Evolution of a Bass Fisherman

I may not be a great bass fisherman but I have become a bass fisherman.  It’s funny how many of us have people we look up to, people that are really good at something we wish we could do, or do better.  I really look up to good bass fishermen. I’m talking about those that have been doing it for fifty years and the high school kids that have been doing it since they can remember.  The question I’ve been asked is how starting at age 58 did I get to be a bass fisherman?

A little over four years ago a friend and co-worker Bob Hogue asked if I wanted to go bass fishing.  I had done some fly fishing and my first thought was that bass fishing like fly fishing was just too complicated.  I like simple, put a worm on a hook with line sinkers and throw it into deep water. But anytime you get a chance to hunt or fish with someone who is really good at it is to good to pass up so I went.  

Bob had a G3 center console flat bottom boat with a ninety horse jet, and front and back deck with butt seats.  We launched in Richland and fished less than a mile from the launch. In half a day of fishing I caught ten smallmouth bigger than any I had ever caught before and Bob caught twenty.  I’m talking solid three to four pound fish! I really thought the day had to be a fluke but the next weekend we did it again and each caught around twenty fish. I had lived in Richland for 14 years and had no idea how good the bass fishing in southeast Washington is.  I typically spent my summer weekends on a one man pontoon floating the Yakima catching catfish, carp, small bass, and in ten years maybe two or three that would approach three pounds.

Next trip we went to Irrigon and Bob caught a five and a half pounder and I caught a five!  More importantly Bob was teaching me a very simple method to fish for bass. He taught me using a  spinning rod with a zoom super fluke nose hooked on a circle hook with a nail weight stuck in it and a swivel thirty inches up the line.  I soon advanced to the extra wide gap worm hook and had to learn how to actually “set the hook” through numerous reminders from Bob.

I started to accumulate a few half price rods and reels.  I couldn’t tell the difference between a good rod and reel anyway so why spend the money?  In fact my first fall I used a nine foot steelhead rod. Toward the end of my second year Bob handed me one of his best spinning rod and reels and told me to try it for a day.  I was amazed that the drag actually let line out when a good fish pulled! I had all of my cheap reels cranked down to max. Okay now I was starting to understand and appreciate quality equipment, but there is so much and everyone is selling their brands, you really need help from people you trust to spend your available resources to get the most enjoyment out of it.

Bob did something it took me a while to realize.  He worked really hard to not overwhelm me with information.  It’s easy when you have years of experience to want to correct every mistake and overwhelm new fishermen.  Remember people naturally want to do what they are good at, if they catch fish and are not overwhelmed they will enjoy it and feel like they are good at it.  Bob really focused on locating fish, and then catching them. When I was ready for more information he was more than happy to provide it, I wanted a constant stream of information, which Bob provided but still kept it simple.

The third or fourth trip Don Hogue took Bob and I to Irrigon.  I knew what an accomplished fisherman Don was and I kept careful watch on what he was doing to see what I needed to change.  I remember watching and thinking “I’m doing exactly the same thing but he was catching a lot more fish than me. Don even let me drive his boat which I got it up to about 55 miles per hour.  Don said I could open it up a little if I wanted to, but I’m not sure he knew just how inexperienced I was so 55 was way plenty fast for me to drive. I got to drive Bob’s boat several times as well including helping load and launch it which started me thinking “I could do this”.  I told Bob I wanted to get a boat just like his, but he guided me to look for one designed more for windy days on the Columbia River. He also strongly suggested I research electronics and trolling motors. Sitting on the back of the boat catching fish where Bob took me, I was starting to think how easy this actually is.  Then reality would set in as I watched Bob doing everything I was plus running the trolling motor and figuring out where to fish next. My research of electronics and trolling motors landed on a Minnkota Terrova trolling motor with a remote control and a spot lock feature which sounded pretty cool. I could hit a button and the boat would stay in one place letting me focus on fishing.  Bob was also in search of a new boat and while he was looking texted me from the showroom floor to tell me he found what might be my first boat. Sure enough that Ranger RT178 with a Suzuki 60 horsepower motor and spray on liner rather than carpet seemed perfect. I negotiated the humminbird electronics upgrade, Terrova trolling motor, and a ladder for the back in case I ever fell in. So now only months after my first bass fishing outing I was now a bass fisherman with my own bass boat!

So by now you have gathered I had a lot to learn.  Bob had brought me a stack of magazines and books to read, most of which I have re-read since only half of what I learn sticks the first time.  Over the winter he also kept bringing me different lures. I was confused, I thought all I needed was different colored flukes? You do except in the spring Bob told me.  I bought more books and started watching YouTube videos.

