straps for holding a spare rod, box or something isn't a bad idea in case the boat chases you over into the water. About the only other thing I can think of to routinely carry is a small folded poncho in case of unexpected rain. You can usually find some out of the way place to build in or strap in a small plastic box to hold the first aid kit, poncho, and other useful small items.

Getting you new boat to the water really isn't too much of a trick. A pick-up, van, or RV will normally have sufficient room for small boats and all the gear. In a car or other small vehicle, roof top carriers are available for around $40. Unless your only vehicle is a motor cycle, there probably isn't a reason to fork over the big bucks for a trailer. A small trailer may cost as much as everything else put together and while you can store your small boat on the patio of your apartment, the neighbors may not be so understanding with a trailer.

One thing you probably will want with your new boat is a new tackle box. You still don't want a suit case, but a little larger one for the new types of lures you can fish will be nice. And you'll find it at least more comfortable, if not safer, to throw your bags of Slug-Os, tube jigs and grubs in the tackle box instead of your back pocket.

Just a couple of things to keep in mind for the new boat operator. When you go out, always pull up wind or up current. If you find yourself low on power, it's always easier to drift back than to wade back dragging the boat. Stick to protected waters, not only from wind but large boat wakes as well. A 23' cruiser coming by on plane can wreck havoc on the small boater's day. Have a least a cup or something to bail with if necessary. One of those little battery operated bilge pumps and a little hose might fit in that small utility box. Don't stray too far off shore. Even if you're a safe operator, the driver of that glitter boat flying by at 70 mph might not be paying attention. Lures and line are fairly cheap. Don't take an unnecessary risk to retrieve a hung up lure. If you think about it, you probably wouldn't jump overboard for $3.99 if offered.

Moving On Up, More Lures and Bait Casters

OK, moving right along here, now that you're on the water, all of the rules of fishing have changed. Since you can now cover about any near shore water, you can spend more of your time and effort finding bass. All of those shore spots you've been fishing will still work, but there's a brave new world out there to explore.

You can start off using the rod and baits you already have, fishing the same types of cover you've been fishing all along. The Slug-O is probably your best bait up until now, and a fairly good one for the wider area you're now covering. Start using the Rapala more like a hard jerk bait than as a top water. And around docks, skipping tube baits and Slug-Os will stay your best bet for quite a while.

Very quickly you'll figure out there might just be a reason for all of those other baits they sell at the tackle shop. Most of them either are for working particular spots you'll find on the water or for covering a large amount of water searching for fish. Unfortunately for your budget, you'll find before you quite recovered from the boat purchase, it's time for a new rod and reel, (is this a quickly degenerating downward spiral or what?) This time, we're looking to throw larger, heavier baits into some heavy cover. I'd recommend a 6 ½' Medium Heavy bait caster to complement your spinning rod. You can always go to the Bass Pro Shop house brands, or a Berkley is a pretty good inexpensive rod. Expect to pay around $40 for this rod, which is a lot of rod for only a little money. For a reel, a low profile medium to high ratio should be about right. If it's in your budget, a Shimano or Diawa would be my first choices, at somewhere around $60. A Quantum, Ambassador, or Lews can be had for a little less. So the combo should be somewhere in that $80 - $100 range.

For line, I'd certainly cheap out to get started. Bait Casters have a peculiar property to casting them. You set one up to cast with a certain amount of force, and if you use either less or more force than it's set up for, you get the dreaded "professional overrun", or backlash. Everybody backlashes, even after years of experience. As a new user, you'll backlash more often and they will be worse. Expect to spend ¼ to ½ of your day picking out backlashes the first few times out. You'll find out a backlash will crimp the line, sometimes break it, and always weaken it. This means you're going to be changing line an awful lot for the first few trips. The line I'd recommend is 12 lb Triline Big Game. You buy this stuff by the pound rather than the yard. About $4 will get you 1100 yards, or about 15 spools worth at Wal-Mart. It's really not all that bad of line. My regular partner used it for tournament competition up until he switched to braid only a couple of years ago. It has some stretch to it, but will take a surprising amount of abrasion around heavy cover, ties a pretty good knot, and casts well for monofilament. It's a little larger in diameter than some of the premium lines, but at 1/10th the cost, you can live with it.

