Todd Faircloth on Swimbaits and Senkos
June 2, 2008
In mid-April 2008, Todd Faircloth won $102,000 and the BASS ELITE event on Amistad Lake with the help of GYB's 6" Senko. We were able to catch up with him a few days after his win, and here's what Todd had to say:
RUSS: Todd, reports mentioned that you used hard plastic swimbaits, soft plastic swimbaits and Senkos to achieve your win at Amistad. For GYB's Weekly News, we'd like to focus on how you used the Senko. Can you tell us about that please?
TODD: Yes, I relied on the 6" Senko in watermelon with black with bright green flake. That color made a big difference in the clear water at Amistad. I know it was the color because I had a number of guys fishing with me in practice and in the competition, and the color I used certainly seemed it was making a difference in the number of bites. I got many more bites on that color than anything anyone else in my boat was throwing.
Editor's Note: The color number Todd likes is #324. In the 6" Senko, the item number is 9L-05-324.)
I used a 1/4 to 3/8 oz weight, Texas-rigging the 6" Senko right on the bottom. Key was to make long casts. Most bites were on the initial fall. I would really only work it along the bottom about half-way back to the boat. I was aiming long casts at targets, mainly trees. So that's why the initial fall and the first part of the retrieve were the focus. After that, I'd reel in the rest of the way and cast at the target again. During practice, I had a lot of fish all week doing that with this bait.
That color is one of my favorites (#324 watermelon pepper with green flake). It seems to shine when there's a clear lake and good visibility. I've had great success with that color on Clear Lake in California and on Rayburn. It's a color that gets overlooked a lot. It's one of my secrets. When I have guys out fishing with me and whenever they ask what it is, a lot of guys say they've never seen that color before.
RUSS: How often do you use the 6" Senko?
TODD: The 5" Senko is still the size I most commonly use, but I've started to use the 6" Senko quite a bit, particularly for bigger fish. In events where I need a heavier stringer to win or to place high, particularly when I need a three pound average fish or higher, that little bit bigger size of the 6" Senko is called for. I feel the 6" Senko has the same action as the standard 5" Senko, so I have equal confidence in the action of both 5" and 6" sizes. It's just that the 6" size is going to attract a nicer quality of fish.
RUSS: The 5" Senko is certainly GYB's best-seller and most popular size. The 4-inch (9S-series) Senko is the second most popular size. The 6" size is not as popular compared to the 5" and the 4" Senko. Do you use the 4" Senkos much, Todd?
TODD: I do use the 4" Senko when I am trying to finesse fish. I will use the 4" size when the quality (size) of fish is not that big. However, I use the 5" Senko most of all, and I use the 6" Senko second-most. With the way the BASS Elite tour schedule is set up to stop at lakes at times when above average size fish are going to be caught, that means the 6" Senko is going to see more action on my boat than the 4" size.
When I do use the 4" Senko, it tend to be on a spinning rod, wacky-rigged to skip under docks for instance.
RUSS: Do you ever use the 7" Senko, Todd?
TODD: Absolutely. I used the 7" Senko at Falcon Lake and at Amistad during practice. What you'll find with the 7" Senko is there's a lot more plastic to deal with. Compared to the 6" or 5" Senko, you are going to need a stiffer rod and a bigger hook for the 7" Senko. I can use the 5" and 6" Senko on the same rod, but a different outfit is needed for the 7" Senko. I like to use a 6/0 hook and 65 lb braid, often with a fluoro leader with the 7" Senko.
I'll use the 7" Senko when I definitely need one big bite, just one single, big kicker fish. Even if I had been fishing all day with the 6" Senko, I will put that rod down and go to the 7" Senko outfit for a big kicker fish. You will be able to get a bigger fish on the 7" Senko than on the 6" one.
A lot of times, when you cast a smaller bait, you are going to get the smaller more aggressive bass to shoot out and grab it.
On the other hand, these smaller fish will shy away from a bigger bait. It's all relative. A 6" Senko will shy off a bigger bass than a 5" Senko. A 7" Senko will shy off a bigger bass than a 6" Senko. That 7" Senko gives the big fish the extra time it needs to take advantage of what you're throwing in there.
RUSS: As you know and in fact experienced during practice at Amistad, you often get a lot of huge bass that follow a swimbait but do not bite it. This is good to get followed but not bitten in practice, since you discovered where the fish are, and you came back during the Amistad event and caught them then.
It may not be so good to get followed but not bitten during a tournament. A couple of guys in California who fish big swimbaits, they've been using a 7" wacky-rigged Senko to throw back on big bass that follow big swimbaits. They'll just reel in the swimbait rod, pick up the wacky-rigged 7" Senko rod and throw that back in where the big bass was last seen following the swimbait. Do you ever do that, Todd?