Throughout my journey to become a bass fishing fisherman, having mentors and sources of information to fill in the blanks has proven huge.  It’s really easy to get stuck and frustrated when things don’t go well. I have learned how important confidence is, if you are just going through the motions casting randomly and hoping you catch fish, you eventually will but not many and not very big.  

Back to the journey, my first summer I got to fish Potholes reservoir with Bob and Don Hogue.  I caught my first largemouth bass (about 3 pounds). I was pretty nervous but the guys were really patient with me, even though I felt like I was continuously casting and snagging my swim jig (which was weedless until you feel the willows and set the hook on them).  They would patiently help me get my lure back and assure me I’d be able to tell the difference between a willow and an actual bite soon. Early the next spring Bob and I went back to Potholes reservoir. Bob and I went deep into the dunes and ended up each catching about a 3.5 pound largemouth but seeing some incredible bass habitat, I had to spend more time here.  I went back by myself the next weekend and followed a straight line I had created on my phone on a Navionics map from the dock to the back of the dunes. I caught nine largemouth that day with four over five pounds for a little over 24 pound bag and the biggest fish of 6.8 pounds! Over the next several months I took a couple of friends to Potholes including my fishing partner Brian Flores and both of them caught their personal best largemouth over six pounds.   One of my favorite experiences was finding a spawning female on a bed in about four feet of water. She was under a sagebush and would not come out to my bait. My buddy caught one of several males swimming around but even when I drove up to her and dangled a jig six inches in front of her nose she would not take it. Two weeks later I was back and my first cast to her location she hammered the jig and weighed almost five pounds.

It’s hard for me to explain what drives me but maybe a few examples will help.  My first two winters with my boat I actually fished every weekend. Don’t get me wrong I never caught a fish from November until March but I fished every weekend.  What I learn or am taught certainly doesn’t all stick the first time, but some details seem to stick with me forever. I remember fishing with Don Hogue at Potholes and him describing the importance of looking for “signs of life”, carp jumping, baitfish, birds, beaver huts, green weeds rather than slime covered.  I remember Bob Hogue asking me who taught me to cast like that, and correcting me quickly when I told him he did with “That’s not how I taught you”.

My first two years when I wasn’t fishing with Bob I was hitting some of the many spots I had been shown.  Seems all I had to do was go to my marks, anchor up and catch fish. But the third season something was different, the flows were different, the weedlines were different, and the fish weren’t in the spots I had marked.  Back to my mentor for a better understanding of how to find spots instead of just show me spots. This education certainly continues today, seems every time I learn a pattern and think I’ve got it going, conditions change, fish relocate, and I’m a little lost.

On an afternoon trip to a local brew pub with Bob to talk about fishing, Don Hogue and Ryan Brown joined us and wanted some input to a web site they had planned.  Game Over Angling sounded awesome to me. Here was an opportunity to continue to add to what I had learned and do it at my pace including repeating courses. I thought I was analytical but Don and Ryan add a whole new meaning to the term “students of the game”.  Here were fishermen with years of experience that to me had it all figured out and yet they continue to focus on why something happened not just talk about what. Game Over Angling and discussions with other bass fishermen has put a lot of perspective to bass fishing for me.  It was eye opening to me that really good fishermen have bad days, or at least days that take them a while to “figure them out” One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that if you find active fish they will eat almost anything, but if they’re not there, or not active it’s really hard to catch them.  Some others are: quality gear can help you but, you can’t use it all and, It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on gear, none of it works if you can’t find fish. Experience on the water is invaluable, especially if you continue to ask yourself why that just happened? Learning specific spots to fish is nice but if you don’t seek to understand why those spots are good, when they are good, and why they are good, you’ve stopped getting better.  I’ve had a lot more success in a relatively short period of time than I ever thought I would. Even when you start later in life you can still reach a level of enjoyment from this sport well beyond what you may have thought, whether that means catching some fish, catching new personal bests, or participating in tournaments. It does however take some help along the way. Without a mentor and fellow bass fishermen willing to talk about what they’ve learned a guy like me doesn’t have enough years left to gain the experience that many of you have.  

Spring of my third season things got a little more serious.  I had to stay home several weekends due to wind, and I got caught in big wind at Boardman one day in five foot whitecaps.  No problem eventually making it back but I had a solid excuse to get a bigger boat, you know for safety… Back to research every possible option and trying to figure out exactly how big of a boat I could squeeze into my garage.  A day at the brewery meeting with Bob, Don Hogue, and Ryan Brown was a big help. I was able to hear the plus and minus of all of my long list of options I wanted/needed. I landed on a 19 foot eight inch Phoenix with a 225 Yamaha SHO, and Ultrex trolling motor.  With the tongue folded the boat was six inches longer than my garage was deep.

