Sometimes downsizing can bring more bass bites

By James K. Joslin Published August 31, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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James K. Joslin

Nathan Sugg of Little Rock gives a big smile after landing a largemouth bass that struck a small spinnerbait. Sugg had been having a slow day before switching from a chunky buzzbait to the little spinner. That move allowed him to catch the biggest bass of his life and about two dozen smaller ones.

I grew up reading the saying on the pages of publications like Field & Stream and Outdoor Life. I also heard it on outdoor television shows when anglers traded in their casting and spinning gear for tiny creature baits and long whippy fly rods.

This great tip of the week? Match the hatch. Just those three words. Choose a bait that matches or closely compares to the size, color, shape and/or action of the insect, fish or other creature upon which the angler’s target species is preying. That’s all they said was the key to catching more trout and salmon in the running waters these fish call home.

Living on a farm in eastern Arkansas’ Grand Prairie region, I am far removed from the wading and drifting in the chilled rivers where our state’s trout reside. Instead, I can be found with a sculling paddle in hand, guiding a 14-foot flatbottom from one fishy-looking spot to the next.

My haunts are shade-shrouded cypress sloughs, murky Delta bayous, ancient White River oxbows and fertile farm reservoirs. Thoughts of bass, bluegill, redear and crappie swim through the synapses of my mind. And yes, of course, I’ll also gladly take a catfish or two for the skillet or grill.

It was on the lattermost of those aforementioned waters where I was most recently reminded of the saying that first reached my ears more than 30 years ago — and have often heard repeated while visiting the North Fork, White and Little Red rivers on trout trips.

One of my outdoor educators, Jim Mayes of Sherwood, has infused me with a love of topwater fishing for bass, specifically with buzzbaits. After picking up this fishing habit, I churned the waters with a buzzbait in several honey holes, including a slough outside of Humnoke, for several years. My fishing buddies and I captured bass and memories in both quantity and quality from that slough until a sweltering summer and the farmer’s water needs took their toll.

More recently, my attention has been focused on sliding around the reservoir there on the farm. Boating bass from such locations with regularity is a direct result of the real-estate agent’s catch phrase: location, location, location. Fertile waters often mean fertile fishing. A lack of fishing pressure doesn’t hurt, either.

Over the past eight weeks or so, however, the level of fishing excitement in my backyard paradise has begun to wane. The fish are there; I know it. I’ve got pictures, videos and my mom’s well-seasoned skillet to prove it. I wondered what I could do to change my luck.

As the calendar turned further into summer, I began to notice the clouds of fry in the water from this spring’s spawning season. I had not, however, put two and two together — yet.

Late one morning, after casting a chunky buzzbait deep into the shade of a stand of cypress and tupelo trees, I saw a wake surging from the darkness. A bass rushed the lure. Then, instead of striking the bait as I anticipated, the fish broke off its attack.

That bass turned his attention elsewhere as the water exploded to life with dozens and dozens of the fry leaping away from the path of my retrieve. The fish turned and fed on the fry for its dinner, leaving me two less fillets for mine.

I caught and kept enough for a meal or two, but the catch rate was not up to the norm for the reservoir. Enlightenment, though, was only a few casts away.

Just a week or so later, Nathan Sugg of Little Rock and I shared a boat. Two of his prospective in-laws and a family friend — father and son Kenneth and Garrett Mayes of Little Rock and Blake Gilliam of Benton, a former football teammate of Garrett’s at Arkansas Baptist — fished from another. Nathan and I were casting those bigger baits once more when he got one hung in a lofty, limber cypress limb and broke it off. Minus another similar lure in his tackle box, he switched to a spinning rig and a purple H&H spinnerbait.

From there, the action was nearly nonstop for him, resulting in a day of 50-plus fish for our boat. The crowning catch was a bass of between 4 and 5 pounds that topped all other fish Nathan had previously subdued.

In our companion boat, Blake noted a similar upswing in the action when he switched from a larger buzzbait to a smaller one. The Mayes boys then fell in line with their lure selection, offering downsized buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and soft plastics.

Those reservoir bass were still active, but they were focusing on smaller targets than the one I had been offering. Mark it down as a lesson relearned — and one witnessed again on my next trip.

The buzzbait bite was still off. So, compelled to change my luck with action not meeting my expectations, I picked up a rod and reel coupled with a small inline spinner. The bait had been given to me by Curtis Gray, Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program director for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Tossing me the lure, he noted that he and his wife had both experienced good luck with one just like it.

The body of the lure is colored in a rainbow-trout pattern. A small silver spinner of an elongated oval shape adorns the front end, while a set of treble hooks trails behind. The entire contraption is only about 2.5 inches long, roughly half of my favorite buzzbait’s length. After casting the 5/8th-ounce behemoth for a few hours, this rig with the 1/8th-ounce spinner felt lighter than a feather in my hands.

Targeting the usual likely spots — points and pockets in the moss, lily-pad fields and deep shade, I soon hooked up with the bait’s first victim. Although the bass acted like a giant, it was only slightly longer than the lure. It was, however, a giant harbinger of what was to come. In the next few hours, I hooked, landed, fought, missed and lost between four dozen and five dozen fish. Only five, weighing roughly 2 pounds each, were chosen to be my dinner guests.

Since those days, summer has pushed aside the June and July days of below-normal temperatures and above-normal rainfall. Highs in the 80s — and sometimes 70s — and lows in the lower 60s or even the 50s have disappeared. August has ushered in the typical seasonal forecast of hot and humid with scattered to isolated afternoon and evening thundershowers.

Still, armed with the inline spinner and a myriad of other smaller lures — buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, jig spinners and shallow-running crankbaits, I’ve continued to find the bass cooperative. Yes, I do pick up the baitcaster and sling that big buzzbait a few times; it’s my favorite bass bait, and I’m absolutely addicted to the topwater bite. But the spinning rods and reels, lighter lines and downsized offerings allow me to match the hatch and have become the preferred method — for now.

Staff writer James K. Joslin can be reached at (501) 399-3693 or

Zoned Editions Editor James K. Joslin can be reached at 501-399-3693 or

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