TODD: I do, but not right away. What I mean is that a lot of time when big fish follow a swimbait like that, they get spooked when they see the boat. So instead of throwing back on them, I will leave and come back at least thirty minutes or an hour later. Then I will throw a different bait like a Senko or throw a swimbait - from a long distance - back in there where I believe they were coming from or returning to when last seen.
Normally, when bass follow a swimbait, they follow far enough to get right up close to you, see you, see the boat and then they spook and go off alarmed. All you're going to do by casting back at them right away is spook them even more. So I'll leave, let them relax, and come back a half to an hour later with a Senko or a swimbait.
When I come back, if it is slick calm, I am going to use the Senko instead of the swimbait then. That's the "trick" if you want to call it that I used at Amistad to win. When it was calm, I threw the Texas-rigged Senko and worked it on the initial fall and along the bottom near the trees. When there was a little ripple or wind, I threw the swimbait. The wind or lack of it played a major role in what rod I picked up, the swimbait or the Senko.
When it was calm, I just could not get a fish to commit to (bite) the swimbait, only follow. They'd just get too good a look at the swimbait, fishing it higher up in the water column, when it was calm. They'd come from a distance, and as they'd get closer, get a better look at it, and turn off.
The swimbait just does not look as realistic as when there's a ripple on the water. What the fish sees against the ripple is more of a silhouette, but the ripple breaks up the bait (profile) and the bait doesn't look as unnatural or out-of-place, not like when it is calm and the fish is able to scrutinize it against the background of a mirror calm surface.
Also when there is a ripple or wind, the fish cannot see the boat nearly as clearly as when it's calm. The bass is a fairly cautious and alert fish species. It is aware of when it sees a boat or an angler and gets alarmed.
RUSS: What other tricks do you use to try to get fish that follow swimbaits to strike them?
TODD: A lot of time it comes down to a color deal. When you get fish that only nip at or miss or follow and turn away, change the color of your swimbaits a little bit and you can usually get the fish to commit to a different color.
Okay now, one of the biggest tricks I will tell you that I've found with swimbaits is to target entire schools of bass, not to go after individual bass with a swimbait. When there is only one follower coming out after a swimbait, the odds are you are not going to catch it. When there's a second follower and each one is trying to get a little better position than the other while they follow, your odds go up. When there's three or more that come out of a tree after your swimbait, odds are you are going to catch one.
The biggest help to me, what helped me win at Amistad was to find where schools of bass would come out of trees during the practice period. Those trees with multiple bass in them were the only ones I hit during the actual event.
These two tricks: 1) changing colors when fish won't fully commit, and 2) fishing where multiple bass are in competition for food, these two tricks apply to all lures but even more to swimbaits. Reason is the swimbait is bigger, more out there in the open, and can be scrutinized more closely. So you need to dial-in the commitment color more precisely and then use their schooling competition as a factor to override an individual's close scrutiny.
RUSS: Only one week earlier on Falcon Lake, many reports and those who walked to the winner's circle at Falcon centered around big 10-inch worms. Yet the reports did not mention the 10-inch worms much one week later on Amistad. Why the difference? Falcon and Amistad are only 225 miles apart, and the same field of anglers fished both places.
TODD: I really can't answer why the 10" worms dominated Falcon Lake but not Amistad. I do know the anglers who finished in 2nd and 3rd at Amistad did have some fish on 10" worms, but across the entire field, it's true the 10" worms weren't as much a factor on Amistad like the week before on Falcon. You just go with what's working, and that often changes from one week or lake to the next.
GYB's 10" grub, that was a real learning experience for me at Falcon. It was really the first time I had played around with GYB's 10" grub. I flipped it on the outside edges of thick brush beds, Texas-rigged using a 6/0 hook, 1/2 oz sinker and 65 lb braid. That 10" grub will definitely get a lot more use by me from now on that I know it's potential. I was getting about ten bites on it to every one bite that guys in my boat were getting with other big worms or soft baits.
RUSS: How recent is the trend toward using 10" worms? It seems you really only heard about top pros using the 10" worms the past two seasons or so.
TODD: Around these parts where I am from (Texas), the 10" worms have always been popular, at least the past ten years, especially for fishing at night. In daytime, they're also popular for flipping in thick hydrilla beds with heavy bullet sinkers.
Many anglers may just now be starting to hear about the 10" worms in some places. Yet other places like Kentucky Lake, Tennessee, they've been using 10-inch worms on the deepwater ledges there for many years.
What top pros are realizing now is there are many other places where you would have ordinarily thrown a jig or a normal-sized Carolina rig, there are a lot of places where those 10" worms are going to get a few more bites from the better fish in deepwater areas. Like everything else, there is a time and place when 10-inch worms may do well, and times and places they don't.