I immediately joined the Columbia Basin Bass Club and fished my first tournament the second time I had my boat out.  I was pretty confident because it was at Irrigon which I was pretty familiar with where and how to find fish. I remember the relief I felt when I caught the first fish as I was not going to be embarrassed.  Then I had to catch another to prove the first was not a fluke. I ended up finishing in the middle of the pack which felt really good, not that I have to win, but had to do well enough to feel like I deserved to be there.  I fished by myself and thought I was competing against two people in each of the other boats, it was an individual tournament. Still if I want to fish tournament I needed a partner.

Brian Flores and I worked together and he was an accomplished salmon and steelhead fisherman but told me his dream was to tournament bass fish. I told him I just happened to know a guy with a new boat and no partner.  Our first tournament together was the Later Greater Open. We got to pre fish several weekends and thought we had a plan, unfortunately the weather changed and the fish were not where we had found them before.  Our limited ability to adjust and figure out what depth they were using today became really obvious and has reoccured several times. Still we finished near the middle of the pack and cashed our first check, even if it was for smallest fish!

At the November Columbia Basin Bass Club meeting it was election time.  I was asked to be club president which I made it clear I felt entirely unprepared for.  I got the stories about how the club might go under if someone didn’t step up (which I knew wasn’t going to happen) and with some reservations I agreed, and Brian accepted the secretary/treasurer position.  I had a lot to learn and a lot of decisions to make, what type of tournament, team or individual, draw or boaters choice for partners, I didn’t even know all of the options. My goal was just not to screw it up but it also forced me to reach out and get to know a lot more of the bass fishing community than I would normally do on my own.

I was challenged in our first full year by the need to fish a lot of new water.  We had tournaments at Arlington, Sprague Lake, and Priest Rapids all of which I had never fished.  I was not willing to show up and try to learn it on tournament day so I pre fished at least two weekends for each tournament.  If the pattern was consistent with my pre fishing we did well, in fact second at Arlington and first at Priest Rapids. If the pattern had changed we didn’t do so well, at Sprague Lake I had caught pretty big bags pre fishing and caught one big fish and lost one.  We had found them shallow and didn’t really know how to adjust to find them at a new depth. This summer Mike Whitlow who I met when I booked a trip to Lake El Salto with Anglers Inn for February took me drop shotting at Patterson. I spent the next three weekends doing nothing but drop shotting.     

I was able to finish third in the club’s angler of the year competition, fourth at the club championship and qualified for the Washington State BASS team as a non-boater (I will be going to Lake Shasta next May).  Once again at the Later Greater open our pre fishing pattern didn’t hold up and we finished twelfth. Looking back at the year I can start to see a pattern, my partner caught the biggest fish at three of our club tournaments, I had the second biggest fish in two club tournaments and caught the biggest fish at the Later Greater Open (5.73 pound smallmouth).  Bob asked me why I think that is and I don’t have an answer but have been giving it a lot of thought. Yesterday might start to provide some insight. I fished by myself all day in two small areas and got skunked other than a five plus that I lost at the boat fumbling with the net. I still have a tendency to fish really slow all day which isn’t a very good tournament strategy but has landed some big fish.  The week before Bob Hogue and I fished together, we moved around a lot more trying to establish a pattern which we then applied. We caught around 40 fish and I caught a new personal best smallmouth weighing a solid six pounds! Bob has told me any number of times “fish fast and then slow down” (cover water but fish slow at each spot). Bob told me he remembered one of the first times we fished together, I told him I was a slow learner but I would listen and I could be taught.  

This sport has truly changed my life, I can hardly remember what I did before bass fishing.  I have a great appreciation for those that have and continue to help me become a bass fisherman!  We recently sold our house and moved into a new one with a bigger garage, you know for the boat… Currently, I’ve been spending my non-fishing days trying to figure out what gear and how to fish big largemouth at El Salto, and then Spots at Lake Shasta.  I know in both cases I can catch fish on flukes!

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  1. Great story Greg! Honestly, it mirrors a great deal of my past experiences minus the time you’ve been able to spend with experienced bass fishermen like Bob, Don, and Ryan. Though I’ve already warned Don I plan on bothering him a lot more in 2019. Spending time this past year with fishermen like Jake Anderson and getting the opportunity to just listen to them while on the water is invaluable. Catching my first 5lber off the Columbia already has me thinking about the potential for that six pounder.

    BTW, there’s quite a few of us that really do appreciate the efforts of Brian, you, and everyone else past and present who has helped the club continue on. Good luck this year!