By Pete Robbins
February 19, 2013
Veteran Yamamoto pro and renowned bass guide Art Ferguson competed in four Bassmaster Classics. That alone is admirable but not exceptionally unusual. What is remarkable is that the four Classics he fished were on a quartet of incredibly diverse waterways.
In 1990, he fished the Classic on Virginia’s historic and tidal James River. Nine years later, his second Classic was held on the swampy and monstrous Louisiana Delta. The following year the big dance was on Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes. Finally, in 2004, he fished the Classic on South Carolina’s Lake Wylie, a typical southern impoundment.
If those four events don’t speak to the diversity of his experiences, consider his guiding business. He spends the warmer months in his native Michigan, plying the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair, largely for smallmouths. When the temps up there get too cold, he retreats to Florida for a few months to lead clients to oversized largemouths on the Sunshine State’s big grassy bowls.
Still not convinced? His two B.A.S.S. victories occurred in states we haven’t already mentioned – in 2000, he won a Top 150 on Alabama’s Lake Wheeler and three years later he won an Open on New York’s Oneida. As a result of this tremendous body of work, even though Ferguson may not have a Bassmaster Classic title of his own, he’s uniquely situated to advise anglers from all corners of the country (and beyond) on how to approach Grand Lake this week.
“A lot of things have changed since 2004,” he said, referring to his last Classic. “There are different rules and stuff. So much is different with social media and the internet, so you can do a lot of research from home. I’d do everything I could that was legal.”
His one B.A.S.S. tournament on Grand, in the 1992 Oklahoma Invitational, didn’t produce a good result, but it still subsequently informed his opinion of the big lake. That tournament was held in early November under exceptionally frigid conditions and Jim Morton won it using a buzzbait.
“It was a really odd time to be there,” Ferguson recalled. “It was cold and it snowed. Because it was freezing, I expected it to be a slow bite, but I drew Mark Davis and he had a crankbait bite going. At that time, it was one of the latest (in the year) tournaments I’d fished. I would’ve thought it would be a slow jig bite.”
Even though he was from the north country, the lessons he learned from Morton and Davis helped him to better understand how fish react to cold weather and cold water. Of course there are times when the bite does slow down tremendously and an angler’s presentation needs to match that pace, but at other times it puts bass on the feed. He expects that if the weather is cold but relatively stable this week, that may be the case in this Classic, too.
“The pros should be trying to find schools of fish in staging spots,” he opined. “The best way to find them is with crankbaits and vibration baits. I’d look at the mouths of creeks, where the creek channels swung up against them, or in the first bends of the creek arms.”
Even though he was already an expert on Michigan’s lakes by the time he fished Grand in the early 90s, the tournament helped him to reconsider his home waters. Since then, he’s had some tremendous days on Erie and St. Clair when the water was in the low 40s. “We picture 42 or 43 as cold,” he said. “But fish don’t feel cold. It slows their metabolism down but they’ve still got to eat. The baitfish may act differently and the fish set up differently, but you can still catch them on a football head jig, a Hula Grub or a vibration bait or spoon.”
Whether you’re from Florida or Michigan or any point in between, in addition to assessing how the bass will react to cold weather, it’s also important to understand how it affects you. After a lifetime of guiding and tournament fishing, Ferguson put it bluntly: “When you know it’s going to be cold, if you allow yourself to get cold you can’t function.” It’s an oft-stated point that bears repeating – layered clothing makes a huge difference. “I put on Under Armour long johns, then sweatpants or jeans, and then a rainsuit with insulated bibs.”
His footwear selection may surprise some anglers: he often uses Keen sandals throughout much of the winter, at least until temperatures dip below the 30s. “I use wool socks, but your feet can get too tight in boots. The sandals allow the blood to circulate, which keeps your feet warm. You’ll also need to have warm gloves when running (the boat) as well as good fishing gloves. If you have all of that, you can focus on the fishing.”
It’s important to eat and drink to keep the body warm, but Ferguson was honest when he said that he drinks coffee in the boat “whether it’s 100 degrees or 20 degrees.”
For an angler who’s had success in many different corners of the country, Ferguson doesn’t believe that home field advantage will play a huge role at Grand Lake.
“Not to take anything away from Jason (Christie) or Edwin (Evers),” he stated. “Local advantage can definitely help, but I guarantee they’re not typically fishing those lakes in January and February, so it will kind of be new water to them, too.”