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Is Fishing Pressure Fake News? Part 2: The Stories

In Part 1, I analyzed lake data to see whether the fishing population in a pressured body of water, can stand up to that pressure. In Part 2 of my research into fishing pressure, I wanted to bring in some commentary from full-time fishing professionals. Tim Chandler is a full time guide on Lake Guntersville in Alabama, as well as other well-known Alabama lakes. In addition to Tim’s commentary, I talked to eight-year Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Chad Pipkens, who was happy to weigh in with his opinions.

Ryan: Tim, you’ve been a guide on one of the most popular and pressured bass lakes in the country, Guntersville in Alabama, for thirty years. In general, over the course of a week or month of guiding, do you notice the fishing changing with pressure? How do the fish respond, and how do you adapt?

Tim: They definitely respond. When the big tournaments are here, obviously that increases the pressure, but there is also a lot of dock talk here since its such a popular place. When word gets around that a particular creek or section of the lake is hot, you definitely notice an uptick in the pressure on that area. When the fish get hammered, they leave. It’s hard to say how many. They don’t all leave of course, but lots of them get out of there. The way I can usually tell when the fish have left is when you can’t catch them on the usual baits. If you have to use special baits- baits fish don’t typically see- to get bit, the bulk of the fish have probably left.

The great thing about Guntersville is the grass. If you are in less than eight feet of water you will have grass. Fish use that grass and sometimes just bury up in it. I don’t think they move far, maybe 1,000 yards in any direction. If they are in the back of a big creek, they might move to the front- things like that. I think they spread out and then regroup when the hammering subsides.

Ryan: Have you found you have to change baits or presentations in addition to changing areas?

Tim: It kind of depends on what they were biting on to start with. If a special bait starts producing, like that bright orange vibrating jig this year, or the Alabama rig in years past, then yes, you do have to change baits because they have seen it so much. The thing is, on Guntersville, patterns don’t last for more than three to four weeks or so, sometimes less. Certain baits always seem to work at certain times of the year, but then they get off it and onto something else. The wacky stuff they seem to remember, but not the usual stuff.

Year after year there’s always a rattle-bait (lipless crankbait) and jerkbait bite in the winter and the fish don’t seem to get conditioned to it. That transitions to a soft plastic bite as the spring progresses. Then you get a strong topwater bite, which can overlap some with the shad spawn which is generally a spinnerbait or squarebill bite. When summer starts, some of the fish get out to the deeper ledges where the deep crankbait bite picks up. Some fish will just stay in the deeper grass. As the summer progresses it becomes a worm and football jig bite. Then we start over again, every year.

Ryan: As a quick “aside” tell me about the Alabama rig- does it still work down there?

Tim: Fish are caught on it. The locals don’t really throw it much anymore because it does not work nearly as well as it used to. The problem is the out-of-towners still throw it all the time so the fish have not forgotten about it like they might do with other hot baits from years past. It definitely is not nearly as productive as it used to be.

Ryan: So overall, you find bass to be pretty forgetful, at least year to year?

Tim: Yes, and they are pretty predictable. It’s the fishermen that make it complicated! Obviously there are days when I am out there and those fish just seem so smart, but overall a bass is not very bright. He does not have much to do down there. He is an eating machine. He mates once a

year and the rest of the time he just swims around and eats worms and other fish. That’s what he’s programmed to do.

Ryan: I know you do some guiding on Smith Lake in Alabama as well, a very different lake from Guntersville. Do you find the fish react differently?

Tim: Definitely. Guntersville is full of grass, flats and ledges, with stained water, and it’s mostly largemouth. There is lots of structure, and lots of cover on that structure, which means lots of places for an ambush predator to move about.

Smith is super deep and clear with very little grass, mostly rock and very steep drop-offs. When the pressure happens on Smith Lake, and it doesn’t have to be fishing pressure- just the increased number of boats and wave runners in the summer can create pressure- can drive the threadfin shad and blueback herring very deep and the bass will follow. The bait and the bass have nowhere else to go but to the deep water. They are almost uncatchable at times during heavy boat traffic days. That’s when a lot of guys resort to night fishing.

Ryan: If you could give one tip, from all your years of guiding, for dealing with pressured fish, what would that be?

Tim: I like to think of a bass being much like a house cat. If you have a piece of string and you drag it by a cat, he will react and paw at it, maybe even chase it. He’ll do that the first three or four times. About the fifth time, he will just watch it go by. But if you make it go faster, or jerk it, or do something different to get his attention, you can get that cat to react. A bass is the same way.

The number one mistake I see is guys who just throw their baits out and reel them back in- the same way cast after cast. My tip would be to get creative. If you know the fish are there you have to figure out how to get them to react, and it might not be what you think. I had a great day one time by fishing a rattle bait like a worm. They were picking it up off the bottom when it was just laying there! So get creative with your retrieves, don’t do the same thing cast after cast. That would be my tip.