Finding Opportunity Amid Lean Conditions

By David A. Brown

We all love a good slugfest, right? Lots of fish, big limits, shredded thumbs; but such is not always the case. In fact, we laud the big bass bonanzas because they’re more the exception than the rule. More often, we have to work at it — sometimes, incredibly hard.

How hard? Well, like “we might get skunked” hard. Of course, no one’s cool with that premise, so preventing such humbling experiences starts with a realistic assessment of the situation and continues with a full embrace of the fact that a given lake’s scenario or its inherent nature simply will not greet you with abundance and generosity.

This is something Arizona pro Roy Hawk knows well. Throughout his decorated career with FLW, B.A.S.S. and now MLF, he’s seen at times the feasts, as well as the famines. For him, consistency begins between the ears.

“You just have to stay positive and control your thoughts to maintain a positive mental outlook,” Hawk said. “You know it’s going to be tough, but still there’s going to be opportunity there. In a tournament situation, somebody’s still going to win; and if you’re going out for a fun day, you’re still going to have an opportunity to catch some fish and have a good time.”

insideline-brown-hawk-opportunities01.jpg

Sounds simple, but Hawk’s advice weighs heavy with wisdom born of countless days when keeping one’s head in the game proved every bit as important as keeping a bait in the water. Essential, he said, is focusing on the upside to every day.

“If you show up to the lake and there’s a little breeze, try and capitalize on that,” Hawk notes. “Try and look at every scenario. If it’s sunny, you can look for shade lines — anything that may give you an advantage so you can stay focused on something positive.”

WHERE IT MATTERS

As inspirational as Hawk’s advice may be, he brings it all together with tried-and-true insights on how to approach a few of the more common scenarios of lean opportunities he faces. Consider his tactics and apply them as needed to the next tough day you face.

Rocky Desert Lake

“The first thing I'd look at is seasonal patterns; are the fish going to be on beds or is it past that stage,” Hawk said. “You’ll want to know if the fish will be in the backs of the bays or out on the points. Ninety percent of the time, main lake points are what I would look at; and if it is around the spawn, even secondary points can be productive.

“The contours of a lake are kind of like roads for the fish and points are where two intersect. There will be tons of points on any given body of water and you’ll have lots of opportunity to connect with a fish on those.”

Also, Hawk said it’s important to look for any type of cover. These could be manmade objects like the Lake Havasu structures, big rocks that cast significant shadows on sunny days or transition banks where fish find sand yielding to gravel or gravel to chunk rock. Lastly, current equals life, so find the inflows — rivers, creeks, storm drains, natural springs — and you’ll find fish.

“Current will position fish on points, ledges and anything where the current hits,” Hawk said.

Promising signs include schools of baitfish flickering on the surface and the presence of birds seeking their share. This could be gulls hovering at the surface, herons and ibis standing at the water’s edge, white pelicans waiting to scoop a bill full or grebes and cormorants diving for a meal.

“A lot of times, we can’t see the fish but we know they’re eating baitfish and there are visual signs,” Hawk said. “Birds are your friend.”

Best Baits: When he’s searching for fish on a rocky lake, his go-to bait is a 1/2 to 1 1/2-ounce football jig with a Yamamoto Hula Grub. Throwing uphill and then stair-stepping the jig downhill usually delivers.

“A lot of times, I want to use those heavier football jigs to cover water fast to trigger bites,” Hawk said. “This allows me to get it to where groups of fish may be sitting and figure out their location.”

If the bite is exceptionally tough, he may use a dropshot with a wacky-rigged 4-inch Senko, Kut Tail Worm or Pro Senko. Either way, he’ll focus on promising areas with a dropshot and a Shad Shape Worm or a Carolina-rigged 4- to 5-inch Senko.

Grass Lakes Devoid of Grass

Water bodies with a strong heritage of grass-related bounty may find its vegetation greatly reduced by flood waters, severe weather or herbicides. When he’s fishing in one of these scenarios, Hawk takes a 2-stage approach.

insideline-brown-hawk-opportunities02.jpg

First, he’ll try and find any remaining grass, because rare is the case when it’s completely gone. Any isolated patches can be gold mines of opportunity; but if the grass is all gone, then Hawk will go to wood cover — laydowns, logs, stumps — and, if needed, rocky structure. The key, he said, is realizing that fish deprived of their normal cover will adapt to whatever they can find.

“I’ve caught them in areas where tree leaves have settled into small depressions the size of a trash can lid,” Hawk said. “I can be something as small as a stick.”

Here, again, bait and birds will often lead you to the right areas. And, as Hawk points out, grass lakes where the grass is absent often find displaced baitfish roaming more. This unintentionally nomadic behavior makes them easier to spot — by bass and bass anglers.

Best Baits: Hawk’s bait choices include Yamamoto D-Shads on Carolina rigs for searching and unweighted Texas rigs for targeting laydowns and other key cover. For focused efforts, he’ll also flip a Yamamoto Flappin Hog or, for a more subtle presentation, he’ll go with the Yamamoto Psycho Dad.

Fall Drawdowns

Each fall, reservoir managers lower water levels to make room for the coming winter/spring influx. This takes a lot of the shoreline cover out of play, as the “drawdown” leaves most logs, laydowns, etc. high and dry. Clearly, this will change fish positioning, but Hawk’s undeterred.

insideline-brown-hawk-opportunities03.jpg

“I’ll focus on the creek channels and their small ledges and drop-offs where fish will relate,” he said. “Local anglers will often place brush piles in these areas in anticipation of a drawdown, so if you can find a brush pile with bait, you’ll often find fish. Brush piles don’t draw fish to the back of a creek — they’re already going there in the fall to chase baitfish. But a brush pile puts five fish around one spot and gives you a place to cast.”

Hawk said this is definitely D-Shad time and a weightless bait on a 3/0 EWG or a 5/0 Sugoi hook can work wonders. The fall bite can be fast and furious once you find the fish, but don’t throw in the towel once the action fizzles.

“If you’ve worked the creek and know where the ledges and brush piles are, then target these high percentage spots with a dropshot,” Hawk said. “For the brush, I use a Pro Senko Texas rigged on a 3/0 Sugoi hook.

“Wherever you fish, you have to stay focused and know that you’re not going to get a lot of bites,” Hawk said. “Go in with the mindset that it’s going to be tough, but stay focused, fish the moment and keep an eye out for key indicators like a log under the water, or baitfish.”


Bonus Content