The Holy Grail of Big Bass Fishing?
In the 1980’s a Texas fishing guide named John Hope became one of the first individuals to conduct a comprehensive tracking study on the life and behaviors of giant bass. John spent the better part of 10 years, catching, observing, and tracking big bass. One of John’s key findings was that big bass over 7 pounds tend to suspend offshore during the day. If they prowl shallower waters at all, it is often only at night or during the spawn. John experimented for years at catching these offshore suspended bass. He knew roughly where they were from the trackers, but no matter what he tried he could not get these fish to bite. John came to believe that while these fish were suspended offshore, they were uninterested in eating and essentially uncatchable. (If you would like more on John Hope and his tracking studies click this link).
I sat down with John in 2016 to talk about his studies and ever since that day I have been captivated by the possibilities with these offshore fish. Perhaps there are whole schools of giants that live offshore, suspending and feeding on open water baitfish in the middle of lakes. Some of these fish may never go to shallow water at all. Perhaps they spawn in the tops of deep treetops. Maybe some go their whole lives never seeing a lure from an angler. After all, most bass fishermen fish in exactly the same way. They fish shallow cover or deeper water structure changes. These suspended fish, are simply out of reach to the masses. Scattered about the abyss, fishing for them would be a fool’s errand. You cannot find them, and even if you could, you cannot get them to bite... But what if you could? What if someone figured out how to crack the code on these deep-water leviathans? The possibilities unleased on the world of big bass fishing would be endless! That my friends, might just be the holy grail of big bass fishing!
Enter, Josh Jones.
Josh Jones, a crappie fisherman from Oklahoma, has just wrapped up one of the single greatest big bass runs that has ever occurred in history. In a well documented 18-day period from February 21st to March 10th, Josh caught a 15.4, a 13.4, a 12.6, nine bass over 11, ten over 10 and another 25 over 8. (That is in pounds folks!) These fish were caught from three different public water reservoirs in the state of Texas. He achieved all this, targeting unpressured suspended giants using Live Sonar to find them and Alabama Rigs to get them to bite.
Some Background on Josh:
Josh has been fishing since he was a child. In 2015 he became one of the first anglers in the country to add Live Sonar to his boat. Unlike traditional sonar which uses sound chirps to build a snapshot picture in time of the underwater environment, Live Sonar functions more like a real time movie of what lies beneath the waves. Instead of seeing what has happened in the past, fishermen see the action unfold as it happens. Anglers can see fish move in real time and perhaps more importantly they can also see their lures and how fish react to them.
Through years of trial-and-error Josh polished his ability to interpret Live Sonar while fishing as an Oklahoma crappie guide. The Live Sonar proved to be incredibly powerful to find crappie in treetops and other cover. As newer models of Live Sonar came out, Josh got better and better with the tool. Occasionally Josh would stumble across trees that were full of fish, but not his target species. The returns on his sonar were simply too big. Dang Bass. He would move on to the next tree looking for crappie.
Josh told me all that changed for him one day when out of pure boredom he decided he would try and catch some of the bass he had seen on his Live Sonar in a deep-water tree on a prior trip. He said that within 5 minutes of launching his boat he had landed an 8 pounder and from that moment forward he was hooked on big bass.
Shortly after his return to Oklahoma from his big bass extravaganza in Texas, I was fortunate to get a chance to speak with Josh over the phone and interview him at length about his achievement. In my opinion it is one of the greatest in bass fishing history. Below are the highlights from our discussion!
*(Note from the author: Quotes are not used in Josh's answers because his responses are being paraphrased and are not direct quotes.)
Question: So, what is your story? Did I see online correctly that you started out as a crappie fisherman? How long have you been doing that? Have you fished your whole life? Are you focused on bass now? Big bass or just bass in general?
Answer: Yes, I have fished my whole life, but I started guiding for crappie in 2016. I have been using Live Sonar for 6 years and have worked hard to perfect the art. I still dabble with crappie for sure, but my real passion now is big bass. I really admire what Butch Brown has done with big bass in California and I hope to replicate some of his incredible numbers in the South.
Question: How did you discover this suspended bass/Live Sonar pattern?
Answer: I discovered it chasing crappie and seeing bass in the process.
Question: Do you think these big bass you have been catching pretty much live exclusively offshore?
Answer: I don’t know the answer to that, but I can tell you I fish exclusively offshore year-round. I’ve never sight fished a largemouth in my life.
Question: Do you think this offshore pattern exists on most lakes in Texas? What about outside of Texas?
Answer: This pattern exists on every single lake that I have fished in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. To some degree I have even seen it with smallmouth in Green Bay. Outside of that I cannot say for sure as I just don’t have the firsthand experience to be able to comment.
Question: Is there a trick you can share to finding these offshore bass? Do they relate to structure or cover, or do they just randomly suspend and distribute?
Answer: As far as I can tell there is no rhyme or reason to it. When I first saw the 13 pounder I caught she was suspended 40 feet down in 80 feet of water. One 11 pounder I caught was 4 feet down in 74 feet of water. It appears random. I am not overly secretive about what I do. I put the trolling motor in the water and I just drive around until I find them. Sometimes five or six miles in a single day out in the middle of a lake! I have never been able to pattern them. The only pattern that I see, is that these fish are out there year-round. The lure of choice may change a bit, but those fish are out there.
Question: Is it harder to find them or harder to catch them once you have found them?
