Trophy Haunts: Saddles and Benches
One of the more impressive big fish strategies I’ve come across over the years I learned from California big bass fisherman Tom Young. Tom is one of the old grey beards in California who has been targeting huge bass since the introduction of the Florida-strain fish in the 1950s. Tom’s resume of big bass is matched by few and includes single fish catches of: 19.3lbs, Lake Castaic, 1993; 18.6lbs, Lake Casitas, 1981; 17.6lbs, 17.4lbs, Castaic, 1991; 17.4lbs, Casitas, 1988. In total he has 58 bass over 15lbs, and 300+ bass over 10lbs. Making Tom’s accomplishment even more astounding is the fact that he eschews live bait and bed fishing. Tom is a jig fisherman. I ran across Tom on the web in my research for this book and was fortunate to discuss with him many of the secrets of his success. Perhaps most notable amongst Tom’s strategies was his preference for targeting feeding benches. A feeding bench or saddle is essentially an underwater lake structure where a narrow strip of lake bottom rises out of the depths. The image on the next page is based off a sketch Tom provided. It displays a feeding bench he believed could produce a new world record largemouth. Tom pursued just such a giant in the mid-1990s on this exact spot on a western reservoir he denoted only as Lake X. In California the best known of these benches get pounded by big bass anglers from January through May and have produced many of the top 25 largest bass ever caught in the state. Tom believes finding similar, but less conspicuous, structures may be the key to a truly giant bass.
Tom Young’s World Record Bench
Long casts allow for fishing areas thoroughly without anchoring or waiting for fish to move up. The key again is being quiet, using no electronics that might spook bass, and moving slowly to make multiple casts across an area from different angles-up and downhill as well as across. Keep your boat as far from the target structure as possible. Check the area with a graph only as you leave. A long cast is 75 to over 100 feet. Once the jig is on the bottom, slowly swim or crawl the jig back by turning your reel one-half to one turn, then letting the jig fall to the bottom. Repeat this retrieve until the jig is past the structure or near the boat. The lure should always be within six inches of bottom. Strikes range from a hard thump to only line vibration, line movement, or a loss of feel. A slight tick is the most common sensation.
In the same article, he offered this advice in finding big bass structures:
A major point that intersects a baitfish migration route is the best location to fish for giant bass. The point should have deep water (30 feet or more) surrounding it and a variety of structural features that hold baitfish and allow bass easy egress to rocky transitions, gullies, saddles, flats, or humps. One way to find these areas is to start at a dam and stop to fish the first major point you find. With long casts, you should be able to fish every major point in a small lake within a week. And you’ll have a good chance to catch a giant bass as you learn the structure.
Benches are not unique to California. Comparable structures exist in many lakes all across the country. Anglers are well advised to follow Tom’s advice for locating big bass structures on their home lakes and fishing them aggressively during the pre-spawn period.
Lunker Lore: Tom states that he has caught many bass up to 12lbs on jigs with plastic trailers, but that every bass he has caught above 15lbs has only bit a hair jig with a pork trailer.