RUSS: Todd, you talked earlier about using the big 10" GYB grub for the first time on Falcon Lake, flipping it into brush. Do you think the 10" grub is something you could Carolina rig or Texas rig in deep water?
TODD: I was really impressed with flipping the 10" grub through brush and the way the tail worked bringing it through branches, the way it would climb over and fell down the other side of limbs. I think that's the best situation for it. However, you can be sure I'll try them in deep water soon with either a Texas or Carolina rig. You never know.
RUSS: When rigging soft baits like big worms or grubs for deep water, do you have any rules of thumb for when you would use a Carolina rig versus a Texas rig? Or do you just try them both and go with what's working at the time?
TODD: During practice, I'll definitely go with the Carolina rig in deep water. It covers a lot more water quicker. It helps pinpoint where cover is on the bottom. A C-rig helps identify what the bottom composition is, because it's a fairly heavy sinker and you can get a lot more bottom feedback from a heavy Carolina rig. So you can practice far better, quicker with a C-rig than a T-rig.
When it comes to fishing deep during an actual event, the Carolina rig is more of a horizontal approach that excels in areas of sparse cover. The Texas rig is more of a vertical approach for submerged brush piles let's say.
What I often do when fishing a Carolina rig, before I leave an area, I will fish back through it with a Texas rig. I will often pick up a few more fish. It's just a different look and it's going to trigger a few more fish that did not commit to the look of the Carolina rig. With the Carolina rig, you have more of a free-floating bait look. With the Texas rig, you have more of a vertical, nose-down look. There are some fish that will go for the C-rig look, some fish that will go for the T-rig look. So where I've Carolina rigged, before I leave, I'll Texas rig too, and tend to get a few more fish that way.
RUSS: Todd, you've talked a lot of soft baits today. What I've noticed on TV and in tournament reports is that we don't seem to see or hear much about the top pros using fish attractant or scent products. Do you use scent products on soft plastics such as swimbaits or Senkos, Todd?
TODD: Normally I do not. It seems at times when I've been on events in the Great Lakes or Erie, targeting smallmouth, I have seen some times there when scent may have maybe made a difference. What I think makes more difference, however, is with the texture and the salt in GYB baits for example. I think it is more important when a fish bites that the bait feels natural, has that alive feel to it. I believe that feel plays more of a role than the actual scent. I'm not a big sprayer or big believer in scent.
RUSS: How do you think other top pros feel about lure scents?
TODD: Some certainly use them and believe in scents. However, I'd estimate more than half the top pro field doesn't normally use scents or attractants.
RUSS: With a camera running on you almost the entire event, how much of what you do or what the Elite pros do overall is not reported on TV or in magazines or on the Internet? Are you guys doing anything out there in terms of lures or tactics that we don't see or don't hear about these days?
TODD: There's really not anything we do that's not recorded or written about, especially after the field cuts to the top twelve. There's a camera rolling on each of the top twelve pro's boats from start to finish of every event. If any pro is doing something different that causes us to excel, the TV show is going to highlight that. The pros don't mind. We are trying to promote the sport to its highest level and achieve the widest acceptance. We're trying to help people do better at fishing. So it's good when TV shows that. It's how we are getting our secrets out, how we're sharing what we do, and because of that (close coverage), it is good for the sport.
RUSS: What if we all get entirely too good at fishing? What if the pros get too good, and the general fishing public gets too good by following what you pros show us to do? How will the bass respond to increasingly more and better anglers all the time?
TODD: There will always be new techniques. Innovation never stops. There will always be new things, new baits and bass will become accustomed to them. Over time, new baits will lose their effectiveness as bass learn to identify, resist or avoid them. Fish become accustomed to seeing certain baits at a certain level in the water column. When something a little different than usual, such as say a swimbait comes along, it may be something they've not seen before and are receptive to it. But use them a lot, and the receptiveness to swimbaits (or anything) falls off.
The trick is, at least what some pros are sensing, is that an angler needs to become a better fisherman with newer baits a little faster than the fish become aware of those baits. Kind of staying a step ahead of other anglers and therefore the fish.
From the pro to the everyday angler, whoever shows fish something a little bit different than the fish are used to seeing, that angler is often going to prevail over other anglers that show fish the same old thing.
RUSS: Todd, thank you for your insights today. Is there anything else you'd like to say or share with our readers before saying goodbye to us?
TODD: Yes, as a pro angler who was raised up in Texas around Rayburn and Toledo Bend, I was not a good finesse angler and that has come back to hurt me as a pro who now has to compete on lakes where finesse is necessary. So if there are certain techniques that you don't feel comfortable with yourself, dedicate a day every so often to exclusively use and get confidence in a technique where you currently don't excel. Gain confidence in a new technique, and it is going to help you some day down the road.