A lunker bass exploded through the water, shattering the smooth near-mirror finish of the surface. The lunker pushed the scales near 6 pounds, and was typical of the bass Ellis expects to catch on the Shaky head.
Although the shaky head rig can be employed in a variety of conditions throughout the year, its best attribute is enticing strikes when the bite is tough or non-existent, such as during the sizzling summer months when temperatures approach the upper 90s and the water surface temperature feels like warm bathwater. That's when the rig really shines.
"A lot of people think the shaky head rig is a finesse bait for small bass, but it's much more than that," Ellis said. "If you pitch it around a lunker, they'll eat it up, too."
Ellis recently fished the BFL All American on the Potomac River in Maryland, and caught more than his share of bass on a shaky head.
"And the All American tournament was won on a shaky head rig," he said.
Though a relative newcomer to the tournament scene, Ellis qualified for the BFL All American through the Mississippi Division last year via a fifth-place regional finish at Wheeler Lake in Alabama.
Over the last couple of years the talented angler has learned to fish shaky heads in a variety of waters from Mississippi to Maryland and many other points in between.
"If you want to fill out your limit, a shaky head will fit the bill just right," Ellis said.
Since his strong regional performance in Alabama last fall, Ellis has also had several top-five finishes in Tennessee and other places with one victory, and several runner-up finishes also.
In the meantime he's also become proficient at finding and catching largemouth and smallmouth bass with light tackle using both jigs and shaky head rigs.
"I like to use a 7-foot (Boyd) Duckett spinning rod and Pro-Qualifier spinning reel with 30-pound Power Braid with 6 to 7 feet of fluorocarbon leader," Ellis said. "In Mississippi, a good rule of thumb is to use 6- to 10-pound fluorocarbon, depending on the water color.
"However, if the water is clear I'll stick with the 6-pound fluorocarbon line."
Ellis is a quick learner and was schooled by a friend while fishing in gin-clear water.
"My partner was fishing 6-pound fluorocarbon and catching bass, and I had on 12 and couldn't get a bite," Ellis said.
After trying several different rigs and line sizes, he finally got down to 6-pound line, and that changed turned the bite on for him, as well.
Something as simple as line size made all the difference in the world.
But wait, you might say: Six-pound fluorocarbon is too small to catch lunker bass. Well, during a tournament in Tennessee recently Ellis hooked a large striped bass nearly 40 feet deep and landed him.
"I tell you what, that 6-pound fluorocarbon line is so tough," Ellis said.
Ellis on shallow water
Shaky head rigs are particularly productive in either extremely cold or hot conditions when the bite is off or very tough. And the rig can be used anywhere bass are found.
If you can put it in front of them they'll bite it.
During one fishing trip near Meridian, Ellis methodically picked apart the shallow water with the precision of a skilled surgeon as he hit a variety of cover.
Starting with a riprap point, the talented angler worked a shaky head right over and through the rocks without ever hanging.
Ellis pointed out one really rocky point where he caught a lunker on an early morning bite.
Pea gravel, riprap and even dirt-road-sized gravel beds are productive when fishing shaky heads in shallow water.
"Some folks are scared to fish this on the rocks, but I've caught big bass here at Pickwick and monster smallies in Tennessee fishing the rocks," Ellis said. "Sometimes those big bass will just suck the shaky head in on the fall, and other times they'll pick it up off a rock.
"Spotted bass, largemouth and smallmouth all love shaky heads on the rocks."
You've just got to feed it to them in the right spot at the right time and not be afraid of getting hung.
While Ellis likes fishing rocks, points and ledges, he specifically targets rock-strewn points and outcroppings that make slight differences and stick out from the standard bank or bottom fare. You'll get hung up sometimes, but you've got to put the lure in their lair to catch them.
"Another shallow-water technique that I use is fishing the shaky heads in laydown trees right where many anglers like to flip and pitch," Ellis said. "What I'll do is target the bass that are holding on the outside edges of the trees and laydowns first.
"I'll fish the outer edges of the limbs, and then hit the pockets on the edges and usually get bit."
If Ellis doesn't draw a strike from the periphery of the tree tops or logs, he'll go straight to the heart of the structure and work it like a jig.
"I'm not afraid to try anything when I'm trying to get a bite or fill out a limit and everything else fails," he said. "I'll worry about landing him after I get him on, and that's the main thing - enticing them to bite."
Probably the best thing about the shaky head rigs is that anybody can catch fish on them almost anywhere bass are found in a variety of conditions both hot and cold
From Ross Barnett to Pickwick Lake and almost every water body in between, shaky head rigs will catch finicky summer time bass.
If the temperature rises and the fish quit biting, take a few of these young anglers' tips and techniques, and employ them on your local waters and you just might catch some of your biggest fish and largest creels of the year.