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It’s all about the bait(fish)

Aside from the fact that there is a lot of water to cover here at Sturgeon Bay, another big challenge we face in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year Championship is figuring out the bass’ diet.

I say that because there are so many options for the smallmouth to feed on here and each species of bait has slightly different characteristics.

To complicate things, the fish can change their diets from one day to the next or be targeting one species of bait in one area and an entirely different type of forage in another.

Like most fisheries, bass will feed on what’s most available on a spot or in an area they are using.

For instance, here at Sturgeon Bay we have gobies and yellow perch which are primarily bottom dwelling bait. When the bass are dialed in on those, drop-shot rigs, jigs and tube jigs are the baits of choice that best resemble the forage.

But there also are alewives, smelt and other pelagic forage in different parts of the water column. When the bass are keyed on those morsels, they are focused on looking up, so it takes entirely different presentations, like jerkbaits and spinnerbaits.

But here’s the thing with Sturgeon Bay…I’ve seen the fish feeding on bottom and mid-depth baitfish in one area simultaneously, so you have to make an educated guess on what works best based on the current conditions.

We’ve had lots of wind which makes it difficult to fish slow moving baits, so spinnerbaits and jerkbaits can be viable options when you find bass keying on bait higher in the water column.

I’ve seen smallmouth busting alewives near the surface in an area where they also are focused on gobies, so it’s possible to have multiple patterns going at multiple depth zones.

It’s critical to utilize all the clues available to you. In this case, I constantly monitor my electronics watching for the presence of bass or bait and its location in the water column.

And remember this about pelagic baitfish – they move around a lot. It’s not unusual to find a big school of bait in one area only to see them vanish.

Another clue is to watch for the birds. We have a lot of gulls and cormorants up here that are fish eaters, so they can tip you off as to where the bait is present.

I share this with you as a reminder that, regardless of where you fish, pay close attention to the dominant local forage at various times of year. That’s what you build patterns around.

Some of the classic patterns include the way Texas bass key in on red crawfish in the spring, the bluegill patterns when the panfish are spawning, shad migrations in reservoirs during the fall, or shad kills in the winter.

The bass know instinctively when these things happen, so to be a good bass angler, you have to react accordingly.

When you fish the right depth zone with the bait that best emulates the forage the fish are targeting, you’re going to be successful.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!