Answer: It is harder to catch them than to find them. If you cover enough water, you are going to find big bass. In Oklahoma I figure I can get about 1 in 20 fish I find to bite. This whole run started on Lake O.H. Ivie in Texas. When I first got there my catch average shot way up to about 50% of the fish I found. A week later when word had gotten out about my catches and what the Millliken Fishing guys had done with their 60 pound five fish limit, the lake started to fill up with boats. There were probably 1,200 boats on the water over the course of the weekend I caught my 15.4. By that point my average had dropped way off, back down to something like 1 in 20. It is clear to me that boating and fishing pressure kill the bite. Take Lake Fork for instance. That lake is full of giant bass, but you are practically wasting your time trying to catch them during the day. They have seen it all a thousand times. I only night fish on Lake Fork. One other thing I would like to say here, there has been a lot of negativity online accusing me of all sorts of dishonesty. People comparing me to Mike Long saying I am snagging these fish. That is absolutely not true. Most days I have clients with me in the boat. The 15 and the 13 I caught, they were netted by clients. I am not snagging these fish.
*(Note from the author: Inspired by Jones, I hit the water on 3/13 with an A-Rig. I don’t have Live Sonar and I could not break my old habits so I mostly wound-up fishing shallow cover. In about a 2-hour period I boated 20 bass (Sadly only up to 4 pounds). Every one of those fish had a least one hook in the mouth, but I would say roughly 1/3 of those fish wound up with a 2nd hook somewhere in the body during the fight. If you are fishing with a 5 hook A-rig it is going to happen sometimes.)
**(Second note from the author: I personally spoke with Marty Foust, who was the client in the boat with Josh when he caught the 15.4 pound fish. Marty netted the fish for Josh and said he would stake his reputation on the fact that what Josh Jones is doing is entirely on the up and up. Marty also caught his personal best fish on that trip and 11.2 pound bass!)
Question: Do you think the average angler, once they learn Live Sonar could replicate this pattern, or is there a special sauce you have that will make it tough for most guys?
Answer: Without a doubt there is some magic involved. The average guy is not going to be able to buy Live Sonar, tie on an A-Rig, stroll out to a random lake and get similar results. If they stick to it, they will eventually figure it out, but 99% of guys are not going to do that. I fish 200-300 days a year, but people do not realize that there are a whole bunch of those days when I make fewer than 20 casts. In fact, I once placed 2nd in a 200-boat tournament having made only about 20 casts. I am only casting if I see a big fish. If I am being honest the whole thing is kind of boring. Lets be real here, I am essentially driving around the middle of a lake with an A-rig in hand staring at a screen until I find a giant. It certainly is not going to make for great TV and most guys are just not going to have the determination to stick with it through that kind of monotony.
Question: Do you think state records will be broken in the coming years? What about WR?
Answer: Absolutely. I think we are going to see records fall all over the place. My main goal right now is to break the Oklahoma state record. I know where that fish lives, I just have to catch her! I think there is a good chance the Texas state record will fall as well. As far as a world record, I do not know. I do not know if that fish exists. It is especially tough to imagine it out of Texas. The current state record is 18.18 pounds, that is a far cry from the world record at 22.4 pounds. Who knows though, everything is big in Texas!
Question: What is something you believe about bass fishing or bass behavior that most bass fisherman don’t believe?
Answer: Weather does not affect the bite. Cold fronts do not affect the bite. One of my best days was in a snowstorm with a 30 mph East wind! (Side note from the author, my book High Percentage Fishing comes to this same conclusion through statistical analysis of more than 40,000 freshwater fishing data points. Check it out on Amazon: High Percentage Fishing)
Question: What advice would you give someone looking to catch their first DD?
Answer: Hire me as your guide. (Laughs). In all seriousness, fish slow. Most guys are just fishing too fast.
Question: What is a big mistake you think most bass anglers are making?
Answer: Fishing where they do not live. Fish the lakes that have 10lb bass.
Question: What is the best fishing related purchase you can think of under 100 bucks?
Answer: An A-Rig, a big spoon, and a big swimbait.
Question: Do you think big swimbaits really work in Texas? I have tried them a bunch without much luck. I’ve sort of come to believe you need a couple feet of water visibility for them to work effectively. Most lakes in Texas just do not have that. What are your thoughts on that?
Answer: Have you tried them offshore on giant suspended bass? Try that and get back to me! (laughing)
Question: What is the one thing you could not do without in the boat?
Answer: My three main baits. The spoon especially. From March to September that spoon is my number one choice. Live Sonar is great, but I caught big bass before Live Sonar. Here again, what I do is kind of boring. I just stick to three main baits. Let’s add in a C-rig and call it four.
With that I thanked Josh for his time and let him get back to his family. So how did I feel after my chat with Josh Jones? Inspired? Yes. Excited about the possibility of a new wave of giant bass breaking records? Yes! Mostly though I just felt broker. Live Sonar is expensive, but I just could not resist. My order is on the way!
If you are interested in a Live Sonar master course, Josh is available to hire as a guide. If you would like to know more about the exact brands of lures, rods, reels, line, that Josh uses to catch these giant fish please visit him on Facebook at Josh Jones Fishing. He covers all this and more in great depth in many of his posts. While you are at it, I would greatly appreciate a like or a follow on my page as well, High Percentage Fishing.
Tight lines friends. Records need breaking. Let’s do this!
Click here to subscribe and see future big fish stories! Subscribe
Have you caught a giant bass over 12 lbs? We'd love to hear from you. Reach out to us at LunkerLore1@gmail.com.