OK, now what to throw with the new rod. Let's start by picking up some hooks and sinkers. We'll need some 3/16th oz bullet sinkers, (if you're into colors, get black.) We also need some hooks. For our new soft jerk baits we need Owner 4/0 Wide Gap Offset Worm Hooks, (about $4 for a package of 6.) We also need some hooks for worms, (I'd still recommend Owner but they are pricy), in 4/0 Offset Worm, (not Wide Gap.)

Then it's off to the soft jerk baits again, this time for a couple of colors of Bass Assassin brand Shad Assassins 5". Get one package of Crystal Shad for bright days and clear water and a package of Gold/Black Back for overcast days and stained water. The reason for the brand switch is these baits, while still not too long, are relatively heavy and cast very well even in the wind. The 4" Slug-O you've been using is an excellent come back lure for either Shad Assassin if one rolls on it and misses. Remember to review your article on soft jerk baits before heading for the lake.

Next, off to the hard baits. Pick up a ½ oz Bill Lewis Rattle Trap, Chrome with a Blue back. This is a great area coverage lure for any type of off color water or over the tops of submerged weeds. It makes a ton of racket on the retrieve and should be worked fairly fast just over the tops of any cover. While you're there, you might also want a ¼ oz version in Tennessee Shad for schooling fish or as a comeback lure for the ½ oz version. If you're clueless about an area and want to cover it in a hurry, the Rattle Trap is the way to go. You can also cast this lure a mile into even a very stiff wind with your heavy rod.

Now we're going to look for something you probably can't find, a ½ oz single willow leaf blade spinner bait. Most of the spinner baits will be tandem (two blades) and lighter. About your best bet out of most stores is a Strike King Pro Model single Colorado Blade which is 9/16ths, or close enough. You want a Chartreuse/White skirt and head. Pick up a pack of #5 Willow Leaf blades and switch out the blades from the stock bait when you get home. While you're there, loose the silly little rattle they attach to the hook shank. Download the article out here on spinner baits and understand what it says very well. A spinner bait will let you cover a lot of strange water better than any other lure you can throw in a fairly quick yet thorough manner. If you really get into this sport and start having dedicated rods for specialty baits, the very first one you'll buy will be for your spinner bait. This is really just an overgrown version of the Beetle Spin you've been using all along and should be fished pretty much the same way. Use the bait to feel along the bottom looking for aggressive fish hanging around submerged cover. If you catch one, slow down the boat and work the area with a point bait like a plastic worm.

Stop by Wal-Mart at some point for your plastic worms. Their house brand, Renegade, is my preferred brand for just about any conditions. If I bet money on a bread and butter bait like a plastic worm, you can bet money that it works real well. I only use two colors of plastic worms, Junebug during the day and Black/Blue Tail for night or dark water. You want the 6" curl tail. Rig it up on a Texas Rig with your 3/16 oz sinkers and those big old 4/0 hooks and you're ready to go. It's a point fishing bait that must be worked slowly. Cast it out and let it settle to the bottom. After setting a few seconds, either drag it slowly for a few inches with the rod tip straight up, (always use just the rod, never the reel to move a worm or jig.) After a few more seconds, you may want to snap the worm off the bottom a couple of few and let it fall straight down on a slack line. Most of the bites will come on the fall or right after it hits bottom. Use worms to work small areas where you're fairly sure a few fish are hanging out. A worm can be worked through just about any cover, so don't be scared to throw it into wood, brush, heavy weeds, or really anyplace other than possibly chunk rock, (the sinker will wedge up there.) More fish are caught every day on a plastic worm than all other baits put together, so learn to use it well. It will be your default lure in the future when you need a bite from a particular area.

