Fish long enough, and there will be times when you will be faced with fishing around other anglers – competing for the same bass. While most of us relate fishing with solitude, there is a real art to fishing in a crowd.
One of the absolute best at this intimidating situation is former BASS Masters Classic champion Larry Nixon.
“It doesn't bother me to fish in a crowd,” the Arkansas pro says. “As long as I've got the right cover available – something that's invisible like submerged vegetation or an underwater bar – I can handle fishing around other people. If you take the proper approach and keep a good attitude, you can catch fish in the middle of other fishermen.”
There are times, however, when the presence of other anglers can make a good spot turn sour.
“The one thing I hate about fishing in a crowd is that there are times when the people fishing the same area will spook the fish. They might be banging on all of the cover, running a noisy trolling motor on high 24-volt and just churning up the area,” Nixon adds. “That's the thing that frustrates me and makes me pick up my trolling motor and get the heck out of there.”
An example of Nixon at his crowded best came in a past MegaBucks tournament on Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes. He spent much of the tournament fishing a plastic worm in a large lily pad field that produced an estimated 2,000 bass during the tournament. Entering the final qualifying round that would send 10 anglers to the lucrative finals, Nixon found himself in 22nd place.
But he returned to that crowded pad field, took a different approach from the crowd, proceeded to catch seven bass that weighed an impressive 31-plus pounds, and sailed into the finals. While most of the other pros were fishing more subtle lures like plastic worms and lizards, Nixon's success came on a medium-running crankbait.
“That was a case of using something different and reading your cover correctly,” he explains. “There were a lot of lily pads, a lot of scattered clumps and some individual stalks. Nobody attacks a target the same way. The area has a million different casting angles. That was a real key – casting from angles different from the rest of the crowd.”
Nixon offers these tips for fishing in a crowd:
Maintain the proper mental approach: “Ignore everybody and just concentrate on being more efficient than the others. To me, the biggest mistake people make is worrying about everybody else and not concentrating. In a crowded situation, it’s important to concentrate on each and every cast and each and every retrieve. The guy who bears down and maintains his concentration is the one who will succeed in that situation.”
Observe the surroundings: “Keep your eyes open and watch for areas that are getting a little bit of rest; places where nobody is in there fooling with the fish. Slip into that spot and fish it.”
Watch others: “Sometimes it pays to be observant to what other people are doing. Much of the time, everybody else will be flipping, yet flipping may not be the best way to get a strike. You may need to be casting. In that case, I'm going to cover a lot of water and make more casts than anybody. On the other hand, if the people around you are doing the right thing and everybody is catching fish, analyze what they are doing and try to duplicate it.”
Weekends are the time when most anglers will encounter the challenges related to fishing pressure. It is a documented fact that weekend boating and fishing pressure has a registered impact on bass behavior. Knowledgeable anglers realize that the game changes on the weekend, and make calculated adjustments to locate and catch bass on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Certainly bass react to the weekend pressure,” emphasizes Dr. Loren Hill, former chairman of the University of Oklahoma's Zoology Department and one of the country's most respected fisheries biologists. “You have lots of people coming out on the lake on weekends. All of that boat traffic, noise, speed, wave action and so on changes their behavior. They move off into deeper water areas. They are not in the same habitat as they are found during the week.”
In Hill’s radio telemetry tracking studies, where he placed an ultrasonic tag in the body cavity of sample bass populations, he noticed how they began to move away from shallows at the start of the weekend.
“It just blew my mind,” he says. “A lot of them don't even feed on weekends. It's not that they have such a high level of intelligence that tells them that the weekend has arrived. It's the experience and frequency of the weekend that creates a kind of memory (for the bass).”
There is ample evidence that weekend pressure has an impact on bass behavior and positioning. Knowing how bass react and where they go when the surface activity becomes hectic is the key to consistently scoring on the weekends – the only time that many of us are able to be on the water.
Arkansas bass pro Jimmy Nolan knows from experience that many of the bass in his home lake, Bull Shoals Reservoir, make moves to escape the crowds.
“A lot of times when you fish during the week, you will find a lot of fish close to shore, but when the weekend comes, you find out that the fish have moved from that position,” Nolan says. “Most of the time this is due to pressure. People are very aware of bank-type fishing spots. They know where to find any bass on the bank.
“A lot of the fish will move out to the creek channel or nearest drop-off or the nearest structure away from the bank. The key is to be familiar enough with the area you are fishing so that you can adjust to the pressure that surrounds you on the weekend.”
Nolan suggests closely studying the area where fish are congregated just in case the pressure moves them. For example, if fish are found on a creek channel, search the area around it looking for deeper structure that is typical of the places where bass might go in tough weather conditions like a cold front. “Pressure will move fish to these same structures,” he says.
Hill recommends concentrating on offshore structure that provides a variety of depth and cover options. Examples would be a long, tapering, brushy point that extends into 20-feet of water or the ledge of a creek channel that offers a stump-laden shallow side and then a drops off into significantly deeper water.
Successful weekend fishing means practically eliminating the obvious, most accessible shallow-water areas. After all, most of the bass abandon those areas when the fishing and boating pressure is at its peak.