After a few trips, if your lake has some areas with isolated cover and a hard bottom, you'll want to add bass jigs to the tackle box. These are kind of a cross between a spinner bait and a worm. You always use a trailer with a jig, and right now I kind of like the Zoom Super Chunk trailers. Plastic trailers won't pass muster with some purists, but they are easy to keep and use so are a good thing to start with. For about 90% of the time, a Black/Blue jig with a Black trailer will work about as good as any. If you're looking for a general size, the 3/8 oz works for most water. Fish rather like a fast moving worm keeping within inches of the bottom at all times and sitting and resting on the bottom every few feet.

Committed to the Asylum, Bass Clubs and Tournaments

Strange as it might sound, right around this point I'd recommend finding a bass club and fishing a few tournaments. True, you're probably not in much danger of winning, but it's about as close to free fishing lessons as you get.

There are two types of clubs and tournaments: Partner Tournaments where you're fishing with your buddy against other teams; and Draw Tournaments, where you're fishing against the other guy in the boat. You'd like to fish Draw Tournaments. If you fish with a partner, even if he has a nice boat for the both of you, you'll only learn what your partner has to show you. By fishing Draw tournaments, you get a new teacher every time out.

You're partner will love having you as a non-boater for his draw. Since you probably don't know much about the lake, where to fish, or what to throw, you'll both be very happy spending the day fishing where he wants to fish and letting him run his own boat, (technically, you have the right in a Draw format to demand the run his boat for ½ the day fishing your water. But since you don't have any, keep the partner happy.) Watch what your partner is throwing and try to have him show you new baits and techniques. Ask him to explain why he's fishing a particular location and why he selected that bait to use. Your partner most of the time will be more than glad to explain things to you. You can learn more in one day fishing a tournament with an experienced fisherman than you can in a whole season on your own.

Try to find a club in your area to fish with regularly, (once a month is normal.) That way you'll get to know the other fishermen and they will know you, (and you're always more open with a friend than someone you don't know at all.) It's a good place to learn about bigger boats and perhaps pick up a good deal on your next boat. You can get all sorts of opinions on equipment, lures, and presentations. Plus you get to learn the local lakes. All it will cost you is your entry fee, (typically $40 - $75 a tournament depending on how serious they are), and maybe offer to kick in a few bucks for gas for the boater. Joining a local club really is the best and quickest way to learn to fish in your area.

Where to Go From Here….

Well, if you follow most of this plan, it will take you a year or two and you should be well on your way to advanced bass fishing. You can stop about anywhere along the way, but it's a slippery slope and if you're suited to the sport, you'll find it addictive. Out here on the Internet is a great place to get information all along the way. Subscribing to some of the bass fishing magazines like BassMasters from B.A.S.S. is also a good idea. There are several good TV shows to get information, (just don't believe it's anywhere as easy as they show on TV, because it isn't.)

Before you buy your second boat, I'd recommend buying a Depth Finder for you small boat. A Depth Finder, (and there are articles about these things out here too), is your "eyes" underwater. You can find depth changes, submerged cover, and lots of other interesting things with a Depth Finder that otherwise you'll never have a clue is down there. For advanced techniques, a Depth Finder is a must, (pick up the articles on Structure Fishing for more information.) You can buy portable units that will work very well with you small boat for under $200. I'd much rather have a small boat with a Depth Finder than a larger boat without one. And using a Depth Finder makes for excellent conversion with a tournament partner. I always ask my Draw partners to idle over the areas we're going to be fishing so I can take a look at his Depth Finder before we start.

If you use common sense, plan it out, and don't get in too big of a rush, getting into Bass fishing is easy and enjoyable even on a restricted budget. Enjoy what ever equipment you do have and try to make the best use of it. Have a good time around the water and keep foremost in your mind that you're out to have fun, not catch fish. Nailing that trophy fish is just an added benefit. With the right attitude, you can find a life long pursuit you can share with friends and family for years to come. Ask lots of questions (the only dumb question is one unasked) and keep an open mind. Everyone at every level from beginner to professional is a student of the sport and the idea that it can never really be mastered is one of it's most endearing properties. But all in all it isn't too hard to learn and there are a ton of reasons to go fishing, catching is only one of them.

So until the next time, Good Luck and Have Fun!

Paul Crawford

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